26 March 2018
Toronto Day - Polkapolooza 3 : Rise of Polk
The most difficult days for any tour of craft breweries are Monday and Tuesday. So many are closed for brewing, cleaning, taking care of outside accounts or just to have a day off. I begrudge no one a day apart from the masses and understand the economics of staffing versus sales and the need to maximize when you can be open. It was in this vein that I decided to take our traditional Toronto Day on Polkapolooza and move it to Day 2, which was Monday March 12th this year and what a day it turned out to be.
Starting out with a couple of Etobicoke breweries that we are big fans of and that followed in the tradition of taking way longer than I had budgeted for. Something we will visit at the end of this journey and hope to take advantage of for next years tour. Black Oak Brewing is fast approaching their 20th anniversary and as part of the original 2016 tour, we wanted to revisit and see the changes to the taproom and retail facility. Coming off a solid rebrand last year, we were interested in the return of Love Fuzz and Nox Eterna Stout as the clock passed 11 a.m. on that sunny morning. While we were chatting at the bar, Black Oak founder and Ontario legend Ken Wood came out from the brewing floor for a chat about all things crafty. Before you knew it an hour had passed and a short tour of the back with more talk of the past and future of Black Oak was had, with a sprinkling of side chats down the rabbit hole of taking on the big boys of beer in the fractured landscape of selling beer in Ontario. Saying our good byes, but not before a pic with the man himself, we grabbed a few beauties from the fridge and headed out on the road for a short drive to stop number two.
To say I spend a lot of time drinking, thinking or enjoying Great Lakes Brewery beer would be a massive understatement. One of my most visited and an original, longstanding Friend of Polk, we pulled into the parking lot to be greeted by our pal, the Ontario Beer Guy himself, Ken Pyper. he had just missed us at Black Oak and joined us at GLB and a few stops after to boot.
Hanging at the bar, having a few samples as we pondered the latest releases from Great lakes, we were soon joined by our good friend Troy Burtch, Marketing and Communications manager at GLB and lover of all things beer. He was kind enough to break a few gems out of the cellar and we were all too eager to enjoy them with him. A 2015 Imperial Bout Imperial Coffee stout and some Ezra appeared and we chatted once again about the trip we were on, stops we should try to make and the state of the Ontario Craft beer family. It's not all roses and sunshine, but this kind of inspired beer talk happens everyday in every place and I was so happy to spend another hour at one of my favourite breweries with some fine folks.
Another dozen beers found their way into our trunk and we prepared to skip across Toronto and make our way to another Original 2016 tour stop, the recently expanded and ever Friend of Polk, Muddy York Brewing. Having been here just a few weeks before to help celebrate their 3rd birthday, we knew a few delicious things were waiting in the bottle shop for us to buy and take home.
Walking through the front door, we were greeted with the tropical warmth and familiar smell of brewing taking place. A new batch of their delicious Haberdasher Hefeweizen was in the tank and I love that scent, malted barley is the new coffee in my mind! We grabbed a few samples before loading up another 6 pack and stealing a little of Jeff's time as we talked about our trip so far and even reminisced a little about our stop 3 years prior when Muddy York was still getting up and running and where they were now. It's so hard to pull our selves out of this cozy taproom but we knew the journey must continue and we said our goodbyes with an eye to returning as soon as we could for a longer stay.
A short drive later we pulled down a familiar alley, parked and made our way to stop number four on the day, the rising star that is Left Field Brewery. Coming off an amazing year with a string of releases that left Ontario banging down the door and ordering online to get their fix, Left Field as another Original 2016 stop that we make part of any Toronto visit because how could you pass up such great beer and atmosphere. A couple of short samples and a glance at a busy brewery on a Monday morning and we made our way around the corner for stop five.
As we go along, I am sure you may be asking yourself, "Why didn't they go to this brewery or that one?". Fair enough and the truth is many weren't open or didn't open until well after we had passed by. Have no fear, your intrepid travelers have noted the suggestions and consulted our handy map to make sure we can return and visit with every one of them later this year.
Eastbound Brewing company was where we paused for a few moments and grabbed a flight and a seat to rest up for the second half of this whirlwind day through the Big Smoke. We had visited back in November and it was good to return to a fridge with new beers and a tap list much expanded. While tempted by the scent of delicious food, we held fast for our dinner plans had crystalized and we were excited for that addition to our day.
Our 6th stop of the day was also the very first craft brewery I had visited perhaps 6 years prior but had no real recollection of as I was knee deep in the pit of darkness and over drinking at the time. Steamwhistle and the iconic Roundhouse sit in the shadow of the home of the Toronto Blue Jays and was pretty packed for a mid Monday afternoon, with tours and groups of thirsty folks filling the considerable tap room with joyous laughter, I had to get my mitts on a mug of the famous Unfiltered pilsner and was not disappointed. Fuller and tastier than the already amazing regular Steam Whistle, it's a fine excuse to spend some time sipping and marvelling at a Canadian Icon.
Our usual plan of lunch across the street at the Amsterdam Brewhouse was curtailed by our new plans for dinner, we made a short visit to the bottle shop and were surprised with a six pack to take home. Always a pleasure to hang out and enjoy the vibe, we made a promise to ourselves to come back soon and watch the planes land while we explore the food and beer this lovely spot on the lake has to offer.
