Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Monday, December 31, 2007

Victory Cafe: Toronto,ON

****Back in October at Volo's Cask Days, I ran into 'Notes on a Beermat: Drinking and Why It's Necessary' author Nicholas Pashley and informed him I had started this blog. Because I enjoyed his book so much due to his witty humour and detailed accounts of pub life, I asked him if he would be interested in contributing a piece for this site. So, I hope you enjoy his colourful profile on Toronto's Victory Cafe.....Nicholas Pashley******

When Paul Kellogg, the founder of the Victory Café, told me back in 2005 that he was selling the pub, I wasn’t surprised. He had been spending more time in Nova Scotia, had even got Nova Scotia plates for his car. The writing was on the wall, but it didn’t mean I was happy about it. From its beginnings on Bathurst north of Bloor (it moved to Mirvish Village in the late 90s), the Victory had grown into a damn fine pub with some quite decent beer.

Paul told me he’d sold out to a triumvirate of investors, which made me nervous. Were they going to wreck the place? Short answer: no.

I’m reluctant to write about the Victory lest I inadvertently give the impression that it’s the sort of place you ought to check out. Sure, the draught beer choice ranks among the best in the city, the service is friendly, the food is good, and it’s nicely located with a good-sized patio – but is that all you’re looking for in a pub? (And don’t imagine for a moment that I’m going to mention the cask ales.)

I must point out that my wife doesn’t think the bathrooms are all that great, sometimes I find the music a trifle loud, and a couple of times they’ve been out of Denison’s Weissbier after a hot, busy weekend. And on weekdays they don’t even open until 4pm. So it isn’t perfect. My advice is to stay away altogether and leave it to the regulars.

If you must go to the Victory – and don’t say I didn’t warn you – you’ll find a place not greatly changed from 2005. The new owners took down Paul Kellogg’s theatre posters and replaced them with changing exhibitions by local artists and photographers. They also painted over his Hall of Shame, an ever-expanding list of loathed local public figures Kellogg had inscribed on the wall on the way to the bathrooms (the writing was literally on the wall). And the signed photograph of Liona Boyd behind the bar is gone, which is fine with me ever since she made a snarky comment in her memoir about the boys in her high school (I was a boy in her high school).

But they kept most of their staff, which was a stroke of genius. Being served by Jamie, Ronley, or Paul is a life-affirming experience, especially when they’re bringing you one of twelve fine draught beer selections (and it would be irresponsible of me to mention the constantly changing cask ale from enterprising Ontario craft breweries because I’d never get a seat again).

Most of us didn’t meet the three new owners for a time. Blake is the man on the premises, but he’s a quiet fellow. Maz and Neil are the other two, but they have day jobs so you’re most likely to see them on weekends. She’s from Manchester, he’s from Ulster, so they know a bit about pubs. And they know a bit about beer too – you’ll see them at beer festivals around town, particularly if there’s cask ale to be had. They have been instrumental in taking a decent range of beers at the Victory and making it a larger and far more adventurous range that on any given evening might include beers from Denison’s, Black Oak, Mill Street, Great Lakes, Durham, Grand River, Granite, F & M, and Church Key. (Though I’m still not going to mention the cask ale program, especially since Neil has hinted that he might be making room for a second handpump.)

The Victory is a casual place. The main room downstairs has a long bar with general seating at either end of the room and a row of two-person booths in between. There’s also a pleasant (if chilly) snug off to one side. They’ve also recently renovated an upstairs room which is used mainly for musical or literary events or private parties, as well as sometimes taking the overflow from downstairs.

The food is good and homespun (though there used to be a sign behind the bar that read If You Like Home Cooking, Eat At Home). Before the medical profession condemned my cholesterol readings, I used to admire the cheeseburger with fries, a dish the original owner was rightly proud of. Nowadays I favour the vegetarian chili and vegetarian curry, both very tasty. There are also daily specials you won’t regret.

None of this is adequate reason for visiting the Victory Café. I find that lately the music has been getting louder. In Paul Kellogg’s day it was mostly jazz at a moderate volume; these days it’s usually indie pop/rock (sometimes a bit new-agey), sometimes the Rolling Stones, and once quite recently I heard what I would consider mainstream pop music, which worried me. And did I mention it’s getting louder? I said, it’s getting louder!

If, like most civilized people, you like to read in a pub, you might find the Victory a trifle dark by evening. Your best bet is one of the small booths. If you’re not going to be reading, please don’t hog a booth and deprive a literate barfly of his habit. Especially a regular. In fact, I’d say avoid the Victory Café altogether and let the regulars enjoy the fine ales in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed. Is that too much to ask? There are plenty of other bars in town. I hear the Brunswick House is very nice.

581 Markham Street,
Toronto, ON

Sunday, December 30, 2007

So Long 2007

I’m going to miss the 2007 year as it provided a lot of ‘firsts’ for me in the beer world. I lived in Halifax, NS and worked for a beer company where I spent every free minute learning more about my favourite beverage. This was the first real eye opener I had into the Canadian beer market and I was thirsty for more. Halifax is also where I gained a great appreciation for unique pubs after reading Nick Pashley’s ‘Notes on a Beermat’. I decided to tour Nova Scotia stopping at local hangouts and upon moving back to my home province of Ontario and joining my fiance in Toronto, I was determined to continue on my quest of searching out interesting pubs and trying a variety of craft and imported beer.

Like I said, 2007 provided me with a lot of ‘firsts’: Toronto Festival of Beer, Golden Tap Awards, Volo Cask Days, C’est What Fall Festival, Canadian Brewing Awards Judging and Gala, being part of TAPS Canada’s Beer Magazine, Mill Street’s celebration, feast at Creemore Brewery, visiting the numerous Toronto beer spots, working with the OCB etc, etc…

I thought it would be fun to compile a couple of top five lists of 2007. So here they are, based on my own personal opinions, which really don’t amount to anything…

Top Five Pubs I Visited in 2007

5. C’est What – Toronto, ON
4. The Knot Pub – Lunenburg, NS
3. The Granite Brewery – Toronto, ON
2. The Feathers Pub – Toronto, ON
1. The Henry House – Halifax, NS

I can’t say enough good things about this very popular Halifax pub. Located in a granite and ironstone building that dates back to the early 1800’s, the Henry House offers delicious English ales brewed by Kevin Keefe from the Halifax Granite and serves fabulous pub food. A testament to the pub is the parking lot. It is busy every night but you wouldn’t tell from the parking lot as it usually remains quite empty. A true local pub.

Five, Okay, Ten Favourite Beers of 2007

10. Mill Street Tankhouse Ale
9. Brooklyn Lager
8. Hop Addict
7. Black Oak Nutcracker Porter
6. Great Lakes Devil’s Pale Ale
5. Delirium Tremens
4. Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier
3. Mill Street Barley Wine
2. Schneider Weisse / Denison’s Weissbier
1. Garrison’s Imperial Pale Ale (Garrison Brewery – Halifax, NS)

These are beers that I enjoyed drinking during the 2007 year. Some were my go-to beers and some were ones that I was sure to have a stock pile of. This was very difficult as I usually drink whatever I feel suites my mood during a particular period. It could change at any given time. Runners up: Church Key West Coast Pale Ale, Granite Best Bitter Special, Anchor Liberty Ale, Propeller IPA. Garrison’s IMPA was named the 2007 Canadian Beer of the Year by the Canadian Brewing Awards.

Top Five Beer Events 2007

5. Halifax Beerfest
4. C’est What Fall Festival of Beer
3. Canadian Brewing Awards Gala
2. Golden Tap Awards
1. Volo Cask Days

This was my first Volo Cask Days appearance and was I glad I went. Ralph Morana (owner) graciously provided me with a ticket for the Saturday morning/afternoon session where I was able to have a nice breakfast while socializing with some very fine brewers. Getting to sample all the creations was icing on the cake as was meeting all the wonderful beer people I did.

