This article was originally written in July 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in October 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.
As I’ve lamented in this column at least once before, the representation (or rather, lack thereof) of U.S. craft beers on LCBO shelves is just pitiful. There are literally hundreds of small breweries in the States – some of them just a few miles across the border – making absolutely outstanding beers, yet the LCBO chooses to ignore them almost completely.
Thankfully, though, there are a few import agents and beer-friendly establishments in Toronto who are willing to go through the hoops necessary to bring in a few interesting things from south of the border on a private order basis. On the bar and restaurant side of things, Ralph Morana at Volo was one of the first local publicans to get serious about private orders of American beers, and he managed to bring in some great exclusives by dealing directly with the breweries, although the red tape involved has caused him to cut back on these sort of orders for the foreseeable future. beerbistro is also fighting the good fight, with a slew of exclusive offerings in stock now for their American Beer & Barbecue Festival which launches tomorrow.
As for the import agents, established middle men like Esprit are still repping a few solid breweries like Rogue and Dogfish Head, but an upstart agency from Burlington called Roland + Russell has been grabbing a lot of attention on the local beer geek scene in the last few months due to their rapidly growing portfolio of breweries from around the world.
Somewhat ironically, one brewery in their fold that has garnered the a large amount of interest and orders is also the one that is geographically closest to us: Southern Tier Brewing of Lakewood, NY. One of Western New York’s top craft breweries, Southern Tier became known to many local beer aficionados last year when Volo brought in a couple of their beers. Like many American craft breweries, they have become known for brewing big beers with lots of flavour, lots of alcohol, and (usually) lots of hops, but their flagship brand is the slightly more subdued Phin & Matts Extraordinary Ale.
I say “slightly” because compared to a lot of our local beers, this is still a pretty aggressive ale. It doesn’t look too threatening in the glass, just a nice clear golden colour with a small white head. But once you take a whiff, the pungent, grapefruit-like aroma of the Cascade hops favoured by many U.S. craft brewers makes it obvious that this beer has some balls. Those citric hops are prominent in the flavour as well, but they’re balanced with a good dose of malt that gives the brew a slight orange candy note, before it moves into a dry peppery finish.
So on the eve of their Independence Day, I raise my glass to our neighbours to the south. If any of them are reading this, I say to them: I may not like your leader, your foreign policy, your gun laws, or your lack of universal health care, but I sure do like your beer. Happy Fourth to all, y’all!