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, January 31, 2008

Another One Down, Busy Week

Another week coming to an end and I have once again consumed a decent amount of beer. It wouldn't seem normal if I didn't anymore. I haven't made it out to any new pub though, which gives me the impression that I will have to this weekend. But where to go? I may go to the Cloak and Dagger, it has been recommended. Or I might end up at Allen's; it's hard to believe I haven't been there yet and I live so close by.

Back to my week. I met up with Stephen Beaumont at Volo Tuesday night to sample some fine beers and chat about the beer world with Ralph. Beaumont has just recently confirmed that he will be writing for TAPS, you'll be able to find his work on the last page where Kevin Brauch used to be. This is great news for beers fans who read the magazine. Craig Pinhey, a beer judge and writer from New Brunswick has also joined the TAPS Media team and will be reporting from the east coast.

We drank a bottle of the Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti(WOW), compliments of Gary Gillman (aka. Old Faithful) and knocked back a couple of pints of Black Oak Nutcracker Porter, Granite Best Bitter, Grains of Wrath and a bottle of Anchor Porter. One item the three of us discussed was why the US features so many great hop bombs yet we don't really have one in Ontario. Why is that? Halifax has two, in Propeller's terrific English IPA and Garrison's Imperial Pale. British Columbia has Phillips and Swans Buckerfield and more, yet we only have Sgt. Majors (went it's available). Something to hope for in the future I guess.

Earlier tonight I met up with Chris Layton who runs the LCBO Media Relations and the LCBO's Category Beer Manager to ask them some questions for the next issue of TAPS - April release. They were very open and fun to speak with. Both very knowledgable in many aspects of beer and well educated. There is some great news about new releases, but you'll have to wait, I promised I wouldn't tell yet. Some answers will surprise you, others will not. It was a good eye opener into the inner wheels of the LCBO. I think you'll enjoy the read when the magazine comes out.

- For those who occasionally look at, there are a couple of beer video's showing today.

- This is Superbowl weekend between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. I have always liked the poise and skill of Brady, but I hate Randy Moss, so here's hoping Eli Manning and his ugly haircut win the game. I think were having people over to the house so I'll have to get some Brooklyn Lager to enjoy the game and make everyone else cheer with me.

Now time for bed, after a small night cap of course.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In Touch with the LCBO

Every beer lover in Ontario has moaned and bitched about the LCBO at one time or another, so I want to provide you with the opportunity to vent. I want to hear your grudges, hear some positive or negative remarks and hear your recommendations. I know that it's not fair for readers out on the East and West Coasts, but we here in Ontario need to know how beer drinkers feel in regards to the biggest distributor of 'fine' beers in this province.

I am asking you, the reader, to click on the at the bottom of this post and type in a question that you would like to ask the LCBO. Anything goes. No swearing, racist or monopoly remarks or grandstanding. Just plain, old-fashioned questions. I will try to get them answered for you by the end of the week. I want to hear from you, the readers. Ask anything you'd like.

This is a great opportunity to get answers that you've always wondered about. Don't be shy!

Monday, January 28, 2008

What Are You Drinking?

I just started a new job. A new job on top of working with TAPS media on the magazine, on top of promoting craft beer, on top of staying up to date with this blog and on top of my hockey. Needless to say, I try to keep myself busy and I love it.

I will be spending my weekdays sitting at a computer working for the government and spending my weekends and weeknights visiting pubs and trying new beers. I hope to keep posting regularly, but this week may be a little hectic and therefore it may result in fewer posts. I sure hope you all understand.

I had planned to get out this weekend and visit a pub that a reader recommended but plans changed after I suffered a Northern hangover. I paid a visit back home Saturday to a friend’s house where we had a fabulous dinner that I matched with some Tankhouse Ale. After dinner though I decided to finish the case myself and…you don’t need to know the rest. Anyway, off topic, not that there’s really a topic though.

My friends from up north are all macro beer drinkers. Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, Laker and Bohemian are usually their beer of choice, so every time I head back up I try to get them to try something new. Which got me thinking, everyone has their own taste and to criticize it the way I sometimes do is wrong. Beer, whether it has tons of flavour or none at all, is made to be enjoyed by all. Each beer has certain qualities that draw their drinkers to it. Choosing to drink a mainstream, mass produced beer is a choice that may be based upon familiarity, price range and quite simply - taste (from what I've heard).

