Posts by Cass Enright

Santa Monica Yacht Club

Introducing Santa Monica Yacht Club

May 11th, 2017 Posted by Feature, Importing No Comment yet

Santa Monica Yacht Club LogoWe are thrilled to announce the launch of Santa Monica Yacht Club (SMYC), a boutique agency for the drinkers of Ontario, representing imported craft beers, wines and spirits. SMYC is a re-imagination of Bar Towel Imports, the agency brand created by The Bar Towel.

SMYC is meant to be an open importing agency, one where we involve the drinking public in what we do.  We call ourselves the Santa Monica Yacht Club as we think of ourselves as a collective of passionate beverage enthusiasts, providing drinkers with access to premium products and unique events, and providing breweries, wineries and distilleries with creative representation and distribution within the Ontario marketplace.

If you are a drinker, we invite you to Join the SMYC, and we’ll keep you in the loop for the latest releases, events and opportunities with our importing partners. We also want to want to hear about the best beer, wine and spirits that you wish you had access to in Ontario, and we will endeavour to import them. If you are a brewery, winery or distillery and would like to expand your business in Ontario, we would love to discuss this with you. We are a full-service agency and can work with you across sales, marketing, events and branding in Ontario.

We are very excited to also announce a partnership with À la Fût of Quebec for representation in Ontario. À la Fût is a renowned brewery with numerous sour and barrel-aged beers, and has won Beer of the Year in the Canadian Brewing Awards, World’s Best Kriek at the World Beer Awards and has medalled in the World Beer Cup. We are in the midst of some initial plans for À la Fût in Ontario so please join up so we can keep you updated about the debut of this great brewery here, along with our other partners including Hartfield & Co. from Kentucky and Ruhstaller from California.

We look forward to enjoying some interesting and unique beverages with the drinkers of Ontario!


A Beer At…La Quinta Brewing Co.

May 9th, 2017 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature, On The Road Reports No Comment yet
La Quinta Brewing Co.

The La Quinta Brewing Co., and palm trees.

The Bar Towel continues our series entitled “A Beer At…”, where we feature a single bar or restaurant, have a beer or two and get a feel for what makes it special. This visit is to the La Quinta Brewing Co., located in the Coachella Valley of California.

Good beer is everywhere. From big city to small village, it seems nowadays that there’s a small brewery there now, and thriving. This is no different in the desert region of California, where although the heat can be unlike anything we see this side of the border, plenty of good beer is available to help cool things down.

In the Coachella Valley, probably most well known around these parts for the music festival named after it, contains a row of small cities including Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta and Indio, about 130 miles inland from Los Angeles. It was here recently where I spent a few days in La Quinta, a golfer’s haven and home to the La Quinta Brewing Co. which I was able to visit.

La Quinta Old Town Taproom draught lineup

The draught lineup at the Old Town Taproom.

La Quinta Brewing Co. is actually comprised of two locations, the actual brewery which includes a taproom, and a second, non-brewing taproom. The brewery is located in an industrial area just off Interstate 10 in Palm Desert, with the views of the Joshua Tree mountains in the distance. The brewery’s taproom has about a dozen beers available – during my visit there was a wide range of styles including a blonde, amber, honey wheat, brown, American IPA, coffee porter (plus the bourbon barrel aged version, which won the gold medal in the Wood and Barrel Aged Beer category of the 2016 World Beer Cup), session IPA, blood orange ale, maibock and Irish red. The brewery taproom was a cozy spot with samples, flights, glasses and merchandise available.

Their second location is in an area of La Quinta called Old Town, a quaint little walkable area with shops and restaurants. Walking into the Old Town Taproom is a respite from the usual heat that is common in the region, with a direct line right to the bar, where the orders are taken. Similar to the brewery taproom plenty of beer options abound here, as La Quinta eschews traditional seasonal choices for a wide range of styles, as it’s always hot here. There was much overlap from the offerings at the brewery taproom, but with the additional of eight guest taps accompanying the house beers, including offerings from Pizza Port, Anderson Valley, Hangar 24 and others.

La Quinta Old Town Taproom.

The Old Town Taproom.

It’s a simple place, made for drinking. It’s a fairly stark interior, marked by a concrete floor and metal tables and chairs. But it’s a warm spot, where’s a long bar around the taps, communal high top tables, TVs and board games. It has the definite feel of a locals place, with folks at the bar on a weekday afternoon chatting about happenings about town, tales from working at the local resorts and previous nights at the taproom.