Top Five News makers in 2007

5. Great Lakes winning Golden Tap Editor’s Choice Award
4. OCB News – Discovery Pack/Walkerville Bankruptcy/Number of CBA awards
3. Mill Street winning Canadian Brewery of the Year
2. Passing of Michael Jackson
1. Re-launch of TAPS Canada’s Beer Magazine

New ownership, new focus and new writers make up the recent re-launch of TAPS magazine which is strictly focused on beer. Gone are the cars, girls and cocktails. The first issue featured a great article on Pilsners by Greg Clow, updates from the CBA’s, a tribute to Michael Jackson, lots of pictures and a promise to keep getting better and better.

So there you have it. My 2007 beer year broken down into a couple of small lists. The biggest thing I gained from the past year is the friendships I’ve made with the people who brew the beer I drink, other beer writers and the hospitable pub/café owners. I promise that I will continue this blog into 2008 and I would like to thank all those that have tuned in daily to hear my rants and read my profiles.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Sarah's Cafe: Toronto, ON

After battling through long line-ups and slow moving people at Toronto's Eaton Centre, my fiance and I thought it would be a nice idea to unwind at a popular Toronto beer cafe. We hopped on the subway and went eastbound to Greenwood station where we walked a couple of minutes along the Danforth until we found Sarah's Cafe, a well known beer destination.

Opened 11 years ago on the corner of Monarch Park Ave and the Danforth, Sarah's is warm and inviting, casual and modern yet rustic, classy and sophisticated with fabulous soft jazz music. The interior consists of small wooden tables situated along the walls where pillows line the bench seating, offering a comfortable spot to enjoy a good book. The walls are lined with paintings of cafes and bistro's and are joined by some beer signage and a chalkboard informing customers what beers are available. Dimmed lighting, the dimpled golden tin ceiling, the large window looking out to the Danforth and the large drapes covering the entrance, combined with the relaxing music is enough to take your mind off the world for a bit which is exactly what we expect out of pubs/cafes.

Sarah's isn't large by any means which adds to the charm. There is room for maybe 30 people in the main dining area, 10 bar back stools surround the small bar and probably 20 people could squeeze in their back room. In the warmer months Sarah's opens their patio which could accomodate up to 40 people on Monarch Park Ave.

Sarah's Cafe and Castro's Lounge are under the same ownership so it was no surprise when I checked out the beer menu and noticed an abundance of bottled Belgian beer and some great UK beers. The draught list was excellent and it wasn't hard for me to make a selection. As soon as I saw Denison's on the menu, I knew it was for me. But with all the bottled selections, I almost felt like staying to try as many as I could. The price of a pint of Denison's was $5.55 which I find respectable and most unique bottled beer ran anywhere from $4.00 to $9.75.

I spoke to the manager to get a feel for the customers that come to Sarah's and she mentions that when they first opened they catered to a lot of locals, but since then, a lot of their customers on Friday and Saturday nights come from out of town like Mississauga and Oakville because of recommendations. She also mentions that Sarah's is a local hangout for many of Toronto East General Hospital staff.

I wish that I could have stayed longer and sampled some of the Belgian ales I haven't tried before, but I'll on it that I will return to Sarah's for many more visits as it's not far on the TTC from my place. It is worth checking out if your a beer fan or simply a fan of great establishments with a terrific ambiance.

Sarah's Cafe
1426 Danforth Avenue
416 406-3121

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Part 2: Ugly Sweaters 12 Bars of Christmas Crawl

Ok, so where did I leave off? I just spent some holiday time up North where I hardly turned on the computer, let alone do any typing. I'm back now and I have to pick up the pace.

Part one of the 12 Bars of Christmas had me stop at the Madison where I debated myself as to whether or not I was drinking Labatt Blue or Budweiser. I was hoping that the next destination might offer me a better beer selection then the previous spots.

Unfortunately the next stop was The Ferret and Firkin which was easily the worst place we stopped. Bad music, bad service, bad selection of beer, bad prices, bad, bad, bad. I waited in line to purchase a pitcher of Rickards White and after spending 15 minutes resting on the bar I finally received it. Then came the matter of payment - $18 for a pitcher of Rickards? I almost laughed at the bartender. The Ferret and Firkin also had a beer called "Butlers Pale Ale" which I convinced another bartender to let me sample and from what I can remember it tasted nothing like a pale ale should. It tasted more like a Coors Light with a heap of salt added. The glass said is was brewed with lots of Hallertrau hops but all I could smell was corn and hay. It left no aftertaste whatsoever. Anyway, enough complaining, I was having a great time with the group as the MVD (most valuable drinker award) was in full swing as two large guys were competing intensely.

We left the Firkin (thank god) and made our way down to James Joyce which would be my last stop for the night. I immediately noticed the Mill Street signage when walking in and a large smile came across my face. A pitcher of Tankhouse would end my night perfectly. The others tried it, some for the first time, and loved it. They all commented on the lovely aroma coming from their glasses and I knew that this was a beer they would order in the future. There was also Nickelbrook and Amsterdam on tap along with Creemore, Guinness and other mainstream stuff. This location had a more pubish feel to it than most others, but it was still fake. Guinness signs were everywhere you looked and many pool tables were the back room. Regardless of that, I found the place to a good drinking destination, one that I may go back to during daytime to check it out. There was live music as local musician Russell Chesham belted out old rock and some Christmas Carols. The Carols were so popular with our large crowd that many ended up on stage with Russell and sang along with him. It was a fitting way to end my night.

The group then proceeded on to four more bars before calling it a night. From what I heard the day after, there was a fun time with an Elvis Presley head, a karaoke bar and a lot of kissing. It was a great night out in west Toronto where I was lucky enough to be introduced to some bars/pubs I have never heard of. I hope I had a little influence on the group regarding craft beer which they may remember next time they order a pint.

By the way, I didn't win the ugliest sweater....

Monday, December 24, 2007

Have a Beery Merry Christmas

I have arrived to my childhood home for a short Christmas break and due to the lack of high speed internet, I will not be posting any new material until I get back to the city.

I will post the second part of the Ugly Sweater: 12 Bars of Christmas Crawl as well as profiles of some of the Ontario Craft Winter Warmers that I received weeks ago. I know that you have heard it before, but I will be getting out to some pubs very soon and get some reviews posted.

So, here's wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas. I will be cracking open some John By Imperial Stout very shortly for sharing with the family, I can't wait. What will you be drinking?


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ugly Sweater: 12 Bars of Christmas Crawl - Part 1

While the citizens of Toronto were hunkering down for the night waiting for the looming winter storm, a group of about 20 people were making their way down to the Duke of York pub for the start of the third annual ‘Ugly Sweater, 12 Bars of Christmas Pub Crawl’. And whoa, what a bunch of ugly sweaters, kinds you wouldn’t or shouldn’t think ever existed.

I have a buddy(Luke Bowen) that was kind enough to extend an invite and even though I had to work the next morning, I couldn’t pass up on this opportunity. But just to confirm, I only stayed with the group until the eighth bar as I hate working hung over. I arrived to the Duke of York a little early because I had heard some positive things about it, even though it is part of a chain (Duke pubs). Well, I guess I came on an off night because it is not a pub I can appreciate. Loud rock and pop music, mainstream beer menu and dancing wait staff were at the top of the ‘I don’t like this to much’ list. Seriously, wait staff dancing to AC/DC Dirty Deeds around a brass pole attached to the bar was unprofessional and would be better suited for a university bar. I never write about places I don’t enjoy, but I felt I would be honest with the places that were selected for the crawl and so be it.

The other members of the crawl eventually arrived and the night began with a quick pint and contest buy in. For $5 you could buy a ticket for a chance to win prizes throughout the night, like travelers, shots, free beer etc. We saddled up after 25 minutes and headed across the road to the Bedford Academy.