Sometimes they enjoy the beer, most times they do not. It was priceless watching them try some Garrison Imperial Pale Ale. You’d swear they just finished downing a shot of jagermeister. I did manage to convince one friend to go to Creemore to visit the brewery and he shocked me when he bought a six pack to take home. In Halifax, most of the boys drank Keiths, but after a couple of visits to the Henry House they were willing to try the microbrews from Propeller and Garrison. Today, one of them dedicates his free time to learning about and trying beers from all over. That makes me smile. I learnt that all beer can be enjoyed best in the context in which it’s drank.

Why do I do it? I enjoy the challenge of introducing new beers to people. Some craft beer might not be overly earth shattering but it can act as a good stepping stone into a new world of imperial stouts, hefe-weizen’s, barley wines and bitters. I enjoy all beer whether it be Labatt Blue or Chimay Bleue, but I choose to drink the latter as it offers most in body and taste. Sometimes we forget where we started and we judge others too quickly.

More another interesting read about enjoying any beer, check out Pete Brown's blog posts "We're all here for beer" and "For Christ's Sake, Cheer Up."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Steam Whistle Founder Discussing Hop Shortage

Greg Taylor, one of the co-founders of Steam Whistle Brewery here in Toronto, was recently interviewed on BNN about the hop shortage and the direction of the brewery for the future. View the video here by clicking on the link.

I visited the brewery recently and was told that they were installing larger brewing kettles in order to increase production. We always knew that one day they would grow as two summers ago they appealed for customers to bring back bottles, as they faced a bottle shortage.

It also sounds that within 10 years Steam Whistle should be recognized on store shelves across the country, judging from what Taylor said in the video. I enjoyed hearing his answer when asked about selling out to a large national brewer - "NO! We intend to keep Steam Whistle independently owned and operated like a family for many years to come."

He also spoke with BNN Workopolis TV on a separate occasion regarding staff members from ethnic backgrounds. Steam Whistle recently won an award recognizing them for hiring employees from diverse backgrounds - 12 employees are from 12 different countries.

I have always enjoyed Steam Whistle and their culture behind the beer. Watching these interviews reminds me why I enjoy supporting local businesses. It has been a pleasure watching them grow. And hey, I can say I helped in that regard....Now, I better return my empties.

Enjoy and have a good weekend.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Rhino: Toronto, ON

Is there anything better than spending an afternoon inside a warm pub sipping from a port stout while the snow falls outside? If there is, I have yet to experience it.

Yesterday I decided to jump on the TTC and head west down Queen Street to one of Greg Clow’s local hangouts: the Rhino. This is another establishment that came highly recommended by readers of this blog so I took advantage of a day off and chatted with Chris, the general manager.

The Rhino is located in the Parkdale neighbourhood, along Queen Street West, just west of Dufferin Street and has been since 1991. What set’s the Rhino apart from other pubs/restaurants in the area is their vast bottled beer selection and the quality of their draught lineup. It wasn’t always so though. Chris mentions that the family-run beer destination only started expanding their beer menu three years ago, something that came out of personal passion. He also noticed that the beer market was starting to change as more and more people were drinking less but drinking better and he decided to take advantage of the change.

Today there are 280 different names on their bottled beer menu from countries such as: Argentia, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Trinidad, Ukraine and the United States. There are currently only 205 in stock as of yesterday and they range from mass produced beers from large companies to the smallest of microbreweries. Breweries here in Ontario are well represented at the Rhino in regards to bottled beer.

The Rhino also had a winter beer menu that included: Black Oak Nutcracker Porter, Great Lakes Winter Ale, Sanichlaus (Austria), O’Hanlon’s Port Stout, Fullers Vintage 2006, St. Peters Winter Ale, Samuel Smith Winter Welcome and Wychwood Bah Humbug. Each bottle was priced in respect to its size and degree of availability. I choose a bottle of O’Hanlon’s Port Stout for $7.35, which I thought was reasonable for such an award winning beer.

