Bruce Halstead of County Durham Breweries
With an ever-increasing number of microbreweries cropping up on the smoggy horizon, Hogtown is well on its way to becoming Hoptown, and it's not just the pigs who think this is good news. Here's a who's who of area brewers.
County Durham Brewing Company
Why: Have you ever said to yourself, "I love beer so much, I should start a brewery"? That's what Bruce Halstead said back in 1996, and he's still putting in 70-hour workweeks at the hobby that became a career. The fact that he does it almost all by himself, with help from his wife, Christina, on brew days, might have something to do with the workload. It probably doesn't help, though, that Halstead specializes in temperamental cask ales.
A cask ale is a living product, and the process of fermentation and clarification is completed in the actual beer barrel that is "tapped" at your local pub.
"It's a nice beer," says Halstead of the cask style. "It's the most natural product you can get. It's a less carbonated beer, with more flavour, more body. It's not as gassy; really smooth in texture."
"Cask [ale] has been around for centuries," acknowledges Halstead, but "for most people it's something new and adventurous to try." As long as he keeps on making his delicious whole-hop brews, it doesn't look like Toronto's caskmaster will be getting any time off in the near future.
What: Hop Addict, Signature Ale, E.S.B.
Nickel Brook Beers
Why: NickelBrook started off as a way to facilitate the company's U-brew business. Then the next thing you know, it's a brewery.
What: Ale, Organic Lager
Granite Brewery owner/brewmaster Ron Keefe
Where: Eglinton and Mt. Pleasant
Why: Instead of talking about food miles, you can start talking about food metres by bellying up to the bar at the Granite brew pub, where their ales are made in-house.
What: Traditional IPA, Peculiar, Keefe's Irish Stout
Where: Downtown Toronto
Why: Once the original Toronto brew pub, Amsterdam now slakes the urban thirst at its retail store until 11 pm Monday to Saturday. Take that, the Beer Store.
What: Dutch Amber Lager, Nut Brown Ale
Black Oak Brewing Company
Black Oak owner Ken Woods (left) and brewmaster Adrian Popowycz
Why: Maybe it's all the laid-off Ford workers, but the western burbs are craft brewery central, and Black Oak is a standout.
What: Pale Ale and Nut Brown Ale
Saint Andre owner/brewmaster Doug Penelly
Where: Brewed by Cool Brewery, Etobicoke
Why: True to the Viennese style, this beer leans toward the fruity, and its reddish-copper colour proves that not all Austrians are blonds.
What: Vienna Lager
Great Lakes Brewery
Great Lakes owner Peter Bulut Jr.
Why: Making both ales and lagers in the west end, Great Lakes is particularly noted for its seasonal brews like the warming Winter Ale.
What: Red Leaf Smooth Lager, Devils Pale Ale, Pumpkin Ale (seasonal)
Mill Street Brewery
Why: With its former brew house now an indifferent bar/restaurant and Sleemans banners flying over the Distillery District, maybe Mill Street should change its name to Scarbeeria. Whatever, the beer remains as tasty as ever.
What: Cobblestone Stout, Original Organic, Stock Ale
Denison's Brewing Company
Denison's owner Michael Hancock
Where: Brewed at Black Oak Brewing Company, Oakville
Why: Their Victoria Street brew pub ceased to be in 2003, but the Bavarian-style wheat beer continues to be popular at local taps.
What: Weissbier, Dunkel (seasonal)
Steam Whistle Brewing
Where: Downtown Toronto
Why: We're used to getting our Roundhouse kicks in bottle form, but Steam Whistle's now thrown down the T.O. microbrew gauntlet with its new fancy-pants 500ml Euro cans. Co-owner Cameron Heaps describes the German-built canning line as Canada's most technologically advanced. "We decided to add cans for our loyal customers who'd like to enjoy Steam Whistle while they're camping, golfing or boating," says Heaps.
Meanwhile, back in the jungle, us city folk will be more than happy to throw a lightweight six into the backpack as we head out to the nearest vacant lot. The cans are already available at select liquor stores and will be in the Beer Store in early September.
What: Steam Whistle Pilsner
Photos courtesy of Ontario Craft Brewers