From the moment we walked into Bedford Academy I knew it was an Inbev friendly bar. Tall, shiny draught towers proudly displaying Leffe, Hoegaarden, Stella and other Inbev imports were an eye catcher from the front lobby. We headed up to the second floor where we had the bar to ourselves. This place didn’t feel right to me. Already 0-2 pub wise. It appeared that a lot of money has been put into the bar and it shows as beer is a bit pricey. They did have nice music though, Jazz I believe.

We started walking down Bloor street to Gabby’s. Gabby’s is part of a chain of pubs that falls into the sports bar theme and caters to loyal Leaf fans. I have never been in a Gabby’s before so I really had no idea what to expect. I saw the many Molson Canadian signs and started shaking. Luckily there was a pleasant surprise waiting for me at the bar as Big Rock Grasshopper was nicely poured into a pitcher for Luke, his friend Loader, Jeff (tour organizer) and I which they all enjoyed. Before leaving, Jeff drew a name for a traveler in between Gabby’s and our next destination and low and behold I won. One of the members of the pub crawl had shown up in a home made sweater consisting of little glowing lights powered a solar device. While at Gabby’s though, his battery died and he had to make a run to a convenience store to jerry-rig two large batteries and he was up and running again.

The next stop was the Regal Beagle further along Bloor Street. I was told to be wary of ordering a pint as the draught lines don’t get cleaned often, so I had to settle on a bottle of Stella. What shocked me was the price I paid for that Stella. $6.25 for a bottle!! One guy ordered a pint of Steam Whistle and paid $7.25. If C’est What can offer me a quality craft brew cheaper than this, it just makes you wonder… I noticed that my good buddies over at Great Lakes Brewery have got two beers on tap, so I am going to have to follow up with this draught line cleaning business to get the real story. Pricey Stella garbage aside, I enjoyed the Regal Beagle. There was a mix of young and old people enjoying a Saturday night out and old rock music played silently in the background. There was a wall of money behind the bar that comes from all over the world – good conversation piece for new comers.

We headed back out to Bloor Street and ran across the road to a Fox and Fiddle. Nuff said. $5 for a bottle of any domestic cold corn juice. Molson heavy. Lots of young people looking to get hammered. I did get into a good beer discussion with some members of the crawl though and they promised me that they were going to start trying craft beers in the future. Good enough – back to the crawl.

I have never been to the Madison before either. Come to think of it, I haven’t really seen the west side of Toronto in years. We made our way to the Maddy through a big wind tunnel that was swirling snow all around. This only added to the fun I was having. We stayed downstairs in the tight quarters and met a friend of mine there with some buddies of his and they decided they would join us for the rest of the night. Luke took me for a walk around the huge place and I found it interesting. Not my pub of choice, but some floors looked like my time of place. I think I drank a Blue here, not sure though, may have been a Bud. Onto the next stop.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Abbey Belgian Spiced Ale: Trafalgar Brewery

Beer: Abbey Belgian Spiced Ale
Brewery: Trafalgar Ales and Meads: Ontario
6.2% alcohol
Ratebeer rating: 28

I received the Abbey Belgian Spiced Ale in the box of beer from the Ontario Craft Brewers last week and last night I cracked it open to see how it stands up.

The beer pours an attractive coca cola colour with shades of a deep purple but has very little head, and what head there is, disappears almost instantaneously. The aroma is quite nice. Hints of warming alcohol on top of a fruity smell along with traces of dates/raisins and odd spices. So far the beer smells promising.

The first drink goes down almost too well. Hardly any body to this brew. I am shocked by this as the smell and colour gave me the impression that I was in for a treat. There is hardly any carbonation, which is odd for a beer under a Belgian name. I couldn't pick up any hop profile, which is one thing it has in common with a Belgian beer. The more sips I have take I start picking up a syrup (molasses maybe). This beer was mentioned on Ratebeer as a Rochefort 6 watered down and I feel this to be an accurate description.

This beer is definately not a winter warmer even though the 6.2% alcohol is hidden well. It is an inoffesive beer that is easily drinkable but sadly not very close to the name it bares or the style. I wouldn't persuade anyone not to try it and I would drink it again, so I guess I didn't find it to disappointing. It could have passed for a stronger amber ale.

Normally I would recommend this style of beer to someone looking for an appertif, but because of the light body, I would pair this with dishes like a light stew.

Next up: Part 1 of 2 of last saturday's Ugly Sweater, 12 Bars of Christmas Crawl.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Be a Brewer for the Day at the Granite

I was browsing through the websites I tend to check daily and noticed on the Granite's site that Ron Keefe is now offering regular joes the opportunity to be a 'brewer for a day' at his Eglinton and Mt. Pleasant site.

For $150 you can help Ron brew his signature English style ales for the day. The site says you can work as hard as you want or as little as you want, while drinking as much coffee as you can. The day will start with the participate helping Ron with the mashing and finishing with the addition of the yeast (which takes care of the rest). Along with learning all about the brewing methods, Ron will provide you with a full lunch accompanying a half pint and a couple of pints at the end of a hard days work.

What a great idea from both a marketing and business standpoint. I heard that Robert Simpson Brewery in Barrie also do this once every three months, but when I called in the summer to join in on the fun they cancelled. Then cancelled again. I know this won't happen with Ron running the show.

Because the Granite only brews for mainly on site consumption, participates will be able to do 100% of the brewing as it is done in small batches. I was lucky enough to join Ron and other beer geeks at his brewery for one of our beer appreciation classes and saw first hand how the Granite's Beers are made. Not only is Ron a great brewer of great beers, he is also a very hospitable man who will no doubt treat you to a great time.

More and more smaller breweries should consider doing this in their respective territories. Wouldn't it be great to join the Hockley Valley canning line for a day or help wash bottles at Wellington's. I think it's a great deal. Jump at the chance to join in.

To sign up, simply contact Ron at the Granite. You can find all the information at

Friday, December 14, 2007

Neustadt 10W30 Finally in Cans

Val Stimpson, part owner of Neustadt Springs Brewery in Neustadt, ON has been keeping Ontario beer drinkers up to date with blog comments over at the OCB website regarding their canning problems.

10W30, described by Neustadt as a brown English ale, was originally planned to be released in 473ml cans by late August. But because of holdups and LCBO regulations, the cans didn't hit the shelves on time. We hadn't heard from Val on the issue since her last post on June 21st, so it was a surprise to see the sleek and attractive cans at my local LCBO. The 5.5% brew retails for $2.50 a single can.

The beer has won two awards since its inception into the Neustadt family that include a silver medal at the 2004 World Beer Cup and a silver medal at the 2004 Canadian Brewing Awards. It pours a see thru mahogany colour with a thin head that lingers around for a bit. A toasted malt aroma with hints of caramel, raisins and a touch of chocolate spill out the top of the glass. It's a nice choice for a lighter red meat pairing like hamburgers, due to the small bitterness of the beer. It's hard to describe the taste of this one. Slight roasted malt provides a caramel flavour with a bit of licorice and touches of chocolate. Easy on the palate, nothing overwhelming, a slight hop presence and easily drinkable.

There is a trend going on in the brewing industry as more and more breweries are offering tall cans in single units at the LCBO for under $3.00. Great Lakes Devil's Pale Ale has been very successful in doing so. Is this something that more Ontario Craft Brewers should be looking into?? I don't know, but I do know that canned beer sales continue to rise in Canada. I personally prefer to purchase my beer in bottle form, unless something great is only offered in cans, but if it helps cut down on costs which can then be put back into the brewery to create more unique and palate quenching brews - I'm all for it.

Good to see Neustadt succeed.

Walkerville Brewery Declares Bankruptcy

Every morning I wake up and check my inbox to review some of the daily reports I receive on the world of beer. This morning was no different but I was surprised to see an article from the Windsor Star dated yesterday claiming that Walkerville Brewery in Windsor had filed for bankruptcy.

