It was just over a year ago that the news of Habits transitioning their gastropub to include a nanobrewery appeared on The Bar Towel forum.  By early 2015, the nanobrewery was up and running and Habits was selling their new world saison on tap (a saison dry-hopped with Amarillo).  About... > READ MORE

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Folly Brewpub: Farmhouse Meets Gastropub in Little Portugal

Folly Brewpub: Farmhouse Meets Gastropub in Little Portugal

It was just over a year ago that the news of Habits transitioning their gastropub to include a nanobrewery appeared on The Bar Towel forum.  By early 2015, the nanobrewery was up and running and Habits was selling their new world saison on tap (a saison dry-hopped with Amarillo).  About seven months after opening another press release was sent out informing that Habits was re-branding to Folly Brewpub, expanding the brewery, and had future plans for a bottle shop.  The transition was fast and the story of how it all came together is an interesting one.  A week before the official launch party I wandered over to Folly (almost missing the building because there was no official signage) to talk to the two Folly brewers about how the whole process unfolded.

A lot can change in a short time – although I’m sure if you ask Christina Coady and Chris Conway they would probably say that 2011 feels like a long time ago now.  It was that year that both of them made the move to Toronto for academic pursuits: Christina for a post-graduate program in marketing while Chris was entering a PhD program in history of technology at the University of Toronto.  Although both are from Newfoundland their joint move to Toronto was not a coordinated plan.  That is, the Folly Brewpub story is not a narrative of two friends from the east coast moving to the big city to make good on their brewing dreams.  As you chat with the two brewers, their glances direct towards the back of the restaurant at the brewhouse and you can sense that they are still a little bit in awe of just how fast all of this has happened.

Habits Gastropub sits just west of Ossington on College in Little Portugal.  The gastropub, known for their higher-end comfort food and diverse wine and whisky selection, occupies a long narrow space which at one time included a concert stage in the back. Open since July 2011, the owners of Habits, Michelle and Luis, focused on local food, fresh ingredients, and preparing everything in-house.  Regarding beer, Habits often had an interesting tap list which focused on local but the owners eventually started to wonder whether they could also include beer in the restaurant’s in-house philosophy.  Through a personal connection to the beer industry in Ontario (Doug Allen – Doug played a key role early in the process), they started to sample local homebrew and began thinking about the feasibility of incorporating a brewery into the restaurant.  It was during this process that Luis sampled the beer being brewed by Christina and Chris and the potential model started to take shape; a few years later Habits would join the rather large collection of breweries popping up on the west side of Toronto.

Chris and Christina’s path to beer as a vocation, a path that was about to collide with Habits, started very far away from the west side of Toronto.   For Christina, who has wine sommelier training, a trip to Belgium during her undergrad acted as the progenitor for her involvement with beer as a hobby and eventual job.  The yeast-forward beers of that region caught her attention in a way that, at that time, beer from back home hadn’t been able to.  Back in Newfoundland, Chris was sampling his way through every beer the liquor store had to offer.  In 2007, Chris was passing through Ottawa while helping someone move to Montreal.  He stopped in Ottawa to hang out with Christina and other friends from Newfoundland and Christina introduced him to Trappist beers and he started to dive into the world of yeast-driven flavours as well.  In 2010 both Christina and Chris found themselves back in Newfoundland and somewhat dissatisfied with the beer available to them.  In order to fill the void, Chris started homebrewing and shortly after Christina joined him.

“I started homebrewing to make some hoppy beers out of necessity since there wasn’t a single IPA in Newfoundland, and Christina followed suit with homebrewing a few months later. We’ve been talking about brewing and beer ever since.”

