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.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Beau's Bottleworks Program Hits CTV

Beau's All Natural Brewing Co. in Vanleek Hill have made it onto the CTV website for their recently announced 'Bottleworks' program that's aimed at assisting youth at risk along with Operation Go Home.

Click here for the story.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sleeman Suing Yet Another Craft Brewery

There was news some time ago (last year) that Japanese owned Sleeman Brewery in Guelph, ON was suing Mill Street Brewing Co. and one of their sales representatives for unethical sales practices. The status of that lawsuit - I don't know. I do know that Sleeman is busy suing another brewery. This time focusing on a small craft operation in Aldergrove, British Columbia.

News broke yesterday about Dead Frog Brewery being sued by the large national Sleeman's due to the clear bottles currently being used by the BC brewery. It would appear on face value that Sleeman's is upset that a small, independent brewer would use similar bottles that helped propel Sleeman's to where they are today.

Dead Frog's lawyer, Christopher Wilson, said that the brewery had responded with both a statement of defense and a counterclaim.

"Dead Frog's defense asserts that Sleeman does not have a monopoly on clear glass beer bottles, and that in any event the public is not likely to be confused because of Dead Frog's prominent name, slogans, and frog logo," he said.

"We taste different, we look different, we sound different," Smith said in a press release. "So, this lawsuit is silly, a waste of time and energy."

So what does John Sleeman have to say? "We have no hate on for small players," Sleeman said. "This just happens to be one small player that has come out with a package that we feel is unfairly close to ours."

Seriously? I'm not sure what Dead Frog's sales figures are like, but to warrant a lawsuit over bottle styles? Come on Sleeman's. I admit that the Dead Frog bares a resemblance, but look at the logo for christ sakes, it's a frog, not a maple leaf and beaver. Focus on making better beer and less on suing your small counterparts. There are hundreds of other bottles in circulation that all look identical, save for the actual logo. Brown standard ones, green bottles, and other clear bottles.

What do you think? Do you think Sleeman has a case here? Dead Frog President, Derrick Smith, has vowed not to play dead (no pun intended) and will fight the lawsuit. "This happens fairly regularly in our industry, and most of the time the little guys just roll over, we are choosing not to do that." We will have to keep an eye on this to see where it goes.

Quotes borrowed from the Guelph Mercury and the Langley Advance. Photo's borrowed from Flickr and both breweries respective websites.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sad Day for the Castle on King

As reported on Bar Towel this morning, Castle on King, a well known and highly regarded pub in Kitchener, Ontario, has been forced to close their doors.

Rob Creighton, the brewmaster of Grand River Brewing Co.broke the news with this post:

Unfortunately, the Castle on King will close on Dec 12th. Harold & Deanna have been unable to secure a deal to purchase the building with the owner.

This is a huge blow to good beer in this area and leaves Kitchener without a single even decent tap house As far as I know, Harold will have to take some time to regroup so a re-opening is not on the immediate horizon. If you get a chance and are in the area, try and pop in for a pint before the 12th.

It's never good to hear the news that a local pub dedicated to serving quality craft beers has to shut their doors. From what I'm come to understand, the Castle is home to many regulars who have found solace in the comforts of the pub and it is also a place many out of town beer enthusiasts' visit when in the area. It really is too bad, but hopefully the owners will spring up again somewhere soon.

Free Our Beer Updated

Fellow beer writer and friend Cass Enright has been busy over the last couple of weeks getting things posted on his Free Our Beer (FOB) website that is definitely worth checking out.

Back on November 16th he posted his feelings on the 'Bring your own Wine' (BYOW) legislation that came into effect in 2005 as it excludes the mention of beer. While he understands that someone walking into a restaurant with a couple 341ml equalling the 750ml wine bottles is unreasonable, he ponders the question why beers packaged in champagne/wine style bottles like some Canadian favourites Unibroue, Beau's or Wild Rose Cherry Porter aren't. If the beer is packaged in a bottle similar to that of wine, why exclude it from the legislation. It's a good read and a good question. What would happen if you walked into a posh place with a bottle of La Fin du Monde and asked the server to pop the cork? Sounds like an experiment waiting to happen.

Enright also keeps readers informed about Anheuser-Busch joining Inbev and how they now own part of the Beer Store. Enright loves to remind anyone who'll listen about the almost criminal way in which the government allows beer to be sold in Ontario. Molson-Coors (Colorado) 48.5%, Anheuser-Busch Inbev 48.5% (Brazil/Belgium/St.Louis) and Sapporo (Japan) 3%.

And finally, Enright let readers in on a little LCBO secret: The offer individuals the opportunity to go online to purchase alcohol and have it delivered ( I had heard of this some time ago but never paid any attention to it. Enright points out the obvious in that the site is definitely lacking in 'beer appeal' and that you never hear the LCBO promote this feature. He also makes a great point with his 'just enough' theory as he suggests that this secret gift site is a way for the LCBO to say that they offer this service yet don't expand on it's services, thus diffusing the criticism they might face.

For all those passionate beer consumers here in Ontario who want to see changes in the way beer is sold in this province, I highly recommend you follow Enright's website and offer tips, suggestions and comments that you would like to see explored. Beer drinkers come from all different backgrounds, with different occupations and together we can offer a strong voice and insight, and Enright's site is a great place relay those thoughts.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Great Lakes Brewery Tidbits

I ran into John Bowden from Great Lakes last weekend at the Gourmet Wine and Food Show and he provided me with some insight into new developments the brewery was undertaking. Today Great Lakes released a newsletter that highligthed those developments. Here are some tidbits.