The brewery was opened by Karen Bethune Plunkett in 1999 with Walkerville Lager as their flagship beer and have sinced rolled out Premium Blonde and Superior Light. Their Premium Blonde was recently awarded a gold medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards gala.

Here is the link to the article. "Walkerville Brewery Declares Bankruptcy"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Help To Create Brewery/Brew-Pub List

I am starting to put together a list of regional and craft Ontario breweries as well as a list of all Ontario brew-pubs. In order to get all the RIGHT information though, I am asking all the readers out there to help me out with this.

If you live in a town, village, or city that features a small brew-pub or even a place with an excellent beer bar, please send me an email with the contacts (if you know them.... - a name and location will be suffice though). I have had some great feedback and suggestions from readers about what pubs I should try to visit and I thank you for that.

Also, if I have left out a name of an Ontario brewery on the list I started to create, please let me know about it. I would like to get a good list put together to share with readers here in Ontario and those who plan on visiting one day.

I guess it wouldn't hurt to include the names of brew-pubs and breweries from the other Provinces, so I will do some research of my own and again, I would ask anyone that are familiar with any such places to contact me with the right information.

I appreciate everyone's help in advance and I look forward to putting something of a resource guide together for everyone's benefit.

.........And I will be getting to a pub very shortly!!!!!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

TAPS Beer Magazine - REBORN Dec.13th

BEWARE: A PLUG looms in the letters before you....

There have been some dedicated people working non-stop over the last four months picking up the pieces of the 'old' TAPS Beer magazine and stripping it of the scattered contents and cheesy pictures. I have posted on the condition of TAPS before and today I have some more good news.

This Thursday (Dec.13) will see the re-launch of the magazine and I strongly feel that readers will be pleased. And not just because I write for the mag, but because it is 100% beer focused. Greg Clow (Bartowel, BeerBeatsBites, TasteTO), Mirella Amato (LeGourmet TV), Bill White (former brew-master, beer nut), Bill Perrie (Canada's Pub Guy), Karla Dudley, Kevin Brauch (Thristy Traveler) and many other contributors have put respect back into the magazine with their first class writing and immense knowledge of beer. There will be stories about Pilsner, a flash-back on some of Ontario's best beer events (since Sept), notes from abroad (Wychwood Brewery), beer and food pairings, and a behind the scenes look from the Canadian Brewing Awards Judging and Gala and so much more.

The magazine will be on sale at various Chapters/Indigo stores throughout Ontario as well as at some of Ontario's finest pubs and beer bars. If you enjoy the magazine, (I think you will) you can always purchase a subscription off the website. We have provided a couple of free subscriptions to Alan over at A Good Beer Blog for his photo contest, and Greg Clow for his TasteTO site.

I would love to hear any feedback from the readers of this blog either positive or negative because you are the most likely people that will be purchasing the magazine. Sorry for the shameless plug. I hope you enjoy the magazine.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Bountiful Box of Beer at my Door: OCB Winter Warmers

I love getting presents, so try to visualize my excitement when a box of beer showed up on my doorstep today. I bet the neighbours thought that I was trying to do my best 'Tom Cruise I love Katie Holmes' Oprah speech. Well, I didn't go that far but I sure was happy.

The box was an early Christmas gift from the good folks at the Ontario Craft Brewers Association who have just released their Winter Warmers for the 2007 holiday season. I opened the box quicker than the Maple Leafs give up third period leads (I'm still a believer) and quickly pulled each bottle out. There were eight beers in total ranging from bomber sized bottles to a ceramic bottle to the standard 341ml bottles.

They included:
Great Lakes Brewery Winter Ale
Mill Street Barley Wine
King Brewery Dark Lager
Cameron's Dark 266
Wellington County Dark Ale
Old Credit Holiday Honey
Trafalgar Brewing Co. Abbey Belgian Spice Ale
Heritage Brewing Black Current Rye

Inside the box, included with the beer, were some recipes for each brew. I wish I was a better cook because these recipes include lamb, venison, braised beef short ribs and fruitcake and I don't think I trust myself preparing them for visitors. Yet, the OCB has done a nice job pairing the selected beer with food that will complement each other nicely, aiming it at the wine crowd. Wine producers have done a great job over the years convincing consumers that wine and food go together better than any other combination. Well, over the last number of years more and more pubs and restaurants are popping up offering customers 'beer dinners' where they can dine on a four or five course meal while sampling different beer along the way. Beer is so versatile that it can be matched up with almost any food and cudo's to the OCB for focusing their efforts on this for the upcoming holiday season.

So, back to the beer. Also included in the box were tasting notes for each beer along with a little bit of fun facts about the breweries and their holiday customs. Mike Laba from Cameron's says "We dress our brew master up like Rudolph and make him pull the rest of the staff in a sleigh around town while we give away beer. We don't currently do this, but I think I'm onto something..."

I have tried a number of these beers before and enjoyed them all. I look forward to testing the one's that are new to me with family and friends closer to the holiday season. I am by no means a beer expert and I don't possess a magnificent palate, but I do tend to think of myself as a good judge of character so in the coming weeks I will profile some of these beers and add comments from my tasting notes. One beer that I wished to see included in the box was Black Oak's Nutcracker Porter, which would have made a nice addition to the package. So did Stephen Beaumont over at his blog, who has reviewed each beer in the pack, but beggars can't be choosers. So stay tuned in the next couple of days-weeks as I get around to enjoying each beer the OCB (thanks Nic) has graciously provided.


Check out the OCB's website at for more information on their winter warmers, recipes and tips on how to host guests this holiday season.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

No Pubs and No Beer Make Troy Go Crazy

The title is in reference to Homer Simpson when he couldn't have beer - well I am going crazy too!!! I haven't made it to a pub in over a week and it doesn't look like I will anytime soon. Don't you hate it how work and personal issues always get in the way of stuff we would rather be doing.

I created this blog back in August when I returned from a lovely year away on Canada's wonderful East Coast as a way to share my experiences in some great pubs. It has worked out great so far. I have been having a lot of fun meeting new people who also write about beer and its always great meeting publicans who welcome me into their establishments with open arms.

Beer people are some of the most friendliest people you will meet. Everyone has been great sharing stories and ideas as well as recommending pubs I should visit, even going so far as to meet me there for a pint. I never expected this when I created this site. Beer is a social drink. You don't hear too many people talking at work about hitting up the pub after work hours to take back a couple glasses of Shiraz or Merlot. Beer gets people out in the community, creates friendships and provides many people with employment.

I have made some new friends since getting to Toronto that I enjoy meeting up with at events to discuss everything to do with beer. They have been great at providing me with indepth education about brewering, selling and of course tasting.

So, this post is just a filler basically, and if you've read the entire thing, I applaud you!! I will be heading out to some pubs next week and I'll make sure to tell you all about them. Also, I will be writing about a nice little package of mystery beer that arrived on my doorstep today from ????.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ontario Craft Brewers Book: By Bill Perrie

Canada's self proclaimed pub guy, Bill Perrie, wrote this colourful book about some members of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association back in 2006 which was his fifth book in less than 10 years on pubs and beer.

To create this book, Perrie had to visit many smaller breweries situated throughout the vast province of Ontario to speak with the brew-masters, sales representatives and owners - who sometimes wear all three hats. From visiting Walkerville Brewery in Windsor to Heritage Brewery in Carleton Place, Perrie covers his tracks in documenting the story of some great up and coming breweries.

The book is the only one of its kind for the province with the exception of Stephen Beaumont's book The Great Canadian Beer Guide (2001). Where they differ though is through the wonderful photos that accompany each brewery. The book is very colourful with pictures jumping off the page and they peak your curiosity to see the brewery up close and personal to learn more. Perrie also includes many pictures of brewery owners, adding a personal touch to the book as readers get the opportunity to impromptly meet the person responsible for brewing the beer they drink.

