Ale yeast works on top of the beer, lager yeast on the bottom - an obscure distinction unless you're a yeast cell or a zymurgist. For the rest of us, here's a simple guide to the various beer styles you'll encounter as you tap your way across the megacity.
Lager The refreshing golden beer that conquered the world. Lagers emphasize brightness, clarity and hoppy edge. But as with ale, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. Within the lager category are Pilsners, which refer to their Czech birthplace. Local lager heads will be drinking Steam Whistle, T.O.'s take on Germany's take on Pilsner; King Brewery's Czech-style Pilsner; the equally geographically specific Saint Andre Vienna Lager. And just to keep things confusing, remember that dark bocks like NickelBrook's Ice Bock and Amsterdam's Spring Bock are also members of the lager family.
Ale Ale, in theory, is fruitier, darker and less hoppy than lager. Popular ales produced in the GTA include: mellow English-style bitters such as Granite Best Bitter; hoppier pale ales like Mill Street Tankhouse; cream ales like Cameron's that flirt with the world of lager; full-strength India pale ales like County Durham's Triple X and tradition-evoking brown ales such as Black Oak's Nut Brown.
Porter and stout If you've had a Guinness, then you're familiar with dry stout. Stout and its precursor, porter, are microbrewery favourites. Flavoured with heavily roasted malts, the resulting beer is almost black in colour and leans toward a soft, chocolatey flavour. Toronto's heart of darkness includes County Durham Black Cat Stout and Mill Street Coffee Porter.
Wheat Ales made with a preponderance of wheat instead of malted barley are usually cloudy and distinctly fruity and are real refreshers. Denison's Weissbier gives the nod to the German style, while Mill Street's Wit acknowledges the Belgian school of wheat beer.
Speciality Ontario licence plates say, "Yours to Discover," which is a suitable frame of mind for this group of fermented eccentrics, including Trafalgar's Abbey Belgian, Granite's Gin Lane Ale Barley Wine or Amsterdam's Pomegranate Wheat beer.