  • Hops for Hunger - Great Lakes is proud to partner with the Toronto Daily Bread Food Bank to help those in need. From December 1-22, only at our retail store, we'll donate a portion of the weight of your beer purchase in food. For example, buy a bottle of Winter Ale and we'll donate 1.5 lbs of food. The heavier your purchase, the more food we donate. It's as easy as that. Help us reach our goal of 2000 pounds!

This is a great initiative that will hopefully reach their intended goal. Get out to the brewery and scoop up some beer. Speaking of Great Lakes beer;

  • As mentioned here earlier in the week, Great Lakes has released their annual winter seasonal 'Winter Ale' to the LCBO retail system and it is now appearing at local pubs and restaurants in draught format. The large bottle retails for $6.95

  • Vintage Winter Ale Available - A limited supply of last year's batch of Winter Ale is available only from our retail store. We tucked away a few cases to see how it would age and we're very pleased - grab a bottle and compare it to this year's edition!

I had a bottle of the 2007 Winter Ale at the Canadian Brewing Awards and it has aged very nicely. The flavours of the spices have all settled out and the result is a nice smooth easy drinking spiced ale.

  • Retail Store Open Sundays - For the month of December (except the 28th), our retail store will be open from 12-5 on Sundays. The brewery is located just off the Gardiner Expressway at Islington.

  • Great Lakes Annual Christmas Party - Join us at the brewery on Friday, December 5 from 7:00pm on to celebrate the season! Live music, refreshments and lots of great beer will be available all night long. Please RSVP to

And last but not least;

  • Custom Christmas Gift Baskets Available - Looking for the perfect gift for the beer lover on your list? Drop by our brewery and we can customize a gift basket according to every taste and budget - just ask!

The packages can be as diverse as you want it. Add a t-shirt, glassware, singles of different styles, coasters and more.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

CASK! Cancels Bus Trip

The December 6th bus trip to Buffalo that was being organized by CASK! for the Buffalo Cask Ale Festival has been cancelled due to low ticket sales.

"Regrettably, the bus trip to the Buffalo Cask Ale Festival had to be cancelled, as we were unable to reach the minimum number of attendees required to cover the costs of the trip.

For anyone who already ordered their ticket, refunds will be issued today via PayPal.

We apologize for the inconvenience. Hopefully, plans for future trips will prove to be more successful."
It's a too bad. This would have been an excellent day trip out of the city with surrounded by many people who share the same passion - cask ale. As the press release states, hopefully future trips will be considered and supported.

The Cheese Guy Praises Beer

This past weekend I ended up at Toronto's Seasons Show at the International Centre as TAPS Media had a booth set up and were also running the beer section. The Dairy Farmers of Ontario had a cheese sampling area set up directly behind our booth and were running sessions every 2 hours for upwards of fifty people. I was interested to hear what the speaker thought of pairing his cheeses with different beer styles and low and behold he agreed that beer matches much better than wine.

He spoke at length about the qualities beer has versus that of wine; when it comes to pairing with certain cheeses, and he recommended individuals to go out and explore. What impressed me even further was that the speaker talked about all the craft beers available in Ontario that would go well with cheese.

I headed over and spoke with the presenter in between shows and told him it was encouraging to hear him relay his message to a wide variety of people, especially to a crowd geared more towards reaching for the wine bottle. I also told him to keep up the great work as it was nice to hear it coming from the mouth of someone other than a true beer enthusiast.

The beer at the show was blah by the way.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chiswick Bitter at the Abbot on the Hill

On Monday December the 8th the Abbot on the Hill we be dedicating their usual Monday night tasting menu to the entire Fullers family of beers, as they'll be offering a five course meal paired up with five terrific English Ales to help introduce the Fullers Chiswick Bitter to Ontario. This event will provide customers with the chance to sample the bitter on draught for the first time in Ontario.

For $60 you can enjoy the delicious menu highlighted below:

Honey Dew
Stilton Ale Soup

Chiswick Ale
Ginger Beer battered Salmon

Extra Special Bitter
Mini Veg Wellington

Fullers 1845
Beef Tenderloin
Horse radish au jus

Fullers Porter
Porter vanilla float

To RSVP for the Dec 8th launch, contact Adam Grant at or Abbot On The Hill. Please note that seating is limited to 40 people and it's first come first served.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gourmet Wine/Beer and Food Show

I managed to get over to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the Gourmet Wine and Food Show on Friday night and had a good time without even touching a drop of wine or spirits, just beer. The show featured a number of Ontario craft brewers along with a handful of import agencies and larger regional breweries.

I met up with Cass Enright (Bar Towel founder) and did the tour, chatting with our local brewery representatives over some drinks and catching up with some familiar faces. I knew before hand that there would be a number of breweries in attendance but I didn’t bother to doing my homework to confirm which ones would be there. I was surprised to see a good variety of terrific beers being served; and at a good price too.

As we were discussing the state of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association with one of their members, Enright noticed something about how the wineries from France, California and Portugal were conducting their booths, a model that the OCB should seriously consider for the future. For example, there was a large area dedicated to the ‘Wines of California’ and all the California wineries were contained in that area, serving their products in their respective booths together - promoting their products as one big unit (visit link to view Enright's pictures of the set up).

The OCB should seriously consider this model for future events/shows/festivals as it would not only highlight their association, but it would also be a useful tool in educating the general public about their members and what they offer in this province. The Gourmet Wine and Food Show had no big guns like Molson or Labatt’s in attendance and there was no indication young binge drinkers (like the Toronto Festival of Beer attracts), it was a crowd of sophisticated drinkers who would be more than willing to explore a booth featuring many different brands covering many different styles. Having ten of more members of the OCB in the same area, preaching the same story, would have a lasting impact on the event's attendees.

The breweries that were in attendance were scattered about the entire floor and consisted of Cameron’s, McAuslan, Nickel Brook, Great Lakes, Mill Street, Steam Whistle, Cool, Pilsner Urquell, Rickard's and Big Rock. Import agencies consisted of Esprit, McClelland, Premier, and a couple more. It appeared that they were all doing good business; and overhearing conversations at the booths showed me that the individuals were interested in learning more about ‘this craft beer scene in Ontario’. The LCBO also had a store on site, which would have also provided the OCB to highlight their recently released Discovery Pack #2.

There were some interesting things I learned while indulging in some of the beers:

1. Nickel Brook is getting ready to release their 473ml cans of their Organic Lager at LCBO’s very shortly. “We are really excited about this,” stated co-owner Peter Romano. “We have big plans for our USDA certified Organic Lager and think we’ll do well in the can format.” No word on how much it will cost for a single unit, but keep an eye out for it.

2. Great Lakes Winter Ale has already sold well at numerous LCBO stores since its release last Monday and plans are to get it out to licensees in the next week, ending the run of their Pumpkin Ale.

3. McAuslan’s new mixer 12 pack will be at the Beer Store any day now. The mix pack contains three St. Ambroise Pale Ale, three Apricot, three Griffon Red and three Griffon Extra Pale Ale. This will be a useful tool when trying to convert people to the craft beer side of things.

I also had the opportunity to catch up with Taylor McAuslan, son of Peter McAuslan (owner of McAuslan Brewery) who came from his home base of Nova Scotia. I had the pleasure of dealing with Taylor on a handful of occasions when I lived in Halifax and it was nice to chat over some Oatmeal Stout. He also had a friend with him who recognized me from my numerous trips to the Henry House. She was my server every other time I attended. We both did the “You look familiar” glare at each other and ended up sharing some stories about our favourite watering hole.

It was a good night that left me with a sore head the next morning. Good to see beer getting more and more recognition at events such as this.

* The fingers in the background of the picture belong to Kirk Leaper, McAuslan Territory Manager. Funny guy.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

$3 Pints? Head to Kubo Radio Eatery: Toronto, ON

Everyday on my way home from work I pass by an eatery that claims to sell $3 pints. I've been meaning to stick my head in and check out the place, just to see what exactly my $3 would be paying for. However, for some odd reason I hadn't made it there.

Well after work today I blindly headed west to have a beer at Magpie's only to find the lights off and door locked. I decided to head home until I passed Kubo Radio, the Asian eatery with the sign in the window boasting their $3 pint offering, so I ducked in out of the cold and made my way to the bar.

The lovely barmaid greeted me with a big smile and welcomed me into her establishment. I inquired about the deal and before I knew it I had a pint of Kubo Lager in my hand, in the appropriately branded glassware too! The lager is brewed by Wellington and chances are its their Trailhead Lager. Nothing spectacular or overly inspiring, but well worth the three dollar price tag. Hell, you can buy a can of the stuff at the LCBO for $2.50. And this isn't just a one night special. The $3 applies everynight of the week, attracting locals from all walks of life, explained the barmaid.

There were two other Wellington beers on tap as the Pale Ale and the County Ale were represented by the traditional Welly rubber boot taphandles and a pint retails for $5.95. The three are the only beers available on draught because Kubo recognizes itself as an Asian eatery. Management felt their beer menu should consist of Asian beers, hence the following bottle selection: Asahi Super Dry, Sapporo, San Miguel, Kirin, Tsingtao, Saigon Export, Singha lager, Tiger and Asahi Black, all of which retail for $5.75. Nothing I would put in my mouth with Welly close by, but diverse none-the-less.

While sitting at the bar, another individual took up the stool beside me and we had a pleasant chat about my hometown, a place he visits regularly. So not only did $3 get me a pint of a well made lager, it also introduced me to this intimate little eatery and provided me with nice conversation on a cold night.

A nice surprise and somewhere I will pay a visit again. Located in Leslieville on Queen St. East just west of Logan. Check it out.

*Only interested in getting a half pint of the Lager? You'll pay $3.95....$3 for a pint or $3.95 for half pint, which should help with your size making decisions. And why not grab a Babycake cupcake to go? The delicious treats are available at the bar.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Black Oak Inching Closer to Opening

I get my fair share of e-mails from readers asking me questions about certain pubs, where to get certain beers and how to get more information about certain events, but lately I’ve received a number of inquiries regarding the progress of the new Black Oak brewery in Etobicoke. People, here in Ontario and even some from other provinces, are interested to know when the smell of beer will start to waft through the air near Black Oak’s new digs on Horner Street.

In order to please all the curious drinkers out there, I jumped into my car on Saturday and headed west through the rain to have a chat with owner Ken Woods and brew master Adrian Popowycz and to check out the new facility.

The brewery is located just off the Gardiner Expressway, accessed by getting off at Islington and heading south towards Evans. Heading west on Evans for about 10 seconds you'll reach Horner for which you'll hang a left to head south and the brewery is situated in a industrial warehouse - #75. From my place in the Beach(es) it took me 15mins to get there, door to door.