The book was written to promote, or boost Ontario Craft Brewers, so naturally it sings praises for their beer and for their initiatives, and Perrie succeeds in doing so. I enjoy Perrie's writing style as it reflects my own. He writes like if he were talking to you personally - a conversational tone if you will. There is a brief description of each beer the brewery offers along with a blank page for tasting notes. Perrie has told me before that he left this section blank because he would rather the consumer enjoy the beer their own way and not be told how to enjoy it.

Fellow beer writer Alan over at A Good Beer Blog, rated the book back in August of 2006 and even though we may not agree in our reviews, he did made a good point. "This book will provide something of a snapshot of the craft brewing industry in Ontario in the mid-00's of the 21st century."

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I used it many times as a reference when I moved back to Ontario when heading out to visit breweries. It would have been nice to see some more members of the OCB profiled like Denison's or Black Oak, but that could be for another time.....

Monday, December 3, 2007

Creemore Brewery Teams Up with Stadtlander Farms

Any opportunity I can get to spend a day up north, is an opportunity that I don't have to put much thought into. Especially based on the circumstances surrounding the invitation I received from Christine Mulkins who is a public relations spokesperson for Creemore Brewery. I was invited to participate in a day of beer and food at the lovely Creemore Springs Brewery located in the heart of the picturesque village of Creemore.

I showed up to the Summerhill LCBO by 9:30 to board a bus with other Toronto food and drink writers and was promptly greeted by Christine with a box full of Starbucks coffee and muffins. We jumped on the bus for the two hour drive north and arrived just shortly before noon to a village full of snow mixed with a glowing sun. Creemore is home to 1200 citizens and would be great setting for a Norman Rockwell painting.

We gathered inside the retail store and were met by Karen Gaudino (manager of sales and marketing), Ian Freedman (CEO of Creemore Brewery) and Gordon Fuller (Brew-master). Gord proceeded to tell the group about the history of the brewery and how it has played a vital role in the development of the village. I have profiled Creemore before, but I'll provide a few of highlights.

Creemore Springs Brewery was created in 1987 by a man named John Wiggins as he transformed an old hardware store into a brewery. It became very successful during the craft beer renaissance in the late 80's early 90's. So successful in fact that they caught the eye of Molson/Coors which purchased the brewery in 2005. Karen states that Molson has let them operate in the way they always have only stepping in to help with production and distribution. Since the purchase, Creemore has doubled their capacity and now sells draught lager in Alberta and Quebec. "Other than providing us with more money for marketing and helping distribute the beer, Molson has left us alone and the beer HASN'T changed one bit," stated Gaudino.

With that said, he guided us through the brewery stopping along the way to explain the brewing process, tell the story of Creemore beer and answer any questions that members of the group had.

The brewery was in the middle of canning their Pilsner so we were able to watch the employees hard at work, knowing we would be enjoying the fruits of their labour in a short time. Gord took us to the fermentation tanks and poured a pitcher of their winter URbock for all of us to share. Delicious and fresh. Gord informs us that all three beers that Creemore brews, all contain the same yeast profile, the same hops (with the exception of the pilsner) but use different malts for each beer.

From here we proceed upstairs to the event/boardroom to feast on some delicious creations prepared by the sons of the famous Chef Michael Stadtlander from Stadtlander farms. They prepared a four course meal that was paired with a different Creemore beer. Four Creemore Beers we say??

The first offering was some smoked salmon with a creamy dill sauce that was paired with an unfiltered Pilsner, a beer you can only try at the brewery. It was nice and hazy with good head retention, a little bitterness and worked beautifully with the salmon.

The next course featured a Georgian Bay Whitefish, Potato and Cabbage soup with the regular pilsner included in the sauce. Obviously, the pilsner was matched with the soup and cut through the sauce wonderfully. It was a great match.

The third course was amazing. Smoked pork in a Creemore Lager gravy along with a veggie tart. It was matched with the traditional Creemore Lager. The caramel in the skin of the pig matched the caramel flavours created by the malt in the beer and complimented each other to a tee. The carbonation in the beer was a great palate cleanser and blended with the gravy magnificently.

The dessert was the last course and my favourite. Home made ice cream with glazed peaches, apples and raisins in an URbock beer cream sauce. It was paired guessed it, the URbock. Great pairing.

The day concluded after Karen thanked us all for making the trip to the brewery. She reminded us that with the holidays approaching, beer and food go together so well that this year would be a good year to experiment with family and friends. We boarded the bus for the ride back to Toronto with full bellies and large smiles, as well as with a slew of swag and free beer the brewery provided.

It was a beautiful day in Creemore with the snow falling acting as a perfect backdrop while we dined like Kings in the warm historic brewery.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

SUDS No More - Metro Writer Moving On

I was on a bus today with a bunch of other food and drink writers heading to Creemore Springs Brewery for a brewery tour and beer and food pairing luncheon when I heard the news....Aonghus Kealy (aka Suds) from Toronto's daily newspaper Metro, will be leaving for a year away in Ireland which ends his two plus years covering beer each week.

Since moving to Toronto, I have read Suds columns each week because I enjoyed the way in which he wrote about my favourite beverage. He didn't focus every article on the Ontario Craft Beer market or the big import section, he wrote about breweries big or small, providing us inside knowledge in a light social manner. He told us about new products hitting the shelves and he wrote about how one could enjoy beer; the social lubricant of society.

There are not a lot of beer writers in print media in Ontario, so it was a real treat seeing beer news in a newspaper every week. Toronto Star has Josh Rubin's columns but they are hit or miss as to whether they appear weekly or not. I will miss reading his comments and I regret not being able to meet up with him over a couple of pints at a pub. I only hope that the Metro realized how much people enjoyed reading Kealy's articles and will continue with this section in the future.

Click here to read SUDS last column on Mill Street's Barley Wine.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Celebration at Mill Street Brewery

What does a brewery do after they win the Canadian Brewery of the Year Award? They throw a big party for their employees at their brew-pub and invite media representatives to share in their accomplishment.

Mill Street won the award last week at the Canadian Brewing Awards Gala hosted by TAPS Media. Back in October, Mill Street entered nine beers into the Canadian Brewing Awards to be judged in various categories. After tabulating more than 200 Canadian beers, the judges awarded five medals in total to Mill Street that included 1 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze.

I was lucky enough to get an invite so last night I spent a fun evening dining on some delicious finger foods and drinking some of Mill Street's awarding winning brews. Unfortunately, I did not remember to bring my camera to take pictures. So you'll have to visualize.

Steve Abrams, one of the founders of the brewery, was in panic mode before the party started as the power went out in various parts of the city including the brew-pub. He ran out to Canadian Tire to get a generator and gas but putting the gas in the generator was a tough go as the wind was terrible. Needless to say, Abrams was glad the power came back on just before 7pm.

The crowd consisted mainly of sales reps and shareholders but also included pub and restaurant owners who carry Mill Street's products. They mixed and mingled with each other while listening to the live entertainment that was provided. I was there representing TAPS Beer Magazine along with beer writer Greg Clow (Bartowel, BeersBeatsBites, Taste TO) and we had a good time discussing the beer industry as we know it. George Milbrandt from C'est What made an appearance and shared some stories about his respected pub which will be celebrating their 20th anniversary in February.

It was a good night celebrating Mill Street's award won because of dedication, hard work and fantastic products.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Feathers Pub: Toronto, ON

I have never been to London. I have never been to Scotland and I have never been to Ireland, but walking into The Feathers Pub on Kingston Road makes me feel like I have.

After arriving to Toronto in 1967 from Edinburgh, Scotland, Ian Innes took many years pondering about opening his own pub. "I think most Brits really want to open their own pub, at least in the old days," he said in an interview with The National Post back in 2003. It wasn't until 1981 that Innes decided to purchase and renovate an old furniture store into what is today known as The Feathers Pub. It is a wonderful watering hole in the upper part of Toronto's Beaches area where locals and regulars frequent often.

