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.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008: Beer Year in Review

I’m sitting here recovering from a hectic holiday season, getting ready for New Year’s, and I’m reflecting back on the year that is nearing the end. 2008 was a good year to write about beer. Many things happened, many things were experienced for the first time. I had the opportunity to drink a lot of terrific beers from all over Canada and from other parts of the world. I attended many events and festivals that ranged in size from the Toronto Beer Festival to the small intimate crowd of a Cameron’s Cask Night. I was fortunate enough to indulge in some world-class beer dinners and experience a boat full of beer launches. I hosted and spoke in a number of TAPS Media video podcasts, both scary and exciting. I met many great people who work in the industry and formed some great friendships.

Over the pass year we’ve witnessed the birth of Anheuser InBev; read the Toronto Star, the largest daily paper in Canada, call out politicians for their lack of control over the conglomerate known as the Beer Store; watched as the Minister of Finance reached out to the LCBO to increase buck a beer prices; saw the resignation and possible retirement of Jim Brickman – the godfather of craft brewing in Ontario; watched as Mill Street crushed the competition in the Canadian Brewing Awards to win Canadian Brewery of the Year two years in a row, same with the Garrison Brewing Co. in Halifax, they won Beer of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards for the second time in as many years for their Imperial Pale Ale; observed the smallest of breweries introducing unique and inspired products; heard how the Legislative Assembly of Ontario decided to only serve Ontario Craft Beer; and lots lots more.

It has been an exciting year for a beer writer/blogger and I’ve done my very best to get you the news as soon as I get it, or share a pub profile when I get the chance to visit a new place. I have posted 310 times in the past year! Way more that I thought.

I’m feeling a bit nostalgic, so let’s take a look back at 2008 and see what I wrote about.

January – I tried one of the best beers of 2008 in Garrison’s Black Lager. Simply terrific. I also managed to get out of the house to write profiles on three Toronto pubs: The Rebel House, The Bow and Arrow and the The Rhino. January was also the month that the Hockley Valley Brewing Co. announced that they would be killing off their Hockley Gold Ale in favour of their popular Stout, which went straight to general listing at the LCBO.

February – The biggest news to hit the Ontario craft brewing industry was Perry Mason, the founder of Scotch Irish Brewing (later sold to Heritage Brewing Co.), leaving Heritage to pursue other interests. “Hi folks, 
Just a note to say that I am no longer with Heritage Brewing. I am now free to persue “other projects” 
Although I may not be directly involved in the beer industry at present, I will keep a keen eye on what’s going on and I will pop up at certain venues from time to time. Rest assured, I will be reading this essential resource everyday and I am not done in this business yet.
All the best,
I made my way to the Cloak and Dagger, Smokeless Joe’s and a guest writer profiled the Olde Angel Inn (Niagara on the Lake). Three really great pubs that deserve continual visits. C'est What celebrated their 20th anniversary and Mirella Amato, fellow beer writer, introduced, a website dedicated to helping educate citizens on the benefits of craft beer.

March – My fiancé and I moved into a new place in the city and it was then that I realized how difficult it was to move boxes and boxes of a beer bottle collection. Steam Whistle let me know that they were busy getting a canning line put together to can their signature pilsner in 500ml cans. I profiled the Crow’s Nest in Newmarket, ON and wrote a snippet about a new brewpub in Nova Scotia (Port and Pub). However, the big news in the Canadian brewing circles was the departure of Greg Nash from Garrison Brewing. Nash was the brewer of the Imperial Pale Ale that won the 2007 Canadian Beer of the Year award and helped bring respectability back to Garrison with a handful of terrific new styles. It was later revealed that Nash would head to Pump House in New Brunswick to brew there and Daniel Girard (formerly of Pump House) would head to Garrison to take up brewing duties there.

April – April was a busy month, a month that saw me write 35 posts! The most read post was titled “Are we to judgmental?” It was in this post that I discussed the way in which beer gets criticized. Some good follow up comments too. I participated in my first Ontario Craft Brewers Association podcast, visited one of Toronto's most well known drinking holes in the Imperial Pub, judged the Ontario Brewing Awards (last time – unless it gets better counterparts) and took in the awards show, headed to Volo to help celebrate their 20th anniversary and I introduced a new category to the blog where I ask brewers, sales reps, marketing directors and pub owners questions relating to their business. John Graham of Church Key was the first victim. The highlight of the month went to the Southern Tier beer dinner hosted by the wonderful Roland and Russell Import Agency at the Academy of Spherical Arts. Owner Phin DeMink was in attendance, the food pairings were excellent and it was here that I met Alan (A Good Beer Blog) for the first time.

May – Where did it all start? Session #15 asked the question and I provided an answer. Great Lakes Brewing Co. held a great Orange Peel launch party at Victory Café, Beau’s Brewery in Vanleek Hill introduced Bog Water Dirty Brown Ale (terrific) and I profiled Grand River Brewing Co. in Cambridge along with the Huether Hotel and Lion Restaurant in Waterloo, ON. May was the month that I met Sam Calagione. Sam was in town for the 10-course Dogfish Head dinner at beerbistro that now stands as the pinnacle of all beer dinners. Sam made the comment that out of the thousands of beer dinners he’s been too, the beerbistro one ranks in the top three. Simply magnificent, and the fact that I was lucky enough to seat at the head table with fellow beer writers Cass Enright (Bar Towel founder) and Greg Clow (Canadian Beer News) made it all the better.

Quick timeout – Beer break – Fat Cat Barley Wine

June – I took it easy in June. I went away to St. John’s Newfoundland for a wedding and to abuse my liver. A pub-crawl down George street, a visit to Quidi Vidi microbrewery, and a pub profile on a great little pub called Christian’s and more. I had a great opportunity to visit the YellowBelly Brewery and Pub while it was still under construction. Owner Craig Flynn and world-renowned brewer Liam McKenna, who also poured out some samples of their American wheat, English style IPA and Irish Red, gave me the grand tour. This was also the month that it was announced that Queen’s Park would only serve a select few Ontario Craft products, therefore eliminating imports and macrobrews for MPP’s and their guests to choose from.

July – Busy month. There was a lot going on. Dana Flavelle of the Toronto Star wrote a wonderful three-day series titled “Bad Brew” about the crazy realm of the Beer Store. It was terrific to see this problem highlighted in Canada’s largest circulated paper. The articles led to Cass Enright creating a new website called, a website dedicated to reforming Ontario’s beer retail system from a craft point of view. The articles also aroused a Hamilton, ON man by the name of Derek Howard who started an on-line petition to stop the Beer Store, which received attention from all the big media outlets. CASK! Toronto was established, Beau’s Brewery celebrated their 2nd anniversary, Church Key Brewing Co. purchased a small pub by the name Stinking Rose, the Gahan House Brewpub in Charlottetown PEI released to of their signature beers in bottles, Sleeman hung banners all through the Distillery District that received a fair bit of attention and Josh Rubin, Toronto Star’s beer writer, shared his 10 favourite Toronto beer bars. Victory Café and CASK! held their first cask festival on a summer day and I profiled a brand new Magic Oven restaurant with a craft beer flair.

