I knew Steve Innocente (the owner/brewer) in the late 90’s when we were both doing graduate school. I was on his ball hockey team, and although I don’t remember a lot of wins, I do remember going for a lot of beers. Since that time, Steve has done a post-doc... > READ MORE

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Innocente Brewing Company

Innocente Brewing Company

I knew Steve Innocente (the owner/brewer) in the late 90’s when we were both doing graduate school. I was on his ball hockey team, and although I don’t remember a lot of wins, I do remember going for a lot of beers. Since that time, Steve has done a post-doc studying Saccharomyces Cerevisiae (brewing yeast!) in Scotland, and then returned to open his own brewery. He recently won a gold medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards for his Charcoal Porter. That might lead you to think that he’s a malt man, or given his background you might expect some crazy yeast experiments, but his brews are generally hop-forward, bitter & dry.
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The brewery is located on the outskirts of Waterloo, near the RIM Technology Park and Conestoga Mall. They have a ubiquitous 10 barrel brewing system, along with a number of 10 barrel conical fermenters. This small-batch brewing allows the production of a variety of brews, and is probably more similar to a large brew pub than a larger ‘micro’ brewery.
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They do have a single 20 barrel conical, which they’re currently using for their Pils-Sinner. And yes, this is a real Pilsner. They start with distilled water, which they adjust to match a water profile you’d find in Northern Germany. Then they use an actual lager yeast (not some speedy hybrid) and also provide the necessary time for it to properly condition. When I had it in June, they were using the old-school U.S. Cluster hops along with Wiamea from New Zealand. I see they’ve now swapped out the Cluster for Mt. Hood, but I suspect this is still an exceptional brew (and probably outside anyone’s expectation for a North American Lager).

The other brew that really stood out for me was the Werk Avoidance. Don’t let the “Patio Session Ale” moniker fool you, this is FAR better than most India Session Ales. At only 3.4% abv, it combines Galaxy, Centennial and Palisade to pack some serious hop flavour. If Dogfish Head did a 30 minute IPA, this is the sort of thing I’d expect!

Continuing the hop theme, there’s the Innocente Fling Golden ale (Challenger & Mt Hood hops), Kazmanian Devil Pale Ale (I’d never tried the Kazbek hop before), Mike Weisson American Wheat (Centennial & Cascade), Innocente Glance Rye Pale Ale (Cluster & Chinook), Innocente Bystander Pale Ale (Galaxy) and Innocente Conscience IPA (Chinook, Galaxy & Ella). There’s also the Inn O’Slainte Irish Red Ale that’s a little drier than most Red Ales, with some Challenger coming through in the flavour.

Breaking from the hops, they have the I’m Not Hefe, Just Big Boned Hefeweizen with juicy bubblegum and underlying banana. Then there’s the Saison Graisseux which has a similar feel to Dupont (often a template for the style), but with a different yeast character and a Saaz hopping that’s readily apparent. While the Collaboration brew with Jordan St. John is also a saison, the Waterloo 1815 is entirely different. It’s lighter in alcohol, but has a little more depth to the malt flavour.

Unfortunately none of the Innocente brews are currently available at the LCBO, but they do deliver to some of the finer beer-centric establishments within Ontario.

Exploring Beer in Barrie

Exploring Beer in Barrie

Mike Gurr, who is the Operations Manager at Kensington Brewing Company in Toronto, called Barrie home until he was 18.  He still has friends and family in Barrie and visits frequently.  Back in 2012 Mike set out to get Augusta Ale on tap at as many bars as possible in his former hometown – it was a special project for him.  He likes Barrie and wanted to contribute to shifting the beer scene to something closer to what he was witnessing in Toronto.  It has been three years since Mike set out on his mission but unfortunately the only current place one can find Kensington beer in Barrie is at the LCBO (available in three locations).   As Mike notes, Kensington couldn’t afford to compete in a market that was still mostly price driven.

Like Mike, I grew up in Barrie – or more accurately I grew up trying to get out of Barrie – so my perceptions of this town are skewed; framed by my small-town experiences manifesting monikers such as ‘hick town’ or ‘boonies’.  Barrie sits only 90km north of the City and has a reputation of being a bedroom community for Toronto (although I believe this has been overstated).  Sitting on Kempenfelt Bay, Barrie’s population growth in my lifetime has been significant (around 38 000 in 1979 to a current population around 140, 000), but some would argue that it hasn’t changed all that much.   I remember a city, and this could be my jaded perspective talking, that lacked a strong identity and local culture and I’m not entirely sure if this has grown with the population or not.

Regarding beer in Barrie, when I last lived here I remember seeing Steam Whistle here and there, maybe some Muskoka or Mill St – but for the most part, like many small cities, the beer selection was macro-centric.  I recently moved back to Barrie, prompted by the birth of my son, and I was curious (i.e. worried) about how different my beer selection was going to be – especially given that I was leaving a home that was within walking distance to C’est What?, a short street car ride from Bar Hop, and a few subways stops South of Bar Volo…I was spoiled.

Interestingly though, Barrie has two local breweries and one more on the way – it also has a great little pub downtown that pours exclusively Ontario craft beer.   Given my outdated perceptions of the city, I couldn’t wait to explore the beer scene in my new/old hometown to see what had, or had not, changed.

A very – very – brief history of Beer in Barrie

There is a bit of history of beer in this town: Robert Simpson, Barrie’s first mayor, was a master brewer, the Formosa Spring Brewery opened here in the 1970s because the building in Formosa was too small to handle expansion, and in 1974 Molson purchased the Formosa brewery (the Formosa brand is currently owned by Brick Brewing).

Starting in September of 1999, the Molson Brewery started the process of moving all Barrie operations to their Toronto location and by 2000 the brewery was closed and around 400 people were laid-off.  You might recall that in early 2004 a Grow-Op was discovered in the empty brewery.  The building was eventually destroyed and the property remains vacant to this day.  Not deterred by recent history, Barrie remained a Molson town and the non-macro beer scene has been slow to develop – and no one knows this better than Flying Monkeys.

Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery

Barrie would remain brewery-free until 2004, when the Robert Simpson Brewery opened up two blocks east of 5-points on Dunlop Street, later renamed to Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery to reflect the direction that founder, Peter Chiodo, wanted to take the brewery.  Peter is straightforward, has a good sense of humour, and doesn’t take himself too seriously – “I’m really, really good at making mistakes.”   This unserious philosophy permeates their branding and beers – beers that are largely crafted outside of the BJCP style guidelines.  It is an approach that produces polarized opinions, but I think creativity should be celebrated even when the end product is not your thing.  This is not to suggest that the beers aren’t carefully constructed though – a current beer was in recipe tweaking stage for 4 years before its recent release and a few of their beers have won medals at the Canadian Brewing Awards.

Peter and his family have a farm in the area and Flying Monkeys has been open for 11 years now.  He knows this town, he is familiar with the downtown area and its reputation, and is honest about the challenges Flying Monkeys has faced here.  Perhaps because of the branding and philosophy, or maybe ditching the Robert Simpson name was perceived as a slight to the local heritage, Flying Monkeys has tended to enjoy more success outside of their hometown (I didn’t discover how solid of a beer Smashbomb was until I moved to Toronto).

