2018, A Year in Beer
One of our favourite things to do as each year comes to its conclusion is to take a retrospective look back at where we started out in January and evaluate our evolution in brewing over the last 12 months. It’s rewarding to see how some beers that were first conceived as a test batch or a small limited release have grown to become a Bandit staple or a fully-fledged beer series. Other beers come and go in a season, sometimes making a splashy return due to popular demand. In some cases, we released a single batch of beer, which we never repeated again, only for it to ultimately have a strong impact on our brewing style due to a lesson learned or an opportunity missed.
2018 was a remarkable year for us, with many changes and updates in our brewhouse. The expansion of our barrel-program, which nearly doubled its size, allowed for much more experimentation and research. 2018 was a year filled with lots of “firsts”, as it was our first time working with a variety of ingredients, from prickly pear to coconut. It was also our first time brewing certain styles, such as the ubiquitous Milkshake IPA. Our incredibly hard-working and inventive team of brewers found new ways to grow our beer list in an organic way that stays true to our motto: “We focus on making great beer that we’d like to drink ourselves.”
It’s safe to say that we started the year with a loud bang. With an ABV of 11.3%, Mamba (Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout) brought us some much-needed warmth during the dreary ice-cold temperatures of January. Aged for an extended period of time in French oak barrels, this beer brought forward strong notes of coffee and vanilla, while retaining an unexpected dry-finish that this beer style is not particularly known for. The experience of brewing this beer was very helpful as we began to prepare for our 2018 Hibernator December release.
We followed the release of Mamba with an amped up version of Hoppelgänger (Dry-Hopped Pilsner). Even with its ABV of 8.4%, this beer maintained a comparable lightness and smooth character. It’s not often that you see an Imperial Lager, so this release was particularly interesting for our brewers. Our second February release, Hawai’ipa (Mango Raspberry Milkshake IPA) was a real game-changer for us. Although we had brewed two tiny batches of lactose beers in 2017 (Calamansi MIPA for Cask Days and a Milkshake Hefeweizen for fun), this was our first proper Milkshake beer release. It took some experimentation to find the ideal balance of sweetness and bitterness, the right creaminess, and the best hops for this unique style. By the time we released Hawai’ipa it became clear that this was a style that we wanted to explore and drink more of. Our brewers instantly started putting together a list of ingredients and fruit combinations that they would want to work with. Since then, we’ve been slowly trying to cover all our ideal versions with our YY* travel-inspired series of Milkshake IPAs.
We continued our foray into milkshake IPAs and released our second MIPA, YY* -> LAX, a Strawberry Vanilla variant, and the first one under the YY* name. This was quickly followed by the release of Cake Monster, a Chocolate Habanero Lactose American- Style Porter inspired by our brewers’ recent journey to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. This rich and spicy beer mixed a whopping 5 kilos of roasted cacao from Toronto-based company Chocosol Traders with 1 lb. of diced habanero peppers, and Madagascar vanilla beans. As you will notice as you get through the following months, Cake Monster has since turned into a series of Pastry Porters, inspired by some of our favourite desserts and sweet treats.
April saw the release of a hazy Imperial IPA, Lup the Lup, our first beer brewed using lupulin powder, which provides the beer with a punchy, yet smooth aroma. The haziness provided by the Vermont yeasts and the tropical aromas of hops like Citra and Ekuanot, made this a smooth and crushable beer, even with an 8.9% ABV. By this time of the year, we started gearing up for our busy Summer season. April saw the release of a new Patio Season menu as well as of our first official Summer beer, a new version of our Wizard of Gose which ditched the usual apricot addition in lieu of prickly pear. The result was an electric pink beer with aromas of watermelon, berries, and candied fruit.
Warmer and longer days in May inspired us to continue brewing light and crisp beers. We released Blanc, a straight-up dry-hopped Sour with no fruit. We switched up the type of lactobacillus so that it wasn’t the same we use for our Wizard of Gose series and used a pilsner malt, wheat, and oats for the grain bill. The resulting beer was a refreshing beer with aromas of lemon, mandarin and white grapes, drinking akin to a Chardonnay. Our MIPA series continued to gain a following, so new fruit variations of the style were released every month. In May 2018, a new Mango Nectarine MIPA (YY* -> KOA) was released just as we started to set up the first picnic tables on our patio. One of the most exciting beers to come out of our brewhouse this year was also released in May: Quad Goals, a Bourbon Barrel-Aged Belgian Quad. This was a beer that we got particularly excited about since we’re big fans of this style and love the maltiness and dark fruit characters it is known for. We began brewing this beer in August of 2017 using Belgian strong ale yeast and aged it for roughly 6 months, resulting in a big, fruity, and spicy beer.
