Thursday, July 27, 2017

Beer's History and Toronto's Rorschach Brewery...

If Water is Mother Nature's fuel, then Beer must be Mother Nature's Rocket fuel!

"When men learned how to cultivate, cook and consume grains, we went from cave-dwelling savages to upright citizens."-- National Geographic's film EAT: The Story of Food.

"Who'd knew that when you put together grain, water and a bit of yeast, you can create this fermented alcoholic beverage that is absolutely delicious?"-- Chef Eric Greenspan

30,000 years ago we discovered how to cultivate, cook and consume grains. But what came first- Bread or Beer? According to the doc film- Eat: The Story of Food, bread has artifacts that date back to 30,000 years but none show when beer was actually born. We do know that the earliest recipe for beer came from Mesopotamia, and that in Ancient Egypt, pyramid labourers were paid in beer. Since beer is high in calories, it was an excellent energy drink to keep workers going. The Egyptians were one of the earliest civilizations to brew beer and the large breweries produced as many as 30,000 barrels a year.

Once the ancient food systems switched to agriculture, grains like barley, millet, corn and wheat were made into beer. Additionally, beer was seen as the drink of the common man because it could be made anywhere – it became a moveable feast if you will. Europe was the epicentre of great beer-making but in the US beer varieties were very limited. Further, after the prohibition in the 1920s, it became very hard to find good beer. The trend became to please more people akin to what was happening in the food packaging market. Thus, the flavours were bland and developed to meet the tastes of the masses. They appealed to the lowest common denominator. Put another way, the beer lacked quality. By the 1990s in the US, many microbreweries were springing up in basements and back rooms. More recently, especially over the last 30 years, the renaissance of craft beer has exploded in North America and has even transformed our Ontario beverage landscape. For example, there are now over three hundred breweries all over this great province. The diversity of craft beers, that we now enjoy, is unprecedented in history and ranges from humble to bedazzling. So much so, that the number has now increased by over 100 new breweries in comparison to last year. This explosion in growth is researched and well documented in The Ontario Craft Beer Guide. by Leblanc & St. John who came out with their second edition of the book a few months ago.

Launched just shy of the 2017 publication of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, we will be sure to find our very own Toronto's Rorschach Brewing Co. in the third edition. Rorschach’s story began in 2006 when three soon-to-become chemical engineers, Matthew Reiner, Chris Ristevski and Mohan Pandit met each other in the halls of the Wallburg building at the University of Toronto. With a joint passion for beer-making, they set up shop in Matthew’s basement studying the magic of fermentation. Extensive travels to research beer-making coupled with countless beer tastings in the years to come and crossing paths with Ben Ragan - a seasoned wine and beer maker - Rorschach Brewing Company was born. Pronounced "ror-shack", the name comes from a psychological test that dates back to the mid-1800s where ambiguous symmetrical inkblots were used to examine a person’s personality and emotions. The foundation of the test shows that each individual can appreciate the ambiguity and complexity of an experience according to their own ‘perceptual set’. 

"Beer, just like food, is a personal experience; no two people’s tastes are exactly the same. Our goal is to facilitate and enhance that experience, and ultimately help to elevate the beer experience."-- Rorschach

Much of the space is decorated with salvaged wood and material.

My family was invited to the brewery by co-owner Mohan Pandit's uncle Nick. Nick and I met at a grocery store a few years back (he was also my guest blogger with his delicious Apple Chickpea Salad recipe). He had just conducted a health & safety orientation with the brewery's staff and wanted me to come check out the goods and enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour with the kids. But first a Sunday romp across the street at the Ashbridges Farmers' Market. It had such a warm, friendly neighbourhood vibe for families, friends and just hanging out.

Fresh, delicious harvest and homemade goods and foods!

The building is the amalgamation of three distinct structures, beginning with the front of the building which is the
original brick home built in 1917. An extension was built onto the rear of property and used for boat building from 1932
until the mid 1950s. The warehouse that was built in 1970 was adjoined with the existing two buildings in 2008.

Photo Credit: Rorschach Brewery Co.
From left to right: Co-Owners Mohan, Matthew and Chris and Manager Ben 

4oz. tasters were the way to go with so many to choose from on tap. The full sensory notes described for each one made it that much harder to select a few. We went for a range of light and dark beer.

Enjoying the experience on the patio with the crew.

My twins enjoying some handcrafted sodas in silver birch beer and old tyme orange!

My favourite of the lot was the "counterconditioning" blueberry IPA brewed with oats and hopped with mosaic, citra and ekunot hops, fresh blueberry puree, notes of blueberry, red fruit, citrus and pine, hints of vanilla and stone fruit.... smooth, light-bodied, flavourful to the nose and tongue, and refreshingly enjoyable to the finish!

Love the gorgeous spacious rooftop patio and family-friendly atmosphere!

What's beer without some munchies... A nice selection of tapas-sharing plates, we noshed on nachos with pico de gallo and guac, fried calamari (nice touch with the fried pickled hot pepper rings), fries, battered-fried eggplant spears (Omgosh so deelish), and jerk-rubbed chicken wings!

We had a nice surprise meeting with the previous owners of the location, and proprietors of Le Papillon on the Park, Paul and Danielle Bigue, who stopped in for some food and drinks.

My French-speaking husband having a nice French conversation :D. 

The tour begins....  Here the refrigerated kegs of beer are hooked up with tubes that snake up to the rooftop patio's bar to serve beer from their taps.

And it all starts with the grains... 
The stuff of our foods that is the most basic, and everything is celebrated from that simplicity! 
Bread, pizza, pasta, beer...

Nolan was our awesome, very knowledgeable and friendly behind-the-scenes tour guide....

Photo Credits: Nick Pandit

Giant hectolitre tanks fill the back space connected to the casual restaurant in front.

The beer-making process is very technical and labourous that takes days from brewing to bottling. Chefs of beer see grains as the canvas, and then paint with herbs, hops and other ingredients to add flavour and build character.

The mega-bottling machine.

They are looking forward to growing their own herbs, vegetables and flowers on their rooftop garden for the brewery. A huge plus is they have a large free parking lot right beside their building! 
Check them out this summer:

"As a small brewery and tasting room, we intend to experiment with different brewing styles, unique ingredients and innovative techniques, but we will always have a heavy focus on the specific styles of beer that we enjoy to brew and drink. We strive to craft beers that are both full of flavour and make us want to have another." -- Rorschach Brewery Co.

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