The Toronto beer scene is heating up. New, independently owned brands are sprouting like spring barley, and at least three beer sellers - Brock Shepherd of Burger Bar, Ralph Morana of Bar Volo and Tom Paterson, former owner of the Paddock - are becoming beer makers. The seeds planted in the 80s by microbrewery innovators like Upper Canada and Conner's are now bearing fruit in the burgeoning craft beer movement. By combining the traditions of Europe with a no-holds-barred sense of New World experimentation, the little guys continue to take incremental bites out of the giant malty-nationals. Toronto's thirst for distinctive, quality beer made both locally and around the world remains unslaked.
Laurie Hill serves ups the suds at Bar Volo.
587 Yonge, at Gloucester, 416-928-0008, barvolo.com
Ralph Morana has transformed this Yonge Street café into a cozy clubhouse for Toronto's beer scene. Fourteen taps and three hand pumps focus on locals, with an emphasis on special beers and one-offs, alongside 150 different bottles, including rarities like the sour Le Trou du Diable from Quebec and Belgium's Westvleteren. But this isn't enough for Morana and his two sons. They now possess a brewpub licence and a relatively tiny brewing system in the kitchen that turns out house-made beers and will eventually offer up eight regular brews. "This is the third phase of my life", says Morana. "I started off as a landscape architect, then a restaurant owner and now a brewer. For the next 15 years, that's what I want to do."
R. Jeanette Martin
18 King East, at Yonge, 416-861-9872, beerbistro.com
If you have any doubts about beer's upward mobility, be sure to pay a visit to this deluxe downtown suds stop. The taps pay suitable attention to locapours, augmented by imports like Koningshoeven Dubbel and Fuller's London Pride. But BB stakes its claim to fame on the impressive document that is their 150-bottle list, featuring sour beers, aged ales, imperial stouts and exclusives like Cantillon and Avery.
143 Danforth, at Broadview, 416-463-3086, allens.to
Discerning tipplers seeking scotch, VQA wines and beer have known about Allen's on the Danforth for decades. Once you subtract the four imports, the remaining 11 black-handled taps behind the long dark bar all pour Ontario craft brews. But it's the bottles that really ensure Allen's reputation as a Toronto beer mecca - 160 labels in all, including 22 Belgians, a good selection from la belle province and a particular focus on hard-to-find Canadian strong beers like the vintage dated Eisbock from now-defunct Niagara Falls Brewing Company.
Ian Innes's pub, the Feathers, boasts 21 taps and a pump for cask beer.
962 Kingston, at Scarborough, 416-694-0443, thefeatherspub.ca
Is there anything more depressingly predictable than going into some English-style bar called the Duke of Earl or the Badger's Moustache and the first thing you see is a lineup of corporate beer? Not gonna happen at this pubbiest of Toronto pubs, also renowned for its vast selection of single malts. Twenty-one taps split evenly between local craft brews and imports keep Upper Beaches punters happy. And like any pub worth its weight in bar towels, it's got a pump for cask beer.
John Kadai pours at the suds at Ciro's House of Imported Bier (left). Chelsea Larocque and Lucas Poirier get ready for their brews at Ciro's.
Ciro's House of Imported Bier
1316 Bloor West, at Lansdowne, 416-533-4914
Its list of 150 bottled beers has always made Ciro's a bit of an oddity among the district's stripper bars. International labels get the spotlight at this low-key watering hole, with choices like German Doppel-Hirsch, Dutch La Trappe Quadrupel and Japanese Hatichino Nest. Taps are less of an attraction. The' hood's a changin', so get there while it's still edgy.
67 Front East, at Church, 416-867-9499, cestwhat.com
If you wanted to major in Ontario craft beer drinking, C'est What's cozy cellar rooms would be your centre for continuing studies. Ontario dominates the 35 all-Canadian taps. These include Toronto's best five hand pumps for local casks and regular appearances of specials and one-offs. C'est What also has a lineup of its own house beers made by County Durham Brewing, including Al's Cask Ale, Home Grown Hemp Ale and Big Butt Smoked Dark Ale. Your one-stop craft beer shop.
600 King West, at Portland, 416-862-1175, thebiermarkt.com
While it can be a bit of a meat markt and its corporate ownership sometimes shows through, you can't disregard the Markt's serious list. Forty-two taps balance out between imports and locals, and over 100 different labels are sourced form 30 countries, with an emphasis on the northern European brewing nations. Point of pride is five out of six Belgian Trappist breweries: Achel, Orval, Rochefort, Chimay and Westmalle.
319 Augusta, at College, 416-922-7423, theburgerbar.ca
Man, things have changed since this used to be Rice Bar. Now there are eight beer taps featuring six rotating locals, one rotating cask, shelves of old bottles, retired tap handles poking out all over the place and Randal the Enamel Animal, an odd hop-infusing beer bong device that was obtained from the highly lauded Dogfish Head brewery. Beyond that, Brock Shepherd is now selling his own beer, the nicely balanced Augusta Ale made by Paul Dickey, who brews at Black Oak. This guy's got more beer stuff going on than a Milwaukee Octoberfest tailgate party.
2116 Queen East, at Hammersmith, 416-699-8272
BMW-driving Beachers are lured less by any notions of Caribbean socialism than by this small but lively bar's well judged selection of brews both bottled and on draft. Nine local taps keep things on a micro tip, augmented by German faves like Warsteiner and Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse. The bottle choices include Oregon's Rogue and Quebec's Dieu du Ciel! Or try the Warsteiner non-alcoholic beer. No problem with the Beemer after a few of those.
