Twenty reasons to raise a pint
We sipped our way across the city in search of the most refreshing bottles, growlers and crowlers Toronto breweries have to offer
This Bloordale brewery’s genre-bending wine-beer hybrids taste like pure genius in a glass. Yes, the three-year-old establishment co-owned by Jason Stein and Matthew Park also makes inventive pilsners and saisons and Berliner weisses, which are always available, but it’s the inspired small-batch creations we’re talking about here—like the Ruby, a gorgeous, gem-coloured blend of saisons aged in barrels with sour cherries and cabernet franc skins, and blended with riesling from Ontario’s os Pearl Morissette winery. It’s the perfect showcase for the brewery’s terroir-driven approach to beermaking. (Pro tip: they also bake wonderfully crusty sourdough breads, which can be purchased at the bottle shop.) 1184 Bloor St. W., 416-546-4033, burdockto.com.
Muddy York Brewing Co.
From the outside, Muddy York looks like a typical East York bungalow, albeit with a handful of picnic tables on the front lawn for imbibers. Inside, too, there’s a mid-century living room vibe to this rustic taproom, with mismatched wooden tables, chairs and church pews, all of which make it a comfortable place for a leisurely hang. The best beers here are meant to be sipped, not slammed. Our go-to is a pint of the mildly smoky Muddy York porter, which manages to look dark and taste light, and a plan to stay a while. 22 Cranfield Rd., 416-619-7819, muddyyorkbrewing.com.
Kensington Brewing Co.
You already hit Kensington for bread from Blackbird, meat from Sanagan’s and fish from Hooked, so it’s about time the market had its own go-to source for fresh beer, too. Just follow the malty aroma to Augusta Avenue, where the not-quite-year-old brewery is complementing its flagship FishEYE-PA, all bitter and hoppy, with watermelon-juiced wheat beers, sour ales, classic lagers and the occasional Belgian saison seasoned with Sichuan peppercorns. 299 Augusta Ave., 647-401-6552, kensingtonbrewingcompany.com.
Saulter Street Brewery
Tucked away behind a row of houses on a dead-end street just off Queen East, Saulter is the east end’s best-kept beer secret. The brewery’s cherry-red barn doors open to a taproom full of happy beer drinkers, some with babes-in-arms (there’s plenty of stroller parking) or pups on leashes (it doesn’t get more dog friendly than this). The thing to get here is the flagship Riverside Copper Pilsner, a crushable Czech-style brew that’s a little bit malty, a little bit spicy and entirely refreshing. 31 Saulter St., Unit 1, 416-463-9379, saulterstreetbrewery.com.
Rainhard Brewing Co.
Only three years old, the Stockyards’ first brewery has already tripled its capacity to produce the good stuff. The folks at Rainhard are also the proud owners of two brand-new Italian-made foeders (pronounced “food-ers”), ginormous oak barrels used by brewers to ferment beer, especially sour, funky beer, over months and even years. While we wait for their first foeder beer to hit the menu, the Kapow! and Armed ’N Citra IPAs are core favourites, and it’s worth trying something from the Rage and Love line of sours, including a super-fruity, mouth-puckering double-dry-hopped sour made with plum and cardamom. 100 Symes Rd., Unit 108, 416-763-2337, rainhardbrewing.com.
Like chefs who find out about a city’s best restaurants before the rest of us, local brewers are obsessed with Godspeed. The reason? “Refined simplicity,” which is how brewer Luc “Bim” Lafontaine describes his brewing philosophy. He’s a legend from his days at Montreal’s acclaimed Dieu du Ciel! brewery, and at his izakaya-inspired Little India brewpub (how Toronto is that?) he’s making exceptionally consistent beers that purists can’t resist. Look no further than the Otsukaresama Dortmunder lager, a rarely seen expression of a style once popular with German coal miners. It’s a super-crisp, thirst-quenching beer with a hint of bite, and it pairs perfectly with karaage chicken or a pork katsu sando from the Japanese kitchen. 242 Coxwell Ave., 416-551-2282, godspeedbrewery.com.
