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


Monday, December 31, 2007

Victory Cafe: Toronto,ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto, ON

Sunday, December 30, 2007

So Long 2007

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

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

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

Top Five Pubs I Visited in 2007

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

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

Five, Okay, Ten Favourite Beers of 2007

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

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

Top Five Beer Events 2007

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

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

Top Five News makers in 2007

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

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

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


Friday, December 28, 2007

Sarah's Cafe: Toronto, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah's Cafe

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Part 2: Ugly Sweaters 12 Bars of Christmas Crawl

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 24, 2007

Have a Beery Merry Christmas

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

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

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


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ugly Sweater: 12 Bars of Christmas Crawl - Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Abbey Belgian Spiced Ale: Trafalgar Brewery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Be a Brewer for the Day at the Granite

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2007

Neustadt 10W30 Finally in Cans

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

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

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

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

Good to see Neustadt succeed.

Walkerville Brewery Declares Bankruptcy

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Help To Create Brewery/Brew-Pub List

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

TAPS Beer Magazine - REBORN Dec.13th

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 7, 2007

Bountiful Box of Beer at my Door: OCB Winter Warmers

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, December 6, 2007

No Pubs and No Beer Make Troy Go Crazy

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ontario Craft Brewers Book: By Bill Perrie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 3, 2007

Creemore Brewery Teams Up with Stadtlander Farms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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