A side door access leads to a nice patio facing some of the other shops of Old Town, where you can sit at a table and get occasionally misted with overhanging mist ropes. It’s a nice touch when you’d like a little heat and sunshine but with some relief from time to time.

While I was at the brewery I was fortunate to have a quick chat with Mychal Renteria, Sales Representative from La Quinta Brewing about the history of the brewery, what it’s like to have a brewery in the desert and other great craft beer spots in the area. Give a listen to this episode of Bar Towel Radio below or on iTunes or Google Play:


The Coachella Valley area is a great destination – quite literally unlike anything in Canada. It’s a resort community built up from the desert, where it is easy to spend the days taking in the perpetual warmth. But with La Quinta Brewing and the area’s emerging scene, there is now some great beer to savour in the sunshine.

The La Quinta Brewery Taproom is located at 77917 Wildcat Drive in Palm Desert, CA and is open Sunday-Thursday from 2pm-8pm, and Friday-Saturday from 2pm-9pm. The Old Town Taproom is located at 78-065 Main Street #100 in La Quinta, CA and is open Sunday-Thursday 12pm-10pm, and Friday-Saturday 12pm-12am. Note that minors (under 21 years of age) are not permitted, and food is not served at either location.

Aaron Spinney and Cass Enright

Bar Towel Radio with Aaron Spinney

March 4th, 2017 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

This week we sat down for a beer and a chat with Aaron Spinney, the brewer of the soon-to-open Merit Brewing in Hamilton, Ontario.  Aaron is one of the many nice dudes in the Ontario beer scene, and it is exciting to see his new venture take shape alongside Tej Sandhu and (OG Bar Towel Forum member) Jesse Vallins, two other well-known players in the local beer and food world.

You can listen to this episode of Bar Towel Radio below or on iTunes or Google Play:


Bar Volo - Outside Tap Board

Memories from the Last Days of Bar Volo

October 11th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature 1 comment

On October 1st, 2016, Bar Volo, one of Toronto’s most revered beer bars, closed its doors due to a future development on the property. Bar Volo has been one of the most influential beer bars in the local beer scene, as they have hosted numerous tap takeovers, beer events and tastings over the years, perhaps most notably Cask Days, which is now a stand-alone festival at the Evergreen Brick Works.

Bar Volo’s final day coincided with this year’s Zwanze Day, an international, simultaneous beer festival of sorts, whereby numerous bars around the world all tap a special keg from the Cantillon Brewery of Belgium.

Being Volo’s last day, I took this opportunity to chat with the many brewers, beer lovers and other members of the beer industry who attended to celebrate this momentous beer bar, and look forward to Volo’s new beginnings on College Street and Church Street.

This episode of Bar Towel Radio consists of personal memories recorded live over the final two days of Bar Volo.  Some of the stories recounted included the first Cask Days, the Beau’s tap takeover Beaulo, the Stone Brewing feature, the Dieu du Ciel Peche Mortel launch event and the first Funk Night, amongst others.

Thanks to the participants which included Maz Brereton, Nick Pashley, Ken Woods, Doug Shoemaker, Russ Burdick, Jason Fisher, Ryan Morrow, Robin LeBlanc, Rob Morra, Mike Lackey, Cody Noland, Michael Hancock, Sam Corbeil, Zack Weinberg, Matt Tweedy, Jason Tremblay, Iain Mcoustra, Luc Lafontaine, Julian Morana and Ralph Morana.

You can listen to the episode below or on iTunes or Google Play:



A Fireside Chat with Muskoka’s Gary McMullen

October 8th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

Earlier this week Muskoka Brewery hosted a beer dinner at Café Belong at the Evergreen Brick Works, to promote the launch of their new winter seasonal, Shinnicked Stout. Around the outdoor campfire which concluded the dinner, I was able to have a quick chat with Gary McMullen, founder of Muskoka, about their history, the evolution of the Ontario beer scene and the current state of their brewery.

Give a listen to the latest episode of Bar Towel Radio below or on iTunes or Google Play:


Please note: as the episode was recorded outdoors, at times there was some wind noise. Hopefully that will not interfere with your enjoyment of the episode.