AugustGreat Canadian Pubs and Beer Blog turns 1! Never thought I would go on this long, but sure glad I did. I see year 2 in the future for sure. Bob Connon released a terrific pub guide for the Maritime Provinces called “Sociable! The Elbow Bender’s Guide to Maritime Pubs,” the Toronto Festival of Beer took place and thousands of drunk idiots gathered to slide in the mud, Amsterdam shuffles the brewing team by welcoming Jamie Mistry as the new brewmaster and Andre Klinker as the new brewery operations manager, my fiancé told you all about her struggles living with a beer nut and the Golden Tap Awards took place at beerbistro. I was part of the Editor’s Circle panel and I was delighted to help pick out Cameron’s Brewing Co., Queen’s Park Speaker Steve Peters, St. Vernous and beerbistro’s Dogfish Head dinner as winners. The Prince Albert Public House in Mount Albert was also profiled.

September – Garrett Oliver flew into town to host a Brooklyn beer dinner at Fionn MaCool’s of all places. The speeches were good, but the food was subpar. A great night after dinner though. I attended the beautiful Abbot on the Hill for their launch of Czechvar on tap, helped organize the Canadian Brewing Awards judging and was responsible for pouring (and tasting) each beer submitted, Greg Nash (Pump House) released a video of him and his crew producing a Wet Hop Amber Ale and I headed out to the Dominion on Queen to indulge in a few pints. September belonged to the Canadian Brewing Awards gala though, as we had all the winning beers from across the country shipped in for sampling. Brewers and brewery representatives flew in from all over Canada to receive their awards and the night was a complete success.

October – Alexander Keith produces Stag Head’s Stout, a weak bodied stout that is lighter than a Guinness. MPP Ted Chudleigh sticks to his stance and reads Derek Forward’s Beer Store petition in the Legislative Assembly, Volo held their 4th annual Cask Festival that featured some great beers from Quebec, Ontario and England. Hops Direct, a United States hop supplier held a presentation at the Toronto Granite Brewery before 60 members of the Ontario brewing industry, Nicholas Pashley re-releases his 2001 book Notes on a Beermat: Drinking and why it’s Necessary, TAPS:Canada’s Beer Magazine and Beerology’s Mirella Amato team up to record audio podcasts, and the Granite (Toronto location only) introduces a new IPA to their line-up called Hopping Mad.

November – I made my way to Rochester New York for other business and ended up at Beers of the World, a beer boutique that made me salivate upon entering, Volo held a reading featuring Nicholas Pashley, I visited Ken Woods at his new Black Oak brewery in Etobicoke (not ready just yet), had $3 pints of Wellington at Kubo Radio in Toronto (now under renovation), the Castle on King in Waterloo announces that they must close their doors, and I attended the Gourmet Wine and Food show with Cass Enright and pondered why the OCB didn’t have a large section highlighting their respective breweries. I also posted my thoughts on why upscale restaurants don’t feature craft beer after being let down during a dining experience in the city. The big news belongs to the Dead Frog Brewery in BC as they were hit with a lawsuit from Sleeman’s (no suing two craft breweries).

December – For three Thursday’s I conducted tastings at a local LCBO for Cameron’s Brewing Co., providing me with the chance to talk to craft beer fans, mainstream beer drinkers and hardcore booze bags all in the same setting. It was a fun experience. Readers got to meet Ron Keefe of the Granite as he answered various questions about his business, Wild Rose brewery in Alberta announced a new seasonal Imperial IPA their working on, YellowBelly Brewery in NFLD finally released their St. John’s stout to much fanfare and the Minister of Finance asked the LCBO to increase the buck a beer prices. Also, Grand River announces three dates for a beer educational experience at their brewery; and last but not lest, I wrote this year in review while managing to drink only two terrific Canadian produced craft beers.

Thank you to all of you readers who have made this blog a popular attraction and for helping give me the motivation to continue writing each and sometimes everyday.

Stay tuned, my top ten list of 2008 will be posted shortly.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Church Key In LCBO

I received an e-mail from John Graham, the owner/brewer of Church Key Brewing Co. today announcing that his Northumberland Ale has been released to six LCBO stores with plans to expand into more in due time.

This is exciting news for fans of Church Key and here's wishing Graham success in reaching more customers in this province. I am getting way ahead of myself here but wouldn't it be great to go into your local LCBO and pick up a couple of bombers of Church Key's West Coast Pale Ale or Holy Smoke?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holiday's

Things have been pretty busy lately and it's time to rest. I'm going to be taking a small break from writing anything for the blog as it looks like I'll be putting my feet up at the cottage for a while. I'll return re-energized and ready to go for the New Year.

Here's wishing everyone a Happy Holiday and Merry Christmas. Keep the glass tipped in the right direction.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Deal of the Month: Southern Tier Imperial Cherry Saison

With Christmas only a couple of days away, the Roland and Russell Import Agency have notified me that they are offering a sweet deal on a case of Southern Tier Imperial Cherry Saison; just in time for the last minute bargain hunters. A case contains 12 650ml bottles and the cost has been reduced to $100!

Southern Tier is well known for the quality of beers they produce over in Lakewood, NY and R&R have done a great job getting them into the hands of us thirsty Ontarians. The Saison was brought in months ago on consignment; however, there are several cases left in stock for those interested in putting it under the tree for a loved one or simply serving it with dessert during the festive season.

For those how haven't yet tried it, the Imperial Cherry Saison weighs in at a healthy 8% alcohol by volume, pours a hazy clear golden colour with hints of sweet fruity yeast, flavours of the oak that the beer is aged in and traces of sour cherries and hops.

Add some to your collection today by contacting Roland and Russell at or by calling them at 416.801.9885.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Adios Buck-a-Beer

I just spent three long cold snowy days back home with the family, visiting friends and attending good old kitchen parties surrounded by buck-a-beer drinkers. Hell, my step-father is the poster boy for supporting the buck-a-beer brands. Lucky, Carling, Lakeport... you name it, he'll buy it. Does he like the beer? "It all tastes the same to me," he always replies. So why buy it?

He grew up in the north. A place where you drank what your father drank, who drank what his father drank, and so on. There was no buck-a-beer option years ago (if there was I haven't heard of it), but the old guys drank beers like Labatt 50, Canadian, Blue, Black Label and Molson Export. When the price dropped to $24 bucks for a case of the cheap lagers he decided to save his money and buy Lucky, a beer he has drank for a number of years now. It all tastes the same remember and saving money along the way made it all the sweeter for him. Will this 6.7% price increase stop him? $24 to $25.60? No, but the way in which it was raised had him shaking his head last night at the dinner table.