With surrounding bars slow to adapt it is still more difficult than it should be to find Flying Monkeys on tap and one gets the impression that they are not exactly top-of-mind with beer drinkers in this town.   Despite this, Peter is still positive about Barrie, he has witnessed a slow transition and the number of visitors to the retail store has grown significantly in the last year.  He would love to see the downtown core revitalized and presses any relevant politician on what their legacy for Barrie’s downtown will be because he sees the potential in its location.  For those that don’t know, Barrie’s downtown runs just one street North from a very pretty waterfront – a view that would be great for a patio (unfortunately the best patio currently belongs to Hooters).

To accommodate the growing interest, and perhaps to help drive it, Flying Monkeys is currently constructing a tap room at their brewery, they have a non-brewing facility in the South end of Barrie, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a production brewery was in their future as the current brewhouse is packed into every nook and cranny of available space.

At one point in our conversation Peter noted that it is much easier to criticize than to build something, a view he clearly embraces as Flying Monkeys continues to grow, helping pave the way for the next breweries to enter this newly developing market.

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Barnstormer Brewing Company

Despite being told that a brewpub wouldn’t work in Barrie because of a lack of a good beer scene, Dustin Norland opened Barnstormer just over a year and a half ago and initially struggled to keep up with the demand for the beer (a common issue for new breweries that start too small).  Barnstormer sits in a nondescript plaza in Barrie’s South End, a small space that includes a restaurant, a bottle shop, and plenty of gadgets, wires, and pictures conveying the aeronautical theme.  The plaza is surrounded by subdivisions and Dustin admits that the prospect of being located in such a highly populated area motivated him to choose this location.

Owning a brewpub in a town that lacks a thriving beer scene requires that you, in addition to selling beer, also do some educating.  Dustin notes that at first there were many people who came in looking for domestic light beer and were confused when they couldn’t find it – but some of those customers stuck around.   Additionally, as craft beer continues to grow in Toronto, more and more customers are coming in already curious – the task for Barnstormer has shifted from selling new customers on the concept, to now satisfying their desire to know more.

A mechanical engineer by profession, once designing brewing-control systems, Dustin has that interesting mix of technical know-how and creative curiosity that is present in many successful homebrewers – and not surprisingly, homebrewing is how Dustin originally got into the beer scene.  As we walk through the brewery, Dustin’s enthusiasm for all things ‘engineered’ is obvious – he developed the brewhouse software and can hardly contain his excitement when showing me the de-commissioned ambulance he purchased and is transforming into the Barnstormer event vehicle.

Barnstormer has rented out another unit in the plaza for brewery expansion in order to accommodate the demand for their beers.   Three of their brands are now in cans and although the LCBO is on his radar, the goal for now is to simply be able to keep the bottle shop stocked.  Dustin, originally from the U.S. where the beer scene is more mature, firmly believes that Barrie could support another brewery.

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Redline Brewhouse

Walking into Redline one can’t help but be impressed with the place – opening in July, the Williams family haven’t taken any shortcuts when it comes to the construction of this space.  A 22hL system sits behind a good sized space for a restaurant which will have communal seating with additional upstairs seating above the bar overlooking the brewhouse.   There’s a retail store up front, which will have merchandise, cans, and an interesting alternative to growlers, and there is lots of room for expansion in the back.

It’s obvious that a lot of money has been put into the space but I get the impression that the Williams’ input transcends financial investment.  Doug, who discovered lots of great beer while travelling for work by always asking for something local while visiting a new bar, and Devon (father and son) have helped to build every inch of this brewery and their craftsmanship helps define the branding Redline is moving forward with.

The Williams family are ‘gear heads’ as Kari (the Mother) explains, so building things is typical in their family.  This mentality might lead one to assume that the branding is all about engines and racing but after chatting with Kari it becomes clear that it is about more than that.  Redline is about the culture and sociability of car clubs, the curiosity and precision that goes into building the cars, and the love and passion of sitting around with friends talking about their hobby.  It’s a compelling brand positioning so hopefully they are able to communicate it effectively.

Although clearly comfortable swinging a wrench, the Williams are also smart enough to know that they can’t do everything and have hired a well-rounded team to build Redline towards being a successful brewhouse.  Sebastian MacIntosh, who used to be at Flying Monkeys and graduated from the Niagara school of brewing, is the head brewer.  Their head chef, Chris Gardiner, has worked at Oscars and The Farmhouse, two places known for their food, and they have brought in an experienced restaurant manager to help oversee things.   Presently Redline has three core beers – a golden ale, a pale ale, and, more interestingly, an American strong ale (Doug’s favourite beer is Stone’s Arrogant Bastard).

When asked about whether she felt there were any challenges to being in Barrie, Kari admits that the town lacks a clear identity – but they are from Barrie and they want to build a place that can be provide a sense of community to the people who visit.  She hopes Redline can help to establish a local beer culture that creates enough excitement to get people off the 400 highway at Molson Park, taking a short detour down Mapleview Drive to stop by Redline.

 

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The Local Gastropub

When Scott and Hollis Connor decided to open up The Local Gastropub six years ago, prompted by the desire for a good Reuben sandwich, they were told that an exclusively local beer list would be suicide.  Initially they listened but as world travellers, both had experienced the fun of trying local beers when visiting a new city and they wanted to offer that experience here.  Eventually the macros were pushed out by local micro-beers and the restaurant now has all their taps devoted to Ontario craft breweries.   Scott admits that it’s still an uphill battle but it’s getting easier – he acknowledges that Barrie is a Molson town and knows that his restaurant is still a bit of an anomaly on Dunlop Street.

The Local was designed to facilitate conversation (the music is kept quiet and the walls are free of televisions), Scott wanted The Local Gastropub to resemble the pubs he remembers from growing up in Scotland – social, vibrant, friendly (mostly), a place where people met for discussion – a place where talking to a stranger at a different table didn’t result in a sideways glance.  It’s a friendly and social environment that doesn’t quite mesh with its location.

The restaurant is located on the corner of Dunlop and Maple Avenue, just east of 5-points and is a few steps away from the Barrie bus station.  The west side of 5-points has been slower to change than the east side, and although both have their issues, the west side is a bit rougher – The restaurant that previously occupied the space kept its blinds down in order to distance itself from its surroundings.  From the start Scott wanted to keep the blinds open, rather than hiding from their corner he hoped the Local could be a catalyst for change.

Like Peter from Flying Monkeys, Scott sees the potential in Barrie’s downtown being so close to the waterfront but he has also witnessed an unwillingness to utilize this potential properly.  He’d like to see a more rigorous application policy for downtown business owners to ensure that they also want to be a part of transitioning Barrie’s downtown to make it more of a destination.  Although I get the feeling Scott won’t always call Barrie home, likely searching out a place closer to the ocean, I do feel that he would like to have a positive impact on the town while he is here.

