Category Archives: bars

Lordy, Lordy, Look Who’s Forty!

birthdaybeerIt’s my birthday today. The Big Four-Oh. I guess I’m supposed to be starting my mid-life crisis now – or does that start at 50 nowadays?

Like most big events in the Clow-Kirby household, it’s being celebrated fairly quietly. Friday night, we got together with Joann and Rodger, a lovely older couple who we’ve gotten to know over the last couple of years at Harvest Wednesdays, a series of dinners and tastings at the Gladstone Hotel where they and we are regulars. They both work at the Royal Ontario Museum, so they gave us a quick tour of a couple of current exhibits featuring diamonds and gemstones (oooh, sparkly!), and then we went for dinner at Dynasty, a nearby Chinese restaurant. The food was good, albeit about twice as expensive as a similar meal would be over on Spadina, but that’s Yorkville for ya.

Last night, it was dinner at beerbistro which is always a treat, birthday or not. We started with duck confit corn dogs and blonde ale veggie pakoras, followed by an astoundingly huge serving of rabbit & bacon fettucine for Sheryl, and the succulent applewood-smoked suckling pig special for the birthday boy, washed down with the always enjoyable Durham Hop Addict IPA. Manager Dayna somehow found out that it was my birthday (oh, alright, I bragged about it on the way in…) and sent over a bomber of Lagunitas Imperial Stout for us to enjoy with our dessert of flourless chocolate cake – but wait, before the cake arrived, chef Brian stopped by to see if we’d like to try something he’d been “playing around with”: foie gras cured in Rochefort 6 served with a banana-cherry chutney. Well, twist our rubber arms, and ohmifrickingod, best foie gras EVAR!!!

Today, it was brunch at The Beaver, one of our favourite little brunch spots in the ‘hood, and tonight, dinner and drinks with my usual beer drinkin’ posse at The Rhino, the best beer bar within staggering distance of our apartment.

Yeah, I guess 40 is turning out to be pretty OK so far…


V For Victory


My pub profile on The Victory Café is up now over on Taste T.O., and Winston wants you to go read it.

Also: the wife and I went to a beer dinner at the Abbot On The Hill last night marking the Canadian launch of Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter. We were also there for a trade/media tasting on Saturday, where Stephen Beaumont revealed that the cask version is his go-to beer when he’s in England and at a Fuller’s pub. The keg version is obviously not quite as good as the cask (according to Beaumont, at least, but I’ll take his word for it), but it’s still a pleasant session pint.

I’ll try to post more details about the dinner (which was a smaller and less formal affair than the previous Fuller’s launch I attended) in the next day or two.

Victory, Empire and Franz Ferdinand


I spent a couple of hours on Thursday evening at The Victory Cafe, a pub that I don’t get to as often as I should. They’ve got one of the best tap line-ups in the city, a couple of cask engines, good pub grub and reasonable prices, making it a nice local for those who live closer to it than I do. Those such as Nick Pashley, for instance, who I happened to run into when I arrived.

I was mainly there to chat with the owners for an article going up on Taste T.O. this coming week, but I also wanted to check out the launch of Compass Empire Ale, their new house beer bring brewed at Nickel Brook based on a recipe by Victory co-owner Blake Smith and his father, a veteran homebrewer. All who tried it, including Blake, found that had some promise, with a nice hop notes, but the body and maltiness left something to be desired. Ends up that they hadn’t filtered the pilot versions, and the filtration of the commercial batch took more out of the beer than they expected. I’m sure some recipe tweaking will take care of that, and they should end up with the excellent British Pale Ale that they intended, to be followed by a couple of other Compass brews.

tonight_coverMy other reason for being there was to grab dinner and beers with a couple of friends before heading over to Lee’s Palace to see Franz Ferdinand. Lee’s was a regular haunt for me back in my younger days when I spent a lot of time in dark rooms having my eardrums blasted by loud music of various sorts. As I rarely do such things any more, it had been a year or two since I’d been there, but the novelty of seeing a band that I really like in a venue much smaller than those they usually play at was enough to draw me out.

(That, and the fact that it was an early show, so my old, tired ass would be out of there and home by 11:30 or so…)

I’m glad I went, as it was a solid gig, very energetic and lots of fun. It was their second in a short tour of small-venue shows in advance of their new upcoming album, Tonight, and it took them a couple of songs to really get into gear. But after a so-so new track and a kinda limp version of “Do You Want To“, they got into a groove and kept it going right up to the ripping version of “This Fire” that closed the encore. Aside from the opening number, all of the new songs were great, and got the audience just as revved up as the older hits. And since my days of music reviewing are long behind me, I’m drawing a blank on anything else I could write about the show – try reading this for a more detailed review.