Folly 1

Folly 2


After moving to Toronto, their involvement with beer and homebrewing continued to grow and eventually beer started to imprint itself on more aspects of their day-to-day lives.  Chris was contributing to the Newfoundland Beer History website while also being active in the beer community in Toronto.  While working in marketing Christina often found her mind drifting towards beer – during one client presentation she accidently referred to APIs as IPAs for the duration of the presentation.   Both were active in the homebrewing community and Christina worked at Toronto Brewing prior to committing to Folly fulltime – “…as we were exposed to the massive and growing beer scene in Toronto we got caught up in the momentum.”   It was homebrewing in a small Toronto apartment that provided an additional, almost pragmatic, fondness of saisons – saison yeast works well in warmer temperatures which is perfect for small Toronto apartments that don’t have enough space for a fermentation chamber.  For a few years the nanobrewery idea remained in the background because of the careful planning and monetary investment required from Habits, and the fact that Christina and Chris were busy with their jobs and school.  Eventually the conversations became more serious and Christina and Chris were pulled even further into the Toronto beer scene.

“The idea of opening a brewery was always exciting for us, but as the discussions with Habits became more serious it became impossible to think about anything that had as much potential as this.”

By February of 2015, Habits was officially a working brewpub with a 1.5hL brewing system situated in the kitchen and one 2.5hL tank in the back.  Christina and Chris were brewing once a week, and as demand grew, inevitably they started running out of beer.  Plans to expand the nanobrewery were drawn up, the stage was ripped out, and their brew system and 8 2.5hL tanks replaced the concert hall.  They now brew two batches a day and typically have about 4-6 of their own beers on tap, and recently they have started to send kegs to a few bars in the city (being selective about their accounts and focusing on bars that take their tap lines seriously).


Folly 3


Folly 5


Luis and Michelle have given the two brewers full control over the beer ­- “We were afforded creative control on the brewing side of things and allowed to explore our idea of a farmhouse brewery with impunity.”  The idea of a farmhouse brewery was driven by a few different factors: their joint exposure to and admiration for Belgian-inspired beers, their comfort dealing with saison yeast, and, perhaps the most business-minded factor, these were styles not regularly available in Ontario.  Additionally, for an establishment that takes food seriously, Folly’s beers tend to lend themselves well to a wide range of food pairings.  The decision to focus solely on yeast and fermentation driven flavour profiles was also aided by the opening of Escarpment Yeast Laboratories in Guelph Ontario (Escarpment provides fresh liquid yeast, microbiological quality control, strain banking, and custom yeast/bacteria blending).  A good working relationship with Escarpment and Folly has developed which has given Christina and Chris access to yeast strains that they otherwise wouldn’t have had.  They are moving towards relying fully on Escarpment Labs cultures as they continue to explore mixed-fermentation and expand their barrel and blending program.  Currently, there are six Ontario wine barrels in the back of the restaurant and they are continually looking for ways to add more.  For a small brewpub a souring program can be quite the investment and although the barrels look pretty cool at the back of the restaurant, ultimately it speaks to Michelle and Luis’s commitment to allowing Christina and Chris to take their ideas as far as they envision.  Chris and Christina take a collaborative approach to recipe design and day-to-day brewing responsibilities: they work well together and are aware of each other’s strengths and how to utilize them – e.g. Christina’s wine training has helped her develop her palate while Chris is comfortable working on the technical details (before going back to school Chris was an engineer and his approach to problem solving can be witnessed in how he thinks about solutions for their limited space).

“Brewing and all the actual division of labour on brewday is totally interchangeable and tends to alternate from day to day. One day I’m packaging while Christina is mashing and lautering, the next day I might be more involved with the brewing and she’ll be washing kegs. I seem to have been charged with being the main wrangler of our uncooperative mill which seems to have taken a disliking to Christina. It’s very much the same as our working relationship when it comes to the Taps homebrewing articles and things like this: one of us lays down a fairly fully formed idea/draft and the other edits and improves…”

Folly 7

Folly 6

Folly 4


The official Folly launch party was on November 5th and, based on the positive reviews of their beer, it’s easy to see that Michelle and Luis’s trust in their brewers is paying off.  They have 4 core beers: ‘Praxis’ (a New-World Saison), ‘Impostor Syndrome’ (Farmhouse IPA), ‘Flemish Cap’ (Old-World Saison), and, my favourite, ‘Inkhorn’ (Farmhouse Bruin), with other collaborations showing up on tap as well.  When chatting with the two brewers it is easy to see why they have had such a good start and also why so many people seem genuinely happy for their success.  They are clever, curious, and technically sound while also having a good mix of humility, self-deprecation, and an honest openness to criticism.  In a way, the two brewers resemble the beers that they have chosen to brew – complex but refreshing.

