The Old Toronto Beer Tour is an opportunity to get day drunk at finer beer establishments across the city with the added bonus of a designated driver. Kole and I had the opportunity to join the January departure as invited guests of the company. You can offer one to your loved one for $129 per person + HST, or $179 per person + HST if you want the optional Brewer’s Dinner at the Granite Brewery. It’s a good introduction to craft brewing in Toronto. Chris Goddard was our guide and sported an amazing Robbie Burns Day kilt for the day. Mad props to you, Chris.
1st Stop: Steam Whistle
We showed up at the bright and early time of 11:00 a.m. at Steam Whistle Brewing. Beer tourism is near and dear to my heart – my day job is in the tourism industry, and I try to visit breweries and distilleries whenever I travel. Plus, I was able to justify drinking beer all day on this particular Saturday as I was learning. We were greeted by Steam Whistle employee, Rylan O’Reilly, for our tour and for a fresh bottle of Steam Whistle, straight out of their retro beer fridge, Bev. Kole and I have enjoyed at least one previous tour of the Roundhouse together, and I’ve been at least 5-6 times prior with out of town guests. While the fundamentals of the tour don’t change much for each visit, the insights do.
Steam Whistle was founded by 3 guys who were fired from Upper Canada Brewing when it was bought out by Sleeman, and the characters “3FG” are emblazoned on every bottle of Steam Whistle as a testament to their history. Canada’s greenest brewery uses only 4 ingredients in their beer in accordance with the Bavarian Purity Act of 1516, the Reinheitsgebot. With a guaranteed maximum shelf life of 3 months, Steam Whistle is one of your best chances for a guaranteed fresh local beer – and the brewery now offers home delivery service and keg service to boot. Things to keep in mind for my next kegger, I guess. (Wait, I’m in my 30s… I think I’ll leave the keggers to the college kids this time.)
Most locals will be familiar with the Roundhouse, as Steam Whistle hosts 270-280 events per year, including roughly 60 weddings. On the Old Toronto Beer Tour, you’ll have the option to taste the very rare unfiltered Steam Whistle, not available in stores. This was a cloudy treat, and the consensus at Toronto Booze Hound is that we prefer the unfiltered version. Sorry, Steam Whistle. Guests of the Old Toronto Beer Tour also have an included smorgasbord lunch, an assortment of do-it-yourself turkey and ham sandwiches with a selection of pickles and cheeses. Word to the wise? Pack an extra one for a late afternoon snack and bring a water bottle with you. You’ll need both if you want to maintain some sense of decorum.
2nd Stop: Historic Fort York
This was my first time visiting Fort York. I’ve passed by it on public transit or while driving countless times, but it never actually occurred to me to go inside. On a cold and drizzling Saturday at the end of January, there weren’t many other people there. Built in 1793 and home to some of the city’s oldest buildings, it is rich in Toronto’s military history. In the early days of Canada, a soldier received a ration of 6 pints of beer a day. This is no longer practiced in the Canadian army, but it certainly had its role in the history of brewing in Toronto.
I hoped to see preserved elements of an early brewery, but this was not the case. Fort York did not particularly enhance my understanding of the history of brewing in Toronto, nor did it really hold my attention span. It did serve a useful purpose in sobering me up early in the day. I’m sure my Sunday would have been a lot messier without this interlude. Plus I got to poke around old houses and look at old steel kitchenware, so it wasn’t a complete write off. I always did have a weakness for pioneer villages. This used to segue way into a stop at the now-defunct 6 Pints Beer Academy, so it might have made more sense last summer. I’m sure tourists and history buffs will get more out of the Fort York stop than the average beer drinking local. But this is the historical Old Toronto Beer Tour, so I am rolling with it.