From what I understand, Ontario's jolly Finance Minister Dwight Duncan (who by the way - has not yet replied to the 3 page letter I sent him months back on the way the Beer Store operates) reached out to the LCBO for a price increase and then the LCBO went on and stated it was due to social responsibility. Pleaseeeee. Everyone knows the increase is purely for government coffers and social responsibility has nothing to do with it. But what is the MOF office doing requesting an arms-length agency to rise beer prices? And the LCBO, come on, a $1.60 increase will not deter or curb abuse!

I'm gonna take this and run with it somewhere else. I think 'social responsibility' is the most over-used word this government throws at us every time we bring up ideas for beer sales reform. Here is what Premier McGuinty's office sent me an in e-mail months ago when asked about opening private beer boutiques:

Thanks for your online messages regarding the sale of beer in Ontario. I appreciate the time you have taken to forward your expert views on this issue.

My colleagues and I feel strongly about preserving the social responsibility standards in the sale of alcohol. Ontario consumers have a variety of retail options available to them for the purchase of alcoholic beverages - these include the LCBO, The Beer Store, wine retail stores and direct purchase from wineries. We believe that the current sales system serves the public interest best because it makes it difficult for under-aged or intoxicated persons to purchase alcohol, provides convenience and competitive prices, promotes Ontario products, and encourages responsible reuse and recycling.

I appreciate the issues you raised and have passed along a copy of your online message to my colleague the Honourable Dwight Duncan, Minister of Finance, so that he can respond to you directly. Be assured that my colleagues and I will take your views into careful consideration.

Thanks again for contacting me. I welcome and value your input.

Dalton McGuinty
Premier of Ontario

c: The Honourable Dwight Duncan

Competitive prices? Provides convenience? This is for another time, another day.

Anyway, back to the buck a beer increase - I really don't care as the beer in that category doesn't/didn't appeal to me. End of story. Check out Alan's view over at A Good Beer Blog.

Square Timber Brewing Co: Pembroke, ON

It appears that the small village of Pembroke, ON will soon be home to a new craft brewery by the name of Square Timber Brewing. Marc Bru, the president of the proposed brewery states on his blog that plans are to open in the Summer of 2009.

Head over to the his site( to see some designs he has in mind for the brewery. There is no mention of what styles of beer he has in mind for production but he is running a poll to see if citizens would support a brewery in the Ottawa Valley? 10 votes with 9 stating that they would absolutely support a craft brewery.

More good news for the Ontario brewing scene.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Railway City Brewing Adds New Brewer

The small Railway City Brewing Co. in St. Thomas Ontario has recently released their first newsletter, which contains some news regarding the hiring of a new brewer.

Barbara Ziola is our new brewer, formerly a brewer with Creemore Springs Brewery. Barbara brings her many years of experience to the brewery and has already made an impact with improved carbonation levels, and a more consistent products. Please stop in and visit Barbara, she's at the brewery most days throughout the week.
Turns out Barbara wasn't the only new addition to the brewery, as RWC has put together a new management team who will provide diverse opinions on the daily operations to help strengthen the brewery. The management team will soon be establishing a sample panel to critique the RWC line of beers and help in the development of new seasonal styles.

Also in the newsletter, RWC announced a special Christmas offer to those who purchase either 2 growlers or a 12 pack of beer. "With every 2 growlers purchased or 12 pack of bottles, the brewery will give you a free 16oz glass." - For those of you looking for a last minute gift!

RWC has also updated the list of establishments currently carrying their beers, most coming from the area surrounding St. Thomas:

East Side Mario's - St. Thomas and select outlets in London.

St. Thomas - New Sarum Diner, Pasto's, The Wayside, Longhorn's, Bella Jack's, Legend's, The Beanery, Boston Pizza, Crabby Joe's, Ollee's, The Salty Pickle

Port Stanley - Windjammer Inn, M.E. & Suzie's

Springfield - Post 'n' Pillar

London - Locker Room, JD's Sports Bar, Alex P Keaton's, Fanshawe College, Black Pearl, Tony's Pizza

Parkhill - Legion

Komoka - The Rail

Hamilton - The Winking Judge

Toronto - Bar Volo

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

SOLD OUT: Special Cameron's Cask Night

Can you believe it's already been over 1 year since Cameron's Brewing Co. initiated their monthly Cask Night? I can't. And I am embarrassed to say that I have only ever made it to one, and that was to film a video podcast. The Cask Nights have been so successful that members of the Editor's Circle, for the Golden Tap Awards, awarded the Oakville brewery a special award this past summer.

Everyone knows the story right. You pay $5, which gets you a pint of the cask, two Cameron's bottles, some food that gets prepared by Whole Food Markets and a tour of the brewery. Your presence also gets you a discount at their retail store. The casks are always creative, made with a variety of ingredients, and from all accounts they are well balanced.

Well, tomorrow night Cameron's has promised something special; a secret cask made to the preference of their most devout fans. You see last month the Cameron's blog put out a call for suggestions and ideas regarding what they should consider brewing for the 14th edition and responses included a vanilla porter, a barley wine, and a scottish ale. Something to go along with the weather. Sounds interesting.

However, for those of you wanting to go but didn't RSVP, it appears it may be too late; "We are at our capacity for tomorrow's event, but people are more than welcome to RSVP for our Cask Night on January 29th," stated Mike Laba, marketing and promotions at Cameron's.

Here is a complete list of all the casks created:

Nov 8th Hopburn
Dec 13th Black Oak
Jan 31st Pom Bomb
Feb 28th 19 Plato
March 27th Laced Oak 266
April 24th Espresso Lager
May 29th Mesquite Smoked Ale
June 26th Orange Cream-sic-Ale
July 31st Lagerita-ville
Aug 28th Clove and Dagger
Sept 25th L-Squared
Oct 30th Pumpkin Pie Ale
Nov 27th High Hop Silver
Dec 18th ??

YellowBelly St. John's Stout

When I was in Newfoundland this summer for a wedding I visited the YellowBelly Brewery when it was under renovation. I posted about the visit and have since updated readers on the status of their development. I get e-mails from readers from both ends of Canada daily and I'd love to post everything I get, but something about the YellowBelly and the importance it plays in the city of St. John's led me to promise myself I would keep informing drinkers of anything new (5 posts to be exact). Whatever it may be.

I received the following e-mail from a reader out in Newfoundland who is over the moon that he can actually get good beer in his home province; beers brewed by an esteemed brewer like Liam McKenna. The individual wanted to let me know that the launch for the St. John's Stout went over very well and the beer was fantastic.