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Moving Forward

When I started researching for this piece I expected to hear much more frustration from the people I talked to, and although all spoke about certain challenges, I never once got the impression that these challenges were necessarily specific to Barrie.  Rather, it is simply the reality of a movement that still only makes up about 3% of the beer sold in Ontario – most of which in larger cities.  I was happy and even surprised to see how far beer had come in this city – there’s now a craft beer and BBQ festival downtown – this year the breweries are Flying Monkeys, Redline, Barnstormer, Muskoka, and Northwinds – and more and more bars are offering at least a few taps of something from someone other than a macro.  Personally, I’d like to see Mike make another push to get Kensington on tap somewhere in this city – I think he might have better luck this time.

When talking to Peter from Flying Monkeys he said, speaking positively,  ‘craft beer will consume you if you let it’ – I’m hoping this city allows itself to be consumed by good beer – but to do so I think it will take a concerted effort from all those involved.  I’ve never felt that there was much brand loyalty when it came to craft beer – exploration is part of the fun – so ultimately fighting for market share is less about your brands, and more about growing the whole category together.  For many reasons, I hope the beer scene continues to develop in the city I now call home (again).

Flying Monkeys: http://www.theflyingmonkeys.ca/

Barnstormer Brewing Company: http://www.barnstormerbrewing.com/

Redline Brewhouse: http://www.redlinebrewhouse.com/

The Local Gastropub: http://thelocalgastropub.com/

 

Words and pictures by Dennis Talon (theipamyth on Instagram and Twitter)

Join us on Lester P. Beerson Day!

Join us on Lester P. Beerson Day!

The Brewer’s Backyard returns tomorrow with Lester P. Beerson Day. On this celebration of Canada Day we’ll be welcoming the tasty beers from Great Lakes (pouring Canuck Pale Ale, Limp Puppet Session IPA, Pompous Ass English Pale Ale and special collaboration below), Left Field (Prospect Single Hop IPA, Eephus Oatmeal Brown, Maris* Pale Ale, Sunlight Park Saison), Collective Arts (Rhyme & Reason, Saint of Circumstance, State of Mind Session IPA, Stranger than Fiction Porter), Steam Whistle (Unfiltered and Regular Pilsner), Oast House (Barn Raiser Country Ale, Red Barn Bitter ESB), Brimstone (Nutmare on Elm Street Nut Brown, Sinister Minister American IPA) and Railway City (Dead Elephant, Witty Traveler, Black Coal Stout), along with delicious eats from Kanga Meat Pies, DF Catering and the Midnight Snack Co.

We’ll also have a special beery treat, as we did an exclusive collaboration brew with Great Lakes – a raspberry ale brewed with cascade hops and wild yeast cultivated from an apple orchard in the Niagara Escarpment. It should be a delicious beer for Canada Day and it will be available in limited quantities only at the event.

Lester P. Beerson Day occurs on Canada Day, which this year falls on Wednesday, July 1st from 12pm-5pm at the Koerner Gardens and Holcim Gallery areas of the Evergreen Brick Works. As always, our events are free admission, are all-ages and family-friendly. There are limited quantities of beer and food so be sure to arrive early to get the best selection. We hope to see you there!

Quaff & Ale with Troy Burtch of Great Lakes Brewery

Quaff & Ale with Troy Burtch of Great Lakes Brewery

Welcome to a new feature on The Bar Towel called Quaff & Ale, or Q&A for short. In a Quaff & Ale we interview personalities in the beer world to get their take on this delicious and booming industry.  Our first Quaff & Ale is with Troy Burtch of the Great Lakes Brewery in Toronto.

Who is Troy Burtch?

Troy Burtch spends his days getting people excited about craft beer! Troy is part of a growing sales team at Great Lakes Brewery, the 2013 & 2014 Canadian Brewery of the Year, getting GLB products into the hands of passionate beer drinkers. He also serves as GLB’s Community Manager, is the co-founder of Toronto Beer Week where he oversees the Director of Partnerships portfolio, sits on the Ontario Craft Brewers Conference committee, was once a beer blogger over at Great Canadian Beer Blog, and is an avid breweriana collector (canadianbreweriana.com). Instead of long walks along the beach, Troy prefers the long walk of a good pub crawl. Troy is a proud east-ender, calling the Danforth home.

TBT: How did you get interested in craft beer?

TB: It’s a long story… I was in grade six when I took my first summer job, riding on the back of a garbage truck collecting curbside garbage and recyclables with my Step-Father’s sanitation business. It was north of Toronto, near cottage country, and I remember collecting empty beer bottles that had interesting labels, many from other countries. Growing up where I did, well, people drank either Labatt 50, Molson Canadian, Lucky Lager, Labatt Blue or Coors Light, so many of these empty bottles were new to me and I made a goal to try them all one day when I was old enough. The shelves in my bedroom were full of these old bottles. Moving on past high-school and into college; I was President of the Students’ Administrative Council and part of the duties included overseeing the student pub. I was big into Alexander Keith’s at the time, which was a “big beer” for the Brechin/Orillia area, and one day a sales rep from this brand new brewery walked into the pub to offer us some samples to try. It was Steam Whistle. I remember that first drink to this day. It literally changed the way I thought about beer and it’s beer craft since then.

After college I worked for the OPP and the Ministry of Community Safety before heading to Nova Scotia for a year of fun. I took a job with Labatt, where they trained me at the Beer Institute and that helped fuel my desire to seek out more and more local beers (Garrison, Propeller, Granite, etc). I started the “Great Canadian Beer Blog” shortly after moving back to Ontario where I profiled brewers, bar/pub owners, did bar and beer reviews, interviews, event postings, etc. It’s hard to imagine now, but in 2009 there were literally only a couple of us “beer bloggers” in Ontario. Fast forward a couple years and another stint with the province. The craft beer movement had a hold of me and I couldn’t shake it. I was writing and selling ads for TAPS The Beer Magazine and helping with the Canadian Brewing Awards and in 2010 they made me an offer to be their National Director of Sales & Marketing. How could I say no? That same year some friends and I started Toronto Beer Week, which is now entering its 6th year – all successes.

In 2012 Great Lakes Brewery made me an offer to join their growing family and I’ve been here since as Community Manager and handling east Toronto sales. I also teach the Beer Appreciation continuing education course at George Brown College, sit on the OCB Conference Committee and visit craft beer bars on a daily occurrence.

So, like I said, it’s a long story.

TBT: What’s your favourite beer / beer style?

TB: Really hard to say. Here’s the cliche beer industry answer – It depends on the season, my mood, etc… Whatever. I love West Coast style IPAs and Pale Ales. I’ve always loved Belgian IPAs. And session beers, real session beers. My favourite everyday beer is without a doubt, Canuck Pale Ale. Has been even before I joined GLB in 2012. We always joke that I’ve drank more Canuck than anyone else on the planet. My favourites, in no particular order: Orval, Saison Dupont, Het Anker Gouden Carolus Tripel, Four Winds Brett Saison, Granite Best Bitter Special, GLB’s Limp Puppet, Firestone Walker Pivo Pils, Amsterdam Testify, Benelux Cuda. A lot of those for sentimental reasons as well.

TBT: What’s your most memorable beer experience?

TB. Good question. There are a lot, but really hard to choose.