3rd Stop: The Rhino
The third stop on the itinerary is a substitution for 6 Pints. Just a short drive from Fort York, The Rhino was the “surprise” visit on our tour. With minimal web-presence (the webpage is defunct, the Twitter feed is abandoned and the Facebook page has not been updated since 2013), The Rhino still manages to draw huge crowds thanks to its extensive, mostly local rotating craft beer list and enormous patio. This portion is billed as a tutored tasting, and I was hoping to discuss the subtleties of the ingredients, the aroma, the appearance, and the mouth feel of the beers. I’ve been on the Boston Brew Tour before and this was a huge part of the experience. While Kole and I certainly waxed lyrical about the beers, there wasn’t much discussion of the styles. We sampled 3 options (pitchers, poured into plastic 3 oz sampling cups): Cameron‘s Dark Lager 266, Creemore Springs‘ urBock, and Spearhead Brewing Company‘s India White Ale. And because I’m naughty and finish my beer too fast, I also had a Garden Brewers Piperales Unfiltered Smoked Amber Ale.
Cameron’s Dark Lager 266
This one had a reddish colour in the cup. It was light on the palate, an easy drinking beer. Lagers actually make up 90% of the beer sold in the world, but we don’t give them much attention on our site. This one is a lot more complex than the average lager, and that’s a good thing.
Creemore Springs’ urBock
Bocks are a polarizing flavour at Toronto Booze Hound. Kole loves bocks and finds them to be a great spring beer. I can take them or leave them – the ones I like, I absolutely love. The rest of them barely register on my radar, but I keep trying. This one is a late winter warmer with strong nutmeg and cinnamon flavours, but with hardly any aroma to speak of. Another beer with a dark reddish colour. We found this one very sweet, with definite vanilla notes. We started losing some of the more casual beer drinkers on the tour at this point. At 6% ABV, it certainly had me thinking of spring.
Spearhead Brewing Company’s India White Ale
The first time I ordered this at the Rhino, they were sold out. It was nice to find it on tap this time around. A hoppy white beer is the answer to all of my July beer wishes – but how would it hold up to a cold winter’s day? It had a very hoppy aroma, with a nice light mouth feel at first. The aftertaste was like being punched in the face by a grapefruit, and that’s OK. I usually drink a lot of the Hawaiian style pale ale, so I already had a positive image of this brewery. It works. Really.
Garden Brewers Piperales Unfiltered Smoked Amber Ale
The tap handle caught my attention when I went to the washroom. An unfiltered smoked amber ale? I liked the sound of it! I had never heard of Hamilton’s Garden Brewers before that stop at the Rhino, but I’m always excited to try a smoked beer and an unknown brewery. It was a spicy flavour explosion that reminded me of La Route des Épices from Dieu du Ciel. A rich amber colour, this was the only beer I enjoyed in a proper glass at the Rhino, and had to resist the urge to pocket the glass for my collection. This is the flagship brew of Garden Brewers, and it packs a lot of flavour and creativity into it. Well done, guys. You caught me off guard and I liked it.
4th Stop: Mill Street Beer Hall
By now, my photos are turning out pretty blurry, and my speech has reverted to my hybrid of Frenglish that few people understand. We’ve stopped briefly in Corktown en route for a historical lesson on brewing in this old Irish neighbourhood. The remnants of old breweries are actually hidden in plain site on Queen Street East – try to find it the next time you’re wandering around Corktown! My attention span is shot at this point, my notes are illegible and I seemed to have written down “I need to pee!” in large letters in my notebook and underlined it. Kole and I bolt from the van the moment we park in the Distillery district, and rendez-vous feeling much better at the Mill Street Beer Hall.
We’ve been to the Mill Street Beer Hall a half dozen times already, and it’s usually a fun experience. We are promptly served freshly baked pretzels with homemade mustard and cheese fondue, and the snack is much appreciated. Here we sample pitchers of Mill Street Brewery‘s flagship brews: Organic, 100th Meridian, Tankhouse Ale, Old Fashioned Oatmeal Stout (cask), and unique to the Beer Hall, the Tankhouse Bierschnaps. Bierschnaps is an old German style spirit, and brings the 150-year old tradition of brewing back to the Distillery district.
