Category Archives: bars & pubs

V For Victory


My pub profile on The Victory Café is up now over on Taste T.O., and Winston wants you to go read it.

Also: the wife and I went to a beer dinner at the Abbot On The Hill last night marking the Canadian launch of Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter. We were also there for a trade/media tasting on Saturday, where Stephen Beaumont revealed that the cask version is his go-to beer when he’s in England and at a Fuller’s pub. The keg version is obviously not quite as good as the cask (according to Beaumont, at least, but I’ll take his word for it), but it’s still a pleasant session pint.

I’ll try to post more details about the dinner (which was a smaller and less formal affair than the previous Fuller’s launch I attended) in the next day or two.

Victory, Empire and Franz Ferdinand


I spent a couple of hours on Thursday evening at The Victory Cafe, a pub that I don’t get to as often as I should. They’ve got one of the best tap line-ups in the city, a couple of cask engines, good pub grub and reasonable prices, making it a nice local for those who live closer to it than I do. Those such as Nick Pashley, for instance, who I happened to run into when I arrived.

I was mainly there to chat with the owners for an article going up on Taste T.O. this coming week, but I also wanted to check out the launch of Compass Empire Ale, their new house beer bring brewed at Nickel Brook based on a recipe by Victory co-owner Blake Smith and his father, a veteran homebrewer. All who tried it, including Blake, found that had some promise, with a nice hop notes, but the body and maltiness left something to be desired. Ends up that they hadn’t filtered the pilot versions, and the filtration of the commercial batch took more out of the beer than they expected. I’m sure some recipe tweaking will take care of that, and they should end up with the excellent British Pale Ale that they intended, to be followed by a couple of other Compass brews.

tonight_coverMy other reason for being there was to grab dinner and beers with a couple of friends before heading over to Lee’s Palace to see Franz Ferdinand. Lee’s was a regular haunt for me back in my younger days when I spent a lot of time in dark rooms having my eardrums blasted by loud music of various sorts. As I rarely do such things any more, it had been a year or two since I’d been there, but the novelty of seeing a band that I really like in a venue much smaller than those they usually play at was enough to draw me out.

(That, and the fact that it was an early show, so my old, tired ass would be out of there and home by 11:30 or so…)

I’m glad I went, as it was a solid gig, very energetic and lots of fun. It was their second in a short tour of small-venue shows in advance of their new upcoming album, Tonight, and it took them a couple of songs to really get into gear. But after a so-so new track and a kinda limp version of “Do You Want To“, they got into a groove and kept it going right up to the ripping version of “This Fire” that closed the encore. Aside from the opening number, all of the new songs were great, and got the audience just as revved up as the older hits. And since my days of music reviewing are long behind me, I’m drawing a blank on anything else I could write about the show – try reading this for a more detailed review.

Getting back to beer, though – I was impressed to see that the selection at Lee’s has improved greatly since I was last there. They’ve still got the usual mainstream suds, but they’ve added three from Mill Street, a couple from Wellington, Steam Whistle, and perhaps one or two other crafty things. Nowhere near as beer-geeky as the Victory, but for a dingy rock bar (and I mean that in the best way possible), not bad at all.

Cock & Tail (That’s What SHE Said!)


As promised, my profile of The Cock & Tail pub is up now on Taste T.O., so check it out!

(Oh, and the bartender isn’t as short as she looks in the first picture. The bar is just really frickin’ high.)

Rock Out With Your Cock Out


The photo above is a sneak peak from an article I’m working that will be running on Taste T.O. on Tuesday as the next instalment of our Pub Crawl series. This one will be a profile of The Cock & Tail, a cozy drinking hole that opened up a few blocks from our place back in the summer, and which I’ve only been to twice, but really need to make a point of visiting more often. As you can tell from the picture, they’ve got a pretty decent bottle/can list, and the 10 or so beers on tap are all Ontario and Quebec craft brews. Throw in a respectable selection of whiskies, tequilas, and other spirits, plus great tunes on the jukebox iTunes and friendly staff, and you end up with a place well worth visiting and supporting.