Getting back to beer, though – I was impressed to see that the selection at Lee’s has improved greatly since I was last there. They’ve still got the usual mainstream suds, but they’ve added three from Mill Street, a couple from Wellington, Steam Whistle, and perhaps one or two other crafty things. Nowhere near as beer-geeky as the Victory, but for a dingy rock bar (and I mean that in the best way possible), not bad at all.

Cock & Tail (That’s What SHE Said!)


As promised, my profile of The Cock & Tail pub is up now on Taste T.O., so check it out!

(Oh, and the bartender isn’t as short as she looks in the first picture. The bar is just really frickin’ high.)

Rock Out With Your Cock Out


The photo above is a sneak peak from an article I’m working that will be running on Taste T.O. on Tuesday as the next instalment of our Pub Crawl series. This one will be a profile of The Cock & Tail, a cozy drinking hole that opened up a few blocks from our place back in the summer, and which I’ve only been to twice, but really need to make a point of visiting more often. As you can tell from the picture, they’ve got a pretty decent bottle/can list, and the 10 or so beers on tap are all Ontario and Quebec craft brews. Throw in a respectable selection of whiskies, tequilas, and other spirits, plus great tunes on the jukebox iTunes and friendly staff, and you end up with a place well worth visiting and supporting.

I’ve also been drinking at home, of course, and recently recieved and (mostly) enjoyed the second annual Discovery Pack from the Ontario Craft Brewers. This mixed pack features a beer each from six different OCB members, and unlike last year’s pack which skewed heavily towards pale lagers, this one features five ales, although at least one of them is an ale created with lager drinkers in mind. Serious beer geeks might still find the selection lacking, but as an introduction to craft beer newbies, it’s a nice little package. My full review ran on Taste T.O. this past Tuesday.

In other news, RateBeer is still down, but scuttlebutt says that they might be getting close to at least a test relaunch. I’ve got my fingers crossed, as my notebook is getting really full…

Montreal – Part 2: Ass Sandwich


Saturday in Montreal found me suffering a slight case of The Morning After The Night Before, with an empty stomach calling for something tasty and a little greasy, so I was glad when Paul went out to grab a Coke and discovered a promising looking breakfast place just around the corner. Restaurant Mosaik (5201 St-Laurent) was, as the reviews promise, a perfect place for a hangover breakfast – a laid-back vibe, friendly staff, good coffee, and food that’s a step up from diner fare without being too chi-chi. A nice touch was the inclusion of a serving of creton, a traditional Québécois pork pâté that I’d never tried before – horribly unhealthy, I’m sure, but really tasty on toast.

After breakfast (well – given the time, it was closer to being lunch), we took a wander around the neighbourhood and checked out a small location of SAQ, the provincial liquor store chain. Since beer is available in grocery and corner stores, the government-run stores don’t carry much of it, but they’re worth a visit to check out the selection of ice cider, a delicious beverage indigenous to Québéc that’s filled with appley goodness.

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Montreal – Part 1: Pata-Chou!


I’ve only visited Montreal a few times, but two of those visits have played a pretty big role in increasing my interest in craft beer.

The first time was in 2000, when I attended the first instalment of MUTEK, an electronic music and arts festival that is held there every May. My time there happened to coincide with Mondial de la Bière, Montreal’s renowned beer festival, so I headed down to check it out one afternoon. I had always been a microbrew drinker, and enjoyed trying new brews here and there, but Mondial exposed me to beers and styles that I’d never heard of, let alone tried before, and it inspired me to expand my beer horizons once I returned home. Still, it remained more of a casual interest than the obsession it has since become.

It was my next visit just over two years later that helped push me over the edge. I headed there with a friend primarily to represent Piehead Records, a small record label that my wife and I were running at the time, at a concert by three artists we had signed. But we also spent a lot of our weekend visiting some of Montreal’s brewpubs and beer bars – including the now semi-legendary Dieu Du Ciel! – and we came back with a trunk full of weird and wonderful Quebecois beers. A couple of weeks later, I discovered RateBeer, and the inevitable slide into complete beer geekdom soon followed.

Last weekend, I finally made a long overdue return visit to Montreal with three of my regular beer pals, and the focus of the trip was beer, beer and more beer. Hell, we even stayed in the apartment above Dieu Du Ciel!, so you know that we were serious.

