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.


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!

Toronto ON Canada

***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.

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 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.

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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Caffe Volo: Toronto, ON

If you enjoy drinking fine beers in a small intimate setting, then Caffe Volo is the place for you. Located at just north of the Wellesley subway station, Volo has been a popular Toronto destination since 1987. Owner Ralph Morana, a former landscape architect turned restaurant owner, is a friendly, energetic man, who is very passionate about his place and goes to great lengths ensuring his customers leave Volo feeling satisfied.

I just happened to have some extra time after a meeting on Monday afternoon so I walked over and took part in their $4 pint night special. $4 for a pint in Toronto is exceptional and its even better when you can choose from fantastic beers like Black Oak Nut Brown, Mill Street Tankhouse, Mill River Mild, Church Key West Coast IPA, St. Amboise Oatmeal Stout, King Dark Lager, Denison’s Weissbier, Durham Hop Head cask conditioned and more. I got there around 4:15 just as Volo was opening and by 5pm the place was almost full, which is a testament to the success Volo has received from noble locals and regulars alike. Nicholas Pashley, who I have mentioned before in past posts, was there enjoying the ambiance.

Beer aficionados have known about Volo for years as Morana has been responsible for serving imported beers that are not available for sale anywhere else in Ontario. "Importing your own beers is a very daunting task as you have to go through a lot of rules and regulations, but it has been great for me and Volo," states Morana. Because of the high costs of importing and the long delays it sometimes takes, Morana has started to scale back in recent months and has been looking at other angles for his establishment. He has since applied for his brew pub licence and plans are in the works to install some small brewing equipment in his basement and possibly have a local homebrewing club come in to produce some inspiring beers. So we'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I'll get back to telling you about the place. As you walk into Volo, you are greeted by a large red Chimay tin sign and a beer cooler displaying many different kinds of beer from all over the world. It gives you an idea of what the place is going to be like if you haven't been there before. There is a seating area to the left for roughly 20 people and features all wooden furniture including two old church benches. Hardwood floor mixes with grey tiling for most of the lower level of the caffe and wooden floors on the upper level. The walls are covered with many pictures of movie scenes, landscapes and beer related signage along with many framed newspaper clippings on Volo and many awards and plaques. Their is a large window that opens up to the nice days of summer right on Yonge street and offers passerby's a sneak peak inside.

The upper level has two island sit down bars with bar back stooling where you can sit and read one of the many beer books or beer magazines Morana has donated to the place. There are a couple of shelving units containing various imported bottles from around the world which make for interesting conversation with friends as you try picking out what you've tried before and what you wish to try. Volo has a lot of wood in the place with creates a cozy, intimate setting, that looks great with the lovely angel figurines and attractive burgundy leather couch. The bathrooms are located down a flight of stairs that reminded me of walking into the crevices of a cave. Lots of stone and an exposed rock floor meet you at the bottom of the old rickety stairs.

The bar is located on the second level and although small and cramped, it still offers that delicious beverage that we love to consume. The most attractive piece of the bar is the large assortment of different glassware stationed above in metal racks. Tulips, goblets, pilsners, weizens, sniffers and pint glasses of all different shapes and sizes are available to match each individual beer, adding character to your beer and it looks very professional. Something you'd find in Belgium or Germany. There are no bar stools at the bar, so people stand in front of the taps while socializing with Morana's son Thomas who is a regular fixture behind the bar.

The Beer: Well, it would be hard to list everything that Volo carries as it changes regularly so I'll just direct your to their website. There are hundreds of bottled beer from United States, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Czech Republic, England, Scotland and more. You will be able to find everything from light lagers to robust stouts that are just as good as the day they left the brewery. The 12 draught lines change regularly so you have pay attention to the chalk board on the lower level to see what's available. Volo is also home to the annual Cask Days event the Morana created three years ago and is widely considered to be 'the premiere' beer drinking event in the Province. It attracts loyal cask lovers from all over which is held on Volo's side patio making for tight quarters. Morana is also an avid supporter of Ontario Craft Beer and you can usually find some on tap along with literature that the Ontario Craft Brewers Association has provided for customers. Not only is Morana a supporter of the OCB, he also support locally produced food and regularly holds cheese events at Volo to offer customers a little bit of everything.