Hi Troy,

The St John's Stout was launched at the Yellowbelly last night (Monday). The rumors are true, Liam Mckenna makes an excellent stout! Thick creamy head, full body, low carbonated inky black stuff with a lovely roasted bitterness. Its just what we need for the cold nights ahead. Liam says that it comes in at 4.5%.

The launch party was a great success. I went there with my cousin (a very good homebrewer) and another friend. As soon as we got in the front door Craig Flynn, the owner, was there with a ticket each for a free pint. The Chef was making his way around the room with free slices of thin crust pizza and other treats from the kitchen. Fergus O'Byrne was playing the banjo and singing some great songs like only he can. The place was packed. Not bad for a Monday night.

It was a good night at the pub. Craig Flynn was heard to remark that "we should launch a beer every Monday night."

I also wanted to mention that the Mayor of St John's, Dennis O'Keefe, was among the many people enjoying the St John's Stout last night. I can't see David Miller showing up at a beer launch in Toronto.
I'm glad to hear that everything seems to be going good for the brewery and I look forward to trying the stout.

Brewery/pub owners - if you would like information about your establishments posted here regarding new products, events or anything readers may find interesting, please send an e-mail to Readers, anyone willing to share information on your locals, your favourite brewery, stories about drinking; you can also shoot me an e-mail and I'll see if I can get it posted.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TAPS Media Update

The folks over at TAPS Media have been busy cranking out a number of new video podcasts for you to enjoy over the holiday season. The three podcast's include interviews with Bob Baxter of the Yukon Brewing Company, a behind the scenes glimpse into the Canadian Brewing Awards Judging, highlights of the CBA gala and a snapshot of the University of Toronto's Hart House Summer BBQ and Craft Beer event.

The video's are free to view. Simply go to iTunes and subscribe to TAPS magazine and load the video's when prompted. Or, head over to and download each video separately. Whether sitting at work, riding the subway or while enjoying a seasonal beer, the video's make for great time killers and provide some useful information along the way.

Also, the newest (winter) issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine is set to hit store shelves any day now as the magazine was released from the printers yesterday. My articles include an interview with Brooklyn brewery's colourful brewmaster Garrett Oliver, a profile of the Publican House - Peterborough's newest brewery, a book review on Notes on a Beermat: Drinking and Why It's Necessary, provided some last minute gift ideas and reviewed two fine Ontario beers (you'll have to read the magazine to find out which ones). The rest of the team put together some great articles and everything wrapped up very nicely.

Speaking of last minute Christmas gift ideas, a new copy of TAPS would make any true beer lover smile upon reaching into their stocking on Christmas day. Better yet, a one or two year subscription. Check out the website for more details on how to subscribe to Canada's only beer magazine. One year - 4 issues: $23 or Two years - 8 issues $40. Pub/bar owners - 10 copies 4 times a year: $159.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ontario Happy Hours

Back in December of 1981, before I was even a glimmer in my father's eye, the Ontario government passed legislation that permitted pubs, bars, and restaurants to sell their booze at cheaper than normal prices during a set number of hours. This became, or was known as Happy Hours.

For the next three years, citizens of Ontario could walk into their local after work and enjoy a half pint at a discounted price or some free food to compliment their beverage. From all accounts this pleased the everyday drinker and helped boost fledging sales at watering holes in towns and villages all over the province. It also got people out of the house, socializing with friends and strangers alike and created a rich pub scene.

However, when things appear to be good and well and people are happy, the government then (as it probably would now) stepped in after various 'anti' drinking groups funded research that casted negative views on the whole Happy Hour experiment.

It was December 12, 1984 that Happy Hours were abolished and soon prices started creeping back up. Here's to wishing it were back in force!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wild Rose Seasonal Imperial IPA

In a recent conversation with Tina Wolfe, the Marketing Manager at Calgary's Wild Rose brewery, she informed me that a new seasonal was being developed with plans to have it released in January. I had just finished drinking my first ever Cherry Porter from Wild Rose (which was reviewing by Greg Clow and Stephen Beaumont in the newest issue of TAPS - Dec 15 release), their current seasonal, and found it to be very well done with a load of flavour.

Back to the new seasonal. Wolfe explained that they the new Imperial IPA was brewed at the end of November and the launch is planned for January 16/09. The beer will be available on-tap at the Wild Rose Brewery & Taproom and for sale in 500ml flip top bottles.

Wolfe also mentioned the Wild Rose plans to release new seasonals every few months in 2009. Exciting news from a very good craft brewery.

Make sure you keep an eye out for this shortly.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Taps and Tales: Toronto, ON

The Danforth is well regarded for the number of restaurants that line the streets, restaurants people from all over the city flock to during the weekends for an inspiring and entertaining meal. From Coxwell to Broadview you'll find Greek restaurants, speciality food shops, greasy spoon diners, and a handful of good pubs with names like Allen's, Dora Keogh's, the Only Cafe, Auld Spot and Sarah's Cafe. Four days ago, after four months of round the clock renovations and strenuous research, a new pub has joined the scene and is located just west of Greenwood Avenue, mere steps away from the Greenwood subway station. The place is called Taps and Tales.

As mentioned, the newest addition to the strip opened their doors just four days ago and has been busy welcoming in guests at a rapid pace. I recently had the chance to venture in out of the cold to have a conversation with Harry, the general manager and Jasmine, the assistant general manager over a pint and some wings.

As I walked into the pub I noticed how nice and clean everything appeared to be. A shiny deep chocolate covered wooden bar, clean glass on the picture frames, sleek leather booths, clean polished hardwood floors and a fairly long draught line near the front of the bar, this places oozes brand new. A posh and sophisticated appearance, yet a pub atmosphere can be felt in the air.

I meet Harry at the bar and the talk immediately starts with his reasoning for selecting his current draught line-up. When it comes to beer Harry describes himself as a newbie, someone interested in expanding his knowledge, and his enthusiasm is evident in his voice. "I'm not a big drinker, but when I would find myself having a beer it would normally have been a Heineken, or something mainstream. Since I've started working on the creation of Tap and Tales, I've thrown myself into the craft beer world and I can't get enough." He added, "the people I've met in the industry are unbelievable people who have spent the time helping me and the staff understand the products, not stopping at their own beers."

Before opening Harry knew that he would have to get out into the area to see what else was being served to paying customers and he noticed the same thing was taking place in many of the watering holes; domestic lagers at cheap prices. It wasn’t until he started visiting the Only Café, a neighbour to the west, and Sara’s Café, neighbour to the east, and realized that they sold interesting products and they were retaining customers. “Castro’s, Sara’s and the Only were really helpful when deciding what draught line-up to put together,” exclaimed the general manager. “I tried the beers, enjoyed them and started to wonder if craft products were the way to go, besides, I wanted to open a place that supported the local players.” “Our place hopes to be a local for the residents around the area and we hope that they will embrace our selections."