In addition to the volume of bottled beer already mentioned, the Rhino also boasts a great draught selection. Rhino Lager, Creemore Premium Lager, Durham County Cask ESB, Hockley Dark, Steam Whistle, Guinness, Wunderweisse, Blackhorn Dry Cider, Blanche de Chambly, Wellington Arkell Best Bitter, Mill Street Tankhouse, Affligem Abbey Blonde and Denisson Dunkel. So, if you’re in the mood for a delicious pint or a hard to find bottle, make sure to venture over to the Rhino.

Chris mentions it has been very trying at times trying to obtain hard to find beers as importers have to jump through hoops to bring the beer into the province. But, over the last three years Chris has noticed just how much his beer menu has impacted the business. People come from all over to try something new and he takes great pride in knowing that the Rhino is regarded as one of Toronto’s better beer destinations.

As soon as you’re through the front door, you’re immediately in the main room. Hardwood floors, orange painted walls, a section of an exposed brick wall, large floor to ceiling windows looking out to Queen Street and the octagon shaped bar round out the wide open concept. At the back of the main level is two sets of stairs. One on the left and one on the right. Walk up the left set of stairs in your in a fine dining snug with long tables covered in white table clothes and romantic lighting. Walk up the right set of stairs and your in a large meeting room that has two pool tables, a large screen tv and a bunch of pub furniture. Chris mentions that it’s a great place for large gatherings like sports teams, work parties and birthday parties. There is also a large patio for the warmer months ahead.

The large bar has been made in the shape of an octagon and features a large plastic rhino head above, protecting the patrons. The bar is so large that it could easily fit 30 people around it while sitting in the bar back stools. A nice visual attraction is the tusk used as a tap handle for the Rhino lager.

The Rhino provided me with the perfect escape from the wind and snow with their nice setting and great beer. This place is highly recommended for the serious beer lover or those who wish to expand their palates.

***Interesting fact***
So, what is with the name Rhino? Chris and his family wanted to bring awareness to the plight of wild rhino’s being poached in Africa. “We wanted people to ask us about the name when they visited the pub so we could tell them our story.” The family also has plans to adopt a wild rhino in Africa.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cameron's Cask Night

For two months now, Cameron's Brewing Company in Oakville, ON have held "Let's Drink the Cask Night" at their brewery much to the delight of local beer enthusiasts.

Back in November they created 'Hopburn Ale' which was a cask version of their Auburn Ale with generous loads of hops and in December they tweaked their Dark 266 ale with oak sticks and dry hopped it, letting it ferment for two weeks before serving.

Thursday January 31st will have Cameron's hosting their third cask night with another special offering. Promotions manager Mike Laba wouldn't divulge what drinkers can expect, but he did state that it will be delicious and very unique.

The night starts at 5pm with a free tour of the brewery and a meet and greet with Cameron employees. The beer will start flowing from the cask after it's tapped at 6pm and local food will be available to snack on.

This is a great way to meet the brewers, sales staff and other people that share in your passion for good quality beer. The event will be capped at 50 people, so it would be wise to contact Mike Laba at to RSVP. For more information visit or check out the OCB Blogroll.

Midnight Espresso Stout: Whitehorse, Yukon

Last weekend, my fiancés family got together for a late Christmas/New Year’s dinner, which provided me with a great opportunity to crack open a bottle of Midnight Espresso Stout to match with dessert.

The Yukon Brewing Company is responsible for brewing this terrific stout. It was created back in 2003 when Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters approached the brewery with the idea to make an espresso stout for commercial distribution. After toying with the ingredients for many months, the brew master finally introduced his beer to the public and the response was overwhelming. Yukon Brewing Co. also produces 8 other beers ranging from light lagers to red/cream ales to the stout. It was also the 2007 silver medal winner for the Stout category in the Canadian Brewing Awards.

The beers pours pitch black with a small tan head that left a nice lace around the glass. The smell was exactly how I thought it would be. Big whiffs of coffee, chocolate and roasted malts. And it tasted exactly how I expected it would. Nice and smooth, creamy with some nuttiness; this stout was fabulous.

For dessert we had vanilla cheesecake and a chocolate cake infused with chocolate mousse, so it was very easy to match them with the beer. “Why the big bottle? You’ll love it so much, you’ll want to share it with a friend, or not!!!” Even the wine drinkers couldn't resist trying the combination, which resulted in positive reviews. The Midnight Espresso Stout definitely beat the wine selection, especially with the cheesecake. The two complimented each other so well that it would be a crime not to match them again one day.