By June we were in full Summer swing, which brought the return of our beach bad boy - The HasselHef (Hefeweizen). This time around our brewer Horacio gave our Summer wheat beer a Carioca makeover with the addition of passionfruit. All the desired elements of a classic Hefeweizen were still present, from the spiciness of German “Noble” hops to the sweetness of Munich malts, but the passionfruit added an unexpected tartness that worked wonderfully with the style. Mexico once again served as inspiration for one of our beers with the release of YY*->MEX, a Mango Habanero Milkshake IPA that was best enjoyed under the scorching hot Summer sun on one of many endless patio days. A special shoutout goes out to Le Duc, a classic Flanders Red Ale helmed by Bandit brewer Stephane. Our passion for sour beers is no secret, and while it felt like a big leap to brew this fruity-vinegar like revered beer, we were delighted with the result: a deep dark amber sour beer with strong notes of oak, ripe red fruit, and a subtle wine/vinegar complexity.
In July we introduced a juicin’ new version of our Mr. Pink (Hibiscus Pale Ale) series and it instantly became a standout of our patio season. This was one of those beers that we just couldn’t make enough of, so we ended up making more than one batch, something that we don’t often do. An additional version, featuring Strawberries was added to our beer lineup. This month also marked our first time brewing a Brut IPA, a style that originated in the Bay Area of California over the last few years. We really loved the intense fizziness and the Champagne-like character of this beer, but lately we’re craving much juicier and funkier brews, so that was most likely a one-off. A new Mallorca-inspired Milkshake IPA with cantaloupe, YY*-> PMI, was released later that month. The use of Huell-Mellon and Galaxy hops complimented the cantaloupe sweetness wonderfully, resulting in one of our favourite beers of the season.
During the hottest month of the year, we continued our fruit-forward trend with the release of two different MIPAs: YY*->SJO (Pineapple Vanilla Milkshake IPA) and YY*->AKL (Mango Kiwi Milkshake IPA). A beautifully balanced Blood Orange variety of our staple Wizard of Gose was released earlier in the month, making this our fourth Gose release since our opening. While our Dundas West Coast IPA has been a Bandit staple since our opening year, this month saw us go bi-coastal with the introduction of our Dundas East Coast IPA, a beer that balanced out our favourite characteristics from both East Coast and West Coast styles, resulting in a silky and juicy beer with sweet, tropical aromas and a dry, bitter finish. While we didn’t continue brewing this beer after the end of Summer, it informed the direction that our beers took for the Winter season and heading into 2019.
September is always a memorable month for us due to our Bandit Oktoberfest celebrations (believe it or not the Bavarian festival officially kicks-off in September). Every year we set out to brew our own take of a classic German beer. For Bandit Oktoberfest 2018 we were thrilled to introduce Hoppelhosen, a new take on our Hoppelganger dry-hopped exclusively with new German Noble hops such as Mandarina Bavaria, Huell-Melon, and Hallertau Blanc. YY*->MAD, a Clementine Milkshake IPA, was released, making this our first citrus release of the series. A new extra-tart Lime Wizard of Gose was released as the month came to a close; the perfect beer for one last hurrah on our patio!
As the weather started turning damp and grey, we followed all the Summer’s tropical fruit Milkshake beer releases with a new Black Raspberry MIPA, YY*->PDX. These sweet dark berries were the perfect ingredient for this beer since they didn’t overpower the citrus aromas given by Mandarina hops. We added pectin from apples for some additional creaminess, something we’ve continued to do to our MIPAs ever since. All in all, an excellent beer to transition our YY* series into colder temperatures.
We started the month with the introduction of our latest IPA, CLOUD. This intensely aromatic new beer has become a favourite with our team and our guests and has slowly been establishing itself as our staple IPA. A new variant of Cake Monster (Porter) inspired by German Black Forest cake and brewed with sweet & sour cherries and cacao was released, continuing on our plans for this decadent and robust series of pastry Porters. Another first for us was that we started canning our original apricot Wizard of Gose in small 375 ml. format. A new and punchier version of our Gose series, this time with added starfruit, was released later in the month.
We started the year with some bold beers, so it only makes sense to finish 2018 with a bang. For the last two years, we’ve been releasing a yearly holiday season barrel-aged release, Hibernator. This year, with so many more barrels to experiment with, we decided to take the ambitious route and release not one, but two, versions of the style. The first release was a Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout conditioned on toasted coconut and chocolate. This was our first time working with coconut and we loved the results in this beer. The sweetness of the coconut and chocolate, mixed with the spiciness and warmth imparted from the Bourbon barrels, make this a beautiful and festive shareable sipper. For the second version we wanted to highlight the qualities of the barrels we’re working with, so we made an extra-funky straight Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout with Brett. It’s been some time since we last made an Imperial IPA or DIPA, and since we just recently introduced our new CLOUD IPA we decided to close the year with a bigger, bolder version. Our new DIPA, Orage, picks up where we left off with 2016’s Tsarina Bomb and 2017’s Equinoctum, both beers brewed in more classic West Coast style. Orage is a hazy, juicy and creamy beer with a punchy dankness and rich tropical aromas provided by hops like Galaxy, Mosaic, and Columbus.
We’re thrilled about what 2019 will bring to the brewery since we have some very exciting plans to expand our barrel program and some very special beer releases coming down the pipe. We cannot wait to share our vision for the year with you over the next few weeks!
Lastly, let us finish our stroll down memory lane by thanking you for all of your support and for continuing to allow us to do what we love to do: make some fantastic beers for you!
Happy New Year!!!