He says all this as I sip on my pint of F&M Stonehammer Dark while scanning over the other tap handles that include: Black Oak Pale Ale, Mill Street Tankhouse and Organic, Denison's Weissbier, Creemore Traditional Lager, Guinness, Steam Whistle, Big Rock Traditional, McAuslan Cream and Apricot and Strongbow. "We've had a couple of people walk into the place since the doors opened and came to the bar asking for a bottle of Blue. The look on his face when I tell them we don't serve stuff like that is priceless. Needless to say, I don't think they'll be back." Harry has also included a number of well known beers to his large bottled list. Unibroue Fin du Monde and Blanche de Chambly, Young's Double Chocolate, a couple of Mort Subite, Duvel and more, and range in price from $4.75 to $13.00.

Harry and Jasmine also confirm that they will have Southern Tier IPA very shortly, joining only a small number of other Toronto establishments currently stocking the nicely balanced hop bomb. "We very excited about the Southern Tier," stated Jasmine, who found out about the beer when shopping at an LCBO recently. "I've talked with Roland and Russell (importers) about the beer and we will be getting it very soon," Jasmine stated.

Every pub needs a good bar to lean on and the Taps and Tales provides a nice long 'L' shaped bar on the right side of room. Krystal was working the bar and provided plenty of conversation; a great feature in a bartender and something that I find many Toronto pubs lack (not the good ones anyway). Ten bar stools and bar back chairs welcome weary passer-bys and put you right in front of the 13 tap handles. Low hanging light fixtures are above and candles provides added lighting on the bar top. There are two tv's found in the pub and Harry mentions that he had soccer fans in mind when installing them. There are a number of spirits situated directly behind the bar and are joined by two beer fridges; one of the left and one on the right, each fridge featuring a picture of the Toronto skyline.

This is one feature you’ll notice when you walk in, many old Toronto pictures line the walls from the entrance right to the back of the pub near the washrooms. There is a wide black and white canvas spread of an old 506 College streetcar hanging on the wall by the bar that sums up the theme of the new pub. “We wanted this to be a Toronto place, a simple pub to come and socialize with friends and family; to relax and enjoy each other’s company, much like it was done in old Toronto,” proclaimed Harry. “The pictures are all from Toronto and some date back to the late 1800’s, each one tells a story, a tale if you will, and that is what this place is all about,” he added. Jasmine, states this is how they came up with the Taps and Tales name. “We have the taps so we wanted to incorporate that into the name and tales, well, pubs are all about conversations, telling tales of the past, tales of present, and here, creating new tales. This is how we settled on the name.”

The layout consists of 4 sets of large booths situated to the right, complimented by a number of round tables for smaller groups. The front area features a clear garage door that will open up to the street (and sidewalk patio) in the summer months and is surrounded by refinished brick. "The old business that was here before was a Fish and Chip shop," stated Jasmine. "We have totally gutted what was here and put our own fix on it." A nice feature in the booths is the outlet that controls the lighting above. Dim it yourself for a private conversation or crank the light up if your reading. The pub also has free wifi, but me being old school, I don't like a pub with people typing away - go to a coffee shop for that.

Heading towards the back of the pub you'll walk up a step and enter a small room that contains two flat leather couches surrounded by a coffee table that is situated in front of a glowing gas fireplace and mantle. "We have big plans for this section," said Harry. "From hosting birthday parties to New Year's parties to poetry readings and book club meetings, we hope people come in and feel at home." The area does resemble a living room as there are no other tables present, and the warmly dimmed lighting adds a piece of tranquility away from the bar area.

The area surrounding the pub is a mix of young professionals, young families and down and out er's, and is a little east of the hotspots on the Danforth, but I think if Taps and Tales sticks to their game plan and stays the course, they'll be just fine. I nice little posh Toronto themed pub that will be re-visited again soon.

Taps and Tales
1282 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, ON
(416) 461-3020
**No website up and running just yet**

A Beer Book Bargain

While I was browsing through the aisles of the World's Biggest Bookstore today during my lunch break, I came across the discount section and noticed Allen Winn Sneath's 2001 book:Brewed in Canada: The Untold Story of Canada's 300 Year Old Brewing Industry.

It is currently on sale for the low price of $4.99, down from $25. A friggin steal. The book may be a little dated, but any individual with a love of the brewing history in this country will find the information more than rewarding.

Get Christmas gift for the beer lover in your family.


*Picture from Chapters/Indigo website.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Garrison Brews to Keep Me Warm

I received a call from the Garrison brewery out in Halifax last week to inform me that a Christmas package was being delivered for my interest, and what a nice gift. I opened the box when it arrived to see a bunch of 500ml winter ales containing some Winter Warmer Ale, Grand Baltic Porter and the yearly seasonal Martello Stout, all attractively packaged.

As you can see from the picture, the Winter Warmer is nicely sealed with a red capping and the Baltic Porter has been dipped in wax, much like the Black Lager that was introduced last winter. The Martello Stout makes the transition from a 341ml bottle to the larger 500ml and the highly glossed label featuring the historic Martello towers stands at attention.

Last winter, under former brewmaster Greg Nash, Garrison released a number of new brews that shocked the palate, gaining the 12 year old brewery some much needed hype. After winning the 2007 Beer of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards for their Imperial Pale Ale, Garrison launched a hit with the already mentioned Black Lager, which weighed in at 8.2%. The 500ml bottle was dipped in black wax, was covered with a beautiful black and gold label featuring the famous canon from the Citadel and the beer inside was great. This was followed up with a very good Winter Weizenbock.

So it would seem that Garrison is sticking with the course, creating and releasing new winter beers yearly, offering bluenosers a terrific selection of strong warming ales for the harsh months ahead. I have yet to crack one open, but I intend to do so shortly and post my thoughts here.

The bottles can be purchased at Garrison's Brewery and at select independent alcohol retailers in Nova Scotia.

Happy Birthday Mr. Enright

Cass Enright, the founder of Bar Towel - Ontario's Premium Beer Resource website, is celebrating a birthday today. So raise a glass to the man who started the on-line beer chatter in this province that has helped propel today's craft brewing growth.

Happy Birthday Cass.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Meet Ron Keefe: Owner/Brewer Granite Brewery

Meet Ron Keefe, owner/brewer/pioneer of Toronto's Granite Brewery, home to a great line-up of craft made English style ales. The brewery is located at the corner of Mt. Pleasant and Eglinton and attracts real ale drinkers, many locals and craft beer drinkers from all over the world who are visiting Toronto. You can usually find Keefe at the brewery, in the small brewhouse whipping up another small batch of one of his seven beers with a smile on his face, all for the love of the game.

Did you always want to be a brewer?
I probably never thought much about it until the late 80’s when I started talking with my brother in Halifax about opening a Toronto Granite. Up until that point I followed a business career in production and marketing. I certainly always loved beer and made a little beer at home with some success.