223 Augusta, at Baldwin, 416-591-1132
If you want to drink your beer to the sound of music recorded in the 21st century in the company of people who've never dialed a number, then make the scene on Augusta. Embassy's local-centric eight taps will soon expand to 10, and in a move I think we can all endorse, they're trading some food fridges for beer fridges. Bottles include three different Unibroues, Pilsner Urquell and Früli.
The Monk's Table
1276 Yonge, at Woodlawn, 416-920-9074
Even if you can't afford a regular economy flight to Europe, at the Monk's Table you can travel first-glass to the great beer nations of the Old World. If it's Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier it must be Germany. If it's Old Speckeled Hen it must be England. If it's Gouden Carolus it must be Belgium. You get the picture. Seventeen taps and 17 bottles will keep you imbibing at this well-tended two-floor hostelry.
Cloak and Dagger
394 College, at Borden, 416-921-8308, cloakanddaggerpub.com
The Cloak is a Toronto rarity in that it manages to maintain a bit of grit while still taking its beer selection seriously. It's not inconceivable that you'll endure some music played above conversation level while considering whether the Fuggles hops you're nosing are bittering or aromatic. Of the 26 taps that bristle behind the little bar, 18 are craft brews, and there's usually a County Durham cask on the pump. Bottle selection says it all: Keith's, 50, Stock, Corona and Heineken.
Sarah's Café and Bar
1426 Danforth, at Monarch Park, 416-406-3121, partywithus.ca
You could easily pass this innocuous place on an east end corner by, but demanding quaffers do so at their peril. Sarah's 13 taps are almost all local craft beers, excepting the likes of Warsteiner and Quebec's Maudite by Unibroue. Bottles are Sarah's strong suit, with approximately 60 labels focusing on imports. It's currently one of the very few places in town where you can obtain the rare and sought-after (like $35-a-bottle rare and sought-after) Belgian Trappist Westvleteren ales.
Kristina Heese makes a toast at Rebel House (left). Erin Calder (left), Brian Vaz and Rebel House chef Karen Vaz sample the pub's almost entirely Canadian beer lineup.
The Rebel House
1068 Yonge, at Roxborough 416-927-0704, rebelhouse.ca
Before you embark upon any sort of Upper Canada rebellion and its requisite march down Yonge, be sure to stop in at the Rebel House for some Can-Con courage. Only Guinness manages to shoehorn itself into the otherwise all-Canadian 19-tap craft brew lineup. Bottles are likewise nationalist, with 30 mostly micro labels. Canadiana cuisine helps to build up a thirst at this busy midtown fave.
972 Danforth, at Donlands, 416-463-7843, theonlycafe.com
As a long-standing outpost of independent drinking in the land that gentrification forgot, the Only keeps the faith with 15 out of 16 taps dedicated to craft beer and more than 200 bottles. Labels include the UK's Hobgoblin and St. Peter's, Belgium's Chimay and Kasteel and America's Rogue and Southern Tier. And if that isn't enough, the taps they are a changin'. Soon the Only will expand its system to an even two dozen. Beer on!
1249 Queen West, at Gwynne, 416-535-8089, therhino.ca
If the dividing line between Queen West and Parkdale can be defined by where you can get a seat on Friday night, then we have to call the Rhino a pub formerly in Parkdale. Regardless of the drinking demographic, the Rhino's got the suds. Eighteen taps dedicated to craft beers and a cask that usually hosts County Durham cater to draft non-dodgers. With 341 bottles, their list verges on encyclopedic, but past attempts to find out what's in stock imply that this compendium is more of an admirable ideal than a cold hard reality.
Stout Irish Pub
221 Carlton, at Berkeley, 647-344-7676, stoutirishpub.ca
Tigers, both Woods and Celtic, aren't quite what they used to be, but apparently many new Canadians from Ireland are taking comfort at this convivial new Cabbagetown watering hole. That is if they can survive with Murphy's stout instead of Guinness. Maybe Stout's 16 Ontario craft brew taps will encourage them to embrace their new home away from home. The hand pump featuring locally produced cask ales should help, too.
West 50 Pourhouse and Grille
50 Burnhamthorpe West, at Hurontario, Mississauga, 905-949-9378
Despite the fact that it's called a Pourhouse and Grille and that Brampton's a long cab ride from the centre of the universe, West 50 does tempt with an incredible 109 different draft taps. European lagers/pilsners get the nod with brands like Paulaner, Erdinger, Stiegl, Pilsner Urquell and Czechvar. With approximately 40 craft brews, West 50 is also giving Canada some love.
The Victory Café
581 Markham, at Lennox, 416-516-5787, victorycafe.ca
13 taps all dedicated to local craft beers and one cask that gets changed almost daily at this beloved Mirvish Village hotspot. If you're looking for fresh beer this is the place, as the impecunious student crowd somehow manages to drain the kegs on a nightly basis. In winter the upstairs room hosts Wednesday night gypsy jazz and, lord knows, you a need a drink to listen to that stuff.
831 Dundas West, at Palmerston, 416-916-6499, magpietoronto.ca
This formerly forlorn frontier section of Dundas is now starting to grow up around the Magpie, which continues to pour ales and lagers for a crowd that favours comfort over attitude. County Durham is usually the cask beer, and it's supported by 13 to 14 locals. The bottle selection is small, focusing on Americans like Brooklyn, San Francisco's Anchor and New York state's Southern Tier.