Monday, January 21, 2008

January Magazine Wrap Up

On a recent trip to the World’s Biggest Bookstore, I noticed the abundance of beer magazines now filling the shelves. Back in October Alan over at A Good Beer Blog posted a similar story where he reviewed the contents of each mag, which generated a lot of feedback.

With the recent re-launch of TAPS: Canada’s Beer Magazine there are now six to choose from with content from around the world.

For American stories you can choose either All About Beer, Draft or Beer which are all based out of the US and each are different in their own right. The granddaddy of the US publications, All About Beer, has been my greatest resource while learning about the industry. Good content, classy photos and respectable and reputable contributors continue to uphold the quality of the magazine. The year old Draft continues to release terrific issues. This month’s issue caught my attention s it revolves around beer and food pairings, something I enjoy doing. It also profiles four amazing US gastro pubs. Beer magazine is geared towards a young crowd and is more interested in parties, sports and gadgets then they are with good beer articles. Beer Advocate also releases a great magazine, but it's only available through paid subscription.

Beers of the World is based out of the UK and reports on beer news from – you guessed it, around the world. This issue featured a good article on Toronto (which I have already mentioned last week), the Well’s and Young’s breweries, female Belgian brewers and the history of horses in the beer industry. Beers of the World is a very good magazine for those interested in learning more about beer on the other side of the pond.

There are only two magazines for all of Canada: TAPS and Chill. Chill is a magazine that the Beer Store puts out and is free at certain Beer Store locations or for purchase at select bookstores. The content is terrible and rarely has any relevant beer material; well, other that what Roger Mittag has to say. This issue features stories on Christmas, movies, charitable celebrities and the Toronto Raptors. There are actually no beer stories at all. Touché!

TAPS, as I have mentioned before, was recently re-launched and features good Ontario content with articles on Mill Street, the Canadian Brewing Awards, cooking with Ontario beer and beer event wrap ups. TAPS is a quarterly magazine so the next issue won’t be available until April, but they offer free podcasts if you visit their website.

So there you have it. Six beer magazines available right now with some good quality stories that should keep you preoccupied throughout the chilly month of January. Caution though – you’ll want to consume many beers during your reading period.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mingling with the Regulars

Last night found me at The Feather's Pub on Kingston Road in Toronto where I had some pints with Russ Rowlands, owner of Industry SOS who held the Boast and Toast at Rowers Pub back in October.

I have profiled Feather’s before on this site and I absolutely loved the pub. So when Russ decided he was coming my way, I could think of no better place east of the Don Valley to take him.

I was the first to arrive and I sat down along one of the long velvet covered bench seats and waited for Russ and his girlfriend to appear. To my left was an older chap who I recognized from my first visit to the pub, I believe his name was Eric. He was one of the gentlemen I happened to take a picture of. He was there alone, reading the paper and looked quite content. I said hi and we starting chatting about the place and before long Russ and Jen arrived.

It wasn’t long though that Eric was soon joined by another older fellow who arrived alone. He walked up to the table and promptly sat down and started up a conversation. This was the start of a trend that carried on all night.

While Russ and I talked about the new TAPS magazine and his second Boast and Toast, more older men were joining Eric at his once quiet table. It was a great witnessing this. This is exactly what pubs are all about. It seemed like these gentlemen were all part of an extended family who gathered here every night to discuss the current day’s events.

Another man arrived, again, by himself, and pulled up a seat next to Eric, introduced himself to the crowd as if he hadn’t seen them in a while and pulled out a paper. He started talking about an article that was in a local Beaches paper regarding a pub crawl down Queen Street and how it failed to mention Feather’s. He was pretty hot under the collar and all the men took turns discussing his conundrum. I was completely caught up in the moment. Here, six men who had all arrived separately were now all seated around a single table holding complex conversations and enjoying some pints. I provided some TAPS magazines and they dove right into them, letting me know their likes and dislikes. One even remembered the old issues. I quickly changed the subject.

Our server had mentioned that she has worked at Feather’s for years and that these gentlemen show up throughout the week and do the same routine I just mentioned. She knows each one by name, where they live and most importantly: what they drink. There was no need asking them what they wanted, if they wanted something different, they asked. The server stated that it’s like one big comfy living room where there’s no need for a tv, as you’ll get the news straight up from the regulars. I agree.

