My husband and I recently took a long weekend trip to Toronto. We had the expected on our agenda: Niagara Falls, the Hockey Hall of Fame, Second City, and the CN Tower, among others. We also couldn’t wait to sample some excellent beer. While Canadian craft beer is available near us – Parallel 49, Unibroue, and Hop City Brewing are a few options we see on local shelves – we were keen on sampling some that we otherwise couldn’t find in the states.
We knew we were in for a good beer weekend when we stepped off the Union-Pearson Express train and found a restaurant at Union Station serving up beers from Mill Street Brewery. Mill Street Brewery has been in business for almost 14 years, and has become ubiquitous across Toronto bars and stores (a friend I met up with said they were almost considered standard now). Their first beer was the Original Organic Lager, which my husband and I both tried; and it’s very delicious. I ordered a flight, and in addition to the Original Organic Lager, I sampled the 100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager, the Tankhouse Pale Ale, and their seasonal, the West Coast Style IPA. The West Coast Style IPA was my favorite of the flight, but all were delicious.
One of Toronto’s biggest attractions is the CN Tower. I highly recommend going, and getting a ticket to the very top – it’s an expense well worth it. After you come down from the tower, you can venture right across the street and visit Steam Whistle Brewing. When you walk inside, you are greeted by friendly staff offering free sips of their signature pilsner. You can then order full pints, growler fills, or bottles of said signature pilsner. But you can only order the pilsner, as their signature pilsner is the only beer that they brew.
Steam Whistle prides itself on making one beer and making it very well. As we sampled their pilsner, it was hard to argue with this logic – it was phenomenal. It has a clean, crisp taste that is refreshing and rich all at once. We loved it so much that we went back for another pint before riding back to the airport.
On our way to the CN Tower, we walked by an interesting-looking bar called The Loose Moose. We decided to meet up there for dinner with a friend of mine. One of the reasons we chose it was because of their extensive beer list, featuring craft beers from all over Canada. I was grateful for the sample sizes so that I could try a few, as pints in Canada are much larger than what you find stateside.
According to our friend, The Loose Moose was one of the first places in Toronto to highlight craft beer on its menu. When you go inside, you definitely don’t think Craft Beer Bar – it is a sports bar, and when we went, we saw televisions across every wall showing hockey and basketball, and heard loud music that made conversation a little difficult (but not impossible). But, don’t let the sports bar ambiance fool you – the beer is on point, and provides a great one-stop-spot to sample brews from a variety of places around the country. During our visit, I sampled Royal City Hibiscus Saison, Kensington Brewing Fruitstand Watermelon Wheat, and my favorite of the three, Lake of Bays Brewing Spring Maple Belgian Blonde.
As we sipped our way through Toronto’s craft beer offerings, I noticed that a lot of the beer menus were focused on doing simple styles very well. There were creative offerings, of course; but most were just single flavors (like fruit or maple) or taking inspiration from other country’s styles (like the West Coast IPA). At least at the places we visited, we didn’t see a lot of barrel-aged behemoths or offerings infused with any and every ingredient imaginable. I love beer giants and creative flavors, but it was also kind of refreshing to see beer menus where the highest ABV was maybe 8%, and a dedication to making a simple beer taste fantastic, like Steam Whistle’s pilsner.
One other thing to note is the size of the beers you get. As I mentioned earlier, a standard pint in Toronto is larger than what you find in the U.S. – 20 fluid ounces, as opposed to 16. My friend even mentioned that many bars will stiff you by serving you 18 ounces instead of 20. I laughed and told him how that was still more than what we get here, where a 16-oz pour often turns out to be 12, and the higher-ABV or rarer beers get served in even smaller glasses – and cost even more.
Cost is another positive note – on average, a pint of beer in Toronto cost us about $6 or $7 in Canadian dollars (with the current exchange rate, this is about $4.70 – $5.50 in U.S. dollars). Living in an area where Budweiser is $4 for a barely 16-oz pint, the “standard” craft beers are $5 – $7 a pint, and the premium stuff can run in the double digits for a tiny tulip, it was hard to not weep at what we would be leaving as we bid Toronto and its beers farewell.
Even with all of the great beers we tried, we barely scratched the surface of Toronto’s craft beer offerings. Both my husband and I want to visit again (maybe to see the Caps play the Maple Leafs), and I hope to explore more of Toronto’s bars and also visit a few more breweries. I highly recommend Toronto for your next beercation, or for a vacation in general.
- Mill Street Brewery’s status as more standard means you can often find it at places with a limited beer selection. I was pleased to find the Original Organic Lager in bottles at G For Gelato and Pizza Bar (if you go there, I highly recommend their caprese sandwich).
- While Niagara Falls and the surrounding area is known for wine, Niagara Brewing Co. has a few beers on tap right near the falls. You can grab a pint after getting drenched on the Hornblower, or sip and watch as others get soaked – whatever floats your boat.
- If you’re flying Air Canada, you can get a first or last sip of the trip right on the flight. Their beer menu includes Mill Street Brewery’s Original Organic Lager and Granville Island Brewing’s Cypress Honey Lager (Granville Island Brewing is based in Vancouver).
- The legal drinking age in Toronto is 19, if you’re traveling with anyone under 21.
- Non-beer recommendations: Smoke’s Poutinerie for a variety of poutine (I got the original with vegetarian gravy), Hey Lucy for amazing pizza (try the margherita), and Over Easy, a brunch spot in the Hotel Victoria, which is close to the Hockey Hall of Fame (try the huevos rancheros).