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

Ontario Craft Ingredients: Clear Valley Hops

Ontario Craft Ingredients: Clear Valley Hops

In recent years craft brewing has undergone quite the renaissance. Hundreds of new brewers, thousands of new beers and countless loyal craft beer drinkers. Behind the scenes, a second revolution is starting to take shape: the craft growers, cultivators and producers of craft beer ingredients. As part of a three-part series, I’m taking a closer look at a handful of these less-heralded players in the craft beer industry. First up: Clear Valley Hops.

Located in the heart of the tiny village of Nottawa, Ontario, in the shadow of the Blue Mountains, Clear Valley Hops is a bit of a unique entity in Ontario. For one thing, they’re very well branded. If you take the 124 to Collingwood, you’ll see their trendy sign right beside the road. If you look up their website you’ll find a slick interface, complete with a blog, online store, and all the other bells and whistles you’d expect from a modern website. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise; Clear Valley is the product of John Craig, who once made a living in technology, and Laurie Thatcher-Craig, who worked in advertising and marketing. Ditching their day jobs, the couple purchased the land in 2011 and started producing hops commercially in 2012. The other thing that sets Clear Valley apart is their size. Most hop farms in Ontario are either side projects of farms that mostly focus on other crops, or hobby farms that are just an acre or two. According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food & Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), there are about 32 hop growers in Ontario who combine to have a total of 60 acres under cultivation. Clear Valley currently have 13 acres, with plans to expand to 20 and beyond in the coming years.


Just one row of many.


By the standards of modern agriculture,  hop production in Ontario is currently done on a downright minuscule scale. The average farm size in Ontario was 244 acres in 2011; more than 4 times all the hop farms in Ontario combined. That said, it would be misleading to call hop farming a new industry here. Before prohibition, Ontario and upstate New York were the leading suppliers of hops into Milwaukee, the major brewing centre in the region at the time. At its peak, New York had over 40,000 acres of hops under cultivation. The records for Ontario have been lost over time, but it was considered a substantial producer, so it there were certainly thousands of acres under cultivation. Then came prohibition, along with some crippling diseases and hop production in the Northeast has never really recovered. For the better part of the next century growing hops was largely the concern of European farms. It wasn’t until the American craft beer revolution took hold that hops started to be grown in North America again on any real scale, mostly centered around the Pacific Northwest and in particular the Yakima valley.

In the early days, a large proportion of the growers in Yakima were contracted to deliver their entire crops to the American brewing behemoth, Anheuser-Busch (AB). A few years later AB merged with InBev and all the hop contracts dried up, which inadvertently produced the biggest shift in the hops industry since prohibition. With stiff competition from European growers for traditional varieties, the growers in Yakima turned their focus to the relatively new and fast-growing craft beer industry and started producing massive amounts of the citrus-forward varieties that American craft beer has come to be known for. The rest, as they say, is history.

But what of the Northeast, the former major area of hops cultivation? To be honest, not much happened here until the craft brewing craze took hold in the early 2000s. To support the fledgling industry, the University of Vermont started an agricultural program around the cultivation of hops. One of the artifacts of this program was a manual on growing hops in the Northeast, written by Rosalie Madden. This manual eventually found its way into the hands of the Craigs, who were considering getting into the industry. This manual contained a lot of useful information, but it was geared towards the most common growers in the region at the time: hobby farmers and passion projects. As a result, the widely-used manual was mostly written for tiny farms, which would have no more than one or two acres of hops planted. Laurie and John, on the other hand, approached hops as a business from the outset. Rather than simply doing what everyone else in the region was doing, they set out to see how hops were being cultivated around the world, to try to find a model that would make sense in Ontario.