Walking in through the back door I immediately saw some of the brewing equipment and quickly took note of the amount of extra space Black Oak has to work with for future expansions. I gave a shout out and noticed Adrian near the front with some tools in his hands. Dedication. Here it is, a Saturday, and the owner and the brew master are hard at work putting the finishing touches on their new home. I located Woods in the front reception area about to make lunch and he quickly put that aside to take me on a guided tour. We’ll start in the front.

If you were to walk in through the front entrance, the first thing you would come across is the tasting/retail bar where customers will be able to purchase the quality beers brewed by Adrian. It is an old antique looking bar with a fridge situated to the right side and a cabinet directly behind it that will be home to all the plaques won by the brewery over the years.

Continuing past the bar to the right is what will be a tasting area where guests can indulge in some beer while relaxing in some comfortable chairs or stretching out on a couch. Woods mentioned that they will be taking advantage of the ‘By the Glass’ regulation that the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario recently legislated, which will work out well for the brewery and their customers (brewery can sell a 12oz sample to customers who can drink it right in the brewery). There is also a small nook off to the side of the furniture where Woods plans to install a bar and possibly another serving area.

Back past the reception area and down a hallway to the left is where you’ll find some offices and a future conference room. The OCB is currently renting an office from Black Oak and Woods occupies the other and shares it with Black Oak’s wooden Squirrel mascot. We headed back out to the reception area and then out through a hallway that eventually led to the brewing area.

It is a big vast area with lots of room to grow. All the tanks are set up and ready to go and the brewery has all the drainage and piping completed. The area is evenly split down the middle. On the left hand side is all the brewing equipment, standing at attention just begging to be filled with sweet brew. The right side is where the bottles and kegs will be stored, along with a large walk in freezer that has yet to be built and a bottling machine. Woods mentioned that the walk in freezer will be very large, large enough to hold all their beer along with a good number of wooden barrels that Black Oak plans on doing some experimental brews with. Exciting.

We continued to walk and talk and I gained a visual of what I believe the brewery will look like once everything is operational. I had never made it out to Black Oak’s Oakville location, but Adrian mentioned how small it was and how this new location will be much more conducive to work in as a brewer. It will give him more opportunity to “play” with recipes, which may or may not lead to two new Black Oak seasonals?

So, back to the question I have been asked lately: When are they going to be open? I don’t know. Both Woods and Adrian mentioned that everyone has been asking them and it’s hard for them to say exactly when the day will come, but it is getting very close. They could be brewing in as early as two weeks and should be up and running full bore by Christmas. Keep your eye on the blog for more information leading up to their opening.

This spot is a little hotbed for breweries. Within a 2 kilometre radius you'll find the Cool Brewery and the Great Lakes Brewery which makes it nice for brewery crawling....if there is such a thing.

Sorry, no picture of the front of the building. It was pouring and I didn't feel like getting wet.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ye Olde Cask Challenge at C'est What

I'm sure you've all purchased your tickets by now, but if you haven't here is a quick reminder that the Cask! Challenge will be taking place tomorrow, Tuesday November 18th, 7:00 P.M. at C'est What.

This tasting event allows ticket buyers to compare the difference in taste and quality between cask conditioned beer and keg beer.

The brewers or brewery representatives from Durham County (C’est What Coffee Porter), Black Oak (Pale Ale), Granite (Best Bitter), McLean’s (Pale Ale), and Wellington (County Ale) will be there to chat with individuals and answer any questions. So, if there is something you've always wanted to know about cask, this is your chance to ask!

Tickets can be purchased online at for $15 or you can try your luck at the door.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Winter Cask Festival at the Victory Cafe

Mark January 31st on your calendars folks, as the fabulous owners of Victory Cafe have recently announced they will be holding their second cask festival in their pub located in the heart of Mirvish Village (Toronto).

The Winter Cask Ale Festival will take place between 12pm and 7pm and will feature upwards of 12 casks produced by a handful of local breweries to help ring in the new year. Victory hosted their first ever cask festival back in the summer and plans are to build on its success. "Sharing the same goals as the previous festival, this event pays tribute to local traditional cask ales and welcomes everyone who would like to sample the pleasures of these wonderful brews," stated co-owner Maz Brereton.

Beer samples will be offered by the half-pint measure, purchased with a beer ticket available at the festival. Hearty food suitable for the season will also be available with a food ticket.

Tickets can be purchased at the door:
$12 – admission, souvenir glass, two half-pint beer tickets, plus one food ticket
$8 – admission, souvenir glass, and two half-pint beer tickets
$4 – additional food ticket
$3 – additional beer ticket

This is a great way to introduce your friends and family to the terrific qualities found in a pint glass of cask conditioned beer and it will also provide a nice escape from the winter blues we will surly be facing that late in January.

Information regarding the line-up of beers will be posted as they become available.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Notes on a Beermat Reading at Volo

I posted a small review of Nicholas Pashley's revised Notes on a Beermat: Drinking and Why It's Necessary book back on November 2nd, and I mentioned that there would be a reading held at Volo in November. Well, pardon me, I was wrong. The reading will now take place on Sunday December 7th at 2pm at Volo.

Pashley will be reading certain sections from his book while sharing stories about his journeys in and out of pubs during many years of travel. He will also share stories about how he's come to appreciate craft beer, more importantly, cask conditioned beer. Pashley will be selling copies to those interested and individuals will be given the opportunity to have theirs signed personally.

There will be a number of casks available to help mark the occasion, as Durham’s Blakk Kat Stout, Great Lakes Green Tea Ale and Great Lakes Sage And Spruce Winter Wit have all been confirmed.