This is what a pub is for and words don’t really describe it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Three Sheets to the Wind: One Mans Journey for the Meaning of Beer: Pete Brown

I enjoyed reading Pete Brown's "Man Walks into a Pub" so much that I had to read his follow up book "Three Sheets to the Wind," but I had a difficult time finding it in Canada. Luckily, Chapters stocked up just before Christmas and I grabbed one of only three on the shelf.

I reviewed "Man Walks into a Pub" back on September 17th and found it packed full of useful information and written with Brown's witty British humour. "Three Sheets to the Wind" was no different. It was done in a totally different manner then the first book as it has more to do with travel and less to do with pubs.

Brown decided after attending a beer conference with a friend that he should set out to explore other beer loving countries and that's exactly what he did. Germany, Japan, Czech Republic, Australia, United States, Barcelona, Ireland and London where some of the places Brown visited. He went to the beer gardens, grand beer festivals, small pubs and breweries. He visited over 400 pubs during his year of travels and came to appreciate each and every one.

It wouldn't be a real 'Brown' book if he didn't delve into the pub atmosphere. One thing he pointed out that I had never thought of before was bouncers at the front door of pubs. When does a pub lose it's status of a pub and gain bar status? This would be the first step in my opinion, when you have bouncers letting you in for a pint.

Brown also drinks in Denmark with another beer writer/historian who is quoted as saying, "In Denmark the pub is an extra living room, like you have in England. If someone doesn't come in for three days you're wondering where he is. Is he sick? Danish pub life is very close to Cheers. Everyone knows your name. You want to be the first one in the pub, because everyone buys you a drink when they arrive." Nicely put. I think you can confidently say that some Ontario pubs have gained that level of hospitality and good for them, these are the ones that survive.

The book was great and very hard to put down. As for Brown - What a dream job. Take a year off, tour the world, taste hundreds of different styles of beer and write about your experiences. I am lucky if I get out of the city for a weekend to visit a new pub or experience a brewery tour. It was released 2006 so it's not the newest book on the block, but definitely worth your money.

Beers of the World: Toronto Profile

Beers of the World, a bi-monthly beer magazine based out of the UK, recently released their February issue with an interesting story on Toronto's beer culture written by local beer enthusiast Robert Hughley.

I am a fan of the magazine even though it usually contains information on beers, pubs, breweries and people from places I have never heard of or can even pronounce. Yet it is filled with beautifully prepared articles that easily capture my attention and keep me informed on beer events from around the world.

I was surprised to see Hughley's article on Toronto in the magazine but it was a nice surprise and about time the beer culture in this city started to gain some recognition.

The article centres around some of Toronto's best known beer destinations as Hughley nicely introduces those that are unfamiliar with the city to some of our favourite spots. Volo, C'est What, Granite Brewery, Mill Street, Victory Cafe, Allen's and more are featured in short, yet descriptive paragraphs. He talks briefly about Steam Whistle and Beerbistro while mentioning certain seasonal beer's produced by Great Lakes, Wellington, Black Oak, Macleans and King.

It's nice to see those names mentioned in a magazine that is available world wide: hence the name of the magazine. Good work Mr.Hughley, I enjoyed that read and enjoyed the last paragraph, "Toronto has a rich and developing beer culture that will grandly reward those who are willing to come and explore in detail the exceptional establishments serving up finely crafted microbrewery beers throughout the city."

And that's exactly what I am doing with this blog.

Monday, January 14, 2008

100th Post

Without even realizing it last week, when I posted on the state of the Firkin franchise, I was writing my 100th post since creating this blog.

When I first started out I wondered if I would be able to post regularly and on relative material. With other sites out there dedicated to Ontario/Canadian beer like Bar Towel, A Good Beer Blog, Beer,Beats,Bites and Stephen Beaumont's sites, I decided to focus a little more on pubs. Places that offer my drink of choice.

It has gone very well since August and I am still having fun doing this. Five months ago when you typed in you would receive a list of fake Irish pubs, a Yahoo directory, and some others, but now sitting at number 9 on the first page is this site; promoting real and unique pubs along with terrific craft beer. I am proud of that and maybe one day it can move up that list.