“The average size farm in Germany is 30 acres, the average size farm in Yakima, Washington is 650. Extremely different models.” Laurie told me, over a picnic table on their farm on a sunny June day. “Our farm, we modelled it after the German model, not the American.” In 2013 they attended the University Of Vermont’s annual hop conference. This conference included feedback from local brewers, which was largely negative due to various factors like mould, insects, and a lack of preservation techniques such as pelletization and freezing. This was bad news for most of the attending farmers. “You could have heard a pin drop in that room because you’re talking major expenditures and you’ve got 2 acres and the math doesn’t add up.” But for the Craigs, this wasn’t news. They had always been thinking bigger, starting out with a plot of land with 50 acres that is suitable for growing hops, and an initial goal to get in the range of the German family farms they were modelling themselves after by cultivating around 20 acres.

Even getting started on limited acreage is a considerable effort. Hops, as a general rule, are not an inexpensive crop. For one thing, you need to have sand or sandy loam for your soil and ready access to lots of water. Hops like lots of water, but will die off if they’re in standing water. For another thing, to be productive you need to be growing in certain specific areas. If you’re under the 40th parallel North the days are too short in the summer. If you’re over the 49th, they’re too long. The Yakima valley is around the 47th parallel and the Collingwood area is around 45, which makes both ideal for growing hops. Once you’ve got suitable soil on a plot of land in the right place, hops have other special requirements, such as the need to grow to a considerable height, which is usually achieved by planting telephone poles with wires hung between them. All said and done, it costs anywhere from 15,000$-50,000$ US to plant an acre of Hops.


Two or three bines per strand. Two strands per plant. Thousands of plants.


Clear Valley started out growing on roughly 13 acres. To do that they need to string 22,00 coconut fibre strings over a three week period every spring. Each string can carry three bines and each of their 11,000 or so plants can support six bines, or two strings. If everything goes well, that produces about 9,000 pounds of dried hops each fall. Their first year was one of the worst droughts the area had ever seen and they lost 9 of their 13 acres. Drought is only the beginning, there are any number of dangers for a crop in Ontario: Downy mildew, aphids, spider-mites and any number of other issues they haven’t even run into yet.  “This is not a crop you can be a hobby farmer with” Laurie told me “This crop, I am telling you, if you turn your back for two seconds you will have a problem.” Even worse, since this is so new to Ontario, they can’t even mitigate the risks with crop insurance, because that insurance requires 5 years of yields data. “If a tornado comes over and wipes us out, that’s it. We’re done for. Very high risk – most people don’t understand that.”  The end result is a huge amount of risk and a huge amount of work: John and Laurie work about 80 hours a week from spring to fall.

This work is not only spent growing hops. From the moment harvest starts in late August every year, an unforgiving clock starts to get everything packaged in a suitable manner to preserve that precious aroma in the product. Laurie explained: “When this crop comes online for harvest you have approximately a seven day window to do it in to get the peak oils from this plant. If you go too long you’re going to miss it and the product will no longer give a good flavour into the beer. By having 18 varieties what you’re doing is making sure your harvest window is nice and wide.” Since different varieties matures at different times, having 18 varieties instead of planting only what sells best, which would mean planting nothing but cascade, they can spread out the labours of harvesting the hops and produce more while maintaining their freshness standards.


What it’s all about. Lots and lots of these.


A lot of energy goes into producing the freshest possible hops. The first challenge is drying the hops, which they approached by building an oast. Theirs is a replica of oasts from Sussex, except with the structure made of dense cinder-blocks which temper the wild swings in the Ontario climate. “The Americans and Europeans dry their hops at 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Research from Oregon State University found that when you do that, you’re cooking out all the essential oils. Essential oils immediately degrade after 120 degrees Fahrenheit, so our Oast is drying the hops at 115 degrees.” An oast is basically a structure with a roof that turns naturally in the wind, causing an updraft which sucks warm air up through the hops. It’s an old, but effective technology.


