Toronto, CANADA – It is almost noon. I’m standing in a room full of strangers. I sip on my freshly fermented Steam Whistle while a tour guide promises the best history lesson ever. “Yeah right,” I think to myself.” He proceeds to pleasantly add, “because you will get to drink beer.” I lower my glass and my smile becomes clear.
“Today’s thesis will demonstrate how the brewing industry in Toronto was instrumental in the overall growth of the city,” explains Oliver Dawson, a self proclaimed beer aficionado, and tour guide. Dawson began the Beer Lovers’ Tour Co. and created his own beer and travel adventures – a company which runs international beer tours. Given Toronto’s rich brewing history and the many new independent breweries starting up locally, Dawson thought Toronto should have its own tour. With all that in mind, he began The Old Toronto Beer Tour. For over 10 years the tour continues to be the Beer Lovers’ Tour Co.’s most popular travel product.
The day starts at Steam Whistle Brewing. Clients are escorted through the brewery, educated on how the brewery operates, and learn about the overall success of the company. The tour finishes just in time for lunch. Dawson prepares a generous amount of bread and meat, while encouraging everyone to take more food for later.
While the group enjoys their lunch, one of the brewers walks into the room holding two pitchers of unfiltered Steam Whistle Pilsner. A raw version of the beer. The balanced malts and hops are still evident in the taste, however, with a lot more intensity. In addition, the beers appearance is a cloudy yellow colour as opposed to golden and clear. Taste wise, I would argue that unfiltered pilsner provides a finer experience. “So why not bottle this beer, or sell it?” I ask the brewer. The brewer explains how Steam Whistle is a singular product and people who drink a pilsner expect the colour to be golden.
We leave the brewery and walk aboard Steam Whistle’s retro-fitted school bus. This will be our shuttle for the day. We drive to historic Fort York. “This is where the city began,” Dawson says. To my surprise Fort York had a large influence on Toronto’s brewing industry. Dawson explains how soldiers would often be paid in beer. They were entitled to six pints a day. It was expensive to ship beer from Europe so the art of brewing began in Toronto. Although there is no documentation of when the first brewery opened up, there is documentation of brewing supplies being sold as early as 1809. Fort York provides maps and sculptures of what the city looked like at the time. Dawson uses the maps to his advantage to help tell the story of brewing in Toronto.
Next we ride the bus to one of Toronto’s original microbreweries. Amsterdam Brewery is well known for the wide range of beers. “We never know what they will have on tap when we come here,” says Dawson. Before we begin to sample the beers inside, Dawson explains the rules of beer tasting. “You begin with a light beer and work your way up.” I nod in agreement and drink the light beer first. Dawson uses a simple and clear language to describe the beers. He’s helping us understand how to identify the different styles. Before I know it, I’m sampling eight different beers. The crowd begins to loosen up, and the strangers from this morning become friends. The tasting and socializing go on for about two hours.
Dawson encouraged everyone to take extra food from lunch. By the time we sat back on the bus we were thankful to have listened.
Before driving to the next brewery we stop at some historic spots to hear a more thorough explanation of the city’s brewing history. We arrive at Ireland Park. The park preserves the memory of Irish immigrants who found refuge in Toronto during the Famine of 1847. Dawson explains how the immigrants contributed a tremendous amount to brewing and distilling in the city. Ireland Park also offers a view of the Canada Malting Silos, a Toronto heritage site. We also visit Historic Corktown. Here we learn about Toronto’s ‘lost breweries.’ This location also gives an idea of the city’s historic architecture.
Our last destination is at Mill Street Brewery. We tour the cobblestone streets of the Distillery District. The area is located in a neighbourhood that was once very well known for its beer. We take a tour of Mill Street and sample four of their beers, a lager, an ale, and a porter.
We finish off the day at Granite Brewery. We eat a four-course beer dinner. As we enjoy our meals, the waiter brings out a fair amount of beer – Different styles to complement the food we eat.
We return to the bus and take the ride back to Steam Whistle. My thoughts drift back to the different styles of beer and how adding craftsmanship into the brewing process produces a fine tasting product and an overall enjoyable drinking experience. I walked back home slightly diagonal that evening. I wondered if I would go on a tour like that again. As a matter of fact, I knew I would do it again. The question was, when? As the night sky overwhelmed the city I wanted to drink my way deeper into the realm of craft beer. I mean, It sure was pretty to think so.
For more information visit http://www.beerloverstour.com/toronto.html