The pub isn't huge but it isn't tiny either. It's just the right size, accommodating close to 100 as there is no patio. There is long bench seating throughout the pub that is covered in red velvet as are the chairs at each table. Maroon coloured flower carpeting stretches throughout the entire pub reminiscent of your grandmother's living room (good thing in a British pub). All the walls are covered with flowered wall paper, along with many framed photographs that Innes has taken himself of his homeland. This one was my favourite. There is some shelving holding some old scotch whiskey bottles and memorabilia and the stenciled tin ceiling is covered in a dull golden colour. This place oozes British charm that no Firkin chain could ever reproduce with all the cash in the world.

The clientele ranges from young adults to those in their late years as you can see in from the picture below. A group beside us had their toddler with them which I enjoy seeing in a pub - a family atmosphere. Their is a loyal soccer group that makes there way in on Sunday's to catch the game on the telly and you might also bump into regulars engaged in a game of darts near the entrance.

Innes is well known in the pub industry both here and abroad due to his very large collection of single malt scotch whiskeys. With over 450 different varieties to choose from, you could try a new one everyday and still not taste the entire menu. Even though I enjoy a nice single malt, I am a beer guy and I hope to always be. So, let me tell you about the beer line-up.

There are 23 draught choices for you to consider with pints running from $4.76 to $5.60. They include:
Feathers Lager (brewed by Wellington), Carlsberg, Carlsberg Red, Carlsberg Light, Gritstone, Keiths, Great Lakes Red Leaf, Steam Whistle, St.Ambroise Pale Ale, St. Ambroise Cream Ale, Mill St. Tankhouse, Mill St. Organic, Stella, Boddington's, Fullers ESB, Fuller's London Pride, Belhaven Thistle IPA, Stiegl, Smithwicks, Gunniess, Strongbow (cider) and Marston's Pedigree.

Feather's also offers Wellington County Ale cask conditioned, as many of the regulars are ex-pats of Scottish, Irish or English descent. There are some really good selections and at a decent price you can't go wrong.

The food: If you don't enjoy British food than maybe you should just stick to the beer. Ploughman's Lunch, Bangers and Mash, Steak & Kidney Pie, Cornish Pastry and more. And it is delicious and very economical. Feathers is truly a gastropub in every sense of the word and all food is prepared fresh - home cooked. They also offer a brunch from 11am - 3pm.

There was music playing in the background, but I couldn't hear it because of all the chatter coming from the packed house. It is in places like this that you have no need for a newspaper as you'll learn more about politics and recent news from the mouths of the regulars who discuss everything from weather to sports in lively debates. I loved this place for its warmth, its authenticity, their beer, the food and the wonderful atmosphere. I'll be going back and I think you should too!

962 Kingston Road,
Toronto ON Canada
416 694-0443

***The former photograph of The Feather's facade was removed recently due to my un-authorized use of the picture. The picture was taken by Rick Ingleson. I apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused and I have since replaced it with one I took (albeit not as professional).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

2007 Canadian Brewing Award Winners

I will be doing a write up in the next couple of days about the Gala that took place last night. In the mean-time, here are the winners and a small press release from us at TAPS. The gala was well attended by brewers, owners, sales and marketing reps and shareholders. It was a great night and congratulations to the many Ontario Craft Brewers who took home many gold's.

Success at the 2007 Canadian Brewing Awards!
Last night The Canadian Brewing Awards’ 5th Annual
Awards Gala was held at the Dub Linn Gate Irish Pub in
Vaughan, Ontario. Over 200 beers in 21 categories were
entered into the competition this year with awards of gold,
silver or bronze given to the top 3 scoring beers in each
category. The CBA’s again recognized one brewer for
outstanding achievement, with Mill Street Brewery being
awarded this year’s “Brewery of the Year”. New this year
was the “Beer of the Year” for the highest scoring beer in
all categories, awarded to Garrison Brewing Company
for their “Imperial Pale Ale”.

North American Style Amber Lager

GOLD Red Leaf Smooth Red Lager, Great Lakes
SILVER Harvest Lager, Bushwakker Brewing Co. Ltd
BRONZE J.R. Brickman Amber, Brick Brewing Co.

Bock Traditional German Style

GOLD Copper Bock, Canoe Brewpub

Fruit and Vegetable Beer

GOLD Frambozen, Mill Street Brewery
SILVER Raspberry Wheat, Phillips Brewing Co.
BRONZE Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale, Great Lakes

North American Style Dark Lager

GOLD Steelback Tiverton Dark Lager, Steelback
SILVER Hermann's Dark Lager, Vancouver Island Brewing
BRONZE Black Jack Black Lager, Great Lakes

Light (Carlorie Reduced) Lager

GOLD Jack Rabbit, Big Rock Brewery
SILVER Moosehead Light, Moosehead Breweries Ltd
BRONZE Steelback Light, Steelback Brewery

Wheat Beer Belgian Style White

GOLD Blanche de Chambly, Unibroue
SILVER Belgian-Style Wit, Mill Street Brewery

Wheat Beer German Style Hefeweizen

GOLD Muskoka Hefewissbier, Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewery Inc.
SILVER True North Wunder Weisse, Magnotta

European Style Lager (Pilsner)

GOLD Walkerville Premium Blond, Walkerville Brewing
SILVER Kelowna Pilsner, Tree Brewing
BRONZE Whistler Premium Export Lager, Whistler Brewing

Strong or Belgian Style Ale

GOLD Swans Legacy Ale, Swans Buckerfields Brewery
SILVER St-Ambroise Vintage Ale, McAuslan Brewing
BRONZE Surly Blonde, Phillips Brewing Co.

Cream Ale

GOLD True North Cream Ale, Magnotta Brewery
SILVER Russell Cream Ale, Russell Brewing Co.
BRONZE Cameron's Cream Ale, Cameron's Brewing

North American Style Lager

GOLD Muskoka Lager, Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewery
SILVER Golden Horseshoe Premium Lager, Great Lakes
BRONZE Cameron's Lager, Cameron's Brewing

North American Style Blonde/Golden Ale

GOLD Piper's Pale Ale, Vancouver Island Brewing
SILVER Griffin Extra Pale Ale, McAuslan Brewing
BRONZE Stock Ale, Mill Street Brewery


GOLD Black Oak Nutrcracker Porter, Black Oak Brewing Co.
SILVER London Style Porter, Propeller Brewing Co
BRONZE Coffee Porter, Mill Street Brewery

English Style Pale Ale (Bitter)

GOLD Cutthroat Pale Ale, Tree Brewing
SILVER Red Devil Pale Ale, R & B Brewing Co.
BRONZE Black Oak Pale Ale, Black Oak Brewing Co.

India Pale Ale

GOLD Imperial Pale Ale, Garrison Brewing Company
SILVER Amnesiac DBL IPA, Phillips Brewing Co.
BRONZE Hophead India Pale Ale, Tree Brewing

Brown Ale

GOLD Stonehammer Premium Dark Ale, F&M Brewery
SILVER Nut Brown Ale, Garrison Brewing Company
BRONZE Tall Timber Ale, Mt. Begbie Brewing Co.

Scotch Ale

GOLD McAuslan Scotch Ale, McAuslan Brewing
SILVER Swans Scotch Ale, Swans Buckerfields

North American Style Amber/Red Ale

GOLD Blue Buck, Phillips Brewing Co.
SILVER Race Rocks Amber, Lighthouse Brewing Co.
BRONZE Irish Red Ale, Garrison Brewing Company
BRONZE Tankhouse Ale, Mill Street Brewery


GOLD Swans Oatmeal Stout, Swans Buckerfields
SILVER Espresso Stout, Yukon Brewing Company
BRONZE Keepers Stout, Lighthouse Brewing Co.

Wheat Beer North American Style

GOLD Grasshopper, Big Rock Brewery
SILVER Sungod Wheat Ale, R & B Brewing Co.
BRONZE High Country Kolsch, Mt. Begbie Brewing Co.