So thanks for reading and for sending all the emails recommending pubs to try. Slowly but surely I'll get there and profile them. I have to get to some places outside the city as well. A personal favourite pub of mine is the Huether Hotel's Lion Brewery Restaurant in Waterloo, which I must and will write about soon. Also, some readers have expressed interest in submitting a profile of their favourite locals so stay tuned for features written by guest writers.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Firkin Pubs on Franchise 500 List

Excuse me for a second until I gain my composure. Am I reading this right? The Firkin Franchise of Pubs was listed #432 in Entrepreneur Magazine's annual Franchise 500 List for the second year in a row? Could it is.

I don't like to criticize, hell, I don't like to complain. So I won't. Or will I? I haven't decided yet. For new people out there reading this, I have said it before, I do not enjoy pubs that come from a box. By this I mean, Firkins, Phility's, Fox and Fiddle's, and Prime (who do have some places with a good bottle selection), where they all appear the same on both the inside and out and usually have one of the National breweries on tap (Labatt/Molson). They also play the likes of Pink, Avril, Justin Timberlake to high degree's of volume and there is a tv in virtually all corners of the place.

Don't get me wrong. These places cater to certain demographics and I know people that love them to death. And as you can see, the Firkin chain is very popular both here in Canada where it originated and in the United States where they keep expanding. I even like a couple of myself, well, only two though not Firkins(Mill St Brewpub and Bier Markt). What irks me is that people that don't know any better would actually consider these places real pubs. There is no personality to these places, lots of stuff hanging from the walls and rafters are fake, imitation knock offs to obscure the patrons sense of history, there is lots of dark paint, frozen entrees, waitress in short tartans, the list could go on and on.

What these places do have is marketing dollars behind them to sell them as 'pubs' to John Q Public. Can you imagine seeing a Caffe Volo bill board along the Gardiner? The director of marketing claims that the Firkin's are full of atmosphere and fun, and it's no surprise that people in the US are embracing our traditional English pub. Sure buddy, real traditional. By 2010, this chain believes it will have 1,000 pubs (I mean restaurants) operating in North America. You could have yours for the low price of anywhere from 400k to 1.2 million. Look-out!!

Well, I guess I did go on a bit of a rant here. Anyway, the point of this was to...well, I guess I didn't really have a point. Keep supporting your locals!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Black Lager, Garrison Brewery Halifax, NS

Garrison's brewmaster Greg Nash has done it again. After brewing this years Canadian Beer of the Year with his Imperial Pale Ale, he has released another beer getting loads of attention on other blogs and beer websites.

I got a nice surprise one day after work as a box from Halifax sat on my doorstep. I had no idea what it contained, so imagine my delight upon opening the box to see some beautifully packaged bottles of Garrison's Black Lager. I had heard some positive things about the beer from friends back East and from other beer bloggers and writers. There is something so awesome about getting beer sent to you to sample that words just can't explain.

Take a close look at the picture above, what a beautiful 500ml bottle. Completely black (as the names implies) with an attractive waxed cap and nice gold labelling. The cannon on the front is a great symbol and perfect for the port city of Halifax. I can't remember the last time I held a beer bottle for so long without popping the top. Nash himself describes the beer as a German Imperial Rauch Schwarzbier, but it's also similar to that of a Baltic porter. Nash thinks outside the box as he uses his American training to produce some new and vibrate styles. Our neighbours to the south continue to produce some of the most interesting beers in the world, thus creating their own styles and Nash has brought some of that flair to Canada.

As for the taste: terrific. At 8.3% abv it goes down almost to easy. It wouldn't be hard to sit and watch a hockey game and drink a few of these quickly. It pours very dark black with a long lasting tan coloured head. When the head dissipates it leaves a lacing around the rim of the pilsner glass. It is dark, so dark that no light can penetrate it. I stick my nose into the glass and get a big whiff of smoke, burnt malt and hints of alcohol. The 15% Weyermann Rauch malt added to the brew provides the smokiness. Little carbonation leads to a medium body and with a good malt to hop ratio. In the aftertaste I get small traces of chocolate and a tiny hint of black licorice. A truly fantastic beverage.

"Like I said though call it what you want. The brew is somewhat open to debate and personal interpretation, which hopefully will make it a little more fun, a thought provoking conversation piece if you will. It'll age well and be considerably better in a few months than it is now even though it's a damn fine product already," stated Nash over at Beer Advocate.