A Beer with Jim Koch

September 27th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature No Comment yet

Jim Koch, Founder and Brewer of the Boston Beer Company, known for the legendary beer brand Samuel Adams, was in town last week for Toronto Beer Week. During that time I was fortunate to record a podcast with him, and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my beer drinking lifetime.

Samuel Adams has had a long history in Ontario and with my own personal beer experiences. I recall Samuel Adams Boston Ale hitting the LCBO shelves in the 1990s and how delicious it was. Of course how could I forget the appearance of Triple Bock, a beer so different I don’t think anyone of my generation had tried anything like it before.  I remember interesting seasonals like Old Fezziwig coming to Ontario which were unlike what we were seeing locally at the time, and spent early travels in the United States seeking out others. And I was grateful to Samuel Adams (and their local partner Moosehead) for entrusting me to the scoop of their initial release of Utopias and Infinium to the Ontario market back in 2010.

It was an absolute pleasure to chat with Jim, a charming man who has been a pioneer in the microbrewing and craft beer industry and an extremely astute and successful businessman, but a humble and friendly individual generous enough to spare some time for a long-time fan. Give it a listen below, or via iTunes or Google Play.

Give it a listen below or on iTunes or Google Play:


2016 Golden Tap Awards Announced

September 23rd, 2016 Posted by Beer Awards, Feature, Golden Tap Awards No Comment yet

Last night at beerbistro the 2016 Golden Tap Awards were handed out at a gala event featuring an all-Ontario craft beer festival.  The Golden Tap Awards are Ontario’s most democratic beer awards event, and have been recognizing achievements in the beer industry for fourteen years. The winners were as follows:

  • Best craft brewery: Great Lakes
  • Best bar for draught beer selection: Bar Hop
  • Best bar for bottled and/or canned beer selection
  • Best brewpub or tied house: Bellwoods Brewery
  • Best regularly-produced craft beer: Great Lakes Canuck Pale Ale
  • Best seasonal, limited release or specialty craft beer: Great Lakes Karma Citra
  • Best craft cidery: West Avenue
  • Best Beer Design and Branding: Collective Arts
  • Most Innovative Brewery: Bellwoods Brewery
  • Best Newcomer (Bar): Bar Hop Brewco
  • Best Newcomer (Brewery): Halo Brewery
  • Best Event: Cask Days
  • Best Staff: Bar Hop
  • Best Beer Writer: Ben Johnson
  • Brewmaster’s Choice: Bellwoods Motley Cru
  • Best Beer of the Festival: Indie Alehouse Interloper
  • Editor’s Circle Award: Escarpment Labs
  • Editor’s Circle Award: Brad Campeau / Brew Donkey
  • Editor’s Circle Award: Stephen Beaumont
  • Editor’s Circle Award: Ralph Morana

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all who voted!


Quaff & Ale with Jason Fisher of Indie Alehouse

September 15th, 2016 Posted by Feature, Quaff & Ale 2 comments

As we approach the start of 2016’s Toronto Beer Week, we are proud to present a new Quaff & Ale with Jason Fisher, owner of the Indie Alehouse.  Indie was the brewer of the official beer of Toronto Beer Week, Interloper, and is hosting the West End Social on Monday, September 19th, plus a ‘Hangover Brunch‘ on Sunday, September 25th after Toronto Beer Week wraps up.

Who is Jason Fisher?

Who indeed. I’m the owner of the Indie Alehouse. Outspoken about Ontario liquor laws and I occasionally channel Steve Jobs, particularly when he was an asshole to people who could not keep up. But I’m working on it.

You got into professional brewing late, but not brewing itself. Tell us about your path to founding the Indie Alehouse.