So how did you get into brewing?
My brother Kevin started the Granite in Halifax at a tavern called Gingers, he owned with another brother Wilfred. Kevin trained at the Ringwood brewery in England. We often talked about opening a Granite in Toronto and we did in 1991. The restaurant business on its own was never a big attraction to me but combined with a brewery it seemed like the natural thing to do.

Why did you go the ‘tied house’ route as opposed to just a brewery?
We started as a brewpub and at the time you were only allowed to sell beer at the restaurant on premise. In 2004 regulations were changed to allow breweries to have a tied house. It was a natural extension for us, allowing us to sell to other pubs, open a retail store and bring beer to festivals. In the eyes of the law we switched from a restaurant with a brewery to a brewery with a restaurant, a subtle but huge difference.

Why did you choose to brew English style ales?
As mentioned, Kevin started the Granite in Halifax and he learned to brew at the Ringwood Brewery in England so ales were the natural thing to do.

Name your favourite Granite beer.
I don’t really have one favorite. It depends on my mood, time of day, season etc. although I am certainly most partial to the cask beers.

Hopping Mad. What inspired you to offer something new?
It started with an idea to do something new for Volo’s Cask Days this past fall. I would love to do different beers from time to time but I am between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”. Since the brewery is quite small and we have no more room to store beer I must take a beer off to make way for a new one. When we do that we alienate the regular customers who come to that Granite for that particular beer,

Are there any plans to get your beer back into the LCBO?
No plans at this time. Every once in awhile I consider a contract brew with a local craft brewer to expand into the Beer and Liquor stores. I do not have the capacity at the Granite to take this on.

Your beers have won numerous awards, which one are you most proud of and why?
Any award I ever received has been most appreciated.

What is the best aspect of working in the brewing industry?
It is a great industry with many great people. Almost all your “competitors” are also good friends. Everyone loves talking about beer not to mention drinking it.

You teach a Beer Education program at George Brown college. How has that been?
It is a lot of fun. I get to meet a number of people each term with varying degrees of beer knowledge but with a great desire to learn more.

What does the course include?
It is a six week course centered around a general overview of the beer world. We talk about how beer is made, and focus on ales, lagers, Belgium beers, wheat and white beers. The last class is usually held at the Granite with a brewery tour, sampling of food and beer. We taste over 50 different beers in the course!

George Brown Continuing Education - Beer Appreciation

Be a Granite brewer for the day? What's this all about?
Many people ask me to come into the brewery so I thought I would make a fun day out of it, complete with some hard work, a little food and beer and even a certificate at the end of the day.

Experience the brewing process first hand with brewmaster Ron Keefe and you’ll gain a better appreciation of both the craft and the ales!

Spend a full day in “real ale” brewery. Work as hard or as little as you wish!

The day includes: From “Mashing In” to “Pitching the Yeast”
- all the coffee you can drink
- full lunch and a ½ Pint (there is still work to do after lunch)
- a couple of “Brewer’s Pints” at the bar after the brew day
- a graduating certificate of completion

Cost: $150 Gift Certificates Available
Subject to availability and should be booked in advance.

Where do you see the Granite in 20 years?
Good question. I will be getting up there in age to say the least, but I have no intention of retiring. I love my work too much!

For more information on how to sign up to help Ron brew for a day, please e-mail Keefe at Also, Gin Lane ale is back. The strong Barley Wine is now available on taps, just in time for the cold winter months.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

YellowBelly Growlers

I received an e-mail from a St. John's NFLD reader this week informing me of the newest development happening at the YellowBelly Brewery.

"The Yellowbelly finally has their beer in growlers! The Wexford Wheat is the only one available right now. The rest will be in the bottles early this coming week!" exclaimed an excited Frank MacDonald.

The growlers will retail for $10 a bottle and to have it filled with the wheat (right now), it will set you back another $10. The one time fee for the growler places the responsibility on the individual to ensure they bring it back time after time.

In other YellowBelly news, MacDonald points out that the much anticipated St. John's stout is about to be released December 15th. There will be a launch party at the pub to welcome the newest NFLD beer - customers welcome

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bright Horizons for Grand River Brewing Co.

Grand River Brewing Co. opened for business back in 2007 and has produced some fine beers that have captured the hearts of craft beer drinkers in this province. Their line-up consists of a wide variety of ales and lagers that contain beautiful aroma's, full flavoured taste, and possess qualities that Ontario citizens have been craving for years. Rob Creighton, Grand River's brew master, has indicated that he will be introducing a number of new beers to Grand Rivers repertoire over the next several months, catching the eye of many curious drinkers.

For those who haven't been to the brewery before (located in Cambridge, ON), I highly recommend you take a day trip to see what transpires behind the scenes. It is a simple brewery, laid back and welcoming. It's located in a beautiful old building with a large event space that Creighton hopes to start using more and more. "We are attempting to start to use our very under utilized hospitality area and generate some interest on different beer styles and regional flavour differences," stated Creighton in an e-mail.

So what are they planning? The brewery is set to commence beer tastings in the event room starting in January, opening the doors to the public once a month to compare styles, provide tasting notes and educate individuals on the styles.

Introducing the Grand River Beer Club
Starting in January 2009, Grand River Brewing will host several comparative beer tastings discussing different styles of craft beers.

Tuesday January 13, 2009 will feature Winter Warmers
Tuesday February 10, 2009 will show case Indian Pale Ales
Tuesday March 10, 2009 will present Stouts and Porters

The meetings will be co-hosted by Rob Creighton, Grand River’s brewer and Bob Hanenberg Grand River’s president. Guest brewers will also be invited (more details to come).

Price $15 per session. No charge for designated drivers.
Time 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Location: Brewery at 295 Ainslie Street S., Cambridge, Ontario.
Please call 519-620-3233, email or drop into the store to reserve a spot. Each session will be limited to 25.

So, Indian Pale Ales, Winter Warmers and a Stout? Why these beers? "I'm a big proponent of creating beers that match your local conditions and suppliers. It makes no sense to me to try and create beers exactly the same of the next guy or some mythic brewery in Transylvania. Our beers reflect our water supply and the way our yeast adapts to the torture we put it through."

Also, Grand River will be starting a quarterly newsletter that will go by the name Grand River Growler. The newsletter's goal will be to keep craft beer drinkers informed about new Grand River beers, events that the brewery will be participating in and beer and food recipes. You can email to be added to the newsletter list. Please put ‘Newsletter’ in the subject line.

These recent announcements are a terrific step in the right direction. Offering new beers, educating the public, informing the province about the brewery and most importantly, getting the beer into people's mouths. This is how to self promote and I hope it works out well for the creative brewery.