Props go out to Lawrence who was behind the bar and was a very friendly and gracious barkeep. He engages every customer in conversation and was quick and steady as the caffe got busy. Volo will remain a top notch beer destination if they continue with their trend of offering customers a unique beer line up and locally produced food. It is a beautiful caffe with great music and a nice book selection and one should not pass up the chance of attending. I highly recommend visiting should you be in the area.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Beer Appreciation Week#5

Five classes down, one to go before the end of the course. Week five looked promising on paper as it was Trappist/Belgium week and it lived up to that promise.
There is something about Belgian beers that make your mouth water before even having a taste, well at least it happens to me. It's probably because they are rated so highly throughout the world and are crafted with the up most quality standards.

Ron Keefe, owner and brew master of the Granite Brewery, also the instructor, started the class out with a small history lesson on Belgium and their brewing heritage. For a population of 10,318,000, the Belgians have over 150 breweries brewing every style imaginable and can boast about their more than 60,000 pubs, cafes, and taverns. I am already thinking about moving there, but my liver is begging me not to.

We watched two Beer Hunter videos which I have come to adore. I want to get my hands on some episodes. Jackson (beer hunter) visited some monasteries and spoke with Trappist monks brewing their excellent ales. During the video, Keefe poured some delicious Chimay Red for us to taste and it matched the video nicely. There is a beer for every occasion and when your watching Jackson talk to monks brewing Chimay, it just seems fitting to have one as well.

We talked about how beer is a social lubricant in Belgium, part of their everyday life. They use beer in cooking, they pair certain meals with a certain beer and they worship the gods of brewing. Here in Canada, some would judge us quickly for using a bottle of beer for soup and then drinking a different beer while eating that soup. In Belgium it is almost customary to have different beer with each different plate. They taught the world that the two go together so much better than food and wine and Jackson was their main spokesperson.

It was a interesting class learning about the history of this great brewing nation. I can only hope that I get there to visit one day. We tried some Duvel, Mort Subite Framboise Lambic, Leffe Brune, Rochefort 10, Chimay White, Affligem Blond, and Unibroue La Fin Du Monde. All exceptional beers, but my favourite was Rochefort 10. A beautiful beer with hints of prune, raisin and smell of alcohol. A great winter warmer. So who's ever reading this, if you don't know what to get me for Christmas; one plane ticket to Belgium.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Great Lakes Winter Ale

It's that time of year again when the LCBO starts rolling out their winter beer selection. Most beers are set to be released starting December, but most of the time certain ones end up on the shift at different times, in effect, staggering the release of each beer.

One of those beers that will be hitting the shelf any day now is Great Lakes Winter Ale, slated to be released on November 15th. It will be available at the LCBO in a gift set that includes 1 bomber bottle and 2 Great Lakes glasses, retailing for $14.95. At the same time, the beer should start pouring from the draught machines at places like C'est What, Volo and others.

This will be the second year that Great Lakes has created this brew for distribution and for the first time ever, single bottles will be released in Nova Scotia in late November at select NSLC outlets. "We are very exciting about the Winter Ale being available in NS and who knows, if it sells well, there may be a future in shipping them more," states sales & promotions manager John Bowden. "It would be nice to get our Devil's Pale Ale and our Pumpkin Ale there as well, we're all pretty excited."

I had the chance to visit the brewery recently and got to taste a fresh batch of the Winter Ale straight from the fermentation tanks. It is an excellent winter warmer and would make a nice fixture on your Christmas Day dinner table next to the turkey. You will find hints of cinnamon, dried orange peel, honey and fresh ginger on the palate and at 6.2% alcohol, it can hold its own. Bowden informs me that they actually use whole cinnamon sticks and add the other ingredients to a bucket and dip it in the fermentation vessel.

The brewery's retail store will have the bottles available for sale next week for $6.95. So visit the brewery, take a tour and leave with a couple bottles of some of Ontario's finest.

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Winter Ale