For some reason my friend Jeff and I decided to go away for a random weekend and explore a new city. The criteria we discussed were as follows: cheap short flight, good night life, and a city neither of us had been to. He was unaware of my primary criteria; good beer must be available. We went international with this trip and ended up in Toronto, ON, Canada. A short 1 hour 4 minute flight and equal amount of time battling with customs agents and getting our luggage, the beer-cation was on.
We visited a lot of different types of beer venues. My favorite by far was Bar Hop in the Entertainment District which was about a seven minute walk from our hotel. Bar Hop wasn’t on my radar. We were down the street at Gabby’s (nothing but adjunct lagers there) watching football. The cute waitress suggested Bar Hop to us.
The entrance was kind of weird and dark, but it led to a very comfortable, almost cozy bar. We sat at the far end of the bar and took in the beer list. Impressive; with 36 beers on tap, 2 casks, plus over 100 bottles and cans; Bar Hop has to be Ontario’s premier craft beer bar. The first beer I ordered was a cask of Kensington Augusta Ale Extra Hoppy (with extra Citra hops in the cask). I would give it an 8 on the BBA scale. The second beer I ordered was Karma Citra from Great Lakes Brewery (of Ontario, not the same as GLBC in Cleveland). I would give that beer a solid 9 on the BBA Scale. It was at that point that we decided to get a flight of 4 samples so we could work through a little more of the list.
We had Great Lakes My Bitter Wife IPA (best beer name of the trip), Black Oak Nutcracker Porter (Christmas porter), Nickel Brook Winey Bastard Imperial Stout, and FlyingMonkey Triple Chocolate Stout (a collaboration with the band Bare Naked Ladies). The Winey Bastard and Flying Monkey really stuck out for different reasons. Winey Bastard is an imperial stout aged for a year in Pinot Noir barrels. It isn’t for the faint of heart. The triple chocolate stout was something special. It is a 10 on the BBAscale for me and maybe a top five beer of all time. They had a bottle of it which I asked if I could buy for take-away. I couldn’t.
|Oysters and beer = heaven|
We had already eaten dinner (see below Town Crier), but when I saw raw oysters on the menu, by nature, I had to get some. I ordered half dozen oysters from PEI and I was stunned to see our bartender of record, Matt Bod, do all the work. As he opened each oyster, he sniffed the shells to make sure they were fresh. Then he took raw horse radish and grated onto an empty shell. Aside from Matt’s oyster shucking prowess; he was a really friendly bar tender and knew about every beer I asked about. It was attention to detail like that that put Bar Hop over the top for me. After which, I ordered a full pour of the triple chocolate stout followed by a Kwak. Needless to say, I was opening up and talking to everyone who was sitting at the bar at that point.
|Can't rotate! sorry|
I don’t like to give my year in review (link is for 2011) winner away until I publish it at the end of the year; but Bar Hop will possibly be my # 1 beer bar visit of 2012.
Before I went to Toronto, I reached out to some BBA fans for advice on where to get good beer in Toronto. I was not disappointed. The first place I hit was C’est What. It has an excellent selection of Canadian beers including some of their own offerings) and had four casks as well. At first I didn’t like the bar tender. But he warmed up later. I asked if they did samples and he said no, and that he was happy about that. He also didn’t tell me I could have ordered half pints. Jeff ordered one of their cask (I forgot which), but it was really solid. I started off with Twice as Mad DIPA from Muskoa Brewery (which was also recommended). Besides the short comings of that one bar tender, I would highly recommend C’est What.
|Bacon cheeseburger poutine = hangover killer|
We left C’est What to go to some random animation company’s holiday party. I am leaving out some names here for their own good standing in Toronto. Brazen Head is a huge Irish pub in Liberty Village. A large section was roped off for the party where food and drink were included in the party! This is where things got interesting. But before they did; I was able to try a couple offerings from Mill Street Brewery (see my visit below). I had the Tank House Ale and Vanilla Porter; both really solid offerings. The food that was served was tasty, so if their regular menu is as good, then it is worth a visit.
The next day we ventured to the Distillery District where a German Christmas market was going on. There were wooden stalls all over the place selling traditional food and knick knacks to buy. Not only is Mill Street Brewery there, but there were four other beer gardens throughout the complex. I was home. Unfortunately the open bar the night before left me a little hung-over that even a bacon cheeseburger poutine couldn’t completely fix. I was able to sample some beers at Mill Street and buy a souvenir glass.
|Beer Garden at Mill Street Brewery|
Mill Street Brewery was way too crowded for me to explore, but I did have another Vanilla Porter and their IPA in the make shift beer garden. Mulled drinks were being served at all the beer gardens. A mulled drink is a hot, usually with red wine or cider, drink with Christmas type spices such as: clove, cinnamon, and all-spice and others. Jeff ordered a mulled Wit bier, and I have to say, I need to learn how to make it. It was great.
Near the Distillery district was the only beer store we came upon. It was called The Beer Store Boutique, and it was just ok. Some craft brews, a lot of big brand stuff. But if you are there, it may be worth checking out.
|Me at Steam Whistle|
On our last full day in town, we made the tourist rounds and had noodles in Chinatown, walked to the CN Tower, and toured the Hockey Hall Of Fame. We also stopped at the Steam Whistle Brewery which is at the base of the CN Tower. I was first introduced to Steam Whistle in 2003 on a trip to Ottawa and remember putting a lot down. They make only one beer, a pilsner. As far as a pilsner goes, I really like it. Just walking into their brewery, you get a free sample. You can also buy growlers and bottles. So I enjoyed one more bottle while watching NFL football on TV there. I liked the tasting room; it was neat and a little rustic. I can see big time beer nerds not into Steam Whistle, but I think it is a great, easy drinking beer that fits the bill as a craft beer.
|Charcuterie at Town Crier|
That night we headed to a European beer pub Town Crier Pub & Halfway Beer House. The menus (draft, bottle, and food) were quite impressive. I have a Belgian DIPA and a Charcuterie plate that consisted of cold German sausage and salami, a hot pretzel, and sharp mustard. I loved it. Jeff ordered the Currywurst, and it brought me right back to Berlin. Town Crier is a bar I could spend a lot of time at. Drinking good beer and eating perfectly paired food.
My overall impressions of Toronto as a beer town after visiting are much better than expected. It wasn’t too hard to find craft beer, and I really shouldn’t be surprised that some of those beers were fantastic. Though the quantity of breweries are not nearly what us southern neighbors have, there certainly isn’t any quality lost.
Also, visit St. Lawrencemarket while there. It is the hub of culinary shopping in Toronto.