I’ve also been drinking at home, of course, and recently recieved and (mostly) enjoyed the second annual Discovery Pack from the Ontario Craft Brewers. This mixed pack features a beer each from six different OCB members, and unlike last year’s pack which skewed heavily towards pale lagers, this one features five ales, although at least one of them is an ale created with lager drinkers in mind. Serious beer geeks might still find the selection lacking, but as an introduction to craft beer newbies, it’s a nice little package. My full review ran on Taste T.O. this past Tuesday.

In other news, RateBeer is still down, but scuttlebutt says that they might be getting close to at least a test relaunch. I’ve got my fingers crossed, as my notebook is getting really full…

Just Because I Wasn't Writing Here Doesn't Mean I Wasn't Writing

As I mentioned upon my return the other day, one of the things that has kept me busy these past few months has been Taste T.O., the food and drink website that my wife and I publish. A good chunk of the time was spent on a redesign of the site that is about 95% complete, but I also do a lot of writing there – if you keep an eye on that site (or the RSS feed in the sidebar over to the right), you’ll know that I generally have a post of some sort up there every couple of days.

Of most interest to the folks reading this blog would be my Tuesday column, which up until recently was a Beer Of The Week series, but which will now be alternating between beer reviews and pub profiles, plus occassional pieces on other boozy beverages, such as an article on premium spirits that I did a couple of weeks ago.

As part of my pledge to post here more regularily, I’m going to try to remember to post a link here to my Taste T.O. column each Tuesday. In the meantime, here’s a round-up of everything that’s been posted since the last time I did one of these round-ups back at the end of July:

November 4th: Pub Profile – The Football Factory
October 28th: Pumpkin Beers
October 21st: Westmalle Dubbel and Koningshoeven Tripel
October 14th: Premium Brown Spirits
October 7th: Adnams Broadside Strong Original
September 30th: Canadian Brewing Awards 2008
September 23rd: Autumn Ales
September 16th: Brussels White
September 9th: Barley Days Summer Light Ale
September 2nd: Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva
August 26th: Bass Pale Ale
August 19th: Edelweiss Snowfresh
August 12th: Robert Simpson Anti-Gravity Light Ale
August 5th: Yanjing Beer

Montreal – Part 2: Ass Sandwich


Saturday in Montreal found me suffering a slight case of The Morning After The Night Before, with an empty stomach calling for something tasty and a little greasy, so I was glad when Paul went out to grab a Coke and discovered a promising looking breakfast place just around the corner. Restaurant Mosaik (5201 St-Laurent) was, as the reviews promise, a perfect place for a hangover breakfast – a laid-back vibe, friendly staff, good coffee, and food that’s a step up from diner fare without being too chi-chi. A nice touch was the inclusion of a serving of creton, a traditional Québécois pork pâté that I’d never tried before – horribly unhealthy, I’m sure, but really tasty on toast.

After breakfast (well – given the time, it was closer to being lunch), we took a wander around the neighbourhood and checked out a small location of SAQ, the provincial liquor store chain. Since beer is available in grocery and corner stores, the government-run stores don’t carry much of it, but they’re worth a visit to check out the selection of ice cider, a delicious beverage indigenous to Québéc that’s filled with appley goodness.

Keep reading this post

Montreal – Part 1: Pata-Chou!


I’ve only visited Montreal a few times, but two of those visits have played a pretty big role in increasing my interest in craft beer.

The first time was in 2000, when I attended the first instalment of MUTEK, an electronic music and arts festival that is held there every May. My time there happened to coincide with Mondial de la Bière, Montreal’s renowned beer festival, so I headed down to check it out one afternoon. I had always been a microbrew drinker, and enjoyed trying new brews here and there, but Mondial exposed me to beers and styles that I’d never heard of, let alone tried before, and it inspired me to expand my beer horizons once I returned home. Still, it remained more of a casual interest than the obsession it has since become.