This Week in the News

A New Place to Drink?
Cineplex Odeon, the large chain of cinema's, are considering a pilot project that would have two of their establishments selling beer to movie-goer's. Two theatres have been chosen to take part, both in Oakville. Pat Marshall, spokesperson for Cineplex Entertainment, told the Toronto Star earlier this week that she is delighted with the recent amendment to the Liquor Licence Act that would allow in theatre drinking. As quoted in the Star: "We are obviously delighted. This is something that our guests have been asking us for years." We'll have to wait and see, the company is currently waiting for liquor board approval. I can only imagine what the cost would be for a bottle or pint, and it will probably be a Molson or Labatt product to boot, and the young stupid kids that will get a buzz and wreck the entire movie going experience. I'm not a fan of the idea.

OCB on the Beer Store
Josh Rubin's bi-weekly beer column featured a piece on the Ontario Craft Brewers Discovery Pack #2 this past Wednesday and it featured an interesting quote from Lisa Dunbar, manager of Marketing and Promotions. Dunbar stated that the Beer Store just doesn't do as good of job selling craft beer as the LCBO. She went on to say that the LCBO is just a stronger partner for the OCB. This was in relation to being asked where individuals could purchase the new and upgraded second Discovery Pack.

Rubin also reviews each beer contained in the six pack and gives a brief introduction to the history behind the OCB's first discovery pack.

Harry's Hops
Harry Hodge is Sun 24 Hrs answer to the Star's Rubin. The free daily Toronto newspaper features a column written by Hodge every Wednesday about his take on the Ontario brewing industry. This week, Harry's Hops featured a story about the Etobicoke three, as I like to call them. Hodge ventured out to the Great Lakes brewery for a tour with John Bowden before heading across the bridge to the Cool Beer brewery. He met up with brew master Michael Duggan to talk shop and then proceeded to Horner Avenue to take a glimpse at the creation of Black Oak's new facility. Hopefully his piece will provoke some weekend drives out of the city to visit one of these breweries.

A Good Beer Blog
Alan (A Good Beer Blog) and Jeff (Stonch's Beer Blog) have released a link to all the photographs that have been submitted for their annual 'Beer Photo Challenge.' The pictures are fantastic, the prizes are plentiful and Alan is in good cheer. Head over and take a look, comment, and submit your own for your chance to win some beery merchandise.

Sleeman Suing Craft Brewery
As mentioned here last Saturday, Sleeman Breweries is suing a small BC craft brewery for using clear bottles with an etching of a dead frog. Dead Frog Brewery started using the clear bottles in June and have since been served by the Japanese owned Sleeman for infringing on trademark rights. The National Post picked up on the story and asks the question, "Should Sleeman claim the right to clear, embossed beer bottles in Canada, or is the brewery just being a bit jumpy?"

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cameron's Tasting Tonight

I'll be pouring samples of Cameron's Cream Ale and their delicious Auburn Ale tonight at the Queen and Coxwell LCBO for any of your east enders who happen to stop by.

This LCBO is a pretty good craft beer supporter as their fridge is well stocked with beers from Great Lakes, Mill Street, Wellington, Hockley Valley, King, Heritage, Trafalgar, Steam Whistle, Neustadt, Cameron's and more. They also have a good selection of imports; like Dogfish Head, Southern Tier, Anchor, Rogue, Konigshoeven, Westmalle, Samichlaus and more. Some of the staff are pretty attentive to beer as while, which is good when new customers ask for recommendations for something other than a mega brew.

So stop by tonight if your in the area and say hi. I'll be pouring between 5 - 8pm.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast

I have had this beer sitting in my beer fridge for quite some time now, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to crack the top and provide it with the respect it deserves. I wanted to make sure that I would have no distractions, no interruptions, just free time to enjoy one of the world’s best beers. Sunday morning was that time. Sunday morning? Yes, I had it for breakfast, along with eggs and bacon. Didn’t you see the name of the beer? Beer Geek Breakfast?

First, a little about the Danish brewery. Mikkeller has received world-wide recognition for their line-up of well balanced and unique beers and recently, in the spring of 2008, the brewery finished 6th in a list of the best breweries on the planet. Not bad for a relatively new brewery. They produce beers with colourful names like Jackie Brown Ale, State Side IPA, It’s Alive Trappist, Big Worse Barley Wine, Black Hole Imperial Stout, Santa's Little Helper and Draft Bear 8% Lager. Beer enthusiasts give the BGB a 100% overall rating on ratebeer and many other Mikkeller's beers are ranked very high. In fact, the lowest score comes in at a respectable 72% or a rating of 3.32.

So, back to BGB. After getting my food prepared, I poured the beer into a nice wide mouth glass and headed to the table. The colour of the BGB while being poured was reminiscent of motor oil, pitch black, thick, and it created a huge billowy dark mocha coloured head. The rich creamy layer lasted a good while but eventually gave way, dissipating into the glass. The midnight black beer was off to a great start.

The aroma was beautiful. The nose picked up loads of chocolate off the initial smell and was soon joined by strong burnt coffee notes. I woke up the hops after giving the sampling glass a little twirl and some black liquorice was also present along with a small boozy touch. After savouring the smell for – oh – five seconds, I decided it was time to finally take a friggin drink.

Coffee was the first thing I picked up in the taste; no thanks to the LCBO’s lab sticker informing me that this strong beer (listed as 7.5% by Mikkeller, but 5.7% by the LCBO) is brewed with coffee (thanks for the heads up). The more I tipped the glass the more I picked up other interesting things. Hops were the last thing on my mind, but I quickly discovered the green bastard during the smooth finish and it was quite delightful, a nice bittery finish. There were also obvious notes of sweet chocolate and nuts, creating a taste that reminded me of sticking chocolate covered almonds down the hatch. The burnt malt provided hints of smoke, which helped compliment the eggs and bacon nicely. A nice silky mouth feel, medium body and dangerously drinkable, an incredible beer.

Almost too good.

Where to get it? The Roland and Russell Import Agency are the ones to contact to see if you can get your hands on some. Contact them here. You can also find it at a handful of terrific beer pubs/bars in the Toronto area - like Beerbistro for example.

Back From India

My fiance left for India back on October 24th for a two month co-op in the bustling city of Vellore to work in a Christian Medical Hospital as part of her masters program. A week ago today I called to wake her from a deep sleep to inform her of the terrorist attacks taking place in Mumbai, a city she and her group were planning on visiting this coming weekend.

Well Monday afternoon she made it back to Toronto safe and sound, with some great stories. I just wanted to thank many of you readers who actually took the time to send me an e-mail asking how everything was. We appreciate your compassion.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Confessions of a New Brewer

The following is an article written by budding brewer Sam Corbeil as it appeared in the Fall issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer magazine. Corbeil left the cushy business environment to follow his dream of brewing beer for a living. It is a well written article that I am happy to post here for all you readers to enjoy.

It’s been two and a half years since I left the comfy confines of the cubicle for the hard stainless steel of the brew house. Two and a half years since I traded in the dress shoes and the mouse pad for the rubber boots and the spray hose. And what have I learned? I’ve learned that many of the romantic fantasies that go along with brewing are just that, fantasies.