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Sheraton Gets Serious About Beer

Today’s post by Jay over at Brookston Beer Bulletin reminded me that I intended to write about this topic back in November, but I never got around to it. Ah, well, better late than never…

I don’t travel a lot, but when I do, I always lament the poor beer selection that I find in most hotel restaurants and mini-bars. While I understand that hotels (at least the mid-range ones that I usually stay at) generally try to cater to the average (i.e. unadventurous) person when it comes to their food and drink offerings, their boring beer lists have always seemed like a wasted opportunity to me. After all, most tourists visit new places in order to experience things that make those places unique, including the local food and drink. So why not offer them some locally made craft beer?

It seems like someone at Sheraton Four Points, one of the mid-range chains owned by hotel giant Starwood, had the same idea, as they launched a new initiative called Best Brews this past fall. According to the mid-November press release, bars and restaurants in Four Points properties around the world now feature beer lists that offer “a selection of local, regional and imported craft beers”, with each location serving “a minimum of four draught beers and a selection of up to 20 bottled beers”. In addition, “all Four Points lounge and restaurant staff must complete the Best Brews online training program and master all aspects of the curriculum”, and each location will have a “beer champion” on staff who will be “helping guests discover new tastes and brands, as well as educating them about the differences between each beer”.

Looking over the Best Brews web page, this looks to be a serious and well-researched program. Unlike some other online resources, the information presented on the site is accurate and informative without being too geeky or know-it-all-ish. And adding a but of fun to the whole thing is the “job search” for a “Chief Beer Officer” that Four Points have been running for the past few weeks. The press release claims that it is a real position that they are looking to fill, with something verging on an actual job description:

One of the primary duties of the CBO will be to document all official activities and beer learnings on a Four Points beer blog. This includes discovering new brews to feature in the program and sharing their thoughts about each beer they sample in the portfolio, as the CBO will have a sampling of the collection delivered to their door each quarter.

However, the online “application” for the position is just a series of simple multiple-choice questions related to beer, and a request for your address and phone number, suggesting that it may just be a ploy to promote the program and build a mailing list of microbrew drinkers. Whatever the aim, it’s still an exciting step forward for craft beer, and one that will likely convince many beer lovers – including myself – to consider staying at Four Points hotels during any trips we may take in the future.

Four Things For Friday

  1. I’m sort of late to the game on this story, as many other blogs have already covered it, as well as “real” news outlets including the New York Times and the Globe & Mail. But in case you haven’t heard about it yet, Massachusetts-based beer importers Shelton Brothers have been having some of their products rejected by liquor regulatory bodies in New York and Maine due to the beers’ names and/or labels being unacceptable. Some, like the Santa’s Butt Winter Porter pictured to the right, were snubbed due to the name and label graphics potentially being appealing to children, while Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus and Brasserie Les Choulette’s Sans Culottes were turned down because the labels feature paintings of bare-breasted women. While the civil libertarian in me finds these decisions to be pretty offensive, I can’t help but be a little amused by them as well, if only because it shows that even though most American states have a much freer market for alcohol sales than we do in Ontario, their government busy-bodies can be just as ridiculous as our pink elephant banning LCBO.
  2. I discovered a new blog this morning that I’m looking forward to keeping my eye on: Pint and a Smoke is written by fellow Torontonian Pat McLean, and it features his musings on the pubs in our fair city. His criteria for a good pub are quite similar to mine: no TVs (or maybe one, as long as it’s unobtrusive), no loud music, at least one good stout on tap, etc. While we live across town from each other, I hope that our paths cross at some point soon, as he seems like a good guy to hoist a few with (even though based on his other blog, he seems to be an Oilers fan…).
  3. Speaking of pubs: My local, The Rhino, has recently added a cask engine to their great line-up of local taps. Normally, this would be cause for celebration, but based on the experience that I and others have had there since they brought it in, I’m not especially enthused. The wife and I popped in for a pint the other night, and while our waitress knew that they had a cask ale on, she didn’t know what beer it was (“Uh… I think it’s an IPA?”), and when she went to the bar to ask, the barman sent her back with a sample rather than the name of the beer. The beer was in decent shape, at least, and I suspect that it was probably Durham Triple X IPA. But the lack of knowledge concerned me, as does the fact that the cask ale is not mentioned anywhere on their pre-printed beer menu. Cask ale lovers expect more care and knowledge, not to mention some assurance that they’ll be served a fresh pint, and newbies could end up being served stale pints that will turn them off the stuff – assuming they are even aware that it’s there.