It was my next visit just over two years later that helped push me over the edge. I headed there with a friend primarily to represent Piehead Records, a small record label that my wife and I were running at the time, at a concert by three artists we had signed. But we also spent a lot of our weekend visiting some of Montreal’s brewpubs and beer bars – including the now semi-legendary Dieu Du Ciel! – and we came back with a trunk full of weird and wonderful Quebecois beers. A couple of weeks later, I discovered RateBeer, and the inevitable slide into complete beer geekdom soon followed.

Last weekend, I finally made a long overdue return visit to Montreal with three of my regular beer pals, and the focus of the trip was beer, beer and more beer. Hell, we even stayed in the apartment above Dieu Du Ciel!, so you know that we were serious.

Keep reading this post

Esplanade Bier Markt

This article was originally written in February 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in September 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.

Esplanade Bier Markt
58 The Esplanade
(416) 535-8089
dinner for two with beer, tax & tip: $125

I like good food. I like good beer. I really like good food and good beer together. So applying accepted scientific principles, it would seem that I should just love Esplanade Bier Markt. Before beerbistro and other so-called gastropubs came along, the Markt was the first place in Toronto that attempted to show that beer can be paired with good quality food just as well as wine. They had a beer list that was at the time rivalled only by the selection at Smokeless Joe, and they served a solid line-up of bistro-inspired dishes. All in all, it was a seemingly perfect place for me.

For a number of reasons, though, I’ve never really enjoyed myself there. The ambience suffers from a severe case of split personality, and while beer is obviously the Bier Markt’s main raison d’être, it sometimes feels as if it’s not given the attention it deserves. But before getting too negative, I should focus on some of the good things about the Bier Markt. As noted above, the food has always been great, and remains so under executive chef Michael Cipollo.

Keep reading this post

Sick in Seattle

My body often doesn’t take well to travelling, especially when it involves different time zones. Adapting to a different eating and sleeping cycle, even when it’s only 2 or 3 hours difference, does a bit of a number on me, with the main symptom being, uh, “gastro-intestinal distress” (to put it politely). Normally, popping a few Pepto tablets keeps things in check, but this time it seems to be hitting me even harder than usual, and has expanded to include headaches and a generally feeling of crappiness.

As a result, I’ve not been enjoying my visit to Seattle as much as I would have liked. I’ve only visited a handful of places that I’d planned on seeing, and while it’s only afternoon on Saturday, I’m honestly considering just staying in my hotel room for the rest of the day & evening. The idea of drinking more beer is actually somewhat unappealing. This is not good.

Still – I have managed to get a bit of exploring in, starting with last night when I headed out to Capitol Hill neighbourhood. This area is Seattle’s version of Greenwich Village or Queen Street West, as well as the heart of the city’s gay community, so needless to say there are lots of funky shops, trendy restaurants, espresso bars, high-end grocery stores and the like.

My first stop in the ‘hood was the Elysian Brewpub (1221 E Pike St.), a large and inviting place that seems to be popular with the slightly aging hipster set. Several tables were taken by post-grunge couples in their mid-30s who had brought along their little Kurts & Courtneys in training. One kid in particular caught my eye – he couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6, and he was dressed in faded jeans, a red plaid shirt, and had a mop of dirty blonde hair. Very cute, in an odd sort of way.

Anyway, my well-inked waitress was chipper and friendly, and the beer and food were both quite good. My dinner was grilled mahi-mahi tacos – the fish was a bit overdone, but still tasty. And on the beer side, I did a sampler flight of five of their house beers, with the Hydra Hefeweizen and Perseus Porter being my faves, and followed that up with a glass of their Spirit Fire IPA, which was a hop bomb but in a very good way.

