The following article was originally published in December 2001...
This past weekend I had the opportunity to do something Iíve never had to do before - be a Beer Ambassador. Iíve had people visit Toronto before, but they were never that interested (despite my efforts) in checking out Denisonís Weizen or the Best Bitter Special at the Granite Brewery. Until now. I finally got my wish and spent the entire weekend being the complete beer geek that I am.
The guest was Per Samuelsson, a friend of mine from Stockholm and one of the few people that I know who know more about beer than I do. Per was in town on business, but did find time for a little bit of beerhunting. He always does, it seems, and has found me many beers from obscure places that only he seems to visit (heís been to around 30 countries this year alone, including Andorra, Liechtenstein, Lesotho, Gibraltar, Kazakhstan...). So for the evening we had to visit three Toronto brewpubs and finish up at Smokeless Joe for a few bottles of fine ale.
The first stop was Beer Street, a public house owned by the Granite Brewery. Brewing is done further uptown at the original Toronto location, but Beer Street is more conveniently located (begin close to the subway is crucial during snowstorms). First we exchanged beers, and I was very pleased to receive a number of Swedish Christmas beers, a handful of French beers and the Zaragozana line from Spain. Per and another Swede (but not beer geek) Tommy enjoyed dinner and tried the range of English-style ales, for of which were on hand-pump. I sat back with my favourite, the Best Bitter Special. Perís choice for the night was the Winter IPA, and all reports are that it complemented the curried chicken very nicely.
Next stop was Denisonís, home of the best German-style beers in North America. This brewery is so underappreciated outside Toronto that it is almost criminal. Their Weizen and Dunkel are both among the top five in the world. To see some patrons drinking Corona and Coors Light almost lead me to violence. I canít think of a bigger insult!
Third came Cíest What?, whose house beers are brewed at County Durham, and fermented on site. Per was especially big on Alís Cask Ale, a 6% abv brew that drinks like an ordinary with its light body and judicious dry-hopping. My biggest complaint was that Cíest What?, which doubles as a beer bar (and triples as a live music venue) seems to struggle with their serving of Robinson Breweryís St. George Ale, and as a result the product lacks the blackberry-like fruitness that makes it so wonderful at other establishments. At Cíest What? we ran into Cass Enright and many of the Bartowel.com crew, who are amongst the foremost proponents of Torontoís beer scene.
The final stop was to another of the biggest proponents of good beer in this town, Smokeless Joe. This small, bright basement bar is a mandatory stop for any beer lover in Toronto, as they carry every bottled beer they can get their hands on, including several exclusives like Rogue, St. Peterís, Smuttynose (and in January, Brakspear). I had my usual mussels espaŮol and Sans Nom, one of the rare Unibroues that cannot be found anywhere outside Quebec except at Smokeless Joe.
If that was not a successful enough of an evening, the next day it was up first thing to visit Niagara Falls. Oh, and pop across the border to Premier Gourmet to load up on US micros like Victory, Dogfish Head, Allagash, and more. At Premier we met up with Lyle Ostrow, who gave us an energetic tour of all the new beers, including some Iíd never even heard of. The one I was most excited about, though, was Drie Fonteinen Gueuze 1999, which was on my "most wanted" list for quite some time.
We hit Pizza Plant for dinner, and a couple more ales, including the smoky, richly malty Scotch Ale from local brewer Flying Bison, and the hop-monster Inferno Pod Ale, brewed for the Pizza Plant by Custom Craftbrewers, a Rochester-area outfit that makes a wide range of house beers for bars and restaurants in western New York. CCB also had their own Christmas Ale on tap, a surprisingly light and refreshing take on a spiced ale.
All in all, I had a blast playing Beer Ambassador to Toronto, and look forward to the next beer luminary that I can show around town.