  4. I got together last night with my pals Paul & Harry to help them drink about a dozen mediocre beers that Harry had trucked back from his last visit to Quebec. (Yes, we are beer rating whores). But just so the night wasn’t a complete swillfest, we threw in a couple of guaranteed winners, including the much-loved Struise Pannepot. The other two guys had had it before, but this was my first time trying it, and it definitely lived up to the hype. It pours a deep mahogany-brown with a small mocha head that leaves lots of lace. The aroma is big and round and inviting, with a fantastic sweet & roasty backbone supporting notes of brown sugar, caramel, and assorted dark fruits and spices. The flavour masterfully juggles notes of roasted coffee and dark sugar with hints of fruit (fig, plum, cherry) and spice (cinnamon, licorice), leading into a moderately dry and woody finish. A complex and remarkably satisfying beer that rivals the best that the Trappists have to offer.

Mill Street Brewpub

For a city of its size and population, Toronto has an embarrassing dearth of brewpubs. In fact, up until a couple of weeks ago, we had exactly one of them: The Granite. It’s a great place, but since I’m a downtown snob who tends to get nosebleeds if I go too far north of Bloor Street, I don’t make it up there very often.

(C’est What is often referred to as a brewpub, but since their house beers are brewed off-site at Durham Brewing, they don’t meet the usually accepted definition of the word.)

So when word came down earlier this year that Mill Street Brewery would be relocating their main operations to a much larger brewery in the suburbs and turning their original Distillery District location into a brewpub, there was much rejoicing throughout the local beer scene.

After months of anticipation, the Mill Street Brewpub was finally opened in late October with surprisingly minimal fanfare. I made it down for my first visit earlier this week, and I can say with very little reservation that it was well worth the wait. My only disappointment was that Alan at A Good Beer Blog beat me to the reviewing punch even though he lives about 250 kms away. Plus he never lets me know when he’s going to be in town. Bastard.

Anyway. Since it’s located in the Distillery District, the place has great atmosphere almost by default, but they’ve really gone above and beyond with the renovations that they’ve done over the past few months. Aside from the brewing tanks in the middle of the room, it’s almost unrecognisable from its time as a regular brewery, and it strikes the perfect balance between being spacious and cozy.

It pretty much goes without saying that the beer is excellent, but I’ll say it anyway: The beer is excellent. In addition to their core line-up of Tankhouse Ale, Organic Lager, Coffee Porter and Stock Ale, they’ve promoted their Oktoberfest, Wit and Helles Bock from seasonal to year-round status, revived their Cobblestone Stout which hadn’t been available for a couple of years, and added an IPA and an ESB to the roster. A Kriek is coming soon, as well as some one-offs/seasonals, and the bar will soon be outfitted with a hand-pump for some cask ale action. Oh, and they found a keg or two of their 2004 Barley Wine that they’re serving up as well.

Lots to choose from, but I was in the mood for some new stuff, so I went with the two that I hadn’t tried before. The ESB was excellent – fresh, earthy & fruity with an appealing graininess and a moderately dry, herbal finish. I was less enthralled with the IPA – it was pleasant enough, with a nice, well-balanced flavour, but when they’ve already got the hoppy pale ale bases covered with Tankhouse, this one almost seems like an afterthought.

As for the food side of things, since pubs tend to cater strongly to the carnivore set, the wife and I were expecting a lack of vegetarian options, and our expectations were pretty well met in that regard. There are only two completely veg options in the main courses – a veggie pizza and the ubiquitous roasted vegetable sandwich – although the appetizers and salads are a bit friendlier to the meat-avoiders. Since we also eat seafood, we had a few more options than if we were complete veg-heads.

To start off, we snacked on a generous basket of kick-ass sweet potato fries. For my main, I ordered a Caesar salad and sprung an additional $3.99 to get some calamari added. At that price I expected maybe a handful of calamari thrown on top, but was pleasantly surprised to find the salad so covered in tasty golden-brown squidy goodness that I could barely see the green stuff underneath. Sheryl went with the veggie sandwich which she proclaimed to be fairly average, and our carnivorous dining companions both decided on the pulled pork sandwich which was declared good but “unusual” due to the inclusion of cheese.

Final verdict: Amazing space, great beer, decent food. It’s a bit out of the way for me to visit often, but I’ll happily return for new beers and other events.