Leaving Elysian, I walked a couple of blocks over to Broadway, which looked to be the main drag in the area. When I got the corner of Pike & Broadway, I saw a Bartell Drugs, and recalled that Sheryl had found out from a friend that they carried Idaho Spuds, a local candy bar that we had read about in Steve Almond‘s Candyfreak and wanted to try. I went in and found not only Spuds, and Sheryl’s beloved Payday bars, but about a dozen other candy bars that we’d never tried. I called Sheryl to list them off, and she replied with “one of those, and two of those, and…”. The somewhat embarrassing result is pictured to the right.

Next up was The Stumbling Monk (1635 E. Olive Way). Located a couple of blocks off of Broadway, this a serious blink-and-you’ll-miss-it place. I ended up walking several blocks past the turn on Broadway, and then had to keep my eyes open for it once I back-tracked and found the right street. It has no sign and heavily frosted windows, so unless you know it’s there, odds are you won’t find it – but according to the friendly barman, that suits them fine. They have a steady local clientele who dig the laidback neighbourhood vibe of the place, as well as the impeccable beer list. After all, where else would you find a corner tavern with Duchesse De Bourgogne, Chimay White and Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux on tap, alongside some solid local micros? And I’m sure the the large, Belgian-heavy bottle list probably helps, as well as the remarkably reasonable prices. I spent an enjoyable couple of hours at the bar, and put back some of the aforementioned Duchesse along with an Imperial Stout and a Silk Lady Belgian-Style Ale from Dick’s Brewing of Centralia, Washington. All nice stuff.

And then I woke up this morning with what I originally thought to be a hangover, but what has proven to be something more nefarious. I managed to get out for a couple of hours at least, and I’m still not sure about whether or not I’ll head back out this evening. Whatever happens, watch this space for a summary in the next day or two. Bleh.

Sheraton Gets Serious About Beer

Today’s post by Jay over at Brookston Beer Bulletin reminded me that I intended to write about this topic back in November, but I never got around to it. Ah, well, better late than never…

I don’t travel a lot, but when I do, I always lament the poor beer selection that I find in most hotel restaurants and mini-bars. While I understand that hotels (at least the mid-range ones that I usually stay at) generally try to cater to the average (i.e. unadventurous) person when it comes to their food and drink offerings, their boring beer lists have always seemed like a wasted opportunity to me. After all, most tourists visit new places in order to experience things that make those places unique, including the local food and drink. So why not offer them some locally made craft beer?

It seems like someone at Sheraton Four Points, one of the mid-range chains owned by hotel giant Starwood, had the same idea, as they launched a new initiative called Best Brews this past fall. According to the mid-November press release, bars and restaurants in Four Points properties around the world now feature beer lists that offer “a selection of local, regional and imported craft beers”, with each location serving “a minimum of four draught beers and a selection of up to 20 bottled beers”. In addition, “all Four Points lounge and restaurant staff must complete the Best Brews online training program and master all aspects of the curriculum”, and each location will have a “beer champion” on staff who will be “helping guests discover new tastes and brands, as well as educating them about the differences between each beer”.

Looking over the Best Brews web page, this looks to be a serious and well-researched program. Unlike some other online resources, the information presented on the site is accurate and informative without being too geeky or know-it-all-ish. And adding a but of fun to the whole thing is the “job search” for a “Chief Beer Officer” that Four Points have been running for the past few weeks. The press release claims that it is a real position that they are looking to fill, with something verging on an actual job description:

One of the primary duties of the CBO will be to document all official activities and beer learnings on a Four Points beer blog. This includes discovering new brews to feature in the program and sharing their thoughts about each beer they sample in the portfolio, as the CBO will have a sampling of the collection delivered to their door each quarter.

However, the online “application” for the position is just a series of simple multiple-choice questions related to beer, and a request for your address and phone number, suggesting that it may just be a ploy to promote the program and build a mailing list of microbrew drinkers. Whatever the aim, it’s still an exciting step forward for craft beer, and one that will likely convince many beer lovers – including myself – to consider staying at Four Points hotels during any trips we may take in the future.