  • That first Steam Whistle that changed my attitude towards beer.
  • Drinking a freshly tapped firkin of Granite’s Best Bitter Special at the Victory in 2008 after walking an hour in 30 degree temperature. That beer was simply amazing.
  • Staying at the Het Anker Brewery in Michelin, Belgium.
  • Touring and tasting my way through Brasserie Cantillon for a day with owner Jean Van Roy.
  • Drinking out of the Canadian Brewing Awards gold mug after winning Brewery of the Year award in Victoria, BC in 2013.
  • 106 people participating on a Danforth GLB pub crawl last September.
  • Having a Canuck Pale Ale fresh off the line each week :)

TBT: Where do you see craft beer headed in Ontario?

TB. Nowhere but up. There have been a lot of brewery owners, presidents, industry vets who have been projecting that with the new grocery stores sales, when rolled out, that Ontario craft beer will reach double digit growth faster then expected. I tend to agree with that. More and more breweries are opening in this province, which is great, but we need more retailing options to build growth and the grocery store method will drastically help.

I also think that Ontario craft breweries will really need to start focusing on quality control as the growth happens. All craft breweries tend to be painted with the same brush. If someone has one bad experience with a craft beer, when experiencing one for the first time, they lump all craft breweries into that. It’s partially our own fault as we all stand side by side, but as more and more new breweries open up, going from garage style home brew to brewing batches for the public, quality control measures need to be put in place. And fast.

And finally, craft breweries will continue hammering home on the local aspect of supporting neighbourhood beers, continue with all the educationally components of training bar staff and the public through tastings and tours. More and more tap rooms will start coming to Ontario breweries like you see state side. It’s already happening (Royal City, Big Rig, Steam Whistle, Left Field) here, but they will continue to grow helping bring in more tourists, community groups, and new craft beer drinkers.

TBT: What do you think about the Ontario’s government’s grocery store announcement?

TB: As a sales rep for GLB, I get asked a lot. Answer right now is that how can it be bad? More shelf space in a market that is too tightly controlled is nothing but good. Of course there are concerns about what the big breweries will do for “prime shelf space” and distribution methods, but that’s a wait and see. The announcement, or should I say plans for grocery store beer sales, should have been done years and years ago. Once the whole plan is rolled out and is up and running, I think Ontario beer drinkers will appreciate it and craft breweries with enough size to get into the stores will appreciate it.

TBT: What’s it like to be a part of the GLB family?

TB: Interesting. Never dull. Always fun. When I joined GLB in 2012 I knew what I was getting into, but didn’t know at the time who much fun it would be. This is one brewery that drink together, hang out together outside of the brewery, collaborate together, and work well together. Coming up with new names for new beers is always great and one of the best parts of GLB. I have been really privileged to watch, and be part of, the changes made since 2012 when the 25th anniversary series of beers were launched; which kick-started the new branding, attitude and change in direction of the brewery.

TBT: You spent some time in Nova Scotia, what do you think about the beer scene down east right now?

TB: I did. As pointed out in the first question, I lived in Halifax for one year in 2006/07 and worked for Labatt. Almost immediately after I arrived there I started to get to know the dudes at Garrison Brewery and I’m still friends with them to this day. We just brewed a beer at GLB with their Brew Master, Daniel Girard, that will be available in Halifax in August (we are taking over the taps at Stillwell Bar…). Propeller and Granite breweries were also up and running and putting out some great beers. I’ve always kept my eyes and ears on the scene out there (while working for TAPS it was part of the job) and it’s really really exciting to see how far Nova Scotia has come. Garrison and Propeller both have two breweries now to keep up with demand. All these new breweries are popping up and doing some great beers. I love some of the beers from Big Spruce out in Cape Breton. The bars are supporting craft beer like never before, which is hard to do in Alexander Keith’s town, but consumers are thirsty for craft.

TBT: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your beer career?

TB:

  • Having lunch with Jim Brickman, after he left Brick Brewing, who shared his amazing story over many pints.
  • Winning the 2013 & 2014 Canadian Brewery of the Year award with Great Lakes.
  • Starting Toronto Beer Week from scratch with sweat and tears…with friends.
  • Interviewing and drinking with Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery), Daisy Claeys (t’ Brugs Beertje), James Watt (Brew Dog), Jean Van Roy (Cantillon)

TBT: What do you like most about the beer scene in Ontario?

TB: The cheesy, but true answer – the people. That’s everyone from the brewers, to the sales reps, to the supporters (bar staff and craft beer drinkers), to event people and beer media. Everyone is genuinely awesome and passionate about this great industry.

I also really like the diversity of the styles being offered in Ontario. We don’t have a particular style anymore. Yes, safe Golden Ales and Ontario Pale Ales have been done over the years, but if you really look what some breweries are doing these days, it’s inspiring. Amsterdam is doing some killer farmhouse beers. Nickel Brook IPAs and Pale Ales are terrific. Cheshire Valley and the Granite with English style knockout porters and stouts. Our IPAs at GLB. Beau’s and their Germanic styles.

And finally, the camaraderie amongst breweries. While some breweries don’t see eye-to-eye with everyone, most of us work so well together and work to build each other up. At GLB we have great relationships with many breweries and you can see it in the events we collaborate on, the beer we brew together and the drinking we do together when the day is done. It truly is unique.

TBT: What could be improved in the beer scene in Ontario?

TB: I’ve already mentioned more need for quality control as the rapid growth happens. There is no room for mediocre offerings. I heard a line from a brewery owner in the US a couple of years back refering to the huge growth down there with more and more breweries opening by the day. He said something to the effect of “Before you release a barrel-aged, hickory smoked, vanilla bean, espresso stout, learn to brew a fucking solid stout first.” I like that thought.

While it’s getting better and better all the time, due to passionate bar owners and breweries who invest in professionals, another thing that could be better in Ontario is regular line cleaning. Steve Riley, of Better Beers, is a true champion of this and would love to see a Dine Safe type program roll out to bars & restaurants that would monitor the cleaniness of beer lines, facets and fobs. If this was so, everyone’s experience with fresh craft beer would be heightened immediately.

If you would like to be featured in a Bar Towel Quaff & Ale, please email us at contribute@bartowel.com.

Frothing for Homebrew in San Diego

Frothing for Homebrew in San Diego

The Bar Towel is proud to present our annual preview of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) National Homebrewers Conference, taking place from June 11th to 13th in San Diego, California. This article will cover highlights of the conference as well as recommended beer destinations in San Diego.

IMG_0660Following last year’s National Homebrewers Conference (NHC) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this year it moves to the west coast and the incredible beer city of San Diego, California.  San Diego is a destination that needs no introduction when it comes to beer: it is a vast paradise for beer lovers, with breweries, taprooms, tasting bars, pubs and beer-focused restaurants generously sprinkled across the area’s coastal terrain.  As as the largest conference dedicated to amateur brewing in the world descends on the city, beer once again becomes the focal point of this wonderful city.

If you’ve never been: a warning first.  San Diego is a city that will make you want to move there.  Coming from the frigid depths of Canadian winters, San Diego enjoys a year-round daily average temperature of 21.4 degrees Celsius.  But it’s not just the weather that makes San Diego so enjoyable, or upwards of 100 regional craft breweries for that matter.  It’s simply just an idyllic place, where the residents are friendly, there’s always an interesting sight or neighbourhood to explore and a unique experience to take in.  It’s genuinely one of my favourite places in North America and it will certainly be the same for everyone attending the conference this year.

