Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Another work-related trip that led to beer tasting in a new city – this time across international borders! I had one of those flights out that would have called for a beer or four in any case: lost luggage; a nearly-missed connecting flight, with an OJ-like sprint through the Denver airport; an hour at customs, followed by 45 more minutes at immigration; and a landing in Toronto that was followed by an abrupt stop and 5 fire trucks tearing toward our plane. “Nothing to worry about, just a minor issue with the plane”. Anyway, I made it to my hotel in the 14-degree weather alive yet without a coat (it was back in Denver sitting in my missing luggage), and I was dead set on heading to a gastropub/high-end beer restaurant called BEERBISTRO, a mere six cold blocks from my hotel. Looking like a total coatless, possibly mentally ill nerd, I headed out in the snow in search of great food and great beer. At BEERBISTRO, I found both, and had one of the most enjoyable gastronomic and drink-related evenings of the past few years, all whilst flying solo.

BEERBISTRO is in downtown Toronto, and is like any fantastic high-end restaurant in a major city with fish entrees, steaks and upscale salads & such – only instead of pairing everything with wine, it’s all about the beer. My food selections had a vaguely Asian theme, like the “Pilsner Maki Roll” and the Grilled Atlantic Salmon with wok-fried root vegetables, all of which were TOTALLY AMAZING. I really didn’t have to drink to walk away happy, but I drank nonetheless, deciding of course to “go local” and sample as many Ontario/Quebec beers as I could handle. By sample, I mean I had two pints and the rest truly were those 5-oz. sampler glasses.

Here’s what I learned about Ontario/Quebec beer:

DENNISON’S WEISSIER – Probably the single greatest wheat beer I’ve ever tasted, no lie. It makes RateBeer’s list of top 10 Canadian beers, as judged by its readers and contributors, so I’m obviously in good company with my enthusiasm. Smooth and with a subtle bite, this one tastes of bananas and spices, and is seriously as good as this style gets. I’m going to start a black market importation ring just to drink more of this. 9.5/10.

BLACK OAK NUT BROWN ALE – Dry finish, smooth brown ale that tastes of roasted malts and nuts. Medium-bodied and pretty damn good. 7.5/10.

ST. AMBROISE OATMEAL STOUT – This one also made that RateBeer list, but I wasn’t that into it. Very silky, slightly smoked-tasting, hints of mocha and maybe a little too bitter for my tastes. 6/10.

DURHAM HOP ADDICT – Excellent IPA! Aromatic like you wouldn’t believe – pine & grapefruit, with a restrained hop profile that makes this a very easy one to drink. Search it out when you’re in Ontario, eh! 8/10.

MILL STREET TANKHOUSE ALE – A very straightforward, well-balanced amber ale with a nice dose of hops that makes this a little bitter. Good, not great. 6.5/10.

GREAT LAKES WINTER ALE – Not the US-based GREAT LAKES BREWING, but the Ontario-based GREAT LAKES BREWING. Their winter ale pours a brownish-red, and has a nice hoppy bite with light spicing. Probably about 6-7% ABV. Fairly standard as 2007 Winter Ales go – it doesn’t add much to the conversation – but I liked it fine. 6.5/10.

I thought those six were a great introduction to the beers of the region, and there are a ton more where those came from at BEERBISTRO. Their beer list is spectacular, if a little highly-priced at times (a bomber of ROGUE IMPERIAL STOUT = $42.50; a bottle of PORT OLDER VISCOSITY = $49.97) – but you only need to follow my lead & go for what’s on tap and eat as much as your stomach allows. A perfect first night in frigid Toronto.

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