When I first thought about leaving the day-to-day, humdrum of the corporate world, I imagined the life of the brewer to be an idyllic one. I imagined a Brew Master to be a jolly old German man wearing overalls and a plaid shirt. He would have a magnificent, grey beard hanging from his chin and a proud beer belly earned over many years of dedicated work inside the brew house protruding from his mid-section.

In my mind I daydreamed him strolling amongst endless grey tanks, roaming calmly and knowingly amongst them. Every so often he would stop at a tank to take a sample, letting the golden liquid pour slowly into his glass. He would then hoist the glass aloft, staring longingly into the beer looking for slight imperfections that only a master eye could detect. Only then after determining that the liquid was in pristine shape would he sip it. Letting the beer dance around inside his mouth he would search again for any mistakes. After swallowing it, he would nod his head approvingly, letting the world know that this beer was perfect and ready to be released to the world.

This was it! I’ve found it-the perfect job for someone who loves beer. This was going to be the life for me. I was going to throw off the oppressive shackles of the rat race and join this idyllic world of brewing. I was going to become that bearded, beer bellied old German man!

Well it didn’t take long for this dream to be dashed. The moment I entered my first class at the Certified Brew Masters Course at the VLB in Berlin, I learned that not all Brew Master’s are old and German. They aren’t always men either. They come in all nationalities, all shapes and sizes and in both sexes. As I looked around the classroom I could see faces, both men and women, from nations all over the world: Japan, Turkey, America, Canada, Korea, Spain, Portugal. Beer brewing wasn’t a duty left solely for the Germans; it was universal.

The classes themselves weren’t quite what I had envisioned either. In our first lesson we discussed Polymerase Chain Reactions and the DNA of specific strains of barley. In my pervious life I had a Bachelor of Commerce. My limited knowledge of the sciences ended in twelfth grade high school. And now here I was, half way around the world thinking I was going to be learning about sipping beer out of vessels and learning to nod knowingly. This was hardcore science. Chemistry, microbiology, brewing mathematics; these were just some of the areas of study. Brewing wasn’t going to be as easy as I had pictured. Brewers need to wear many hats; a scientist is just one of them.

The tattered and frayed remnants of my brewing dream world were given their death blow upon my return from Berlin. Beginning my first job as a brewer here in Canada, I quickly learned that brewing wasn’t going to be as easy as just walking around a fermenting room and randomly sampling from tanks. It was real work; real hard, physical work. Lifting malt bags, scrubbing dirty tanks, spraying grain soaked floors and removing steaming piles of spent grains are just some of the daily duties. But getting splashed with hot wort, pinching your hand in valves and getting harsh chemicals like caustic on your arms and face are just some of the perks that go along with the job.

Sipping beer out of tanks didn’t seem to be on the daily itinerary.

It also became very apparent that the corporate world paid a great deal better than the brewing world. For all this hard work and heavy lifting, I was never going to get rich brewing beer. As a brewer working in the craft brewing industry, you have to keep in mind that these are small businesses working on small budgets. It doesn’t leave much room for wealthy brewers.

What had I done? This fantastical, idyllic brewing world of my imagination was not to be. Why had I given up the cushy life style of the corporate world to do twice the work for half the pay? Honestly, some days I don’t know. Many days it’s a struggle. Long hours in a sweltering brew house can cause all sort of problems. Like a severe case of diaper rash. At that point, your only hope to make it through the day is to walk around in a “penguinesque” waddle so the inside of your legs stop rubbing together. Diaper rash can cause a man to have some serious doubts.

Brewing is a love-hate relationship and some days the scales start to tip in favour of hate. Some days you need reassurance. On a recent bout of self doubt I turned to a friend I met at brewing school (Shout out’s to Tree Brewing in Kelowna, they make great beer! Their Spy Porter is brilliant.) and asked him for some words of advice, this is what he said, “We got out of our old jobs and into this field for one reason…we love beer. Sure, it turned out that the grass wasn’t quite as green on the other side, but the product, the people, but mostly the product is what keeps us going.”

And he’s right. Brewing beer isn’t about the money. It isn’t about the grueling work. It’s about the love of beer. It’s about creating a product that’s going to be enjoyed by many people. It’s about knowing that you’re putting a smile on someone else’s face.

Maybe I won’t become that bearded, beer bellied old German man. Maybe it was all in my imagination. In fact, I’m not German and I can’t even grow a beard. A beer belly I can do, but a beard not so much. But I do know that I will continue to brew beer. I’ll continue to do it, because I love it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Steam Whistle Canning Line

Steam Whistle believes that they are the only North American brewery canning their beer in 500ml cans and I can't prove them wrong. Not that I want to or anything, it's just that doing an online search I couldn't come up with any results. Sybil Taylor, director of communications at Steam Whistle, told me that they wanted to be the first to offer their customers with that extra little bit of beer for roughly the same price as some other import cans in the same format. "The cans have to be purchased from a company in England as you just can't get the 500ml here in Canada," quoted Taylor.

I recently had the opportunity to join Taylor down at the brewery to witness their new canning line in operation and meet some of the great individuals who work at the brewery. I watched as the empty cans were loaded onto pallets then moved to the vacuum line to enter the tunnel where they would eventually be filled one at a time. Marek Mikunda, brew master at Steam Whistle, claims that the canning line can fill 150 cans per minute and he was there keeping an eye out for malfunctions and to ensure things went smoothly.

The canning line runs one day a week and requires five staff members to handle the product; however, come summer, I think that Steam Whistle may be required to run it more as sales will surely increase. There were a number of employees carefully observing as cans whipped down the line from start to finish, some making sure the cans were upright, some watching for half fills and some loading the finished product onto pallets for shipment.

Taylor has been impressed with the sales figures since the cans were released back on September 15, 2008. "They have been selling really well at the LCBO's and Beer Stores and we have seen how popular they are with Universities and Colleges, they want to eliminate the glass bottles," stated Taylor as we walked around the equipment.

Steam Whistle missed out on the summer season as there were issues getting the canning equipment to Canada (a strike in Brazil, where some of the machines came from) but they have big goals for next summer. "Everyone knows how well cans sell in the summer months and we anticipate that our products will do exceptionally well."

The cans are available at select LCBO's and Beer Store's across the province and can only be purchased as a single unit ($2.70). However, in Alberta and at the brewery's retail store, the cans can be sold in a nifty four pack suitcase package that resembles the larger bottle cases. "I think these are so cool," Taylor exclaimed, "We hope that one day the four packs will be available for wide scale distribution like the four packs of Guinness, Boddingtons etc," she went on to say.

Below is a video I took with my cheap camera. The quality is not so good, and the movement isn't the best, but it is what it is.

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