On Wednesday I had occasion to finally get out to Mill Street’s new Beer Hall location (yes, secret revealed, I wrote a story about The Beer Hall for blogTO without ever having set foot in it. Sue me).
It’s a pretty spectacular place and despite what a handful of reviewers and snarky commenters have to say about the decor, I think most people will be impressed with the place–if only for its size. Pictures don’t really convey how bloody massive the place is and, given that Mill Street is embracing a “soft open” approach, the size of the place seems all the more cavernous given the sparse attendance (but expect that to change once word gets out about this place and once the absolutely massive patio opens later this month).
Anyway, I wasn’t there for the feng shui, I was there, naturally, to drink. And, while I did sample the beers (two new Mill Street ones–more on that in a later post), the real draw for me was the much-talked-about Biershnaps, a dry spirit that’s made mostly in Germany by distilling beer into a clear, colourless spirit with some cane sugar added. It’s not available anywhere else in Canada and ever since I heard Mill Street brewmaster Joel Manning talk about it way back in January (I was sworn to secrecy), I’ve been anxious to try it. Firstly, Manning’s enthusiasm for the stuff is clear and infectious. Manning is one of those brewers whom you couldn’t imagine doing anything other than brewing beer. He’s clearly super-passionate about it and when he starts talking about techniques, traditions, and European influences, he gets a sort of twinkle in his eye. Hearing him talk about the process of making bierschnaps is much the same.
Secondly, when he describes that process he conveys that the final product is something like a concentration of all the best and boldest flavours of the beer used to make it and mentions that it makes a perfect, smooth, cold shot to accompany a pint.
Cue my drooling.
On Wednesday, when I actually did get to try it, I wasn’t disappointed.
I was about ten minutes late for meeting Joel and when I arrived I had worked up a bit of a sweat hauling ass from the streetcar to get there. When I arrived, sweaty and disheveled, Joel quickly ushered me and my guest into the actual distilling area–which is essentially a terrarium that someone failed to give any ventilation despite the fact that liquids are boiled and distilled within it.
In short, it was fucking hot, and I was bloody thirsty.
So when Joel poured a few deep shots of Tankhouse Bierschnaps, an ice cold liquid I had come to understand as “beer concentrate” I downed it happily.
Bierschnaps is the real deal.
There’s big aromas on the nose that convey the suggestion of hops and a malty smoothness, but it really doesn’t compare to beer or other spirits. The flavour, at first, is virtually nonexistent. Taken as a shot it goes down with practically-dangerous smoothness and, after a delay, the flavours begin to appear in your mouth as something like an after-thought. There’s a tingling sensation owing to the beverage’s respectable 45% ABV, then there’s a hoppy, piney taste, but without the bitterness that often accompanies beers that share those flavours. There’s also a malty, woody sweetness that could be compared to new make–the increasingly popular term for un-aged whisky. Tankhouse Bierschnaps is an impressive drink not only for all it conveys, but also that it does it all so subtly.
My buddy whom I had elected to bring along noted astutely that one could probably get into plenty of trouble with a bottle of bierschnaps given how damn easy it is to drink.
Currently running distilling operations for Manning and Mill Street is Kaitlin Vandenbosch, who has a masters in Brewing and Distilling (best degree ever?) from Heriott-Watt University in Edinburgh. She joined us for a much needed pint after her shift working in the steamy glass display case that houses the still and it’s clear that she shares Manning’s enthusiasm for the product.
As of right now, Mill Street is still ironing out details related to selling the bierschnaps (they can’t even legally transport it to the Beer Hall’s bar yet, thus the need to drink it in the distilling area) but they’re flush with product and waiting for the word go. So far they’ve only got Tankhouse Bierschnaps but it will soon be joined by a bierschnaps distilled from their Coffee Porter as well as one distilled from their raspberry ale, Frambozen.
And while both of these sound promising given the unique characteristics of the beers used to make them, I’m perhaps most excited for the forthcoming “Hopfenschnaps” a variety of bierschnaps that will be distilled from Tankhouse but then will benefit from the addition of considerably more hops, making it what Manning told me back in January will be “the hoppiest thing you’ve ever tasted.” Indeed on Wednesday he reiterated this description by explaining that this stuff will have so much aroma it will be like “cascade hop cologne.”
Sounds amazing, frankly. If it’s anywhere near as good as the Tankhouse Bierschnaps, it’s going to be fantastic. And, by then, I’ll definitely be done the bottle I took home.