Friday, 20 June 2014

Toronto day two

Ah, the days are just rattling by. In a crawly sort of way. I'll have to see if I can get through this one in a single post.

It's Sunday 8th June, date of the first event on this leg of my tour. A homebrewers' event held, appropriately enough, at a homebrew shop.

Last night was a pretty late one. Midnight was really 6 am for my body. I'm impressed that I lasted that long. But when beer is involved my stamina is remarkable. I'm that dedicated a pisshead.

You can tell this hotel is an old building. I can feel the uneven floorboards through the carpet and there's plenty of creaking going on when someone walks along the corridor. Yesterday Jordan told me it was built as a home for the Gooderham family, owners of Gooderham & Worts, at the time one of the largest distilleries in North America.

The event isn't until noon, but is out in the boondocks, in Toronto's northern sprawl. It'll take a while to get there. Now 9 am. My mind is telling me to get up and go down for breakfast. My body disagrees: stay in bed, it's saying. A tricky one. Eventually my mind wins and I descend in the rickety lift.

I've noticed a trend in North American hotels. First time was in March in Brooklyn. You used to have to pay for breakfast, but did at least get a fry-up option. Always handy for calming the stomach and evening the shakes out of the hands after a heavy night. Now some hotels offer a free continental breakfast. Yippee, you might say. Except the food choice is extremely limited and . . . the plates, cups and cutlery are all disposable. Not exactly classy.

At a couple of these breakfast travesties I've found zero to eat, it being all jam and cake and flavoured yoghurt. Finding something I can theoretically eat often leaves me no happier: like the processed cheese less appetising than its plastic wrapper I encountered in Brooklyn.

They've got boiled eggs here, which is something. But the roll I lay it on is so dry I feel it sucking the last moisture from my already parched mouth. I abandon it and get more orange juice.

The Chinese girl on the next table is watching a film on her laptop as she breakfasts. Good idea. Distract yourself from the food.

I've still 90 minutes or so before I plan leaving. I use them wisely lying on the bed staring at the ceiling. Not really sleeping, more a stupor. I can't even be arsed to switch on the TV.

When I tell the taxi driver the address, he asks "Is that in Toronto?" "Pretty sure it is." He looks it up on a map. For quite a long time. He's struggling his way through the street index. I resist the urge to tell him that it's in alphabetic order. Eventually he finds it and off we head.

"How long will it take to get there?"

"About forty minutes." Plenty of time to stare aimlessly out of the window, I think.

The suburbs to Toronto's north are no less sprawly than their sprawly neighbours by the airport. And no prettier. The roads are surprisingly crowded for a Sunday morning. I'll remember to avoid travelling around the city during the week. If this is anything to go by, it must be like Bangalore on a bad day.

Toronto Brewing at 3701 Chesswood Drive is where I'm headed. It isn't a single address so much as a small complex. Finding the right bit takes a while. We do some driving around until I spot a sign. It's hidden around the back. The driver forgets my box of books in the boot and was about to driven off with them until I reminded him. Sort of need those. That's the whole point to being here: selling books. Well, that and making friends and talking beer with people who genuinely want to talk about it. Unlike my miserable family.

I'm doing one of my standard homebrewer events: I supply recipes and local home brewers brew thyem. The format works really well, especially for me as I get to taste the beers. Me getting beer is a pretty big thing. For me. I talk bollocks for a while, sorry, explain the historical context of the beer, the brewer says something about brewing it, then we all knock some back. Practical history in, er, practice.

They've brewed a decent variety: strong Mild, XXXXK, Grodziskie/Grätzer, Brown Ale, AK, No. 3 and IPA. There's even one in a cute little pin. It's a bit odd when customers pop in as we're doing our talking and drinking thing. I'm doing most of both, loquacious boozer that I am. The beers are pretty good, even the ones that really needed longer to mature. I'm happy to drink all of them.

Zack, whose shop it is, has arranged a table and chair for me to do my selling and signing thing. Which I do for a while.