Their 1973 Hopenflucker. “It’s a beast of a workhorse.” This beast pulls the hop flowers of the bines and drops them on a conveyor belt, which deposits the hops in the oast.


Unlike the larger American hop farms, where crops are compressed into bales and warehoused for extended periods during which light and oxygen can ruin flavour-producing oils, the goal at Clear Valley is to pelletize, vacuum seal, nitrogen flush and flash freeze hops within 24 hours of harvest. Even the packaging has been given special attention. “We worked with a company in Manitoba to create a bag that blocks UV light and oxygen completely once they’re put into it, so it preserves the hops for years. We have, I believe, the freshest hops in the world.”

This attention to every detail of the process of getting a quality product out is truly representative of people who take the term craft to heart. Rather than focusing on productivity or profits per acre, a craft producer is primarily interested in producing the best product they can, then putting it in the hands of people who know what to do with it. Laurie acknowledges that working their way into a market that is so used to importing all their hops was no small feat. “We’re very focused on our breweries in Ontario. Making this viable. Demonstrating (hop farming) can be brought back into Ontario.” It turns out this wasn’t actually easy, but one brewery in particular took a chance on them:

No-one believed we could do it. It’s been very very difficult. I always tell everybody I give a huge credit to Joel Manning at Mill Street. No-one would really have much to do with us. One day I sent out little samples in the mail to all these breweries to show them what we could do – it was cascade – and Joel Manning told me this story. He said he was away on holidays for a couple of weeks and that package sat on my desk. It wasn’t frozen, it wasn’t refrigerated, it sat on my desk for weeks. He said he came back from holidays and they laughed, they thought they were going to smell mould. He opened it up and he said he fell off his chair, his brewmaster fell off his chair and he says ‘Laurie I couldn’t pick up the phone fast enough to find up what you guys are up to’. He came out right away…He said ‘We’re here. Mill Street is here for you and we’re going to stay with you’ and it was the best news I had heard. He was the first to have any confidence in us.

Since then, their portfolio of brewers has grown considerably. It includes the likes of Amsterdam, Lake of Bays, Wellington, Boxing Rock (out of Nova Scotia), Dominion Brewing, Niagara Teachers College, the newly launched Tobermory Brewing Compay, Maclean’s Ales and Revel Cider, who have basically monopolized the crop of the mysterious Hop X for their excellent dry-hopped ciders. Even if they are the biggest hop farm around, Clear Valley is still a fairly small operation, which would be hard pressed to supply all the hops for a widely distributed beer. Instead, they try to establish a relationship with brewers who are willing to experiment what they have available. This collaboration with brewers lends itself well to seasonal or one-off releases that produces things like a saison dry-hopped with nugget for Dominion City and the Lake of Bays Far North series. According to Laurie “one-off stuff is ideal for your local growers because I can’t grow everything that everybody wants at the same quantity. It’s better for them to work with me to work with what I have. ”

The reward for working with them is access to a fairly unique product. Hops are a product that very much has terroir; East Kent Goldings grown outside of Kent just doesn’t taste the same as it does in its homeland, nor does Hallertau grown outside of Bavaria. What exactly defines the Ontario terroir is still being discovered, but the early results tend toward citrus, which is a good thing in the current craft beer scene. Laurie swears that her Willamette, a variety normally associated with floral and spicy notes, comes in like orange marmalade. Perle, a German hop, comes in like lemon meringue pie. Since ordering from Clear Valley won’t produce textbook flavours, they figure that the best thing for a brewery to do is visit.

The real craft brewers that take the time to come and see us and understand what we’re doing here and understand our packaging policy and understand the environment that we’re all in to give them the best fricking quality in the world. The brewers that come out here and talk to us and learn all this stay with us. If there’s one message I want to get across it’s that they need to do this. They need to educate themselves as to what happens on this farm and how important this product is to their business model. I don’t want you buy me just because I’m “local” I want you to buy from me because I’m giving you the best product on the market for your money. And we believe that. We believe we are giving them the best product on the market.

