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Bradshaws Blog

Craft Beer Tasting at Mercer with Alex Kastner

A Craft Beer Tasting with Alex Kastner of Mercer Beer Hall

Have you been wondering what all the fuss is about with craft beer lately? Alex from Mercer gives us the lowdown on why Craft Beer has exploded on the bar scene in the last few years and why there really is something for everyone when it comes to drinking beer.

We headed to the bar at newly revamped Mercer for a chat with Alex and a lesson on craft beer and beer tasting. Mercer now boasts the largest beer list in Ontario with 150 different kinds of beer available! We didn't get to taste them all but we did try a few and learned a lot about craft beer...

Myron and Alex at Mercer Beer Hall in Stratford, Ontario

Alex wanted to put our Final Touch Beer Tasting Set to the test, which includes 6 different tasting glasses, a tasting guide, and even a set of slick stainless steel coasters. He noted the nice, compact size of this set. The glasses hold from 8.5 oz - 11.8 oz, perfect for tasting a few!  

The lineup... Six Craft beer were tasted!

We started with the Three Fields Lager (5%) from Elora Brewing in the Stange glass which is a pretty universal, thick walled glass with a slight taper near the top. This sturdy glass is meant to keep a refreshing, easy drinking beer, like a lager, cold longer while you're soaking up the sun on a patio. The narrow shape results in less surface to touch, keeping your hot hands off the glass means your beer stays colder. The flat wall of the Stange glass means that the beer has less distance to travel, getting it to your mouth quicker! The slight bulge helps to funnel the aroma and concentrate the head on a lower carbonation beer like a lager. Thick, sturdy Stange glasses are also perfect for keeping chilled in the freezer for those extra hot summer days. Three Fields is equally balanced with wheat, barley and malt making it a more robust lager with lots of flavour and body. Despite all that flavour it was very refreshing and went down easy! 
Follow Elora Brewing Co. on Twitter @EloraBrewingCo

Next we tried Evil Twin Brewing's (Stratford, Connecticut) Bikini Beer (3.5%) served in the Pilsner glass. Similar to the Stange, the Pilsner glass is narrow to keep the beer colder longer and preserve carbonation. The curve helps to focus the aroma back together and concentrate it at the surface where you will notice the aroma most, right under your nose. Again, the narrow glass means less surface area for your hands to warm the beer so it stays colder. Bikini is very aromatic for a pilsner due to the two varieties (cascade, simocoe) of hops used. It is also unfiltered like most craft beers causing it to be slightly cloudy and allowing it to keep conditioning after it is canned. Despite being a low alcohol beer, it is certainly not low on taste which is what most people expect. It has a very clean taste with a fruity finish and is anything but boring. Perfect for a warm day. And no, Alex does not stock Evil Twin because it comes from a city called Stratford in Connecticut, he swears it's a coincidence (but we are skeptical of that).
Follow Evil Twin Brewing on Twitter @EvilTwinBrewing         

Our third taste was the Muskoka Brewery Summerwiess (5%) out of the traditional Wheat Beer glass, which is the tallest in the set with a very narrow centre and bulging top. Wheat beers are usually low in carbonation so the narrow centre helps to increase carbonation as the beer is poured and the bulge helps to retain the head since wheat beers lose their carbonation quickly. Weisse or "white" in German is traditionally made from malted wheat. Although all beer contains wheat, a Wheat Beer must contain at least 50% wheat. The Summerwiess is a nice balance of wheat, barley and subtle hops. It has a very low bitterness, herbaceous aromatics with a nice sweet finish. Alex swears he tastes Lucky Charms but we noted the citrus and licorice flavours. An excellent seasonal choice that is only available from May 1st - September 1st. Hello Summer!
Follow Muskoka Brewery on Twitter @MuskokaBrewery

Our fourth taste was another seasonal beer. Alex served the Raspberry Wild Child (3.9%) from local brewery Black Swan in the Tulip glass. Wild Child is a Berliner Weisse also known as a "sour" or "funk" beer. Sours use indigenous yeast and lactic acid, are wheat based, have low alcohol and are intensely sour. Flavoured beers are usually a Berliner Weiss with syrups or fruit added for flavour. Black Swan adds fresh raspberries to create their award winning Wild Child. Alex chose the Tulip Glass because it has a stem (which keeps the bowl off the ground) to show off the pretty pink hue of this unique beer. The rounded bowl also helps to build the bouquet of the beer and the narrow neck concentrates the aroma at the small surface. Very aromatic, fruity, tart and not too sweet, Wild Child is the perfect summer sipping beer... AND it's pink!
Follow Black Swan Brewing Co. on Twitter @BlackSwanBeer