Honey/Maple Lager or Ale

GOLD Niagara Honey Brown, Niagara Brewing Co.
SILVER Steelback Tiverton Bear Honey Brown,Steelback Brewery
BRONZE J.R. Brickman Honey Red, Brick Brewing Co.

Special Awards

BEER OF THE YEAR, Garrisons Imperial Pale Ale

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Photo Contest at A GOOD BEER BLOG

Alan, the man behind A Good Beer Blog, has just recently announced that his 2007 Beer Blog Photo contest is now underway.

All you have to do is bring your camera along whenever you are drinking and snap a couple of inspiring photos of the drink we all love. Send them along to A Good Beer Blog for your chance to win numerous prizes like gift baskets from the Ontario Craft Brewers Association or the good folks at Roland and Russell (importers). As the contest grows larger, Alan expects more breweries and pubs to jump on board to provide even more prizes.

This contest is open for anyone to participate in, but get your photos in before the deadline: Monday 17 December 2007 at 4:00:00 pm eastern Lake Ontario time.

If you are a brewer, pub owner, author or purveyor of any other beer related stuff, join in and pledge a prize for the winners. You can contact Alan at

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Big Decrease in Pub Beer Sales in the UK

A frightening story coming out of the United Kingdom today, is reporting that there has been sharp decrease in the number of pints sold in British pubs this year. In 1979, 29 million pints were sold each day at pubs and today that number drops to 15 million - or 22% less.

Beer sales in pubs have slumped to their lowest level since the 1930s, brewery representatives have said.

So what seems to be the problem? Well, is seems that politicians have been steadily increasing the duty tax on beer in the UK. In fact, since 1997, the tax on beer has rose 27% while wine only saw a 16% rise and only 3% for spirits. The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) are doing what they can to persuade those in government to pay attention to the effects that steeper taxes are having on Britain's national drink. They are also working with CAMRA to challenge the government for a tax freeze.

"We are calling for government policy to encourage and support Britain's businesses.

Smoking has also had a negative effect for the pub owners. Since the smoking ban, pubs have witnessed a 7% decrease in sales. Unlike here in Canada, where we welcomed the ban, smoking in British pubs is as customary as pouring maple syrup on our pancakes here in Canada.

The government is unlikely to change their stance on the tax issue as the Alcohol Health Alliance (new group of 24 health organizations) is pushing strongly for the increase. They figure that increasing the tax will lead less people to drink (already working) which would result in less alcohol related deaths.

Well, to them I say that we should tax microwaves heavier, increase tax on swimming in lakes, and ban cellphones altogether. This world is getting to timid; scared of their own shadow. If beer has been around for as long as we all think it has, it can't be THAT bad. I guarantee those members of the AHA are all wine drinking snobs who should be spending more time looking for a cure for cancer and spend less time worrying about the state of Britain's world famous beer.

"A pub is the proper place to enjoy a drink in a responsible and regulated atmosphere"

The BBC has a spot on their online paper for citizens to voice their concerns and pass along information regarding their drinking habits to see if the pub is still the centre of social life in Britain. It will be interesting viewing their responses in the days to come. Now, what would it look like if we did something like this in the Toronto Star??????

For the full article, visit

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Abbot on the Hill: Toronto, ON

I have read good things about The Abbot on the Hill before so I thought that since I was in the area it would be a good time to visit. Located just north of the Summerhill subway station and LCBO, the pub has been serving delicious food and quality beer for 3 1/2years. It is also the sister pub of the original Abbot, which is still operating a little further north on Yonge Street.

Owner Melissa Curcmelli-Rodostamo and her partner decided just over a year ago, that they were going to shake things up. Instead of offering customers the likes of Stella, Rickards and Becks, the duo introduced a new line up that consisted of beers from England, Ireland, Belgium, Germany and Scotland. Along with the new beer selections, the pair started preparing new food dishes propelling the Abbot on the Hill to gastropub status. "We wanted to create a more upscale food and beer selection while maintaining the cozy atmosphere of the pub," claims Melissa. And indeed they have. The Abbot on the Hill is a very intimate, peaceful and inviting pub that caters to both the young and old.

The small, intimate pub, has hardwood floors throughout the lower and upper levels with mahogany stained tables and chairs with a couple of wrap-around booths for comfortable seating. The dimpled tin ceiling has been painted a lovely red and candles are situated around the perimeter of the pub. There are low laying light fixtures providing a dull amber glow which sets the mood perfectly. The carpeted stair case leads upstairs to another dining area which is great for larger groups. The lower level features a large window over looking Yonge street.

The bar is very attractive. 10 bar stools surround the 'L' shaped bar and a beautiful shelving unit sits behind holding beer steins, mugs, glasses and a wide assortment of vintage wines. There are two chalk boards that inform drinkers whats on tap or in the bottle. Each beer is poured into their corresponding glass which is very professional and makes the drink so much more appealing. The Belgian's wouldn't have it any other way so why shouldn't we.

As mentioned, the draught and bottled beer selection is great. You can choose between draught beers like: Fuller's Esb, Fuller's Special, Bass, Old speckled hen, Warsteiner Dunkel Lager, Hacker Pschorr Pilsner, Warsteiner Lager, Belhaven Best Cream, Fruli Strawberry Weisse, Guinness, Tuborg Gold, Hacker Pschorr Dunkel Weisse, Konig Ludwig Weisse, De Koninck and Affligem Blonde. Like I said, a great beer line up.

The bottled selection is just as good. St.Peter's Ale, Abbot ale, Fuller's Vintage, Thomas Hardys, Baltica 3, Fischer Traditional, Chimay Red, Chimay White, Duvel, Innis and Gunn, Innis and Gunn Vintage and Tuborg Pilsner.

I settled for the Hacker Pschorr Dunkel Weisse and the mushroom, oyster and stilton soup. What a great combination. The soup was simply delicious and the beer matched it perfectly.

The Abbot on the Hill has also created a niche for themselves as they have started offering beer and food matching dinners every Monday night. For anywhere between $50-$65 depending on the menu, you are treated to a five course meal with a new beer pairing at each course. The chef prepares a new menu each week and 20 tables are reserved just for people interested in taking part. All servers are trained before they are hired in beer education and also learn about how beer can positively affect the outcome of food. Melissa wants all her servers to be able to tell uneducated consumers about each beer if they inquire and help them make a good choice based on their preference.

The Abbot on the Hill faces a busy Friday crowd from the lunch time hours until closing. They also have a Pint Club that meets every Wednesday evening with select proceeds supporting two Canadian Olympic teams.

This is a great little pub on a quieter part of Toronto's busy Yonge street where you get the best of both worlds. It is very cozy, very pubish, yet it has a touch of modern decor. As we were drinking, many people stopped to look in the window and 80% decided to come in. I think it had to do with the look of the place. I had a great visit and I'll be sure to visit again. It's worth a trip.

1276 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON

Friday, November 16, 2007

Great Lakes Brewery: Toronto, ON

As I sit hear sipping on my last bottle of Great Lakes Winter Ale, I am peering out the window waiting anxiously for the snow to come. I have already posted a profile of the Winter Ale, so I thought I would share a small bit of information on the brewery that produces it.

Great Lakes was open for business in 1987 right at the start of the craft brewing renaissance. They started off with a Lager they called Golden Horseshoe, on draught only at various pubs and restaurants. It proved to be so successful that Great Lakes expanded their operations to include Red Leaf Premium Lager and Black Jack Premium Lager while bottling all three for Ontario wide distribution. All three lagers have gone on to win numerous awards at both the Ontario and Canada wide level.

Recently though, Great Lakes noticed a trend occurring in the brewing industry as more and more breweries were offering more diverse styles of lagers and ales. They didn't want to be left out of the action so they started brewing seasonals that have done extremely well in the Ontario market. They started off with Devil's Pale Ale (also known as 666) as a special brew for the 2006 Toronto Beer Festival, but because of the tremendous response it received, Great Lakes decided to carry it year round in attractive black 473ml cans. From here they introduced Orange Peel Ale and Pumpkin Ale which tastes exactly how they sound. Their latest seasonal release is the Winter Ale which recently made a debut in Nova Scotia.

