One of my favorite beer-related excursions that just happened to be a work trip was my visit to Toronto back in early 2008. I unsuccessfully tried to capture the zeitgeist of the beer scene there in this post. I think I liked it because there was dozens upon dozens of new brands that I’d never heard of, all Canadian microbreweries pursuing the same sort of push-the-envelope experimentation that we Americans are. I recall my favorite, though, was a simple wheat ale from DENNISON’S BREWING called WEISSBIER. I vowed that on last week’s trip to Toronto, I would that I would not only aggressively track down and consume the Weissbier again, I would fill my liver with at least three or four other Canadian ales that were wholly unfamiliar to me. I am happy to report that I succeeded on both counts.
I decided to re-create the scene of last year’s trip by immediately heading to BEERBISTRO again, although this time it was in 75-degree weather (they use something called “celsius” out there, however), rather than the 14 degrees I had to endure without a jacket last time. Interestingly, this time this place struck me a lot more as an upscale-professional hangout for pretty Canadian business girls & their giggling pals than it did a palace of beer dorkery. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but THE TORONADO this place ain’t (and who would expect it, with a name like “BEERBISTRO”?). The food is still top-notch – oysters soaked in beer, an incredible Atlantic whitefish, a load of potatoes and veggies, etc. Oh, you want to know what I drank?
COOL BREWING MIKE DUGGAN NUMBER 9 IPA – “Cool Brewing”? Are you kidding me? I think I was so excited to be here I just ordered the first thing that sounded funny. Alas, this is not the IPA for me. Simple, not particularly hoppy – it’s really akin to a high-carbonation, dark red pale ale, very “English” in its orientation. My scathing notes, typed into my BlackBerry, say, “kinda boring”. Oooooh – ouch! 5.5/10.
DENNISON’S WEISSBIER – Yes! They still have it! And yeah, it’s amazing. About as perfect as a wheat beer gets – juicy, bready, loaded with intense flavor, and exceptionally well-balanced. I wish I could’ve smuggled a growler across the border. 9.5/10.
So my boss and I walked back to the hotel, whereupon I realized it was only 8:30pm, and that I was far from done. Thusly, I walked back in the general direction from whence I came, and found a bar called C’EST WHAT (pictured) that my Canadian friend “Peet” told me was the best beer bar in Toronto. Based on the two I’ve been to, I think he may be correct. It’s a well-lit cellar bar, very unassuming, with lots of tables and plenty of room for carousing and conversation. Outside of a couple of Quebec beers from UNIBROUE (we can get those), every one of their 35 or so taps is filled with a beer from Ontario. I blindfolded myself and played “pin the finger on the beer menu”, and this is what I came up with:
BLACK OAK SUMMER SAISON – This is significantly less “Belgian”-tasting than most saisons, with a thicker mouthfeel. Hoppier than expected, with quite a bit more zest – could almost pass for a lighter IPA. To be honest, I felt like the thick mouthfeel of this one really weighed it down. I wanted a moderately funky, coriander- and yeast-driven saison; I got this strange-ass psedo-IPA that I didn't really like. Hunh. 5.5/10.
DURHAM HOP ADDICT – Oh yes. Yes. Oh yes. Big white head of foam, nice biting hops, and a really delicious, carbonated taste. It tastes like a paradoxically dry and juicy beer, with heavy citrus both up front and in the aftertaste. This IPA is everything the “Mike Duggan” was not, and was certainly my #1 fab discovery of the trip. Hopheads will go bananas for this thing. 8.5/10. (Ironically, I just realized I had this last trip)
So that was enough, right? Ah, but not so fast. The next evening, when the working day was done, my co-workers and I found a restaurant on Wellington Street downtown for dinner. I ordered a beer called MILL STREET TANKHOUSE, a local beer from right there in Toronto. It is a pleasant, fruity, moderately hoppy pale ale, similar to an English pale but with more hops and a strange combination of flavors: watermelon, grapefruit, and, uh, hops. I like the approach, and was moderately satisfied with the execution. 6/10. Once again, I just now realized that I too had this last time I was in town.
What did we learn on this trip to Toronto? Well, we learned that Canadians can make amazing beer, and they can also make beer that is only slightly above average. We learned that they are very loyal to their local beers. We learned that there still appears to be a strong English influence on the region’s beer culture. And we learned that there are still hundreds of Ontario beers that Hedonist Beer Jive still has to try. And we will.