Mill Street Organic is Canada’s first commercially available organic beer, and definitely the most accessible beer produced by Mill Street. It’s an easy drinking lager, but certainly not my go to Mill Street Product.
This organic amber lager is produced with ingredients that originate entire west of the 100th Meridian. I cannot help but singing At the Hundreth Meridian by the Tragically Hip every time I drink this beer, it’s about as Canadian as you can get. It’s also a very accessible beer for most people. I prefer it in the summer – in January it doesn’t carry enough of a flavour profile.
We’ve already discussed Tankhouse Ale on this site. This is more my style – strong hop profile, fuller flavour. The richer, maltier flavour inspired me to write brewmaster = rockstar in my notebook.
Old Fashioned Oatmeal Stout
We were visiting the brewery on the day they first tapped the cask of the brand new Old Fashioned Oatmeal Stout, and we were very excited about this. Some kind staff members snuck us a pitcher from the brewery side, as it was not yet being served on cask in the Beerhall. This lovely cask concoction had a rich chocolatey malt, and an approachable, easy drinking flavour. It had a creamy, milk chocolate palate, and my notes include a long series of exclamation marks. I think I was excited!
Served as a digestif, this was supposed to cleanse the palate. I haven’t been a fan of schnapps since an incident with peach schnapps as a teenager, and I still haven’t come around. It went down smooth, but it’s not something I could fully appreciate that far into a beer tour.
5th Stop: Amsterdam Brewery (Leaside)
The final stop of the day was at the Leaside branch of Amsterdam Brewery. After this stop, there is an optional brewer’s dinner at the Granite Brewery, so the drive up to Leaside makes sense when you consider the final destination. For anyone not joining the dinner, the final destination is Eglinton subway. This was my first visit to the newish east end location of Amsterdam, since I usually stick to the waterfront location. They were celebrating their newest release, Cruise Pale Ale, and they were giving away a balloon style glass with purchase of a 6-pack. A 6-pack followed Kole home. He claimed it was like a lost puppy that needed our love. He just wanted the glass, obviously.
You’ve had Amsterdam Blonde before. It’s frequently white-labelled as the house beer in many bars, and it’s a pretty accessible, easy drinking blonde. It’s not really my go-to beer either.
KLB Raspberry Wheat
Kawartha Lakes Brewing got bought out and consolidated by Amsterdam in 2003 and their popular KLB Raspberry Wheat beer is still being produced by Amsterdam today. It has a fruity, syrupy consistency but it really does not float my boat.
This nut brown contains no actual nuts, just loads of delicious bitter dark toasty malt flavours. I’ve never seen this on tap outside the brewpub, but it’s a lovely little brown beer with an unassuming profile. Do you like nuts? Yes? Drink this. You’ll thank me for telling you about the rich, nutty flavours. It’s smooth. It’s simple. Why don’t I get it more often?
At this point in the afternoon, gospel music is playing on my internal soundtrack and we’ve moved on to Testify, part of the Adventure Brew series. And I want to shout from the table top about this delicious brew, made with 100% wild Brettanomyces yeast. Strong notes of grapefruit and mango shine through in the rich hoppy profile. My tasting notes (I should get brownie points for still taking notes this late in the day) include lots of smiley faces and yummers. Not scientific, but please applaud the fact that I could still hold a pen and write semi-legibly, ok?
Cruiser All Day Pale Ale
I asked Kole to take notes on this one. This is the only time I let him near a notebook for the entire day. And this is what I came home to. Can you make that out? I can read the words unfiltered and grapefruit, and that’s about it. Thanks Kole. Thankfully, he did a proper review of Cruiser a few days later. It’s a very flavourful IPA without a high ABV punch, but I still don’t think I could session these all day. It certainly holds its own.
Shawna has visited vineyards in 6 countries on 3 continents, and has a knack for finding the hoppiest beers around.
She can be found drinking alka-seltzer and coconut water in the morning.