Now, on to the conference.  This year it is taking place at the Town and Country Resort & Convention Center, a vast, expansive property located in the Mission Valley area of San Diego, with numerous pools, golf, dining and accommodation options. The Craft Brewers Conference was held here in 2012, the final year before they moved to traditional convention centres due to its size.  But for a smaller conference like the NHC, the closeness and intimacy of the resort will allow attendees to easily to meet, mingle and drink with other homebrewers.

IMG_6768The Town and Country is located on a street called “Hotel Circle” for good reason: it is an area of the city where a cluster of hotels exist, with easy access to numerous shopping options (“Fashion Valley”, and others).  It’s also conveniently located about 15 minutes by car from the San Diego airport, itself being right in the middle of the city.  However, I’d encourage you to not stick to the conference property for your time in San Diego, as they’re so much to see and explore in the city.  But we’ll get to that soon.

The conference itself follows a similar structure to previous years: informative seminars throughout the day on various homebrewing topics and a parallel Homebrew Expo featuring exhibitors of brewing equipment and supplies.  During the Homebrew Expo there is also a Social Club, where attendees will always be able to enjoy a beer and mingle with other homebrewers.

One of the unique aspects of the NHC is the service of homebrew at the conference.  So throughout the conference there are different homebrew clubs from the U.S. serving up their beer alongside professionally-produced brews. It’s an obvious great way to try other homebrew from across the country.

The conference is underpinned by its seminars, informative talks, discussions and panels about a wide array of brewing topics including ingredients, process, recipes, styles, history, professional brewing and more.  The speakers include both professional brewers and homebrewers, along with other affiliated industry representatives.  There’s something for everyone, but if you’d like to narrow down some sessions for consideration, here are my picks for some worthy ones to stop in on:

  • Thursday, 9am: State of the Homebrew Industry.  Bart Watson, the chief economist from the Brewers Association always gives interesting talks based upon their brewing data collection and analysis. This will surely be an informative discussion to see how homebrew’s growth compares to the booming professional craft industry.
  • Thursday, 12:45pm and Friday, 12:45pm: A Contrast and Comparison of the Many Variations of India Pale Ale.  San Diego is inextricably linked to Stone Brewing when it comes to beer, so you can’t go wrong hearing from Stone’s brewmaster Mitch Steele about IPA.
  • Thursday, 12:45pm and Saturday, 10:15am: (Almost) Everything You Know About Brewing History Is Wrong. Homebrewer, author and consultant Randy Mosher will certainly provide an entertaining and informative talk about the history of beer styles at this seminar.
  • Thursday, 12:45pm and Friday, 12:45pm: Brewing with Coffee: Approaches & Techniques from Dry-Beaning to Home Roasting. Coffee and beer are a wonderful combination, and so too is this panel consisting of sour beer expert Michael Tonsmeire, Jacob McKean and Amy Krone of San Diego’s Modern Times brewery.
  • Thursday, 2pm: Brewing With Experimental Hops: A New Hop Variety Just For Homebrewers. Vinnie Cilurzo of the renowned Russian River brewery alongside Jason Perrault of the Hop Breeding Company and Karl Vanevenhoven of Yakima Chief-Hopunion will be debuting a new experimental hop bred with homebrewers in mind. Will be interesting see what homebrewers will do with this new hop.
  • Thursday, 4:30pm: Keynote. The keynote address, held at the end of the first day of the conference, is being given this year by Tomme Arthur, co-founder of Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey. Another famed San Diego brewery, it will be interesting to hear Tomme’s take on homebrewing and the industry today.
  • Friday, 9am: What a Proper Pairing Can Do for Your Beer. Imagine how great a multi-course beer dinner is, but with homebrew! Greg Brown from Long Beach, California’s awesome Beachwood alongside Adam Dulye of the BA and Sean Clark of Steamworks talk about food and homebrew pairings.
  • Friday, 12:45pm: Mead Panel. A quick shoutout for some CanCon in the session lineup, as Ryan Chaytor of the Cornwall Homebrew Club alongside four others discuss recipes, techniques and more for this fast-growing style of homebrew.
  • Friday, 3:15pm: Ménage à Myces: Blended Yeast Fermentation.  Yeast is a big deal in beer, and this talk is being given by Chris White, founder of White Labs.  Listen to his taken on blended yeasts and pay a visit to the White Labs tasting room in San Diego with 30+ beers brewed on site.
  • Saturday, 9am: Mastering the Art of Hop-Fu!.  Kelsey McNair has earned dozens of awards for his IPAs, and this seminar promises to reveal some of the secrets behind one of the most popular styles in brewing.
  • Saturday, 10:15am: Introduction to Experimentation.  Long-time homebrewers Denny Conn and Drew Beechum are sure to provide an entertaining perspective on the benefits of experimental brewing. Expect true homebrew in action at this seminar.
  • Saturday, 10:15am: Taking Funky Beers from Homebrew to Pro. Peter Perrecone moved from homebrewing to pro with North San Diego County’s Toolbox Brewing, focused on sour and Brett beers. This talk promises to bring the funk.
  • Saturday, 12:45pm: Hops: Grow and Enjoy Your Own. I know I’d love to use my backyard to grow hops, and although Toronto’s climate isn’t the same as San Diego’s, it is of course possible.  This talk by homebrewer Sean Gardinier will discuss tips on growing your own hops.
  • Saturday, 2pm: Blurring the Style Guidelines: Brewing Great, Mixed-Style Beers. Peter Zien, the owner of another famous local brewery, AleSmith, will give a talk about brewing beers that don’t fit into particular styles – always something important for brewers looking to push the barriers of creativity.

There are seminars and panels covering so many topics at the NHC, attendees will certainly come home knowing more than when they arrive.  I’d encourage you to stop in on as many as interest you and enjoy the passion and enthusiasm of the industry.

IMG_6708A delightful aspect to the National Homebrewers Conference are the numerous large-scale social events to meet other homebrewers.  There are events on each of the three nights of the conference: a Welcome Reception on Thursday, featuring Brewers Association breweries; the Club Night on Friday featuring AHA Member Clubs; and the Grand Banquet and Homebrew Competition Awards on Saturday.  The Club Night is especially memorable, as attendees and clubs get very creative with their presentation, appearance and dress.  That’s a bit of an understatement, as the Club Night really needs to be experienced to be understood what it’s all about.  With dozens of homebrew clubs from across the U.S. participating, it’s a definite highlight of the conference and always one of the more unique beer events out there.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t recommend you stay exclusively on the resort property for the duration of the conference.  There will undoubtedly be many, many delicious professional and homebrewed beers available to try, but you owe it to yourself to take a bit of time to explore what San Diego has to offer.  You won’t be disappointed!

IMG_0671For an overview of some of the major breweries and bars in the greater San Diego area, take look at our preview of the Craft Brewers Conference from 2012.  The article covered some of the well-known breweries and bars including Stone, Lost Abbey, AleSmith, and more.  In the rest of this article we’ll focus on a few of the neighbourhoods of San Diego that are easily accessible from the conference property, instead of the breweries located further afield.  However, many of those are pinned at the map that can be found at the end of this feature if you’d like to venture out.