This should be a real treat as Pashley is a very clever, quick witted man with a dry sense of humour and he will undoubtedly entertain all those who attend. The cask conditioned beers won't hurt either.

So come out to Volo and help support a local author, a local pub patron and a local supporter of craft beer. You won't leave disappointed.

There will be no admission charge, but the reading starts promptly at 2:00.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Volo Cask Day Winners Announced

I stopped by Volo tonight with some co-workers to have a couple of pints of cask conditioned Wellington County Ale and we happened to bump into Ralph.

He provided me with the list of winners from the October Cask Days festival as voted on by everyone that attended.

Ontario East:Church Key Tobacco Road

Ontario North:Hockley Valley Black Forest Stout

Ontario North West:F&M's George's Double Red Ale

Ontario West:Stratford's Empire Common

Toronto:Black Oak's Sweet Potato Nut Brown Ale

Guest Brewery:Dieu du Ciel's Penombre

Best in Ontario:Hockley Valley's Black Forest Stout

Best Overall Beer:Dieu du Ciel Penombre

Favourite Name:Saint Andre Parkdale Hopsmasher Ale

Congratulations to all the winners, some terrific beers!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Beer Selection at High End Restaurants

Tonight I happened to eat at a 'what you may call a fancy restaurant' and the lack of quality beer had me shaking my head. I have noticed a number of these high end places boast an extensive wine menu, some multiple pages in length, but when it comes to their beer selection, it's over before it begins.

The place I attended tonight had three full pages of different wines to browse through while beer was reduced to a short paragraph, and even then there were no names, just the prices. Our server made his way over to our table and rolled through the draught line-up, "Molson, Coors Light, Rickards Red, Rickard's White, Heineken, blah, blah, blah." Creemore, my usual saviour in a situation like this, was noticeably absence from his words. I asked to hear their bottle menu and received the same line I hear so often: "Keith's, Labatt Blue, Stella, blah, blah, blah."

Our server was great, a really nice guy who seemed to really enjoy his job; but when I told him I felt like a steak and he mentioned that a nice cold pint of Rickard's White (even after I ordered a caesar to start) would be great with it, I started to wonder - If these places can afford to have so many wines, and the server's all seem to have some knowledge in their qualities, then they can surly afford to invest in some interesting beers to match, compliment or contrast their creative food menu, along with educating their staff.

Look at how successful beerbistro has been. Stephen Beaumont has helped many places with preparing beer menu's, and all for the better. From large widely recognized restaurants to places like the Abbott on the Hill, a place that serves amazing food and great beer. But what is taking so long, especially with these upscale restaurants. Will the customers shun craft beer? I don't believe so. In fact, I believe that pouring beers with character and putting a little bit of work into the menu (beer) would only increase sales and also help to bring in a new crowd.

Places don't have to convert to the beerbistro level, just offer something new, something bold, something to be enjoyed with your food. A good example would be Joe Biadali's in downtown Toronto. The place features a pretty straight focused clientele of bankers, financial guru's, lawyers and other high flyin people, and their beer menu consists of the Inbev and Diego brands. But recently Cameron's Brewing Co. had a keg hooked up and sales were fantastic. People are looking for change and I think the tide is slowly turning...slowly.

Another example is Fionn MacCool's. Now, readers of this blog know that I support my locals and tend to stay away from the large corporate owned pubs, but Fionn MacCool's newest marketing endeavour features some good beers that I think most people would endorse. Dogfish Head 60min, Brooklyn Lager and Anchor Steam are part of this new development and is great for beer drinkers.

I understand why some of these places stick to the big guys. Money. Simply put. "Hey, tell you what. You sell x amount of kegs this month and we'll be sure to sneak you in some extras next month." Everyone knows this happens, it's just not said enough. It's time to step up and get some of the good stuff on tap.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Howe Sound Brewery's Bailout Bitter Ploy

So the rumour floating around out there is that Canada is about to face an economic whirlwind that appears heading south. Howe Sound Brewery in Squamish, BC is playing up the message with a new campaign - Bailout Bitter.

The small brewery will be selling a pint of their newly released 'Bailout Bitter' for $5.50 at their brew pub, a buck cheaper than usual, in reference to the government's big bailout plans to the financial giants.

Read the story at CBC, or click here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Writing, Drinking and Remembering

I work for the Provincial government so I had the day off today. Good thing too because my submissions for TAPS are past due and I needed a day to sit at the computer and write away. I've gotten a lot done. I watched the Remembrance Day celebrations (should I say celebrations?) and reflected back on the stories my grandfather used to share with me about WWII, a war in which he was involved in. Remembrance Day means a lot to me and back home it seemed to mean more to the people there than it does to the people here in Toronto.

Anyway, because of the brave souls who fought for their country many years ago, I am sitting here nursing a Tree Hophead IPA while completing my writing in the freedom of my apartment, to which I am grateful for.

A toast to the soldiers, survivors and those who have been affected by war!

Always to be REMEMBERED.

Picture borrowed from the Granite Brewery's website.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Beers of the World: Rochester, NY

After working two hockey games and visiting an outlet mall, it was time to get over to Beers of the World to peruse the many aisles featuring beers from all over the world (hence the stores name).

I had read the reviews on Beer Advocate and A Good Beer Blog and they provided me with a visual image of what I was to expect (an helped build excitement), but reading about what one person thinks of a place doesn't do justice unless you experience it first hand. And I'm glad I did.