Left Field Brewery
Toronto’s unapologetically baseball-obsessed brewery (it’s even got a dog named Wrigley) has had plenty of hits since it opened in 2013, but it really knocked it out of the park with its pitch-perfect rendition of the hazy New England–style IPA that has stolen the craft beer world’s attention in recent years. Laser Show—a term coined by Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox for when a batter has a big game—smells like tropical fruit juice and looks like sunshine in the glass. With the way the Jays are playing, it’s the closest thing to baseball-related joy we’re likely to taste this season. 36 Wagstaff Dr., 647-346-5001, leftfieldbrewery.ca.
Techie-turned-brewer Callum Hay takes traditional beers and adds spin with ingredients like rose hips, sarsaparilla, tangerine and prickly pear. If you like what you drink—and if you’re an aspiring or experienced home brewer—all of Halo’s recipes can be found on their website. If not, a visit to the taproom for a pint of something super juicy, sour or hoppy is in order. If and when it’s available, we recommend Shapeshifter, a sour IPA that’s all kinds of fruity with just the right amount of tart. 247 Wallace Ave., 416-606-7778, halobrewery.com.
Great Lakes Brewery
They’re not located in a “trendy” neighbourhood, and you won’t find any reclaimed barnboard or taxidermy in the taproom, but Etobicoke’s Great Lakes Brewery has been making the good stuff since 1987—when some of today’s most dedicated craft beer drinkers were nursing a whole different kind of bottle. Owner Peter Bulut Jr. and brewer Mike Lackey are still at it today, and their Canuck pale ale is as good as it gets around here. Pay a visit to their sweet new patio and treat yourself to a pre- or post-Costco-trip pint. 30 Queen Elizabeth Blvd., 416-225-4510, greatlakesbeer.com.
Believe it or not, the Junction was dry from 1904 until two-freaking-thousand. But the neighbourhood is now home to five breweries, and Indie Alehouse has been plying the west end with beer for the last six years. They’re at their best when they’re experimenting. Keep an eye out for Fates and Furies, a rotating set of 12 barrel-aged brews, like Sunkicked, an imperial wit made with blood oranges in cognac and tequila barrels, and blended for a sour start and biscuity finish. You might as well stay for a meal—the burgers are killer. 2876 Dundas St. W., 416-760-9691, indiealehouse.com
Toronto’s beer scene has plenty of cutting-edge newcomers, so it’s refreshing to also have at least one that’s happily obsessed with the olden days. That’s just how they brew things here in Little Portugal, drawing influences from Belgian and Old World beers that have been brewed since the Middle Ages. The Sunny Places sour pale ale is more contemporary but relies on a centuries-old variety of Norwegian yeast called kveik that gives it a time-tested tang. 928 College St., 416-533-7272, follybrewing.com.
Blood Brothers Brewing
Industrial old Geary Avenue has become one of Toronto’s most interesting food strips, complete with a lineup-besieged pasta joint, a sleek hummus café and a distillery. But what preceded them all was this brewery and taproom run by brothers Dustin and Brayden Jones. A perch on the corner patio is an ideal midpoint on a neighbourhood food crawl and the perfect place to sip a Shumei, a dank-smelling West Coast IPA that’s been part of the brewery’s rotation since day one. 165 Geary Ave., 647-628-6062, bloodbrothersbrewing.com.
Radical Road Brewing Co.
While nothing’s better than a cold beer on a hot summer day, not all beers are created equal when it comes to beating the heat. Light, low-alcohol kölsches are always a reliable thirst quencher, and this Queen East brewery has devised an ingenious way to up the cooling factor of their version even higher, infusing their cucumber-mint kölsch with a hit of crisp, herbal freshness to create one of the most sweat-slaying sips in the city. 1177 Queen St. E.,647-794-7909, radicalroadbrew.com.
