By Bobby Bush
Finding information on still-functioning brewpubs is hard enough in the ol' US of A. For some reason, in Canada, where beer is almost a lifestyle, locating brewpubs is much more difficult. Website printouts and maps in hand for this all-too-brief trip to the Toronto area, proved to be of little help. My first two confirming phone calls got an incoming-calls-blocked payphone and a disconnected notice. And dinner time was drawing near.
We grabbed a couple of brews at our Mississauga hotel bar, where the beer selection interesting. The bar had its own brand on hand, Café Nicole Red, brewed by nearby micro Robinson. This brew was smooth, medium-bodied and heavy on caramel malt taste. A nice house beer. A Warsteiner tap hung empty, soon to be replaced by another Robinson beer, this one a lager.
Stella Atrios, a somewhat innocuous Belgian lager, occupied tap handle number three, while Alexander Keith's IPA held down the final spot. This Nova Scotia-brewed beer, a popular selection in the bar that night, was nowhere closed to an India Pale Ale. I inquired of Kimberly, our bartendress, if a mistake had been made. No, she replied, people ask that question all the time. Unless I'm grossly mistaken, Keith's IPA was a pilsner-like lager, gold with expected IPA hops bitterness only on final swallow. Anxious to find a local brewpub, Kimberly suggested CC's Brew Pub, about 15 minutes away, though she warned that the food was not good. We staid on foot, sticking with our first choice. Across the street at Mustard Grille, we found an upscale restaurant where our waiter was beer-literate. (His wife works for Molson). Again going regional in scale, Sleeman Upper Canada Dark Ale was our pre-dinner drink. Fizzy with light body, this brown beer presented a sharp though short bitter finish. R.H. Rickard's Honey Brown Lager (Cream Ale and Lager were also available) proved to be lighter than I expected. Hardly brown at all - poured from a clear embossed bottle - this lager showed distinct signs of honey, chased by faint bitter finish. Rickard's beers, I learned, are now brewed by Molson.
And now for dessert, a short walk to Fox & Fiddle, an English pub with a local following. Molson beers were the beers of choice, occupying over half of the handle space. Big Rock Grasshopper, a wheat beer from Calgary, Alberta and the aforementioned Rickards Honey Brown were also on tap. I chose another Rickard's brew, Pale Ale, just to see if I could find real hop flavor and bitterness in Canada. Alas, this thin, pale golden ale was blessed with green apple wine sourness and just a suggestion of bitterness. Going English, the medium bodied Tetley's English Ale provided a bit more hops within its mild temperament.
Most of the familiar US beers served in Canada are brewed under license by Canadian breweries. Though unsure about the Tetley's and Heineken, I was told the latter was a Molson contract product.
At one time in Canadian brewing history, beer could only be sold in the province in which it was produced. This greatly encouraged the proliferation of breweries of all sizes in every province. Best I can tell, the province of Ontario hosts about 40 brewpubs and micros. Twenty of those are within a 60 mile radius of Toronto. They include The Black Oak in Oakville, Pepperwood Bistro in Burlington, Sleeman in Gulph, Lakeport in Hamilton, Old Credit in Port Credit, Lakeside in Scarborough, and Toronto brewpubs Feathers, Granite Brewery, Al Frisco's and James Gate Pub. I found those, and more, on the internet, but any of them could be closed or not brewing. Try to call before visiting.
Canada knows good beer, though finding it may be problematic. Actually, locating a place to drink wasn't that difficult, if you're not too picky. And the selection we found by chance easily beat the beer menu of most US bars. Yes, there are plenty of good, flavorful beers to choose from in Canada, eh?
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush