Tag Archives: beerbistro

Breaking the Boundaries of Beer Cocktails at beerbistro

For most of my drinking career, my opinion of beer cocktails has been one of mild ambivalence. While I’ve tried and enjoyed a few, I never really saw much point to them as I’ve always looked at beer as a beverage meant to be consumed and enjoyed in its original form.

Recently, though, I’ve been shown that if made by the right set of hands, a beer cocktail can be a truly unique creation that is more than just a lager or ale mixed over ice with a couple of other ingredients. Especially when those hands belong to Michelle Tham, the bar manager at beerbistro.

I first tried Tham’s mixological creations a few weeks ago, when beerbistro hosted a low-key tasting featuring a couple of cocktails that she had crafted using beers from Unibroue. The brewery’s gregarious beer sommelier Sylvain Bouchard was on hand to talk about the drinks and to present and explain some food pairings, but it was Tham’s demo that was the most interesting and enlightening part of the event.

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Brooklyn Brewery Dinner at beerbistro

This article was originally written in March 2007 for the now-defunct food and drink website Gremolata. It was re-published here in September 2011, but back-dated to appear in the blog archives close to its original publication date.

According to Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver, beer is better than wine.

OK, perhaps that’s both simplifying and exaggerating his stance a bit. I don’t know if he’s ever used the words “better than” to describe the relationship between the two beverages. But much of what Oliver has said and done in the past decade or so has made it quite clear that he feels that beer has gotten the short end of the stick for far too long, and that it is just as deserving as wine is to be paired with food of every sort. In fact, he’s been quoted as saying that beer has a much wider range of styles and flavours than wine does, and he attempted to prove it in The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food, his 2003 book that has quickly become a bible to beer-friendly chefs the world over.

(I should also make it clear that Oliver is by no means an anti-wine zealot. On the contrary, he actually has great respect for the grape. He has been on several wine tasting panels, including one for the New York Times, and has travelled extensively in some of the world’s best wine regions. He just loves beer more.)

To mark the recent arrival of his brewery’s flagship Brooklyn Lager to LCBO shelves, Oliver came to town at the end of February for a sold-out six-course dinner at beerbistro. Together with Chef Brian Morin, he created a series of pairings that proved his beer-meets-food theories and showcased the diversity and quality of the Brooklyn Brewing line-up. And the pair also played around with the idea of “American” food to create some fun and unique dishes.

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A Brief Introduction to Toronto’s Craft Beer Scene

This article was originally written in May 2006 for the now-defunct food and drink website Gremolata. It was re-published here in September 2011, but back-dated to appear in the blog archives close to its original publication date.

If you’re a lover of fine beer and you live in Ontario, life is often frustrating. The selection of beers available to you – at least on a retail level – is limited to what the overlords at the Beer Store/LCBO duopoly think you should be consuming. At the Beer Store, consumers in most outlets are still forced to place their orders at a counter based on a wall of tiny logos, which undoubtedly stifles the chances of many smaller breweries and imports finding new customers (although the owners of the Beer Store – Labatt, Molson and Sleeman – probably prefer it that way). At the LCBO, beer often seems like an afterthought: local craft beers that are clearly labelled “Keep Refrigerated” are displayed on warm shelves under harsh lighting; the import selection rarely changes and is focused largely on a plethora of indistinguishable pale lagers; and the limited seasonal releases are small, badly promoted, and poorly distributed.

Still, there are some positive things to be said about our local beer scene. The selection of Ontario craft beers at both major outlets has improved in the last couple of years, and our local brewers are taking more chances, making bolder beers both as year-round products and as interesting seasonals and one-off experiments that are available in bars and via direct brewery sales. The LCBO has a few world-class imports on their general list, and others appear in the seasonal releases, generally at prices that are quite a bit lower than those paid by our American friends at their private liquor stores. And in Toronto in particular, specialist beer bars and restaurants have started depending more and more on private and consignment orders to offer patrons beers that aren’t available anywhere else on Ontario.

As Gremolata’s new beer writer, I’ll be trying to focus on these positive aspects of the beer scene in Toronto and Ontario. That’s not to say that I won’t sometimes go off on a rant about the latest stupid beer decision made by the LCBO, but generally, I’ll be bringing you information about the people and places that are fighting the good fight for great beer.

To start things off, I thought I’d give a quick overview of some of those people and places. In future instalments, I’ll be giving some of these folks and establishments more in-depth coverage – just think of this as a sampler tray in advance of the full pints to come.

The undisputed nexus of Toronto’s beer scene is The Bar Towel. Launched in 1998 by beer aficionado Cass Enright, the site was initially a sort of proto-blog about his favourite beers and bars, but has become better known in recent years for its very active forum where local drinkers, brewers, importers and bar owners gather to discuss the business and pleasure of beer. The site also has a news feed – maintained by yours truly – that features event announcements, brewery & bar news, info about new product releases, and more.

As for the folks who brew the tasty beverage, most of the province’s small and mid-sized breweries banded together last year to form the Ontario Craft Brewers. Through their website, LCBO displays and other promotional events, the group hopes to expose more Ontarians to the beers that are born, bred and brewed in their own cities and towns.

If you’re looking for a place to go out and try some OCB wares in Toronto, you’ve got quite a few options. One of the original craft beer bars in Toronto is C’est What (67 Front St. E.), a casual restaurant and pub at that has featured a wide variety of Ontario and Quebec microbrews – as well as a few house beers – since they opened in 1988. Just a couple of blocks away, you’ll find the newer and more upscale beerbistro (18 King St. E.), where chef Brian Morin and beer expert Stephen Beaumont have embarked on a mission “to celebrate fresh market beer cuisine elevating it to a new level of sophistication and flavour.” Their tap list includes a good mixture of locals and imports, and their extensive bottle list delves even further into the many styles of beer, including some very rare cellar exclusives.

Heading up Yonge Street you’ll find Volo, a somewhat unassuming little Italian eatery that has become one of Toronto’s essential beer destinations. Originally a wine guy, owner Ralph Morana discovered the joys of beer a couple of years ago and decided to build a beer list for his place. He now boasts one of the most unique selections of beer in the city, including exclusive offerings from well regarded American breweries like Hair Of The Dog, Bear Republic and Great Divide that he has brought in on private order.

Further north is The Granite (245 Eglinton Ave. E.), Toronto’s only true brewpub with a half-dozen beers brewed on-site and served fresh. The Granite’s English style ales pair well with their hearty pub grub, and thanks to changes in brewery legislation a couple of years ago, they are now allowed to sell their beer at other locations such as Volo, where you will often find Granite Best Bitter on the cask ale handpump.

Hopefully, following the links and visiting the locations above will give you a good taste of what our local beer community has to offer.