When I first reached out to them to be featured in this article, I was a little worried that I would be imposing on them. I figured that in the current hyped-up craft beer environment in Ontario and what with Clear Valley being the biggest and, in my opinion, most interesting hop growers to appear on the Ontario market in a long time, they would be getting a lot of media attention. As it turns out, this wasn’t the case. The focus these days remains squarely on the brewers. Outside of a few local papers, not many people have really come calling on Clear Valley to learn more about what they’re doing. This is a shame. Knowing of and rewarding local producers can only encourage more and better local production, which I believe will ultimately produce better local beer.


It smells amazing here. You should visit.


For their part, Clear Valley are actually doing a pretty good job of reaching out. They have a respectable website and they update their Facebook and Twitter accounts regularly. They even maintained a blog that goes into greater detail on specific parts of their operation. As an added bonus, Clear Valley will actually deal with individual buyers! They have an online store where you can buy any of their available hops in sizes ranging from 4 ounces to 11 pounds. The easier route for a farm would be to simply sell directly to brewers and maybe a few homebrew supply shops, since packaging and shipping for individual customers is often more hassle than it’s worth. Better still, last year Clear Valley started selling hop rhizomes, which is terrific for the home brewer with some space in their back yard. I’m not personally familiar with the economics, but I can’t imagine that selling rhizomes to home brewers does anything like the volume to merit the effort. I suspect they do it just because they just think it’s great that people are interested. (A word of warning: rhizomes sell out. E-mail them the winter before you want to plant and they’ll put you on the list.)

One of the things that needs to happen for the Ontario craft beer industry to take that next step forward is people who are currently into craft beer, particularly the people who are deep enough into craft beer to read to the end of this article, need to take an interest in the local industry beyond the brewers. Get out there and decide for yourself who makes the best ingredients around. Clear Valley offer free tours of the farm on weekends, which I highly recommend, especially if you’re in the Collingwood or Wasaga Beach area anyway in the summer. It’s a great way to learn more about them and what they do, plus Laurie is more than happy to answer any questions you might have. The best part though, for a beer geek and home brewer like me, is at the end they just set you loose to explore the farm on your own. Picture yourself on the back farm, mountains in the background, surrounded by rows of hops as far as you can see, without another soul in sight. It’s worth checking out.

Join us at Torontoberfest on Thanksgiving Monday

Join us at Torontoberfest on Thanksgiving Monday

The Brewer’s Backyard returns for its final event of the season, Torontoberfest, on Thanksgiving Monday, October 12th at the Evergreen Brick Works.

Torontoberfest, the Brewer’s Backyard take on Oktoberfest, will feature some of the finest breweries in the province, including Beau’s All-NaturalJunctionGraniteBlack OakAmsterdamBig Rig and Rainhard.  Serving up delicious food will be WVRST, FeasTO the Midnight Snack Co.

Join us for some tasty brews, sausages and lots of oompah from 12-5pm on Thanksgiving Monday, October 12th at the Koerner Gardens and Holcim Gallery areas of the Evergreen Brick Works.  The event runs rain or shine, as the Holcim Gallery area is covered.  Admission is free and the event is family-friendly.  We hope to see you then!

Golden Tap Awards Announced

Golden Tap Awards Announced

Last night at beerbistro the 2015 Golden Tap Awards were revealed in front of an audience of Ontario’s brewing industry and beer lovers.  The Golden Tap Awards are Ontario’s most democratic beer awards event, as all awards are voted upon by the general public.  A special set of Editor’s Circle awards are determined by a small group of beer writers to recognize achievements that fall outside of the general voting.  The 2015 Golden Tap Awards are as follows:

  • Best Brewery in Ontario: Great Lakes Brewery
  • Best Brewery for Cask-Conditioned Ales in Ontario: Granite Brewery
  • Best Brewpub or Tied House in Ontario: Bellwoods Brewery
  • Best Cidery in Ontario: West Avenue Cider Company
  • Best Regularly-Produced Beer in Ontario: Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale
  • Best Seasonal or One-Off Beer in Ontario: Great Lakes Brewery Thrust! An IPA
  • Best Cask-Conditioned Ale in Ontario: Granite Brewery Hopping Mad
  • Best Bar for Draught Selection in Ontario: Bar Hop
  • Best Bar for Packaged Beer Selection in Ontario: Bar Volo
  • Best Bar for Cask Ale Selection in Ontario: Bar Volo
  • Best Beer Event in Ontario: Cask Days
  • Best Beer Writer in Ontario: Ben Johnson
  • Best Staff in Ontario: Bar Hop
  • Best Newcomer to the Beer Scene in Ontario: Rainhard Brewing Co.
  • Most Innovative Brewery in Ontario: Bellwoods Brewery
  • Best Beer Design and Branding in Ontario: Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company
  • Brewmaster’s Choice – Best Beer in Ontario: Sawdust City Lone Pine IPA
  • Editor’s Circle Award: Charles MacLean
  • Editor’s Circle Award: Brux House
  • Editor’s Circle Award: Indie Alehouse Beer Events
  • Editor’s Circle Award: RunTOBeer
  • Best Beer of the Fest: Shillow Bitter Waitress Black IPA
Toronto Beer Week Begins Tonight!

Toronto Beer Week Begins Tonight!

TBW_2015_White_Logo_250Toronto Beer Week, a nine-day celebration of craft beer in the city, officially begins tonight.  Featuring over 35 breweries and 75 bars, Toronto will be awash in delicious beer from today until September 26th.  There are over 125 events and counting coming up, including beer festivals, tap takeovers, beer dinners, pairings and more.

This year sees the debut of Six Boroughs, the official beer of Toronto Beer Week.  Six Boroughs is a bourbon barrel-aged rye porter, which will be available at select LCBOs across Toronto as well as at select events during the week.

You can pick up a free passport at participating venues, which includes a directory of the bars, breweries and restaurants of Toronto Beer Week, partner information and more.  Toronto Beer Week has received generous support from both Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory, signifying the stature that craft beer holds in the city and province today.

Select bars across Toronto have also received 4am liquor license extensions for Toronto Beer Week – find out more details on that in the passport on online, and at the venues themselves.

Happy Toronto Beer Week, and we hope to see you out at some great events!

The Bar Towel is a proud supporter of Toronto Beer Week.  The Bar Towel’s Golden Tap Awards will be taking place on Wednesday, September 23rd at beerbistro with over 25 breweries participating in an all-Ontario craft beer festival.

Vermont Beer 2.0 : Burlington, VT

Vermont Beer 2.0 : Burlington, VT

Before Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders began making headlines, Vermont’s best known names were perhaps Sean Hill (Hill Farmstead), John Kimmich (The Alchemist), and Sean Lawson (Lawson’s Finest Liquids). Indeed, three solid reasons to make the trip to Vermont, yet with some 39 craft breweries and a population of just over 600,000 people the Northeast Kingdom continues to shape beer culture through an incredibly dedicated local population base as well as innovative brewers. On a recent trip to the Vermont’s largest city, Burlington, I decided to bypass many of the usual brewery stops and explore a few of the breweries representing Vermont’s next wave of craft beer.


First, the periphery of Burlington VT. Winooski is to Burlington what Brooklyn is to Manhattan, or at least locals like to joke. Yet, Winooski, like south Burlington, does have a slightly more creative and expressive vibe. Rents are cheaper, and breweries are growing. Down by the river sits Four Quarters Brewing. Situated in what appears to be a converted garage, Four Quarters is as relaxed a place as I have ever been. With the sound of the Winooski river in the background: patersbier, lightly smoked concoctions, and sour beers are dispensed; records and free range eggs are for sale; and the crowler is king. To some degree, the crowler, a 32 oz can filled and sealed on demand, is a bit of a gimmick, but it works. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a large can filled, sealed, and given to them? Of course it doesn’t hurt that Four Quarters is making some fine beer. We were particularly fond of the patersbier and sour beer offered during our visit. Patersbier is a style referring to the lower alcohol beer consumed by monks while preparing the trappist beers we love like Orval or Chimay. At 4%, Four Quarters’ Opus Dei patersbier was reminiscent of the trappist standards, while being refreshing and sessionable. The sour offered during our visit was inspired by a classic mojito. Flavours of lime and mint worked well with a standard sour profile. The brewhouse at Four Quarters is small, maybe 7 hec, but the effort by head brewer and owner Brian Eckert is large.