I got in early and late. I brewed my first batch of home-brew at the age of 16 for my grade 10 science project in 1985. Got addicted to it, the process of brewing and the results were so much better than I thought they could be. I then read every brewing book or magazine I could find. I have a complete collection of several brewing magazines many of which are out of print now. At the time, the idea of opening a brewery was as unlikely as going to Mars. I went off to Dalhousie University and found out the undergrad geology department had a very serious homebrew club and lab set up so I transferred from chemistry to geology. After school I home-brewed for 10 years then kind of gave it up for a time with no realistic possibility of opening without a role model or a lottery victory. I had a good job that I hated but it paid off the student loan and I was learning business and marketing. Then in 2001 or so, I read Brewing up a Business by Sam Calagione and that was a huge turning point for me. His journey was not too dissimilar than mine, except he went for it at an early age. I decided to work on a plan to do this. I decided to try and learn as much about running a business as I could and learn from successful breweries in the U.S. that I loved so that if I could ever get the cash together I would have some skills to be ready to open a brewery. I also traveled in the U.S. a lot, so I visited and spoke with as many breweries as I could. In 2009 I had 20+ years of business experience, savings and a buy-out from a small company I worked at and enough business analytics and marketing experience to know I could figure out the rest. So I quit my job and set about opening the Indie Alehouse. It took 2.5 years from that time, but we opened in October 2012. As for not being a full time brewer, I try to spend as much time in the brewery as possible, I’m still in on every recipe discussion and and try to get some time on the system when I can, but the paperwork and management time is unreal when doing this on your own. Sooner or later, I will work a regular shift in the brewery just making beer and let someone else look after the bills. I have a plan for that too.

You’re almost a veteran of the Ontario beer scene now due to the explosive growth since your opening. What’s changed from your perspective since you opened?

Yeah, thats scary that Indie is part of the older breweries now. It tells you how much things have changed in such a short time. Maybe people saw me doing it and figured it had to be easy if I was doing it? It is much easier to open now than it was only 5 years ago, I shudder to think what Beau’s and those older breweries had to go through 10 years ago. Craft beer is now in the daily vocabulary in Toronto, that was not the case 5 years ago. I’m sure one of the beer writers in town could tell you the exact number, but I think there were less than 5 real “American Craft Beer style IPA’s” made in Ontario in 2010, today there has to be close to 100. What’s changed is someone finally showed the way. I’m proud to be a very small part of that, and am grateful to those who came before and were of great help to me. I think the recession of 2008/2009 helped a lot too. With most industries tanking on Ontario, craft beer grew >50% those years, while other categories were stagnant or declining, and I think business people finally took notice.

Who are some of the brewers or breweries that you’ve looked up to or inspired you?

I have a great deal of respect for the Ontario breweries that came before us, because I know it had to have been much harder to get as far along as they have than it was for us to get here. But my inspiration and role-models have all been U.S. craft breweries. I spent more than a decade modelling what they did well, and failed at so I could have the advantage of that knowledge when I started out. In part for their business model and complete generosity in sharing their knowledge as well as the their approach to brewing and their beers – I have always found Russian River, Dogfish Head, Stone and Three Floyds brewing companies to be the answer to most of my questions and roadblocks. And their beers always teach me something.

What are some of your favourite beers you’ve made at Indie?

Instigator IPA was an old home-brew recipe I have brewed for 20+ years, so its my go-to #1. I love the sours and barrel aged and blended beers, the process is so much fun, our Flanders style ‘Ritual Madness’ is another top choice when it’s available.

What are some of your favourite beers in Ontario (or elsewhere) right now?

It’s way too big a list these days, it was not that long ago the list was two or three beers tops. Being inside the industry has very limited perks, but knowing whats coming soon from other breweries and will be fresh is one of them. I try to get fresh IPAs from Great Lakes and Rainhard because they are close by and amazing, whatever funky farmhouse or barrel aged beer is coming from Amsterdam and any of the stuff from Bellwoods the brewers recommend to me.

What does the future hold for the Indie Alehouse?

In the short term, paperwork and meetings. We are considering an expansion, but a small one. World domination and making as much beer as possible are not our goals. Making beer our way, as good as we can make it and having fun doing it – those are the goals.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to get into the beer scene professionally?

Someone comes asking for advice at least once a week, I’m always happy to help real breweries any way I can, as others did for me. My number one piece if advice is to be brutally honest and critical with yourself about what you can do and can no do and why you want to do this. If it’s money, fame and those kinds of things – I can’t help you, you’re crazy. If you think you can do it all yourself, or if you think the brewing part is easy, you’ll just find a brewer – you’re in for a huge reality change. Usually people have questions about financing, paperwork and the processes of opening – those are daunting, large tasks at first but become more manageable with even a little assistance. My advice after helping with those tasks is to make a beer you love, not one that you think will sell well.

What is your most memorable beer experience?

