Mill Street Brew Pub’s Robbie Burns Dinner

by Ben

This post was originally written as a proposed submission to blogTO to cover the event. Sadly, due to circumstances beyond my control, it was never actually published. 

Given that I went to the trouble of writing it and that the folks at Mill Street were good enough to cover the cost of my ticket, I thought I’d post it here so that at least someone might read it. 

The pictures were snapped by my friend, Leon. 

“And on my birthday, drink a ton of beer.”
~Robbie Burns

OK, I don’t have any real proof that Robbie Burns actually said that but he may as well have. Because, as any good Scot or alcohol enthusiast knows, each year on or around January 25th, people celebrate the birthday of Robbie Burns, Scotland’s favourite son, with a traditional meal that usually features haggis, Burns’ poetry, and, naturally, the consumption of alcohol. Thursday evening, the Burns dinner held at Mill Street Brew Pub was no exception.

The evening was hosted by Mill Street’s Brewmaster, Joel Manning, and featured a five course menu of Scottish delights, each course paired with a beer from Mill Street.

Manning had an obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter and there was a clear attempt by the event’s organizers to adhere to all the traditional aspects of the festivities: Participants were piped in to our seats by a bagpiper, we had a chairman’s welcome, The Selkirk Grace was told, and the Haggis was piped in and addressed — in fine form by an animated, kilt-wearing fellow named Rick Richter. The evening was likewise interspersed with earnest attempts to explain Robbie Burns’ historical significance, though an ill-timed lengthy reading of Burns’ poetry after the crowd had already consumed five pints and a filet-mignon seemed to be somewhat less than well-received given the crowd’s attention level by then. A poorly wired microphone didn’t seem to help matters. Nonetheless, the effort was admirable.

The fare, which featured a scotch egg, cock-a-leekie soup, and an ice cream dessert, in addition to the opening haggis and main course filet mignon, was fantastic and, again, attention to detail was obvious.

For me, however, where the evening (and Manning) shone, was when it came to the evening’s beer offerings. Manning, former president of the Canadian Brewing Association, a brewer for almost 25 years, and brewmaster at Mill Street since 2006, obviously knows his beer and while his enthusiasm for Robbie Burns may have fallen just short of infectious, it’s impossible not to get excited about the beer you’re drinking when Manningexplains its creation.

Participants were greeted with a welcoming pint of Mill Street’s Royal York Stinger Honey Beer, a beer brewed exclusively for the Royal York Hotel using honey produced in the hives on the hotel’s roof. The tasty cream ale was an appropriately light opener to the evening and the hint of honey was noticeable.

Owing to the evening’s banquet-style seating, the dinner was very social and, after our first course, it became clear to my tablemates that I was taking notes. And so, given the festive atmosphere and the spirit of beer appreciation, others were more than willing to offer their thoughts on the evening’s beverages, too, so I’ve included the thoughts of some fellow participants for each beer.

The haggis course was paired with Cask-Conditioned Father John’s Ale, a Southern English ESB. As Manning noted, the beer was born out of an attempt to impress his father-in-law, John. It was a pale amber colour with considerable Czech aroma hops, making it a fairly floral beer with big flavour that somehow stays very drinkable and smooth. As the beer’s namesake noted on first trying a pint, “It’s a beer a man can take his coat off to.”
Tablemate Leon noted: ”I like the low carbonation. I feel like I can drink a lot of this while I eat a lot of food.” And that’s precisely what we did.

The scotch egg, what I’ve decided is the ultimate breakfast meal, was paired with Bob’s Bearded Red Ale. The beer, named after Manning’s friend, world-renowned Canadian opera singer Robert Pomakov (aka Opera Bob), is a traditional Irish Red Ale (not the North American version that’s generally a darker amber with caramel flavouring). This is a nitrogen-charged, creamy pub draught with a perfect balance of flavour. For me, this beer was the highlight of the night. It’s currently available only at Mill Street and at Opera Bob’s.
Tablemate Ali noted (in comparison to the Father John): “This one’s better.”

For the soup course, Mill Street’s IPA seemed to suffer somewhat from it’s place in the rotation. After the big taste and creaminess of the Red Ale, the IPA seemed to fall short in flavour. It was a good, floral, semi-hoppy IPA with some citrus notes, but in a Toronto market fairly flooded with craft IPAs right now, this one didn’t particularly stand out for me. The cock-a-leekie soup had plenty of flavour though.
Tablemate Katie noted: “Good, but not a full flavour.”

The Cask-Conditioned Black Watch Scotch Ale was a fragrant and floral ale with understated caramel, hops, and coffee flavours and was a good accompaniment to a filet mignon served with bashed neeps and campit tatties.
Tablemate Katie noted: “Nutty.”
(It’s probably important to note that at this point in the evening, wherein servers were sure to keep our glasses charged for toasting purposes, our beer consumption and large and tasty meal were beginning to take their toll. This is the point in the evening when an older female tablemate simply stood up, said “I’ve had too much to drink” and left).

Dessert for the evening was ice cream served with Mill Street’s Vanilla Porter. I was at first skeptical of the combination of sweet vanilla with a malty, smoky porter, but the addition of organic Mexican vanilla extract works surprisingly well with the porter’s roast barley flavours and caramel notes to make this a decidedly tasty beer, though not one I can imagine drinking more than one or two of. A number of people at our table simply added their ice cream directly to their vanilla porter, for an impromptu float of sorts. One diner noted that he felt the addition of ice cream contributed to a better mouthfeel, which he felt was lacking with this beer; others at the table were probably just getting sloppy at this point in the evening and thought it might be fun to drop ice cream in their beer.
Tablemate Blake noted: “Delicious. A true dessert beer.”

Following dessert, to close out an enjoyable evening, the Robbie Burns dinner participants treated the rest of the brew pub to a rousing rendition of Burn’s Auld Lang Syne before packing it in. The one notable oversight to Mill Street’s otherwise outstanding feast was the omission of Scotland’s eponymous beverage, thought that was easily rectified by a post-meal trip to Mill Street Brew Pub’s well stocked bar, just metres away.