Summer in the city and beer goes down so nice and easy! You can certainly say that about anywhere in North America this summer. High temperatures and lack of rain have pushed many of us unto the patio these past weeks, to discover new thirst quenching treats and to try some old favourites.
I spent a sunny, but sticky couple of weeks in Toronto and environs recently and discovered many styles we take for granted here on the west coast, now coming into vogue in Ontario: saisons, session ales and even gruut and sours making appearances. Of course, the first week I spent in Vaughn, north of Toronto, just. You’d be lucky to find a waitress in the many chain restaurants up there who even know what a craft beer is, never mind actually finding one. So it’s the LCBO where you’ll find Ontario’s best craft brewers. There are a few I’m told at the international monopoly known as The Beer Store, but I know no intelligent craft beer drinker who buys from this establishment. I found some great brews at the LCBO and most of them in tallboy cans.
My fave above all else was Limp Puppet Session IPA from Great Lakes Brewing. At only 3.8% this brew is so tasty, full hop nose carries right through the palate, bold statements of hop abound around a solid malt base, touch of caramel, the right balance, dry finish. Oddly enough, I’d found the few last cans up north as this seasonal had sold out everywhere else. I’d hope to see it as a regular in their line up, as many locals would too.
Another beer that kept popping up for me was Naughty Neighbour American Pale Ale from Nickle Brook Brewery. Big flavour at 4.9%, lots of hop aroma, pine, citrus, smooth malt backbone supports the hoppy aerials. Delicious with spicy food, a cool gold colour and definitely sessionable.
Collective Arts Brewing makes this delightful session IPA, State of Mind, at 4.4%, quite hop forward, hints of tropical fruit tease the nose and palate, it is light bodied with notes of citrous, very more-ish, crisp with a dry finish, and the hops linger lovingly. Each bottle has unique artwork as its label.
Muskoka Brewing is big on most beer hunters radar in Ontario and they don’t disappoint. Whether its their now iconic Mad Tom IPA, the sessionable Detour IPA or the much touted Twice as Mad Tom IPA, they are as solid as they come. This summer’s specialty was a tarty and delicious 7.3% farmhouse style Moonlight Kettle Saison. Hazy with a yeasty nose, the mysterious straw-amber cloudiness draws you in. It’s wonderfully balanced, with corriander and lemon dancing on your tongue, that zesty saison yeastiness is here too, good carbonation, excellent fluffy head, a beautiful rich fruity tartness is the reward at the end of the glass.
You can’t always find all of the beers you are looking for but sometimes new beers you don’t even know about will find you. That’s exactly what happened when my friend Kent mentioned the new 5 Paddles Brewing Co. out in Whitby. Their beers not yet available at the LCBO, only at the brewery, it would be a bit of a road trip to get there. Brother-in-law Perren to the rescue, he just happened to drive by the very next weekend, and also found Brock Street Brewing Co. almost next door! 5 Paddles Paddlers’ Pride ESB is an excellent 5.5% Extra Special Bitter, fresh malty nose, creamy head, balanced like a true British bitter, malt forward with an underlay of earthy hops and fruitiness. Brock Street on the other hand, offered up a Porter, and a lovely one at that. Pours black with a big brownish head, roasty nose and toasty elements as it hits the palate, some notes of chocolate, sweet malt, perfect carbonation, smooth and long and somehow warming.
Then there’s Maddaddamites Noobroo, a gruut ale produced by Beau’s Brewing in collaboration with Margaret Atwood & Graham Gibson. Part of their Wild Oat Series, this 5.2% brew is quite intriguing, no hops but nicely balanced, using rosehips, elderberries, mountain herbs, as well as some roots and bark, something to share while reading Oryx and Crake this summer at the cottage. Also out of Beau’s comes B-Side Brewing Label, carrying a portfolio of international brands being produced locally for the Ontario market. First out of the gate was Kissmeyer Beer, a Nordic Pale Ale, unfiltered and using a medley of Nordic inspired ingredients, this is a world class brew. Now they’ve released Gigantic La Formidable, the Oregon’s brewery’s Belgian style IPA. This is a knock off of the same great Gigantic we get on the west coast, but brewed fresh in Vankleek Hill.
But on to some bars and brewpubs. I found myself one Sunday morning walking along the Danforth in the heat of the rising sun. Finally it was 11 am and I could stop and get a drink. I happened to be at Sarah’s Cafe Bar, a lovely local hot spot with a shady patio and a long beer list. This delicious quencher from Oast House Brewers (Niagra-on-the-Lake) hit the spot. Sunday’s Best Belgian Wit is unfiltered, mildly tart with some hidden spicing, good carbonation, very smooth, a touch cloudy, zesty wit of flavour and substance.
I next turned to Nickle Brook for their Equilibrium ESB on cask. Hazy amber, full creamy head, great malty nose, some citrousy notes, moderate hop bitterness shines through the malty architecture, proper carbonation and temperature for this thoroughly enjoyable and very British 5.5% extra special bitter. Definite old world charm at play here.
Lunch was at The Wren, a cool cafe with a tiny sundrenched patio out front on the Danforth, with a 12 beer menu of great Toronto craft brews. We munched on cool polenta and Cubano sandwiches whilst sipping Pinball Wizard IPA (5.7%) from Clifford, MacKinnon Bros. 8 Man EPA (5%) and Muddy York Diving Horse Pale Ale (5.6%). All good ales with good hop values, long flavour profiles and presumably well enjoyed at this packed little restaurant.
Left Field Brewing is located in an alley way off of Greenwood in Toronto’s east end. The funky spot was packed, locals watching the Blue Jays whilst beer hunters focused on the brews on tap: Maris Pale Ale (4.5%, 30 IBU), 6-4-2 Double IPA (8.4%, 92 IBU), Sunlight Park Saison (5.7%, 22 IBU), Resin Bag APA (6.5%, 50 IBU), Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale (5.5%, 35 IBU) and Prospect Single Hop IPA (Citra) 6.3%, 60 IBU). Not all were on tap, some in take out bottles only. Great spot, great beer!
Head to Parkdale now, on Queen Street W. at Brock, Duggan’s Brewery. Starting life years ago as a tiny brewpub off of Yonge Street, it closed, continued to brew its signature beer #9 IPA (6.2%), is open again as its own entity. They continue to brew heir flagship brew plus a lot of different styles, all with flair and flavour. The corner location seems sizable, though they brew in the basement, so no beer theatre. Still, the menu is good, and the choices a plenty. Some of my faves: #10 Belgian Tripel (8.1%), #25 American Pale Ale (5.2%), #99 Double IPA (7.5%) and of course #9. We munched on wings and burgers, the meat and cheese board is great, easy to find a beer to go with any menu item.
Toronto is not all hustle and bustle. There are places to escape and enjoy a quiet moment. I did so with my friend RG on the shores of the Credit River at Snug Harbour Restaurant. They have an open air patio where you can watch boats launch from the river, feel the breeze off the lake and hide from the sun on those exceptionally humid days. There is a great menu featuring local fish and a few local brews. They had the local Old Credit Lager and Bayside Brewery Pale Ale from Erieau on Lake Erie in what is now called Ontario’s South Coast. That is where my next adventure lies.