The Black Lager retails in Nova Scotia for $5.95 but get it fast as it will run out. Nash only brewed so much for the 2007 season and the remaining 100 bottles will be cellared at the brewery. Unfortunately for us in Ontario the only way to get one is via trade with a friendly Haligonian, but it's worth it.

Now, do I cellar the rest or drink em fast?

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Rebel House: Toronto, ON

First impressions go a long way, especially when you’re experiencing something for the first time. I had never been to The Rebel House on Yonge Street before but it was a pub that came highly recommended. Every person I talked to described it as warm and inviting with friendly staff and good beer.

I was meeting some other beer lovers there for some drinks and dinner and I happened to arrive a little early to take in the environment. The Rebel House consists of two levels: the main floor which is at street level and an upstairs loft. I noticed that the lower level was completely full so I headed upstairs where I was greeted by a friendly wooden RCMP statute at the top of the stairs. I spotted a table for four and promptly sat down. A server approached and instead of saying hello or can I get you a drink she states “Are you eating?”

“Yes” I say.

“Well, what about the others, you aren’t sitting here by yourself are you?”

“No, the rest are coming shortly, but I thought I’d get a head start on them.”

“Are they eating?”

“I can’t be sure, but there will be plenty of beer drank.”

“Oh, we give diners preferred seating, so if they aren’t eating we’ll have to move you to the bar.”

“But I’m eating and I can assure you that we’ll provide you with some good business throughout the evening,” I say.

“I just hope their eating for your sake,” she says.

Okay, salutations aside, let’s talk about the place. Their website tells an interesting story how the name Rebel House came to be. They do a great job explaining it so I won't touch it, but it has to do with a rebellion against British forces in early Upper Canada. As mentioned, The Rebel House has two levels that are very snug and cozy. The upstairs level has a small bar offering bottled beer and spirits. There are boards on the walls naming each Ontario craft beer that’s available on draught, which is many. Denison’s, Steam Whistle, Black Oak Pale Ale and Nutcracker, Mill St Tankhouse, Neustadt 10W30, Great Lakes Winter Ale and more.

A nice feature in the upstairs loft is the old musket above a large window overlooking Yonge Street. How technology has changed! A small fireplace is going on one side of the place providing a nice glow and a perfect backdrop for the blistery night. There is some bench seating with creative mountain designs and no more than 20 people can fit at all the tables.

Before all the quests arrive, two of us are moved downstairs where two tables are waiting. This was nice of the staff and made up for the welcoming I received. The downstairs atmosphere has everything to do with warmth. Even though we are sitting near the doors leading out to the patio we are still cozy. Like I said earlier, it’s not a big space and everyone is crowded together enjoying each other’s company. The food arrives and looks delicious. The mussels are fabulous and I’m told the meatloaf is simply terrific. Oh, and the beer is great too! My Black Oak Pale Ale goes very well with the mussels.

The long wooden bar is situated to the right as you enter the pub and runs the length of the wall curving away from the front entrance. There are bar stools all along the bar, enough to seat many patrons. A large bay window provides customers with the opportunity to watch the hustle and bustle of pedestrians along Yonge and would be nice on a hot summer afternoon.

In the end I found it in my heart to forgive the server I ran into when I first arrived and had a terrific time talking beer with the group. It’s true what I’ve heard about The Rebel House, it is unique, serves quality beer at reasonable prices and provides a living room like setting away from home. The food was delicious, the rest of the staff were great and The Rebel House is situated just steps away from the Rosedale subway station. Now I can provide recommendations, just make sure you have something to eat.

The Rebel House
Toronto, ON

News from Hockley Valley Brewery

Hockley Valley Brewery, best known for their delicious Dark Ale, have announced that they will no longer be producing Hockley Gold on a continual basis. This news came as a surprise as the Gold has grabbed some attention over at Bar Towel for its recent improvement. As sales started to fall the decision was made to only brew it in small batches for loyal pubs and select LCBO's around the brewery.

In its place will be Hockley Stout. The stout was introduced to the public last winter in large bomber bottles with a flip cap top. Because of great sales, Hockley Valley brought it back this winter in the same bottles and the response was terrific. The discontinuation of the Gold opened the door for Hockley Valley to can the stout and make it a regular fixture on many shelves of select LCBO's.