The shop is located in a strip mall not far from the highway and was just 5 mins down the road from where the hockey tournament was taking place. We drove into the mall area after dark and frantically searched through all the florescent lights to guide us in the right direction. I started to get anxious though when we didn't see anything. Were they closed? Did we have the right address? We finally located the faded sign of the store front and noticed the flashing open sign above the door. We were now in business.

Once inside, I grabbed a cart and stood before the thousands of brands available and just took a moment to take it all in. I have never been to a beer store like this before. Not to Consumer's, not to Premier, so you can only imagine my excitement. The store didn't look large from the outside; however, it was long and wide and had rows and rows of shelving holding beers from all over the United States, Belgium, Canada, Germany, England, Thailand, Japan, China, Italy, Scotland and practically any country that brews beer. It was awesome.

What Canadian beers were available? Boy, our representation was just pitiful. With the exception of the great beers of Unibroue and McAuslan's, there was Moosehead, John Labatt Classic brands, Labatt Blue, Molson Canadian, Molson Golden, and Sleeman's. I mentioned this to the big burly dude behind the register and he told me they have problems getting the good Canadian stuff. He said that they used to have a bunch of Dieu du Ciel's stuff but could no longer carry it because of something to do with the State of NY's trade policy (or something related to their area in NY state)? I didn't understand. I asked him if many people come in asking about any Canadian produced products and said, "not that I'm aware of."

One thing that I did notice was the cheaper price of some beers that the LCBO currently carries in Ontario. A bomber of Koningshoven Triple retails for $6.95 here at home, while it cost $10.95 at Beers of the World. There were some other stuff like Chimay Rouge and Westmalle that were more expensive there than at the LCBO, as were a number of gift sets. But I'm not one to complain and really, who cares about the prices when you've found your oasis. Southern Tier IPA was $7.35 for a six pack!

Beers of the World doesn't just sell beer; they sell books, home brewing supplies, glassware, posters, mirrors, beer memorabilia, accessories and more. It was like a Shopper's Drug Mart of beer. The shelves holding the glassware were pretty impressive and I almost left with a boot (a flash back of college). There were steins, pint glasses, mugs, pilsner chutes, chalices and weissbier glasses. Some came etched with logo's of various breweries, some were blank and the pricing was very reasonable. I have never seen so many different styles of beer glasses anywhere. Very cool.

It wasn't terribly busy, but a couple of long line-ups formed at various times at the cash register. I was surprised to see so many young people shopping in the store. And they weren't going for the Budweiser's or the cheap 28 packs of Labatt Blue. No, they were shopping for the same stuff I was looking for: Dogfish Head, Allagash, Cantillon, Victory...and others. It was nice to see. I don't think that the citizens of Ontario are as aware of the beer scene surrounding them as our neighbour's to the south are. Everyone seems to know about the smaller craft beers and are interested in trying as many of them as possible. Hell, even the female front clerk at the hotel knew of the place and said it was the best beer store she's ever been in.

We spent a total of one hour browsing through the neatly categorized aisles and could have easily spent a couple more, but we had to get back to the hotel. We said that we would head back in the morning to grab some other stuff, but as I took the cart back into the store I noticed that they weren't open on Sunday's. Touché! Probably for the best though, as my wallet was already screaming in pain. It was a terrific store and one that I will plan to head back to next time I cross into the US.

Now why is this sort of retail outlet not allowed in Ontario? I already know the answer but it makes me mad as hell thinking about it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Drinking in Rochester, New York

I am actually staying in Victor, NY but the hockey team I'm travelling with is playing their games in Rochester. I arrived on Friday night and after checking into our hotel we headed out to the closest gas station to see what was in the beer fridge. Sam Adams, a shit load of Budweiser (Bud Light Lime?), and cheap Molson and Labatt products; but also Ithaca Cascazilla Monstrously Hoppy Red Ale.

Handed over $10.00 for a six pack of the hoppy monster. Back at the hotel, feet up, beer in hand and a trip to Beers of the World planned for later. Times are good.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Session #21 - Favourite Beer

Session #21 - Favourite Beer, is being hosted by Matt at A World of Brews and I managed to get in a post during a busy day at the office.

This is probably one of the toughest questions I get asked when meeting people for the first time. "You write about beer?" "What is your favourite one?" they ask. I do the head scratch, think hard enough that smoke starts pouring out of my ears and give them the usual response: It all depends on the situation I'm in. I think many craft beer enthusiasts' would say the same thing.

I have a number of beers that I would reach for any day of the week, but a favourite? A go to beer? I guess if I thought of it this way: If I was stuck on a deserted island, but managed to have a crate, full of beer, what would I hope for?

Well...the Keefe brother's (Ron and Kevin) who own the Toronto and Halifax Granite breweries respectively, brew a great cask conditioned Best Bitter Special that I absolutely love. Whenever I enter a pub that has a fresh cask of the BBS on, I don't even have to look at the rest of the selection.

Why do I like it so much? Well for starters it has sentimental feelings attached to it as, and I could be wrong, but I think it was the first ever cask conditioned beer I had ever sucked back, and I did so in the comfort of The Henry House pub in Nova Scotia. As mentioned, the beer is excellent as the dry hopping adds a beautiful aroma of cascade hop goodness and the low carbonation and well balanced malt backing make for a full flavoured BBS. Their Peculiar is pretty damn special too.

I often tell people about the best pint I ever remember having. It was at the Victory Cafe one hot summer day and it was the BBS. I arrived straight from work and craved a solid beer. I slid up to the bar and asked the bartender what he was pulling, he told me to wait 10 minutes as he just tapped a cask of the BBS. As I sat there drinking it, I thought "perfection."