Don’t come to Shacklands looking for a lager or an IPA—you won’t find any. They pour only Belgian-style brews: farmhouse ales, saisons, tripels and dubbels. Everything here is downright funky. The wit saison, one of their flagship beers, has all the nice spice of a wit, plus the pepper of a saison. Whatever you choose, it comes with a side of history: the brewery is named for an old Stockyards community of temporary housing built by immigrant workers for their families in the early 1900s, and the logo was inspired by Lawren Harris’s “January Thaw, Edge of Town,” which the Group of Seven artist painted here in 1921. Even if history’s not your bag, you’ll get a kick out of co-owner Dave Watts’s Shelf of Everything, stocked with kitschy knick-knacks from lava lamps to taxidermied puffer fish. 100 Symes Rd., No. 101, 416-763-2424, shacklands.com.
This Dundas West brewery, co-owned by Stephane Dubois and Shehzad Hamza, pairs Toronto’s notorious masked mascot with beer—and that’s enough to make rascally racoons cute instead of infuriating. Fortunately, the beer is good too, especially the Wizard of Gose, a sour brew made with coriander, sea salt and apricot. It goes best with a seat on Bandit’s sun-soaked front patio (but a bowl of the beer-battered cheese curds wouldn’t hurt either). 2125 Dundas St. W., 647-348-1002, banditbrewery.ca.
Rorschach Brewing Co.
There may be a wastewater treatment plant ever so slightly to the east, but not even that can stop us from thirsting for pints on this spacious tree-lined patio. The house-brewed beer list is one of the city’s largest, and few of the offerings are predictable or safe. The Malevolent Benevolence Hawaiian stout is an 11 per cent ABV coconut-packed pour that will at least temporarily make you feel like you’re mid-vacation on the Big Island, not in this slice of east Toronto. 1001 Eastern Ave., 416-901-3233, rorschachbrewing.com.
Eastbound Brewing Co.
Quietly living in the shadow of Queen East’s revamped Broadview Hotel, Eastbound has quickly turned into a new local. Run by former Mill Street brewer Dave Lee and his wife, chef Tara Lee, it’s now the go-to for Riverside residents to sip pints (each of the pale ales in the Fresh Start series is A-plus) and tuck into things like panko-crusted cod cake sandwiches. Others stop by for beer to go, some of it in crowlers, 32-ounce cans that fit better into a bike basket or backpack than their breakable cousin, the growler (and they keep beer fresher, too). They’re the perfect size for sharing. Or not. You do you. 700 Queen St. E., 416-901-1299, eastboundbeer.com.
Despite the ongoing local brewing boom, there’s work to be done when it comes to burnishing Toronto’s brewing cred beyond our borders. This Ossington icon is changing that. The beers, such as Jelly King, a sour ale conditioned in a variety of different seasonal flavours, routinely make special appearances on tap lists and at festivals down south. Also, the brewery’s annual Witchstock Festival, held at its Hafis Road production facility, has practically become a beer diplomacy summit, drawing some of the most popular craft breweries in the world. 124 Ossington Ave.,416-535-4586, bellwoodsbrewery.com.
Henderson Brewing Co.
If you didn’t have a good reason to stroll, run or cycle the West Toronto Railpath before, you do now. Henderson Brewing Co., just steps from the trail in the Junction Triangle, is the best excuse to do something active…so you can cool off with a beer. There are some solid mainstays—Food Truck blond and Henderson’s Best amber, to name a couple—but we especially like the Ides Of series, a new monthly brew that’s often an ode to Toronto (like the End of Honesty lager, a shout-out to Honest Ed’s). One of the most recent recipes, June’s Hi-Five radler (blond ale plus tangerine, pineapple, passion fruit and lime juices) is a tropical treat dedicated to active drinkers everywhere. 128A Sterling Rd., 416-863-8822, hendersonbrewing.com.
Junction Craft Brewing
Junction Craft, one of the west end’s longest-running breweries, is located in the Destructor, a gorgeous art deco building that burned trash from 1934 until the ’70s. While they’ve made almost 125 beers since opening in 2011, we still like their first, Conductor’s, the best. The smooth amber ale is a beer for all seasons, but there are always at least 15 others being poured at the same time. Grab a seat, order something from the electronic board that flashes beer names instead of train times, and watch people practising parkour through the windows of the neighbouring Monkey Vault. 150 Symes Rd., 416-766-1616, junctioncraft.com.
This story originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $24 a year, click here.