Beer Lovers Tour Toronto Canada
The question on everyone’s lips when you’ve been on a beer tour is: Did You Get Drunk?
It’s funny how concerned people are that you may not have enough alcohol to get sufficiently sozzled!
Rest assured, dear friends, we had an elegant sufficiency of beer during our Beer Lovers Tour.
However, being 5 foot 2, and no longer being a seasoned drinker, I felt tipsy after one pilsner at Steam Whistle Brewery. So I may not be the best yardstick in these matters.
The Beer Lovers Tour is highly entertaining. And it gives you a great knowledge of the brewing process, and beer history in Toronto. And most importantly, of the beer sampling process.
Our guide Chris has a theatre degree, and previously worked at Steam Whistle Brewery, so he’s more than equipped to be our tour guide.
Our first stop is Steam Whistle – The Brewing Process
Location: Steam Whistle Brewing The Roundhouse, 255 Bremner Blvd. Toronto, ON, M5V 3M9
Confession: this is my third visit to Steam Whistle. Can you tell I like this beer?
They make one beer, and only one beer. Which means their German style pilsner is impeccably crafted.
Sanchez from Steam Whistle takes us through their brewing process:
- We’re taken past the millroom, where barley is gently crushed, turned into mash, and added to the lauterturn.
- The lauterturn presses barley grains and leaves sweet liquid behind. At Steam Whistle, the remains are given to Wellington livestock as a cool way of recycling. And no, the cows don’t get drunk – the remains are not alcoholic!
- Hops are then added, which affect the colour, integrity and aroma of the beer. It’s considered to be the most important part of the process.
- Next, this liquid goes through a heat exchanger before yeast is added.
- Pilsner is a pale style lager, and ferments for around 28 days. In comparison, ale stouts take about 10-12 days. Steam Whistle’s beer is not pasteurised, and has a shelf life of about 90 days for optimum consumption. Chris tells us that when he worked at Steam Whistle, he could tell you the day and time that a Steam Whistle pilsner was brewed, just by tasting it.
Steam Whistle uses a German 15/16 purity ratio, so their brew is as close to the authentic German pilsner as you’re going to get. It’s made of barley from Saskatchewan, water trucked in daily from Canadian springs, German hops and Czech yeast.
After our steam whistle tour, Chris has put on a large spread for us. There’s sourdough and crusty French breads, a variety of cheeses, marinated vegetables, sandwich meats, and condiments. Chris urges us to have as much as we need, and to pack some away for our day.
Fort York – Toronto’s Beer History
Location: 250 Fort York Blvd, Toronto M5V 3K9
Next up is Fort York to learn about the history of Toronto, and beer’s involvement in the war.
Steam Whistle hand their samples out freely and plentifully, so I’m a little thankful for the pause in beer sampling to enjoy the sunshine at the beautiful, historic Fort York.
Fort York was originally built in 1793/1794, and rebuilt for the Canada/America war of 1812, Chris tells us. He explains for foreigners like me that it was the Americans who started this war.
At this point, the young couple next to us burst into fits of giggles. They’re from America, and taught in school that it was the dastardly Canadians who instigated this war. It’s a lesson in itself about how history is portrayed through different lenses.
Plans were made to tear down Fort York to build the Gardiner Expressway, but Torontonians fought hard against this, and won. These days, it’s home to the city’s oldest buildings, and an active archaeological site.
But how does this relate to beer? In the early 19th century, officers and soldiers were partially compensated for their service in BEER. During tough times, this was diluted to 8%, so you can imagine how strong the beer was! And many Canadian brewers started out brewing as farmers who had left over barley, or as contractors supplying the military.
Beer Academy (A Brewhouse by Six Pints Academy Beer Co) – Beer Appreciation
Location: 75 Victoria St, Toronto, ON M5C 2B1
After our sobering sojourn to Fort York, we head to Beer Academy.
At Beer Academy, Beer Sommeleir Matt teaches us how to make the most of beer sampling, and how to appreciate drinking a beer versus chugging down a beer. Not that he sounds opposed to chugging down beers; he just wants us to know how to sample them with a critical eye and tongue.
We’re presented with three beers to sample. Matt says the colour doesn’t mean it’s a heavier beer, it just indicates different tastes.
With our first beer, Matt runs through the beer appreciation steps:
- Sight: look at the colour, clarity, and foam. We’re told that pouring a beer is like decanting a wine. Sure, you can drink it straight from the can or bottle, but pouring it circulates the aromas and releases carbonation, affecting the taste. Our first beer is coffee or cola coloured, dark yet clear, and filtered/clean looking.
- Smell: give your beer a good sniff! What do you think you can smell? Jot it down, no matter how odd you think it is. With our first beer, people mention coffee, chocolate, even soy sauce. To me all I get is coffee, and as a non-coffee drinker, it’s interesting, but a little overwhelming!