But I don't have a cask sitting in my kitchen, waiting for me to indulge in, so what now? Well, I could drink Southern Tier IPA any day of the week, same with the Propeller IPA. Greg Nash (formerly of Garrison and now brewer at Pump House) made a Black Lager at Garrison that I could drink forever and the same can be said for a Delirium Tremens (can you imagine the headache that would cause). If I walk into an LCBO (I don't shop at the Beer Store) and I'm looking to pick up something local, with flavour, a usually grab some Cameron's Auburn Ale, Mill Street Tankhouse, Black Oak Pale Ale or some cans of Great Lakes Devil's Pale Ale.

Another question could come out of this - What is your favourite beer in each style? But that's for another time and place (well, this place, just not today).

So, to answer Matt's question, I guess if I was on my death bed, looking up at the Heaven's (which of course is were I'd be headed!) I'd prefer a pint of Granite's Best Bitter Special. There, I did it. I named what I think would be my favourite beer.

Read what others are writing here.

After reading what I just wrote, it appears that the question really wasn't that tough for me to answer. It just took a bit of searching. You also might have noticed the Granite's logo beside this post - please note that I had no idea about this Session's topic until this morning.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Music in Pubs

Have you ever ventured into a small pub, one tucked away on the corner of a sleepy street with the idea that you're in for a nice relaxing time with a book and a pint, only to be scared off by the excessive noise coming from the numerous gigantic speakers?

Music in pubs is something that I always pay attention too when I head out for a review. I like the pubs that keep the volume low enough that conversations can be shared without straining your vocal cords just to be heard by the person sitting across from you. These places put an emphasis on conversation, which leads to more drinking and helps promote social contact with your fellow humans. Pubs are a great venue to meet new people and I'm a big fan of that. Loud overbearing music can put a damper on this.

Now, my taste in music may differ from others, but I think many of us pub lovers can agree that some sort of music does serve some purpose in pubs. I was in a small pub north of the city one time that played the oldies station just loud enough to make out the words(1950's and such), and it was a perfect match for the overall atmosphere of the place. In fact, by walking in the doors and hearing the soft flow of Sinatra, as opposed to Avril Lavigne, it helped set a tone right off the bat. It reminded me of Sunday afternoon's spent at my grandparent's home as a small child. It was gentle, soothing and relaxing. Volo plays some weird funky music at a decent volume (at least when I've been there) and it seems to suit the overall atmosphere of the place. It works well.

Live performers on weekends is something I can also appreciate. After a long work week, it can be nice to visit a pub to be entertained by a talented (hopefully) local band. Many east coast pubs bring in live performers on weekends to entertain the after dinner crowd and while the music may be loud and distracting, it follows a tradition that has been taking place for generations. The Lower Deck pub has live music every night of the week, but your expected to find it there. If I'm out for the night, I don't mind checking out a new band or catching up with some old favourites.

One thing I'm not a fan of is the pubs that play the new age pop music inside places that don't resemble a bar or nightclub. There was a place in Toronto that I visited recently and walking through the door I could swear Justin Timberlake was performing live with amps blaring in every corner. The beat bounced off all the walls and scared me back my local. This is yet another reason I don't usually step foot into large chain-owned establishments that promote themselves as a traditional Irish pub. I mean, I don't think a real traditional country Irish pub would have Rihanna singing about Umbrella's coming from their sound system.

However, all that being said, when I go to a pub I'm usually going there to kill some time, read a bit, talk to friends, so I feel I can justify my stance of enjoying little to no music at all. If I head out to a pub after dinner for a night out, I expect to find the music a bit louder than the afternoon hours.

So what do you like to hear in pubs? Are you like me and prefer the sound of customers chatting over the gentle sound of quiet respectable music? Or do you like the live performances of local bands? Or lastly, would you rather hear the radio blasting today's new age pop/rock?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Head Down to the Victory Tonight

Congratulations goes out to Cass Enright, founder of Bar, the popular Toronto beer forum that is celebrating its 10th anniversary today.

To help celebrate, Enright has secured the upper level of the terrific Victory Cafe for users of the website to gather, meet and greet and share some pints of some Durham County cask conditioned ale.

Bar Towel has done a significant job over the years of promoting local breweries, supporting local importers, increasing the awareness of quality beers and pushing for more beer dinners. Sure, some of the discussions are meaningless and out of place for a beer forum, and there are a number of ridiclous posters; but overall, Bar Towel is a great place to visit if your interested in educating yourself with the beer scene. Specifically the Toronto area. Out of province visitors and visitors to the country, can count on Bar Towel for providing information on good beer bars, LCBO's with a good line-up and events taking place within the region.

The doors will open for the Bar Towel crowd at 6pm and the party will run until midnight. This is a terrific opportunity for readers of this blog and the participates of Bar Towel to come together to celebrate beer.

Come out and introduce yourself to the other passionate beer enthusiasts for a good time.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Benefits of Beer

I love how beer brings people together. We’ve all heard about beer being a social lubricate, and we’ve probably all used that term before. Sure, it may be over used, but it is ever true.

Every year I help organize the Canadian Brewing Awards and every year I am lucky enough to walk away with many leftover beers from almost every region in the nation. So much that I wouldn’t be able to drink it all myself before some go bad. Some get traded, some are given away and some end up down the drain (I know I know).

Recently, an idea popped into my head, “Why not host a small tasting session with some close beer loving friends?” I sent out some invites and set up a day when the tasting would happen, then chilled the beers. When the group arrived at my place on Saturday everyone chose a number of brands they wanted to sample most and the tops started to pop.