With so many new breweries constantly opening up in San Diego, it’s hard to keep track of them all.  But one thing you can be sure of in San Diego: you’re never too far away from great beer.  Let’s look at some of the interesting neighbourhoods to visit during the NHC to get a feel for San Diego’s local culture and beer.

SAN DIEGO TIP: The city is quite spread out, so it can sometimes be a bit challenging to get around, as San Diego lacks a comprehensive transit system as found in other major cities.  However, San Diego does have Uber and Car2Go, along with local taxis and a transit trolley to help get around. There is also a bike sharing network in certain neighbourhoods of town. Don’t drink and drive.

IMG_0174One of the densest areas for good beer is in the neighbourhood of North Park, along 30th Street.  Within the area you’ll find the San Diego outpost of the famed beer bar Toronado; the fun and lively Tiger! Tiger!; plus tasting rooms for Rip Current Brewing, Mike Hess Brewing, Modern Times and Thorn Street Brewery.  Heading west towards University Heights there is Small Bar (with two locations) and the 20 year-old beer bar Live Wire.  Nearby along Adams Ave. is the well-known Blind Lady Ale House, and heading down to South Park will lead you to the famed Hamilton’s Tavern.

The downtown area of San Diego has some great beer as well, including the stylish beer bar Neighborhood, brewpubs Half Door and Monkey Paw, an outpost of the Karl Strauss brewery family, a tasting room from Ballast Point and a location of the awesome burger joint Hodad’s.

A visit to San Diego wouldn’t be complete without checking out some of beautiful beaches along the city’s 70 miles of coastline.  Ocean Beach has been booming from a beer perspective recently, with a new taproom from Culture Brewing, the Australian-themed beer bar Raglan Public House, the beer and noodle house Bar 1502, and of course the wild and raucous outpost of the brewery and pizza family Pizza Port.  And of course, the original Hodad’s on Newport Ave.

IMG_6731Just on the other side of the bay, Mission Beach is heating up with craft beer, with brewpub Amplified Ale Works and the extensive beer bars Draft, the SD TapRoom, and Barrel Republic.

Other spots within the vicinity of the conference include the vast, remarkable San Diego expansion of the Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens at Liberty Station, brewery and taproom Modern Times, beer bar The Brew Project, and tasting room for Acoustic Ales.

SAN DIEGO TIP: As you’re at the conference you’re a member of the American Homebrewers Association, so don’t forget to check the AHA Member Deals for beer and merchandise offers around San Diego.

San Diego is full of great beer bars, breweries and tasting rooms, so be sure to take a sojourn from the conference to explore and enjoy.  Watch out for special events and tappings to occur during the conference week as breweries and bars show their appreciation for all the homebrewers in town.

It’s hard to go wrong in San Diego.  With great weather, beaches, sights, food and of course beer, there’s a lot to enjoy here.  It’s a wonderful host city for the NHC this year as San Diego is a place that truly celebrates and appreciates beer.  Have fun at the conference, and be sure to follow along on Twitter and join in on the San Diego conversation in our Discussion Forum.  We hope to see you at the NHC!

Chicago’s Beer Scene is Flying High

Chicago’s Beer Scene is Flying High

Recently I announced a new collaboration with Porter Escapes, to showcase some of the wonderful beer cities that you can visit through their network of destinations. My first trip was to one of the finest beer cities and overall great places to visit in North America: Chicago.  In this feature article I’ll recap the visit and highlight some of Chicago’s top destinations so you can also have a “beer escape” to this marvellous city.

DAY ONE – FRIDAY

Porter Escapes offers convenient packages which include a bundle of flight and hotel, so of course my first step was getting to Chicago.  Flying on a sunny Friday afternoon, the short flight to Chicago landed at Midway Airport, in the south side of the city.  Chicago is one of the most convenient cities in North America to arrive by plane, as Midway is connected to Chicago’s transit system, the CTA.  Hopping on the “L” at Midway on the Orange Line gets you downtown in about 30 minutes.  With Porter’s incredible location in Toronto, the entire trip from downtown to downtown is remarkably swift and convenient.

PRO CHICAGO TIP: The Chicago transit system uses re-loadable “Ventra” cards which you tap to use upon entry.  The cards hold their value over time, so when you leave Chicago, hold onto your Ventra card and reload it before you go again. This way you can avoid the lineups of visitors figuring things out at the Midway station.

DSC00373Heading downtown, I checked into my hotel, The James, located on E. Ontario St. in the River North area.  The James is right in the heart of the action, close to many great places downtown, and easy to access different CTA lines to get out to Chicago’s interesting neighbourhoods.  It’s a stylish boutique hotel which made for a convenient and comfortable home base for the weekend.

Opting to explore downtown later, I took the CTA Blue Line at Clark/Lake up to the fun neighbourhood of Wicker Park.  Exiting at the Damen stop places you at the epicentre of one of Chicago’s most bustling nightlife areas.  Something that’s unique about this particular area is the intersection of three major streets – North, Damen and Milwaukee – creating a mega-intersection of sorts.  It can be a bit daunting to navigate but it’s worth exploring, as there is great beer to be found in virtually every direction.

DSC00419The first stop was Xoco Wicker Park, part of the family of restaurants from world-famous chef Rick Bayless.  Xoco Wicker Park is the second location of Xoco, the first being right next door to the beloved Frontera Grill and Topolobampo located downtown (and highly recommended).  The Wicker Park location of Xoco on N. Milwaukee Ave. opened in August 2014 and has a bit more elbow room but the same excellent food and drink as fans have come to expect.  This was near the top of my list for the weekend not only for some delicious Mexican tortas, but a chance to try the just-released new beer from Rick Bayless’s forthcoming brewery La Guardia.  Cruz Blanca is a spicy and sharp biere de garde brewed with hominy, epazote, lime peel and coriander in collaboration with Perennial Artisan Ales of St. Louis.  It is a very promising start to what will certainly be a great new addition to the Bayless empire.  I am an unabashed fan (as are many) of the Rick Bayless family of restaurants, and the new Xoco Wicker Park is on my must-visit list in Chicago, and should be on yours too.

Moving along led me up N. Milwaukee to the Links Taproom, a lively bar with 35+ beers on draught and cask.  Using technology to their advantage, the beer menus are all on large digital screens throughout the bar, listing the details of each beer available, and most importantly how much of it is left in the keg.  And for those in the mood for a real beer party, Links even sells jeroboam sizes of selected beer!

DSC00467Crossing the intersection led me to Big Star, located just past the train tracks on N. Damen Ave.  Big Star is always in party mode.  It’s a raucous, expansive taqueria with a large front patio and wrap-around bar inside, with table and bar seating surrounding it.  There is usually always a wait for a table on a popular night, but you can regularly get into the bar area and just squeeze in.  Big Star’s speciality is tacos, and they are excellent.  Complementing their tacos is a small but regularly rotating tap lineup, usually featuring Three Floyds, Lagunitas and Firestone Walker, and a full bar with a focus on bourbon, tequila and cocktails.  If you’re in a rush there’s even a to-go taco window.  Big Star is a great visit to get a taste of Chicago’s nightlife – it’s always a rush in here.