By now, we were starving and ready for a sit down meal after two days of eating in the car on the run. Our good friend and one of my favourite writers of beer and other things, Robin LeBlanc lived not too far from our 7th stop so we were thrilled to pull up outside of her Cabbagetown walk up and have her take us to her favourite local pub for some food, drink and wide ranging catching up. The House on Parliament is a cozy pub that I wish I could transport to walking distance from our house. A good feeling from the moment we walked in was made even better by fresh Lake Effect IPA from GLB on tap and a filling meal that helped us slow down and relax during this jaunt across T.O. .
Getting to spend some time with one of our favourite people without the maddening crowds of a beer festival or brewery event was such a joy and we will be taking Robin up on her offer to host an overnight visit this summer. Fire up the smoker, chill the beer and get ready for Polk's night out! A pleasure as always, we now would make the sprint to finish our day with full bellies and a smile in our heart. Thank you Robin.
The final 4 stops were short and sweet due to time constraints as many closed before 10 p.m. and we didn't want to miss one. A lucky parking spot right across the street let us pop into Bellwoods brewery on Ossington with little trouble and we grabbed a few new to us beers as well as some old faves and looked longingly at the taproom and wished for more time to have a pint and some amazing fries but time waits for no man and onward we went.
Henderson Brewing had sent a few bottles my way since our friend Erica started working there and it was a good prompting to remind me we hadn't been there in quite some time. Despite the late hour, our Instagram friends Anthony and Emma were there when we arrived and it was nice to finally say hello in person. It was another example of how we need to better plan this tour because we arrived just before closing and had to keep our chat short. A hopeful promise to hang out this summer and we made our way back to the car for two more stops. Literally minutes down the road was another place we hadn't been in far too long and we hustled in to grab a few bottles as our time wound down in Toronto. Bandit Brewery has one of the best logos in Ontario Craft brewing and the beer has grown to match it. I was sad to say we couldn't sit for a flight or a pint but it was clear we had pushed ourselves and needed to head home for a rest...after one final stop.
Indie Alehouse is an uncompromising leader in the Ontario Craft beer world and the beer reflects that dedication and intensity. Spying one of the best Imperial IPAs in the province, Cockpuncher, available is shortie cans, I grabbed a couple and was happy to find a Belgian IPA and a stout for Kat as well. Another great place to eat, next time we will make room to settle down and nosh a bit.
The end comes quickly on Toronto Day and we felt lucky to have had friends meet us and spend a little time sharing our trip. The 39 breweries in the city had has actually grown by 2 in the week since we were there and that just means more trips and better planning will be necessary to make that happen next time. We've been to 30 of them and hope to complete the city before the summer hits or the 13 planned breweries open their doors and we will need a week just to explore Ontario's capital.
The craft beer scene in Toronto is split between a few different styles and certainly reflects the diverse city housing them. From simple taprooms to restaurants and brewpubs and the huge goliaths that lead the revolution from the front, it has enough stops that any day trip could result in something new for anyone to discover. The industrial chic still holds sway but the newer breweries are trying to stamp out their own look and brand to grab the attention of a very busy and crowded market place. The local community surrounding any brewery will be vital as the shelf space and options at the LCBO prove difficult for smaller operators to navigate. Appealing to the community closest to you and then the larger craft beer world is on display full force in this city of 2 million plus people. Something we will explore at the conclusion of our trip to be sure.
Another Toronto Day was in the books and we looked North for our next trip, 8 stops, 4 cities and over 600 kilometres on the road. I'll be back soon to tell you all about our Tuesday in Cottage country soon!
D.Polk in the Six - the short and sweet
1. Black Oak Brewing
Website - http://www.blackoakbeer.com/
Favourite Beer - 10 Bitter Years Imperial IPA
1st Impression - Your uncle's bar with better beer
2. Great Lakes Brewery
Website - http://www.greatlakesbeer.com/
Favourite Beer - Audrey Hopburn Belgian IPA
1st Impression - Legendary and growing
3. Muddy York Brewing
Website - http://www.muddyyorkbrewing.com/
Favourite Beer - Dereliction Double IPA
1st Impression - Pull up a seat, stay a while
4. Left Field Brewery
Website - http://www.leftfieldbrewery.ca/
Favourite Beer - Greenwood IPA
1st Impression - Go Jays...kids, dogs, moms, dads and great beer !
5. Eastbound Brewing Company
Website - http://www.eastboundbeer.com/site/
Favourite Beer - Let's go Exploring IPA
1st Impression - Queen Street Chic
6. Steam Whistle Brewing
Website - http://steamwhistle.ca/
Favourite Beer - Unfiltered Steamwhistle
1st Impression - Clean and crisp
7. Amsterdam Brewhouse
Website - http://www.amsterdambeer.com/
Favourite Beer - Double Tempest Imperial Stout
1st Impression - Scenic with beer
8. Bellwoods Brewery (Ossington)
Website - http://www.bellwoodsbrewery.com/
Favourite Beer - Jutsu Pale Ale
1st Impression - Nirvana
9. Henderson Brewing Company
Website - https://www.hendersonbrewing.com/
Favourite Beer - Rube Goldbeer
1st Impression - If DaVinci ran a brewery
10. Bandit Brewery
Website - http://banditbrewery.ca/
Favourite Beer - Juice Box Pale Ale with Ekuanot/Denali
1st Impression - That logo though...
11. Indie Alehouse
Website - https://www.indiealehouse.com/
Favourite Beer - Cockpuncher Imperial IPA
1st Impression - Uncompromising