Which leads to that social lubricate thing. Everyone that arrived were relatively all strangers when the tasting first started, but as the beer started to flow they all opened up and beer conversation was being shared by all. Beer does this to people. One, the alcohol helps to loosen people up a bit, and two, beer is the one passion that each of these guys share with one another. Arriving as strangers, leaving as friends. That’s what it’s all about.

A seasoned brewer, a beer website founder, a first time father, a homebrewer, two beer school educated craft beer fans, a young successful business man and I, all stood around the table and shared stories, discussed what we were sampling and talked about the brewing industry. It was a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

By now you may be wondering what we tasted, well here is the list.

Denison's Weissbier
Dieu du Ciel Peche Mortel
Garrison Raspberry Wheat
Garrison Imperial Pale Ale
Garrison Winter Weizenbock (2007)
Granville Island IPA
Granville Island Hefeweizen
Magnotta Wunder Weisse
Microbrasserie du Lievre IPA
Microbrasseire du Lievre Carrot
Paddywhack IPA (nelson brewing)
Phillip's Longboat Double Chocolate
Phillip's Wheat King Hefeweizen
Pump House Double Dementia IPA
Pump House Muddy River Stout
Swan's Buckerfield Extra IPA
Swan's Buckerfield Oatmeal Stout
Swan's Buckerfield Tessier's Witbier
Tree Hefeweizen
A bunch of Biergotter's stuff (Pale Ale, Old Age Ale,)
Russian River Blind Pig
Pliny the Elder

Michael Hancock, founder of Denison’s, brought over some of his delicious Weissbier (silver at the CBA’s) to go head to head with Tree Brewery’s Hefeweizen (gold at CBA’s) and the outcome was two very similar beers, both very well done. We had a number of other German style wheat’s; along with some Belgian Wit’s before getting into the heavier hop bombs.

As far as IPA’s go, Quebec’s Microbrassiere du Lievre IPA was very nice, as was Swan’s Buckerfield’s Extra IPA and Pump House’s Double Dementia IPA. We also sampled a number of beers produced by Biergotter’s, a small homebrewing club, thanks to Eric Ecclestone and the Pale Ale was excellent. A nice fruity aroma of apples from the yeast used, the Pale Ale was one of the better beers we sampled and would make one hell of a sessionable ale.

Everyone started getting hungry so we headed east to the Feather’s Pub on Kingston road for some outstanding pub food and a couple of English style pints. The Wellington Iron Duke Steak Pies and Fish and Chips were a big hit and were complimented by some cask conditioned Wellington County Ale, Belhaven Twisted Thistle and Fuller’s London Pride. With the exception of one person, no one from the group had set foot in the pub before, and by the time we left all agreed that it exceeded their expectations.

So beer, a social lubricant? Hell yes.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Notes on a Beermat: Drinking and Why It's Necessary

Notes on a Beermat: Drinking and Why It’s Necessary

Author Nicholas Pashley’s original work of art was first published by Polar Bear Press back in 2001, but it wasn’t until July of 2006 that I discovered it in the dusty stacks of the Halifax public library. I ended up reading it, then checking it out again and again until I finally obtained not one, but two copies that Christmas. Signed by Pashley himself no less.

Since that time, I’ve moved to Toronto, met Pashley, and shared numerous pints and stories with the humorous, quick witted and delightful chap. The man is a firm believer in quality pubs and craft beer, and meshes the two great things together in his book, while throwing in the odd sarcastic snipe or sharp joke.

In keeping in touch with Pashley, I learned that a revised edition of Notes on a Beermat: Drinking and Why It’s Necessary was recently thrust upon us, just in time for our Christmas wish list. Armed with a fancy new cover that includes a new layout, graphics and new stories about some of our favourite pubs here in Toronto; 2008’s Notes on a Beermat scores another coup. Author Bill Bryson’s original foreword appears again and sets the tone for the entire story.

There are many beer books in circulation that focus on the business end of running or starting a brewery, and many on how to accentuate your food by adding beer to the table; but Pashley’s entertaining tales about pub life cater to anyone who enjoys supping a pint in the company and joy of others.

Creative chapter titles range from the Impossible Dream: Looking for the Perfect Pub, to Who Owns Your Pub, to one of my favourites in Play That Funky Music Barkeep. Chapter by chapter you’ll develop an appreciation for Pashley’s writing, in fact, he’ll make you feel as though your right there beside him tucked away in a cozy pub living in his passion. And that was his intended goal. When he shares his story about the famous Blue Jay pub crawl he iniaited many years ago, you’ll picture yourself as one of his drinking mates and cheer him on along the way.

For those of us situated in the Big Smoke, Pashley has included new stories on Volo’s Cask Days, going as far as naming Volo owner Ralph Morana the King of Cask for Toronto. Cass Enright and his Bar Towel website also get some page space as Pashley describes his views on the site. For those residing elsewhere in Canada, Pashley spins tales about trips to the west coast, the east coast and anywhere and everywhere in between.

This new and re-vised copy is everything the first one was and more, and it’s highly recommended that you add it to your own beer library. And why wouldn’t you? At $16.95it’s a bargain.

Keep an eye out here for further information about a reading that Pashley will perform sometime in November at Volo.

*Side note*
Mr. Pashley is one person I can look to if pointing blame at getting me involved in the beer writing business. Shortly after reading his original book for the third time, I decided to start a pub journal during my travels through Canada’s eastern provinces. And when I moved back to Ontario I started this blog.
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