- Tasting: this part was a surprise. DO NOT BE POLITE! Don’t sip your beer. You need to really swill it around in your mouth and coat your tongue to get the true flavour of it. We try both methods and the difference in taste is astounding. But, logical, when you think about your taste buds and where the different ones sit on your tongue. Sipping will give you a very bitter taste, whereas you get a rounder, fuller taste with swilling.
Our second beer is an unfiltered, Indian Pale Ale. It’s the clear winner of the Six Pints visit for me. It smells and tastes a little fruity. Our beer tour friends shout out things like citrus, orange, and even mango. Matt mentions that it tastes more like the rind than the juice.
Our third beer is unusual and I hate it! But I’m glad to have tried it so I can tell people about the strangest beer I’ve tasted. It’s a German style smoked lager. People say it tastes like campfire, but to me it tastes like a smoked meat, almost bacony. Not what a vegan wants to drink!
Though North Nomad loves his smoked meats, he also doesn’t like this beer. In fact, about two people out of 32 on this tour said they enjoyed it. But it’s a definite talking point.
Matt rounds out our beer appreciation lesson with some tips on beer pairing. Remember the Three Cs, he tells us: Complimentary, Contrast, and Cut. Complimentary refers to similarities, Contrast to opposites, and Cut to the bitterness and carbonation. Beers with a stronger cut strip the palate and make it easier to eat rich foods.
NB – You can’t buy Six Pints beer at LCBO, you can only get it at the brewery! So it’s worth a drop-in to try a pint or two, and to check out the beer museum.
Mill Street Brewery – More Beer Appreciation
Location: 21 Tank House Lane, Toronto ON M5A 3C4
We’re back on the bus and head over to Mill St Brewery in the gorgeous Distillery District. The old red-brick heritage buildings contrast with the modern sculptures towering over people in the courtyards. It’s a lovely part of Toronto on a sunny day.
This leg of our tour is a little more casual than the others. We sample four beers, and Chris wanders around to the tables explaining a bit about them.
The first is the organic ale – the first organic beer in Canada, the second is a stock lager, and the third is the Tankhouse Ale, Chris’ personal favourite. It’s a darker ale with a darker malt flavour.
I’m enamoured with the fourth beer we try Nightmare on Mill Street. It’s a pumpkin ale, and in the northern hemisphere pumpkins are in season during Halloween , so the name is fitting!
This is just delicious. I love the combination of spices and tell Chris it reminds me a little of mulled wine. Pumpkin ales are all over the map of good, bad and ugly – there’s no definitive pumpkin ale, he says. So we’ve lucked out that this is a good one!
Mill Street also provides snacks at this stage – large pretzels with butter. They smell absolutely divine, but the waiter sadly tells me that they include milk and eggs. North Nomad reports that the pretzels tasted as good as they smelled!
Amsterdam Brewery – Our Last Stop
Location: 45 Esander Drive, Leaside, ON M4G4C5
Our last stop is the Amsterdam Brewhouse in Leaside. You might be familiar with the Amsterdam Brewhouse on the harbourfront; this is where they make their beer. They were the first craft brewers in Toronto, opening up the John Street bar/brewhouse in 1986 – the first of its kind in Toronto.
I must confess that I’m not sure how much more beer I could fit in at this stage. I felt a little full, and a little tipsy.
There were several beers to sample. Given my state, I only tried the 416 light beer. I’m not a light beer fan, so I find this a little uninspiring. North Nomad samples The Boneshaker Unfiltered Indian Pale Ale and the KLB Raspberry Wheat. I have a sniff of the KLB and it does smell like berries!
If you’re interested, Amsterdam Brewery does free tours and tasting every Saturday from 1pm to 5pm.
Our tour wraps up here around 6:30PM. At this point, many members of the tour had elected to go to the optional dinner at The Granite Brewery. We’d decided to opt out of this, and rest our weary feet and beer filled bellies. We get back on the bus and we’re dropped off near Union Station.
The Nomads highly recommend the Beer Lovers Tour.
We drank beer, and we made friends from Canada, Australia, and Germany.
We learnt about beer history, beer appreciation, and tried new things we wouldn’t have usually tried.
A successful day! And if you’re new to Toronto, it’s a great way to meet people from the city, and to get to know the different neighbours around the Greater Toronto Area.
Note for our vegan and strict/pure veggie readers: All beers I sampled were vegan friendly. Steam Whistle’s pilsner is vegan. Mill St *does* have non-vegan beers, but these are handily named with things like “honey” or “milk” in the title. And neither Six Pints nor Amsterdam Brewhouse used animal byproducts in the beers I sampled, but you may wish to double check if you try something that is not referenced here.
Website: Beer Lovers Tour
Cost: $130 per person.
North and South Nomads went on this tour as guests of the Beer Lovers Tour.
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica, over at Google+.