Next we tried Thrust IPA (6.5%) from Great Lakes Brewery (Toronto) out of the Nonic, or pint glass, a traditional British pub glass. The bulge on this glass was actually invented so that when the glasses get stacked they are easier to get apart and to prevent breakage in the bar! The bulge helps to deliver a thicker head as well, and makes it easier to grip. You will end up warming your beer up in this glass, it is specifically for an ale (not a lager). Thrust is an American IPA and has been awarded several Canadian craft beer awards. The wide Nonic glass shows off the golden clarity of this IPA and allows for the heavy aromatics to surface. With strong notes of pine, grapefruit, bitterness and a slight sweetness, Thrust lingers on your taste buds for a while...not to be forgotten easily!  
Follow Great Lakes Brewery on Twitter @GreatLakesBeer

Lastly, we tasted the Sweetback's Milk Stout (5.25%) from Rainhard Brewing (Toronto). This unique, stout uses lactose which can not be converted by the yeast into sugar, for a rich, creamy finish (warning: do not order this if you are lactose intolerant). The stout glass has a stem, lifting the liquid off the counter so you can see it's true colour and opaqueness.  Sweetback's is very thick and almost black but without the bitterness and high alcohol content of many stouts. Cradling your hands around the bowl of the glass you can warm the liquid slightly, allowing the sugar to become more aromatic. This stout has rich, dark coffee and chocolate flavours and a rich, smooth mouth feel.
Follow Reinhard Brewing on Twitter @RainhardBrewing.

Alex goes to Toronto every two weeks, the epicentre of Ontario Craft Beer to get the latest and greatest in craft beer for his patrons! Some breweries sell out of beer in days once they are announced because they are so sought after, but Alex is there for us, waiting in line to fill his truck! By traveling to Toronto himself Alex is able to support breweries that are too small to deliver and have reps. What's on tap changes almost daily, keeping the beer menu up to date is a huge task but Alex uses the cool Untappd app to help him with that. This app synchs with Mercer's website and social media platforms so you can check what's available before you get there! He also has to reprint the entire beer menu every 2 weeks. Because craft beers do not contain commercial preservatives no beer sits around for longer than three months and most, for much less, so the selection is always fresh and in constant rotation. Keeps things interesting! Beer that is leftover after it's freshness is gone gets used by the talented Mercer chef Ryan O'Donnell for beer batters, house-made pickles and more!
Tasting these delicious craft beers was A LOT of fun...

Alex has curated a very unique experience for beer enthusiasts and picky beer drinkers alike. He has carefully selected over 150 kinds of beer based on craftsmanship, flavour and variety. If there is one thing we learned it is that craft beer covers such a range of flavour there is a craft beer for everyone! Alex also does a great thing by picking a "Beer of the Day" to feature and discounts it by 20% to encourage people to try something that they have never heard of. You can also get a tasting flight of 4 different beers for only $7! Alex knows it's crazy cheap but he really wants to get people to take a chance and be a little adventurous with their beer drinking when they come to Mercer. And if you want him to recommend a pairing for the Smoked Maple Chomeur (carmelized pineapple) for you he will, but ultimately, beer is about enjoyment, so order whatever the heck you like. And have fun!

Click below to see what Chef Ryan O'Donnell is preparing in the kitchen at Mercer... One hint - DELICIOUS!

Thank you Alex and Mercer for sharing your bar with us for a couple hours!

And... looking for something UNIQUE and fun to do with Dad to celebrate Father's Day?      

Mercer Hall Craft Beer Picnic at Stratford Perth Museum
Mercer is hosting a Father's Day Craft Beer Picnic in partnership with the Stratford Perth Museum. You can get tickets in advance at Mercer or at the door and you will be able to purchase food and drink tickets to sample a variety of craft beers, food from Mercer and York Street Kitchen AND see the new Lion, Witch & Wardrobe exhibit! Don't wait, get your tickets now before they are gone!

Mercer Hall Inn + Restaurant + Beer Hall

Thanks for reading the Bradshaws Blog... Stay tuned for more adventures!