Walking around the corner to W. North Ave. took me to Piece, a large and popular pizzeria and brewery.  Piece is just an all-around good place to get a beer and some delicious food.  They do something that you don’t really see in Toronto outside of chain pizzerias: they make “full size” pizzas.  Like, pizzas that take up the entire table.  And unlike the “Chicago style” pizza that is popular in the Loop area, Piece serves “New Haven style”, which is a thinner crust with a variety of sauce and topping options.  On the beer front, Piece produces a number of their own beers, usually including strong interpretations of German, American and Belgian styles.  Watch for special guest pizzas from time to time (earlier this year they did a collaboration pizza with Doug Sohn of Hot Doug’s), and the always fun-to-watch live band karaoke on Saturday nights.

DSC00518A final stop of the evening took me across W. North to Trenchermen, a unique bar and dining room built into a former Russian bath house from the 1920s.  A very unique and moody space, Trenchermen has a great beer lineup which included Surly, Three Floyds, Metropolitan, Half Acre and more.

While in the neighbourhood it’s also worth a trek to Division Street, a fun area located one train stop closer to downtown, or easily walkable.  Not visited on this trip but in the past I’ve quite enjoyed Bangers & Lace, focusing on interesting takes on hot dogs with beer, and Jerry’s Sandwiches, with a humongous menu of delicious sandwiches and beer.  Also very much worth a visit is the legendary Map Room, located on W. Armitage Ave.  One of Chicago’s oldest beer bars, the Map Room has an ever-changing beer lineup from the U.S. and abroad.

DAY TWO – SATURDAY

DSC00651Having done the whirlwind tour of Wicker Park, the second day was dedicated to enjoying even more beer across the city.  First up was right around the corner from the James: the Italian food emporium Eataly.

There’s really nothing like Eataly, a hybrid market, restaurant and retail experience with dozens themed areas representing various styles of food and drink.  It’s quite something to behold, and it’s definitely worth a stop while in Chicago.  Getting there early before the crowds arrive is advisable.  After snagging an absolutely delicious house-made sandwich, I checked out their brewery, a bright and airy space on the second floor.  Named the Birreria, beers here have been created in collaboration with Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione, with a house saison, rye IPA and Berliner weisse on offer, but also with a wide range of tap and bottles from breweries such as Baladin, Del Borgo, Dogfish Head, Half Acre and Three Floyds.

DSC00682The next stop was the new taproom at Goose Island‘s production brewery, located on W. Fulton Ave.  The taproom, only having opened a couple of weeks ago, is a beautiful new showcase for Goose Island.  While there I was fortunate to receive an informative and fun behind-the-scenes tour of Goose by brewer Dave Tohtz.  Dave took me through a quick tour of the computer-controlled brewery, which was at that moment brewing what would become Bourbon County Stout.  After taking a quick peek at the pilot brewing room, bottling lines, aging rooms and the most impressive keg storage room, with kegs of Bourbon County as far as the eye could see, we drove out to Goose Island’s barrel aging warehouse.

I joked on Twitter that the Ark of the Covenant could be in here, as the size of the place instantly reminded me of the last scene of Raiders. The warehouse is massive, holding Goose Island’s incredible collection of barrels, numbering over 6,000.  Split into two areas for Bourbon County Stout and their wine barrel fruit series, the delicious anticipation of tasting what’s in the barrels hangs heavy in the air. Just another reason to come back to hopefully get a chance to enjoy the beer in these barrels.

DSC00736Public visits to the barrel warehouse are only possible during special events, but tours of the main brewery are available by signing up online. Also worth seeking out is Goose Island’s original location, the brewpub located on N. Clybourn Ave.  Their brewery is still operational at the pub, producing a number of unique beers exclusively available there.  (Give a listen to our past podcasts to learn more about Goose Island and their famed Bourbon County Stout.)

As luck would have it the weekend I was there is was also Chicago Craft Beer Week, the week-long celebration of beer which is common across North America.  The closing event was taking place while I was in town, so moving on from Goose Island took me up to  the Ravenswood/North Center neighbourhood to the Welles Park Craft Beer Festival.  It was a casual beerfest in the picturesque park, and a good opportunity to sample some beers from the ever-evolving local beer scene, with 70+ brewers involved.  But my mission this weekend was the beer destinations of the city that you could visit too, so I moved on.

DSC00786Just a block away from the park on N. Lincoln Ave. is the very popular Half Acre brewery and taproom.  Half Acre is one of the new wave of Chicago breweries, opening up on N. Lincoln ‘way back’ in 2009.  And their popularity is sky-high, as on this Saturday in the middle of the afternoon, there wasn’t a free seat to spare in the taproom.  A lively space with communal tables, the taproom features a number of beers from the lineup of Half Acre’s unique range of beers, including Daisy Cutter Pale Ale, Vallejo IPA, Space IPA, Rambis Oatmeal Stout and other specialities.  Right next door to the taproom is the brewery and gift shop, where beer-to-go is available for purchase.

There’s even more great beer in the neighbourhood around Half Acre.  If you’d like to spend some more time exploring, the broad area also has such worthwhile spots as the well-known Belgian-inspired HopLeaf, The Long Room, Fountainhead, The Bad Apple and Resi’s Bierstube.

DSC00824PRO CHICAGO TIP: Chicago’s transit network is one of the most comprehensive in North America, and makes for a great and affordable way to explore the different areas of the city. The Blue and Red lines, which connect many of the bars in this article, run 24 hours a day.

I headed south to the Lake View neighbourhood, with a stop at DryHop Brewers on N. Broadway St.  DryHop is one of the newer additions to the Chicago beer scene, just approaching its two-year anniversary.  They’ve got a bright, open space, with tables fronting the lively Broadway St. and a long bar inside, with beer tanks lining the back of the bar.  One of the more unique offerings I noticed at DryHop was a “can on demand” contraption, where staff would fill cans from the tap and would be sealed on the spot for takeaway.  A very promising spot with beers that included numerous collaborations with other local brewers, such as a Kiwi/Lemon Balm Berliner Weisse with Pipeworks and an Elderflower and Grape Must Saison with Illuminated Brew Works, and more.

DSC00854Walking along W. Belmont Ave. (with a quick stop at Osmium for a local Dark Matter coffee and a Chicago-style dog at Murphy’s Red Hots) led me to the Northdown Cafe and Taproom on N. Lincoln Ave.  The Northdown is a wonderful spot, with great beer, unique art ordaining the walls, retro movies playing above the bar and even some pinball to boot.  Home of the Chicago chapter of the Mikkeller Running Club, they have a small but well-curated tap list which included Maine Beer Co., Perennial, Lost Abbey, Three Floyds, Off Color and more, plus a vast lineup of bottles.  There’s a great neighbourhood feel here and an easy place to spend many hours sampling some delicious beer.