I once had a beer in a pub with Michael Jackson in Yorkshire, the place was packed and I only managed to say “Hi, I love your books” and he said “Cheers”. That’s it. I was nervous. I have also been lucky enough to get some advice and have a beer with Sam Calagione, that meant a lot to me at the time, and still does. But now I can get great support and advice from local brewers, realizing that is the case a year or so ago, how much things have changed here, that is the best.

Where do you see the beer scene headed in Ontario?

Answering this would get me in a lot of trouble – so I will say this: there will be some ups and downs coming very soon. That’s not a bad thing, it happened in the U.S. and it will happen here. We have come a long way in a short time, but to get to the next level beyond marketing noise, contract brewers and Beer Store monopolies – and into the promised land of a high number of quality beers easily accessible, that will be much harder. We have a number of institutional and systemic changes to make, including in peoples’ minds, and right now I don’t think we have the leadership or infrastructure to do it. Everyone is too busy opening up, growing and making beer. Which is amazing, but for it all to last and get better, we need to make some changes. Lots of people don’t agree with me, we will see soon enough who is right.

Indie has been known for excellent events. What goes into a great beer event?

It’s part of my business background, putting on and hosting events – so it’s a comfortable space for me. Two key principles go into an Indie event, and I have found they have served me well. One, the event has to be true to the business, it has to feel like an Indie Alehouse event, not like we were trying to be like anyone else. For us that means no gimmicks, no long speeches between courses and not trying to be a wine tasting. Huge value at a fair price. Two, run the event in your walkthrough planning meetings a hundred times or more. From the view of the customer, the staff, the kitchen, the customers who will be turned away when we are closed, from the VIPs being invited, etc. Again and again and again. Then be ready to improvise, because something always happens, like a power outage or a roof leak.

You’ve done a lot of collaboration beers at Indie. What are some of the memorable ones?

We did tons at the start, then essentially stopped them when they became kind of a joke in the industry. We actually met with and brewed with our collaborators. Then all of a sudden there were festivals of collaborations, 99% of which involved musical acts who never set foot inside a brewery – it became a marketing ploy when it was once a way to share the brewing experience and for brewers to learn from each other and make adventurous beers. It turned into a way for an event organizer to make money and people to cash in on craft beer. So we dramatically slowed down our collaborations and when we do them we didn’t publicize them very much. It was originally for fun and adventure, anything less than that is not for me. The two most memorable collaborations – we brewed with Ralph Morana for the Bar Volo 25th anniversary – we used Italian chestnuts in a saison and made “Ralph’s Nuts” – such a great beer in my mind. Second, there was an infamous attempt at a collaboration with Iain McOustra from Amsterdam. We may have had “a few beers” during the brewing – and possibly for that reason, we neglected the beer and we encountered “a few problems”. What was initially supposed to be a Tripel, turned into a kettle sour and it was the first one we ever made.

What was it like to develop the official beer for TBW this year?

Like most things Indie Alehouse, we likely should have not pursued this, it was too big a task for us this year and would have been a much better idea two or three years from now. However, that’s not how we do things, so we went for it. It’s far too complicated a beer and process for the resources and time we have on hand, but you don’t know what you are capable of if you don’t test your limits. It put a very large strain on the brewers to make these 20HL of beer in the middle of our busiest summer ever when we are at full capacity all the time. But we did it and I can’t wait for people to tell me its not like a traditional Farmhouse Ale. It’s not, we know. We went for a big-risk beer style that is not well known to even many craft beer drinkers, our first LCBO listing and did it while at full capacity. That’s what I want to keep doing at Indie.

Thank you Jason, and have a great Toronto Beer Week!

Pizza Port in Ocean Beach, San Diego.

San Diego’s Beer Paradise

September 10th, 2016 Posted by Bar Towel Radio, Feature, On The Road Reports No Comment yet

San Diego is one of my favourite beer drinking cities, and generally just an amazing place to visit all-around. Recently I was able to spend a couple of days there enjoying the always delicious beer, and was fortunate to be able to chat with Jill Davidson, President of the San Diego Brewers Guild about the region’s dynamic and thriving beer scene.

In this podcast we chat about the early days of San Diego beer, where the local beer scene is headed, some of the great breweries and neighbourhoods to check out, San Diego Beer Week, and all about Pizza Port, where Jill works full-time and one my most loved beer spots anywhere.

Give it a listen below or on iTunes: