Returning to Toronto in September last year, I was a bit taken aback at the range of Canadian beers that were on sale in The Beer Store as well on tap in the city’s bars. They might have always been on the shelf, of course, but during my two years there I was either a broke student or a broke book shop employee and so mainly stuck to whatever was on offer in my local LCBO. However, craft beer and breweries in Toronto seem to be flourishing, to the extent that the high density of breweries in one neighbourhood means the area could soon become recognised as the ‘Brewery District’. Me and my girlfriend only had a few days in Toronto when we visited the city last September, and so weren’t able to dig too deep into the city’s apparently flourishing craft beer scene, but we did go to three of the bigger breweries during our stay. What these deliver in the quality and taste of the beer, so do they also in terms of the brilliant locations where their beer can be enjoyed.
Since I now live in the Dutch capital, where better to begin than with the Amsterdam Brewery. I can’t remember having had one of their beers when I lived in Toronto before, but this brewery actually has the longest association with the city of the three discussed in this post. Originally established in the form of a small brewpub in 1986, the Amsterdam Brewery has grown exponentially over the course of the last 30 years and in 2013 opened up the impressive Amsterdam BrewHouse on the shores of Lake Ontario. We spent our last night in Toronto here, and tried the (416) Local Lager, the Big Wheel Deluxe Amber and the Boneshaker Unfiltered I.P.A. All were great — the first comes in a really cool tall can with the city’s streets and sights mapped across it — but the latter was the best in terms of taste, I think. You can of course do tours of the brewery and lots of beer tastings and other events are held there as well. Describing the sheer vastness of Lake Ontario will never do the sight of it justice, but trust me when I say that a walk along the lake which ends up at the Amsterdam BrewHouse is a very good way to spend a couple of hours.
On the last afternoon of our short time in Toronto in September, we headed to the east of the city and to Toronto’s historic Distillery District. The Old Town, where the Distillery District is located, was one of Toronto’s many cool neighbourhoods that I’d somehow never quite made it to during my two years in the city. I’ve made a habit of doing this — two and a bit years in Amsterdam and I’ve still never been to the Anne Frank House. Smack bang in the middle of the cobbled and lively Distillery District, and surrounded by chilled bars and cafes, small art galleries and quirky shops, is the Mill Street Brewery. Their Original Organic Lager was one of my favourite bottles especially during my second year in Toronto, but I never realised how many other beers they did until I went to the brewery. They’ve won Canadian Brewery of the Year on no fewer than 3 occasions and have expanded at an impressive pace when you think the brewery was only established in 2002. We both had a ‘flight’ of their beers — basically a tasting menu of a number of their different brews — and they were very nice indeed. As was the poutine — chips, gravy and cheese curds. I remember saying to someone that poutine was just the same as chips, gravy and cheese back home, to which a Canadian vehemently insisted that their cheese was “really, really processed”. You’re also very close to the brilliant St. Lawrence Market if you do head over to the Mill Street Brewery — this huge, historic indoor market is packed with excellent local produce and so if you’re doing an Airbnb and have your own kitchen, this is a great spot to pick up some ingredients for dinner.
Now I definitely did drink Steam Whistle during my previous two years in Toronto and until this year was the only one of the breweries in Toronto that I’d visited. I lived in a huge student residence while studying at the University of Toronto and met some really great people there, but the residence itself had really tough and pretty ingenious rules when it came to stamping down on socialising. Two of the following three things constituted a “party” in their eyes: more than four people in a room; music being on; and the presence of beer. Parties were, of course, banned, and they were pretty on the ball in terms of enforcing these rules. We did our best to flout the rules as often as possible, and for one guy’s birthday we went to the Steam Whistle brewery, bought a keg and managed to smuggle it back into our residence in a suitcase. Everyone had different theories about how to get beer from it, so all we got was froth the whole night. But anyway, Steam Whistle only produce one bottle — Pilsner — and it’s really, really good. The tour you can do of the brewery is genuinely interesting and they’re really generous with their samples as well. The brewery is well worth exploring in its own right, too, as it is housed in what used to function as a railway repair facility and sits in the shadow of the impressive CN Tower. If you look carefully at the bottles between sips, you’ll see the characters ‘3FG’. This stands for ‘3 Fired Guys’ — the founders of the brewery were fired from another brewing job and this was going to be the original name of their beer!
There’s three breweries, three great locations and lots of different beers to look forward to if you head to the vibrant city of Toronto!
All images provided by Lorieke de Lange with the exception of the bottom right image in gallery 2: Wikimedia Commons Steam Whistle Brewing Water Tower Toronto By MB-One (own work) CC-BY-SA 3.0 All rights reservedSPANISH VERSION