I spoke with Chris at the brewery and he informed me that they are moving into a new location in February that will be 4 times the size of the current location and plans are to increase production. "We will be aiming to get our beers into most LCBO's and increase our presence in the pubs," stated Chris.

This brewery seems to maintain a great consistency in every batch it brews. I have yet to sample an off product of theirs or hear of anyone else doing so for that matter. They still manually crimp their cans, which I can only imagine is tiring and monotonous, but us happy consumers appreciate it. * A new canning machine will greet them at their new location though. As mentioned, the stout is now available in 473ml cans for $2.50 at select LCBO's and should be in 200 stores within the month. It is a great aperitif beer, great with a hearty stew or with any type of chocolate dessert.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Bow and Arrow: Toronto, ON

I happened to be in the Yonge and Davisville area yesterday afternoon and I remembered that the Bow and Arrow Pub was right near the subway station. This was the perfect excuse to get out of the cold and my fiance remarkably agreed with my suggestion of ducking in for a pint and some nachos.

The Bow and Arrow is situated just north of the subway station and has been so for 15 years. It is part of the Arrow Pub Group that also has a wonderful pub in Guelph called the Woolwich Arms.

Walking in through the front door you immediately come upon a set of carpeted stairs leading to a special events room. Don't go up them though as this area is not for general use. Continue walking into the main room and you come right up to their very attractive bar. I find each pub's bar fascinating. They're all different in their own right. Some are long and straight, some a in the form of an L and some look like a giant horseshoe. The Bow and Arrow's being the latter, which makes it easier to converse with other patrons. There is room for 15 people to sit around the bar on either bar stools or bar back chairs. Glassware hangs from above in metal racking and spirits sit at the back on shelves. All the beer towers are nice and clean and are easy to read. I enjoy seeing all the tap handles, there are some pretty cool ones out there. Hop Addict's syringe, Wellington's boot, Great Lakes Pumpkin, all are cool.

There are a couple of snugs in the Bow at the front of the pub and in the back. There are also some island tables to sit at to take in your surroundings of beer posters and signage as well as chalkboards with food and beer listings. The entire place is covered with maroon and flowered carpeting which I quite enjoy. It gives it a cozy feel. There is a large tv in one corner playing hockey and two smaller ones situated on both sides of the pub. Very distracting and the fiance hates it. The music was also suspect, but low enough not to be distracting.

Anyway, there are 27 tap lines at the Bow and Arrow but only 23 were available yesterday. See the list below. There is usually 3 cask beers to choose from, but only one yesterday - XXX IPA from Durham Brewery. I settled for a Black Oak Nutcracker Porter and they served it in a Guinness glass. I hate that. Why couldn't they serve it in a plain pint glass? Oh well, the beer was excellent. I wish I could say that about the nachos. They were terrible at best. $10 for a handful of torilla chips and some salsa, I thought it said 'Supreme Nachos', wait, it did. But don't let me fool you into not ordering food. All other food coming out of the kitchen looked great and the Bow is a real gastropub.

Our servers mentions that the clientele is mostly made up of regulars who live or work in the area. She can tell what beer they will be drinking and usually what food they will order. Hearing this makes me smile as I think of all the people that call the Bow their local.

The Bow and Arrow is a fairly large pub, larger than many I tend to visit, yet it has the feel of a much smaller pub. It provided us with a warm atmosphere while we were de-thawing, and the beer was delicious. Their mission statement reads: Our pub strives to offer the best of locally crafted food and beverages while exceeding the expectations of our guests. Well, they almost did. It had been a good three years since I first visited the pub and it was exactly how I remembered it. Good pub worth checking out if you happen to be in the area, even if it's not -12.

Beer Menu:
Harvest Ale
Black Oak Nutcracker Porter
Devil's Pale Ale
Clancy's Amber Ale
Hop Addict
Black Oak Pale Ale
Mill St Tankhouse
McAuslan Cream Ale
Wellington County Ale
Steam Whistle
Stone Hammer Pilsner
Creemore Lager
Amsterdam Natural Blonde
Big Rock Grasshopper
Denison's Weissbier
KLB Raspberry Wheat
McAuslan Apricot Wheat
XXX IPA Cask Conditioned

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