A short 15 minute drive from Winooski and we arrived at Burlington Beer Company. Located in the Burlington suburb of Williston, the Burlington Beer Company is comprised of “17.5 bbl frankenstein brewhouse,” as described by the owner and head brewer Joseph Lemnah, as well as a large production space and tap room in what is almost a hanger like structure. The tap room is full of games and is very child friendly. The beer offered is not entirely standard. Yes, there is porter, but it is a mild porter(Mason Jar Mild); yes there is a IPA, but it is a Rye IPA(Light in the Window); yes there is a saison, but it is a hoppy saison(Surfing Waves of Dopamine). Taps and cans are also accompanied by one-off 750ml special releases such as the ‘Brettanomyces Incident,‘ a double IPA fermented exclusively with Brettanomyces. Canning runs and the one-off releases seem to sell pretty quickly, but they are still slightly easier to attain than some of the harder to acquire Vermont standards.


While Four Quarters and Burlington Beer Company have branched out from the hop forward Vermont DIPA’s of the region, Matt Cohen’s Fiddlehead Brewing has entered the DIPA ring ready to fight. Second Fiddle, their limited canning run DIPA, is sold out if you don’t line up before doors open. Second Fiddle ranks among some ahead of Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine and even the lauded Heady Topper. Second Fiddle is certainly a great DIPA, and worth the wait, but the brewery’s other offerings are nothing to scoff at. Situated just outside of Burlington in the town of Shelburne, Fiddlehead encompasses half of a large barn like structure with the other side inhabited by Folino’s pizza. Grab a few growlers and head across the hall for some delicious food. Fiddlehead’s IPA and APA were both well-crafted high quality examples of the styles, but their American Wild Ale, Brett on the Dance Floor, delivered a mild brett taste with a refreshing citrus note, and certainly stood out for me. If you hope to score some Second Fiddle be sure to check the boards located in the taproom for release times. As I understand it, some releases do not get announced on social media, evidently increasing your chances of success.


Within the confines of Burlington proper is Pine Street. This north-south corridor penetrates downtown, but really gets interesting the more south you go. Dubbed the South End Arts District, Pine Street south is chalked full of breweries, restaraunts, and galleries. Older breweries like Magic Hat once defined the area, but have been quickly overshadowed by newer entries such as Queen City Brewing, Citizen Cider, Zero Gravity’s Pine Street Brewery, and Switchback. For me, Zero Gravity is a definite stand-out. Zero Gravity’s Pine Street Brewery is the culmination of years of experimentation by masterbrewer Paul Sayer. Paul has been the brewer at Zero Gravity/American Flatbread’s co-restaraunt/brewpub in the city for some time. The Pine Street location is a full-on production brewery offering the onsite sale of cans, as well as a nice taproom and patio. Currently, their Green State Lager, and Conehead Wheat IPA are available to-go. As their site states, Conehead “might just be your rushmore.” Indeed, it is a nice take on the style with a (citra)hop-forward profile.


Though most of these breweries have only been open for a few months to just over a year they are all tapping into the vibrancy of the Vermont beer scene and producing largely high quality offerings, while not limiting themselves to standard styles. Vermont offers a unique beer drinking culture where incredibly high IBU DIPA’s are the norm, and arguably the public is ready for almost any flavour that comes at them. Heady, Sunshine, and Hill Farmstead are still required drinking on any trip to Vermont, but the expansion of breweries is making more great beer available in more areas, and that is certainly not a bad thing.

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