Other spots worth checking out in the area include the Green Lady, Sheffield’s, Delilah’s, Atlas Brewing, Beermiscuous and Kuma’s Too.  On the way back towards downtown is the famed Local Option, a bar that just about everyone into beer already knows about.  Located on W. Webster Ave. near DePaul University, Local Option is a metal-themed bar with a massive lineup of draught and bottles, including a number of their own house brews.  They frequently host special events and tappings, so be sure to check them out when planning a Chicago Beer Escape.

DSC00910The beer neighbourhood exploration continued, moving along to the lively nightlife area Logan Square.  First up was the booming Revolution Brewing Brewpub on N. Milwaukee Ave.  Revolution has been a tremendous success since their inception, having expanded from their original brewpub location to also include a full production brewery and taproom on Kedzie Ave.  The original brewpub is a great space, with many clever design details such as barrel stave walls and Revolution’s iconic fists built into the construction of the bar.  Over 15 of their house beers are available, ranging in styles from IPA, Porter, Wit, Pilsner and other unique concoctions.

Walking up Milwaukee led me past numerous hotspots, including the vast Emporium, Chicago’s contribution to the vintage arcade bar phenomenon.  There’s video games, pinball, pool tables, air hockey, craft beer and food trucks in here, truly a great spot to have some fun while enjoying a tasty beverage.  There’s also a second location of Emporium down in Wicker Park.

Continuing along Milwaukee and through Logan Square itself led to Longman & Eagle on Kedzie.  This renowned restaurant and bar is candlelight dark on a Saturday night, but still bustling with patrons both at the bar and the dining room.  Featuring a huge spirits lineup with a particular focus on whiskey, they have a strong draught lineup which included Founders, Pipeworks, Off Color, Solemn Oath and more.

DSC00951The night finished with one last stop, and one of the most unique places on the trip so far.  Wandering right into the residential neighbourhood of Logan Square on Albany Ave. led me to SmallBar.  This place is tucked into the neighbourhood itself, surrounded by residential buildings on all sides.  But inside is anything but sleepy late at night, with a friendly crowd and great beer lineup, including offerings from Prairie, Revolution, Pig Minds, IBW, Metropolitan and more.  It was a fitting stop for one last pint to reflect on a fantastic day of beer exploring.

DAY THREE – SUNDAY

The final day of the Chicago Beer Escape began with a short break from beer for a little sightseeing.  Chicago has some amazing attractions and one of the best ways to see many of them is using a Go Card Chicago.  I’m not one to dwell at museums or other sights – I like to go in, check things out and move on.  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off style.  And this card is perfect for that, as dozens of attractions in Chicago are included, many allowing you to bypass the regular ticket lineups so you can get in very quickly.

PRO CHICAGO TIP: Chicago has a vast urban bike-sharing network, Divvy.  Day passes are available for $7, and is a great way to get around downtown (and beyond) for sightseeing.  It’s often a much faster way to zip around town than on foot or via the CTA to hit up numerous sights rapidly.

DSC00986Being on a countdown clock to returning home, I jetted over to the Magnificent Mile (N. Michigan Ave.) being only a few blocks from the James and up to the top of 360 Chicago, commonly known as the observatory at the John Hancock Tower.  Located 94 stories up, it makes for a great view of the city and lakefront.  Also worth it (and also part of the Go Card Chicago) is the complementary views from the top of the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower).

Just around the corner was a quick stop at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and then down into the Loop to the vast, world-class Art Institute of Chicago, one of the best museums you’ll find anywhere.  It feels like at every turn while exploring the Art Institute leads to an iconic piece.  Some personal favourites of mine include the huge Impressionist and American art galleries, the architecture collection, plus Chagall’s America Windows and the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room (always a good spot to escape the crowds too).  You truly cannot go wrong at the Art Institute.

DSC00545PRO CHICAGO TIP: When sightseeing in Chicago, you’ll regularly cross the many bridges of the city providing some awesome views.  Be sure to check out the Kinzie Street bridge, one of my personal favourite bridge views and immortalized in film in the “Top 5 things I miss about Laura” scene from High Fidelity.

Now this is a Beer Escape after all, so after some great sightseeing it was time to wrap up the trip with one of Chicago’s most dynamic food and drink areas: the Fulton Market.  This longtime meatpacking district has in recent years been transformed with some of the most acclaimed bars and restaurants in the city, and the density of spots made it for a great place to finish the trip.

First up in the Fulton Market area was the Little Goat Diner on W. Randolph St.  This is the sister location to famed chef Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat, located just across the street.  The Little Goat is a multi-faceted destination, with a sit-down diner, a bar, coffee shop and to-go bakery counter. It’s truly a fabulous spot that can accommodate thirst and hunger at any time of day.  On this particular Sunday they were hosting a rooftop patio party featuring Revolution Brewing, but at all other times the Little Goat has a well-thought through draught selection including the likes of Off Color, Begyle, 21st Amendment, Ballast Point and Half Acre.  You just can’t go wrong here.

DSC01163A couple of doors down is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Lone Wolf Tavern.  A hotspot by night, the bar is quiet and relaxed on a Sunday afternoon, but with no shortage of great beer.  They are incredibly fortunate to have four permanent Three Floyds taps, making the Lone Wolf one of the top destinations to find the sought-after beers from the famed Munster, Indiana brewery.  On this afternoon they had Alpha King, Rabbid Rabbit, Black Heart, Lord Rear Admiral from Three Floyds plus other taps from Solemn Oath, Dark Horse and more.

Around the corner is Green Street Smoked Meats, a warm and rustic down-an-alley bar and counter with beer, cocktails and meats, reminiscent of Fette Sau in Brooklyn.  There’s a real warehouse feel here with a raw, rough brick interior and a classic rock soundtrack playing.  Brisket, pork, chicken and more are the specialties here, and are a tasty complement to a solid beer lineup of 16 taps including six from Local Option.

DSC01180Just a block away on Halstead St. is a brand-new location of Whole Foods Market, always a great go-to destination for beer shopping to take home.  On this particular trip I was able to find some Three Floyds here, which I easily packed into my bag for a beery souvenir of Chicago.  And if you can’t decide what to buy, you can sip on site at the Red Star Bar, the Whole Foods in-grocery bar with 24 beers on tap. Remarkable.

There’s much more to explore in the Fulton Market area – also worth checking out is the fine dining and beer restaurant Publican, its casual sister location Publican Quality Meats, along with brewpub Haymarket.  This is just another of many areas in Chicago that will keep you well fed and satiated.

And with that, the Chicago Beer Escape came to an end, with a quick ride back to Midway and swift flight back to Toronto.  Chicago is a wonderful city to explore, drink, eat, and make new friends.  It’s a city that likes to enjoy life, and you can tell with the bars and restaurants. They are almost always perpetually busy, yet one is always made to feel welcome and encouraged to join in on the fun.  My collaboration with Porter Escapes allowed me to fly, stay and do Chicago easily on a weekend, and you should consider taking your own Beer Escape there if you haven’t, or haven’t recently.  It’s simply delicious.

Please see refer to the map below as all the locations mentioned in this article are pinned.  And there’s always more popping up in Chicago, so be sure to follow the ongoing thread in our discussion forum to learn about the latest Beer Escapes to this fine city from our active craft beer community.

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