The Wide World of Beer with Stephen Beaumont: Touring Toronto’s Brewery Renaissance

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For many years, Toronto was a relatively brewery-deprived city. I mean, yes, there were breweries, including one of Ontario’s first—the now-defunct Upper Canada Brewing—along with a few early brewpubs. But compared with other cities, even other Canadian cities such as Victoria and Montréal, there wasn’t a whole lot to be had.

Fortunately, that’s all changed over the last five to 10 years, and dramatically so at that. To the point, in fact, that now the question is not which breweries can a person visit, but how many in a single day? And, pivotally, how good?

I decided to find out.

I live in the heart of Toronto, right beside the iconic CN Tower, so my starting point, I figured, would be the same as that of a visitor staying at a downtown hotel. Namely, the Steam Whistle Brewing Company.

Steam Whistle Brewing- Outside brewery 2- Photo credit Steam Whistle BrewingLOW

Photo courtesy of Steam Whistle Brewing

11 am:  In some ways the offspring of the aforementioned Upper Canada, owing to the cross-pollination of its owners, Steam Whistle makes but one beer they call pilsner, but which I would characterize as more a helles. It’s a lovely way to start a beer tasting day, and best of all, while you can buy pints at the brewery if you wish, a decently-sized tasting glass is offered on entry for free! From there, I walked to…

Photos courtesy of Amsterdam Brewhouse

11:30 am: The Amsterdam Brewhouse, a restaurant-brewery located on the waterfront, is a relatively new arrival and the offspring of a production brewery located farther to the city’s north. While there is little faulting the main operation’s hoppier options, such as Boneshaker IPA, the wise drinker will be drawn to the smaller brewery’s seasonal selections, like the tasty Bord du Lac Saison I tried as part of a four-beer sampler. Then it was a combination of streetcar and subway to…

Granite Brewery Patio_Kevin MillerLOW

The Granite Brewery // Photo by Kevin Miller

12:46 pm: The Granite Brewery, a veteran of Toronto’s beer scene with more years at the same location than any other craft brewery. It’s a pub and restaurant, too, with good, basic fare and excellent cask-conditioned ales, including a dry-hopped Best Bitter Special that, when at its finest, is the equal of any in the U.K. A walk back to the subway and a short trip south will then land you at…

2:05 pm: Bar Volo, home of the House Ales nanobrewery. Also one of Toronto’s finest beer bars, Volo will tempt you with more draft offerings than there are letters in the alphabet, but since you’re on a brewery crawl you should stick to their own brands from an impressive and ever-changing selection. Then it’s on the streetcar east to…

3:10 pm: Left Field Brewing, a baseball-themed brewery that is one of the city’s newer and, to my mind, most promising arrivals. From their regular line-up, I find the Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale to be a stand-out, but each and every time I try the Maris Pale Ale it seems to taste better and better. I then walked, although you can bus and subway, from there to…

4:05 pm: Louis Cifer Brew Works, a brewery-pub in the center of Greektown. Their location in a not exactly beer-adventurous part of the city has resulted in a somewhat conservative approach to brewing, but it’s hard to find fault with the biscuity maltiness of their ESB or the sessionability of a most-approachable blonde ale. From here, it’s back on the subway and a bus to…

5:39 pm: The Indie Ale House, a brewery-pub in the neighborhood known as the Junction. Open, airy, and inviting, the Indie usually offers a dozen or more of their own ales, almost always including the justly celebrated Breakfast Porter, which you should definitely try. A brief walk around the corner through a semi-industrial area will then take you to…

Junction brewing

Photo courtesy of Junction Brewing

6:20 pm: The Junction Brewing Company, an appropriately industrial-looking brewery located conveniently beside the unrelated Toronto Distillery Company. (Bonus points for adding a distillery to the brewery mix!) Their Conductor’s Craft Ale in cans is being contract-brewed until they can find a larger facility, but small batches of specialties like the Night Train Dark Ale usually abound in the bare bones tasting room. Try one or three and then walk, or take a bus and walk, to…

7:20 pm: Rainhard Brewing, another new arrival on the scene with an only slightly less bare-bones bar and sampling area, stylistically reminded me of the host of warehouse-y brewery taprooms popping up all across the United States. I found the Armed ‘N Citra Pale Ale to be on the thin side, but was impressed by the 6.7% Lazy Bones IPA, which tastes lighter than its strength. From here, a lengthy bus ride and a much shorter streetcar journey will land you at…

8:40 pm: Duggan’s Brewery, recently opened by a veteran local brewer in the rapidly gentrifying region known as Parkdale. The brewery’s best-known beer is the No. 9 IPA, but if you’re like me you may at this point be hankering for something more refreshing, like the splendidly crisp German pilsner, a most suitable accompaniment to a plate of Cajun chicken wings. And then, finally, it’s a few streetcar stops and a short stroll to…

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The Bellwoods Brewery // Photo courtesy of Bellwoods Brewery and Mike Banani

9:50 pm: The Bellwoods Brewery, the place credited by many—myself included—with reigniting the city’s passion for breweries. The beers change with remarkable regularity, so it’s anyone’s guess what might be on tap, but the good news is that it will most likely be pretty damn good whatever it is.

There remain a few more accessible breweries in Toronto—Mill Street, Habits Gastropub, Burdock, among others—to visit, and you may be tempted to make it an even dozen for the day. But for me, 11 was pretty much the perfect number. And besides, there is always tomorrow!

Follow Stephen’s Toronto brewery tour or plot your own using the below map. Click the icon in the upper left to see the legend.

 
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Stephen Beaumont About Stephen Beaumont

Widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading beer writers, Stephen Beaumont is the author or co-author of 10 books about beer, including "The Beer & Food Companion," published last fall. He is also the co-author with Tim Webb of "The World Atlas of Beer" and two editions of "The Pocket Beer Guide."