Because of their new brewing creations, Great Lakes was awarded the 2007 Editor's Circle award at the Golden Tap Awards for significant achievement in the brewing industry. "That award means a lot", stated sales manager John Bowden.

The brewery is located at 30 Queen Elizabeth Blvd off the Gardiner Expressway just a 15 minute drive from downtown Toronto. It features a fabulous retail store where you can purchase memorabilia and fresh beer. There were only a handful of employees in the early days of the brewery, but today, 25 people show up to look after the brew house, make daily deliveries, visit key accounts and look after the finances.

The brew house features a very old copper kettle that dates back to the early 1900’s which came all the way from Germany. There are 12 fermentation tanks in a back room that are kept at a cool temperature allowing the lager to age to perfection. I was lucky enough to get there just as they were brewing their Winter Ale and peaked my head into the vat for a look. (see picture)

They have come a long way since 1987 and their repertoire of beers cements their position in the Ontario market as an innovative and creative leader. It is worth a trip out to the brewery for a Friday tour and make sure to pick up some fresh ales while your there.

30 Queen Elizabeth Blvd
Toronto, ON

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Garrison Imperial Pale Ale - Unfiltered

For years, people in Halifax, or Nova Scotia for that matter, all thought that Alexander Keith's was a true India Pale Ale. Keith's was so successful in their home province that Labatt introduced it out to the rest of the country making it the number one domestic speciality beer in Canada and it is all based on marketing.

Well, over the last ten years, two micro-breweries popped up in Halifax creating some magnificent beers in many different styles. First came Propeller in 1995 with their flagship Extra Special Bitter. They would later go on to produce a great IPA weighing in at 6.5% and dry hopping it to create a wonderful aroma. Garrison Brewing Company joined the scene shortly after when owner Brian Titus decided two small breweries could operate in Halifax working against the Labatt giant. They both have succeeded wonderfully.

Garrison has just recently brought in new brew-master Greg Nash, who has brewed in the States with some reputable breweries and also brewed for Pumphouse Brewery in New Brunswick. Originally from Nova Scotia, Nash wanted to return one day and a position with Garrison proved to be his chance. He has since taken the original recipes of their Irish Red, Tall Ship Amber, Nut Brown and tweaked them to create cleaner taste profiles and deeper aroma's.

Well, Garrison has out done themselves with one of Nash's latest creations. This summer they introduced Garrison Imperial Pale Ale - Unfiltered, a very hoppy cloudy beer that is going to no doubt capture many awards. Brewed using Magnum hops for the bitterness and dosed with a ton of Cascade hops for the finish, the alcohol comes in at a staggering 6.9% and the IBU's are up around 70. The taste is wonderful, hops give off a grapefruit and caramel mouth and the aroma is fantastic. The Imperial Pale Ale is truly a hop head's beer and Garrison's best brew to date.

This beer has been getting rave reviews on Beer Advocate and Rate Beer. Just a beautiful beer. Would be great paired with a spicy pasta dish or tangy Mexican food. Next time in Halifax, pop into the new brewery on the Halifax waterfront and have some samples from one of their serving bars or have a chat with Nash, who will no doubt be wearing his rubber boots in the brewery area.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Beer Appreciation Week #6: The End

For the past five weeks, I have been taking a beer appreciation course at George Brown College with 8 other students taught by instructor Ron Keefe from the Granite Brewery. We have covered ales, lagers, Wheat and Wit beers, Belgian beers and went on a field trip to the Granite to learn about the brewing process. We were taught how to taste beer and what to look for when tasting. We also learned about the various styles and a little about their history.

Well, it is all said and done. The course has officially ended but it ended on a high note.

The last class covered German Hefeweizen Beers and Belgian Wit Beers or also known as wheat and white beers respectively. The German wheat beer will have aromas like banana, bubblegum and cloves, while the Belgium white beer is usually spiced with coriander and orange peel. Both beers are commonly hazy in appearance and high in carbonation. Ron also talked about glassware and how it can positively enhance the condition of beer. He provided a handout featuring pictures of different glassware and a description of what beers would be best situated with them.

We watched another Michael Jackson 'Beer Hunter' video where he toured Bamburg, Germany which has a population of 75,000 people and can boast about having 10 breweries. Toronto in comparison has over 2 million residents and features less then 10 breweries and that includes the GTA.

We tasted some great beers for this last class. Schneider Weisse, Hacker Pschorr Weissebier, Aventinus Weisendarkbier, Hoegaarden, Unibroue Blanche De Chambly, Mill Street Belgin Wit and Unibroue Maudite. All were excellent examples of the styles they represent.

Near the end of the class we had to complete a final exam based on material we have previously learned. It was a simple multiple choice test and it was over in no time. Ron then delivered a nice speech where he stated "My goal at the beginning of the course was to introduce everyone to many different styles and that beer is so much more than just a cold one. Experiment, its fun to try new things and keep an open mind when you travel, there is different beer everywhere." He also reminded everyone how well beer can be paired with food and with the upcoming holiday season, it would be a great time to start trying. Then a cheers to the class.

So, if anyone reading this is interested in learning more about beer and what it has to offer, you would do well signing up for the January class intake. Ron will be back teaching and you won't be disappointed.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Toast for Those That Fought

Today is Remembrance Day all over the world and at 11am we are to take some moments to stop and reflect on the peace and freedom we have today due to the sacrifice of so many before us.

I would like to raise a glass today for all the men and women who haved served this great nation in battle and to those who continue to serve us today.


Winter: My Favourite Pub Season

I have been distracted for the last couple of weeks, resulting in less time spent in front of the computer and even less time out at pubs. Hopefully things will start to settle down soon and I’ll get back into the habit of posting three to five stories a week.

Things have been a little slow in the beer/pub scene lately, as everyone is gearing up for the busy holiday season. Which brought me the idea for this post – The Best Pub Season.

Actually, every season is a great season to enjoy the pub, but there is something special about drinking in one during the cold winter months that I have come to adore. It must be the warmth that they offer along with their seasonal beer selection and the quality food. Nothing beats going for a walk on a cold snowy day and ducking into your local for a drink by the fireplace. There is something so romantic about a pub with a fireplace as it provides us with the heat and comfort that we seek along with a nice amber glow.

Drinking on a patio is a great thing as you can enjoy the nice days of the summer sun beating down upon you. Yet, it doesn’t compare to being in the basement of a snug, cozy pub with a good book staying warm and dry. Long days can be spent with friends in the pub and before you know it the night has come and your back out in the cold. You wish you could stay for just one more; it always happens.

Drinking in the backyard next to the barbecue also has its benefits, but it becomes impossible with the blinding winds and snow flurries of the winter. When you move the party into the pub you don’t have to cook, do dishes or control the heat which makes it appealing. This is where C’est What’s couches, situated next to their fireplace, come in handy as larger groups can take advantage of the comfortable seating. Local pubs are usually within walking distance from your home, so on those blizzard like days when we want to leave the car at home, a walk to the local for some darts and social interaction is perfect.

The winter months are also a time when many of the local craft brewers start introducing their winter beers. Great Lakes Winter Ale, Nickel Brook Maple Porter and Black Oak Nutcracker Porter are three local beers that are set to hit the market and are best enjoyed in the comforts of a warm setting on a cold day. These specialty seasonal beers are wonderful in taste and aroma and go great with a hearty stew or Christmas pudding. You’ll find other great winter warmers in most Beligum style beers like Rochefort 10 and Chimay Blue as the high alcohol tickles your throat and heats up your lungs.

I love this time of season, pub season! So, as I finish this post, I am anxiously waiting for the first snowfall of the year so I can get out there and search for those pubs with a fireplace.
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Winter Ale