I'd not expected food. The chicken barbecued on bourbon barrel chips is a welcome plus. Tasty stuff. I have two chunks, which is a lot for the new diet-conscious me. Not for the old gutsy bastard me, but I'm trying to keep him chained up in the cellar with Tarquin.

Peter Friesen offers to drive me back into town for a few beers. It takes a while. The traffic on the return is even worse than on the way. There seem to be a few design flaws in the road system.

It's started raining by the time we park up. I've no coat with me so we enter Bar Volo pretty sharpish.

"This is where craft beer in Toronto started." Peter tells me. It's been around for nigh on 30 years, having been founded in 1985. Back in the dark days.

Another tiny brewery is somehow squeezed in behind the bar. Breweries seem as common as Bet Lynch around these parts.

I'm pleased to see not just a single beer engine, but a set. They've six cask beers in total, plus 26 kegs. Unfortunately, yesterday they held a cider festival and many of the taps are still pouring apple-based drinks. Never one to change hobbits, I order a cask beer, Punters Gold. English Golden Ale, it's described as. Can't fault that as a colour guide. Maybe a bit heavy on the citrus hops to be truly English, tasty though.

Peter has gone for a dry-hopped cider. His face tells me he won't be ordering another. Pretty weird, I think when he gives me a taste. Yeah, not sure I could drink a whole one . . . but I do. When I order the next round I inadvertently get one for myself. My own fault for paying more attention to the ABV than the description.

I hate wasting drinks. Even weird ones. It's not that bad. Just . . . odd, in a not totally good way. I finish it anyway.

We don't stay very late. Peter has a long ride home and I'm flying to Chicago tomorrow.

I walk back to my hotel. Oh look, what's that? Somewhere called Spirits. I quite fancy a whisky. The power of suggestion, eh?

"A Lug Tread and a double whisky, please."

"What type of whisky? We've a special on Jameson, $4 a shot."

"That'll do nicely. Straight up, no ice."

At the other end of the bar, two off-duty barmaids discuss men, music, waitressing embarrassments, random concert violence, and how effing cold it was last winter. "That's why I left Manitoba, weather like that."

Their chatter distracts me through a few whiskies then it's home and bed.

I'm so excited. Tomorrow I'll see Chicago for the first time*.

*Other than O'Hare. Airports don't count.

Time for the obligatory book plug on the feeble grounds I was in Canada and the USA to promote it:

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer.

The Clarion Hotel & Suites Selby
592 Sherbourne Street,
Toronto, Ontario M4X 1L4
Tel: 416-921-3142

Toronto Brewing Co.
3701 Chesswood Drive,
Unit 115, Toronto,
Ontario M3J2P6

Bar Volo
587 Yonge St.,
Toronto, ON.
Tel: 416-928-0008

Spirits Bar and Grill
642 Church Street
Toronto, Ontario
M4Y 2G3
Tel: 416.967.0001


Alan said...

I am so thrilled that you have grasped the essence of TO. Large distances of hop scotching from swell location to swell location. Now that you have seen rural Ontario and the Big Smoke you will have to come to Montreal, the Western Hemisphere's third to seventh coolest city.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, I see what you mean by needing to come back to visit Bar Volo. :) Nonetheless you did cover quite a lot of ground on this visit. Most of the pale ales/IPAs in town are very American/citrus-heavy, so you did not miss anything really in that sense.

The Granite Brewery makes a couple of beers though that are more English in inspiration of which its Best Bitter Special, also called Dry-Hop, is a good example. (Wait, I heard you did get to try that on your visit).

This town really needs more English-oriented beers, not porters and stouts, we cover that well, but a good old fashioned English bitter or mild for that matter. Other than that we have it all.

Just last night at Volo, sitting outside and facing that same hoarding in the photograph you showed of the tower going up on Yonge Street, I had an outstanding Nicklebrook Winy Bastard. Nicklebrook's Imperial Stout comes in a number of iterations, same plain Jane, some aged in bourbon barrels (this is called Kentucky Bastard), some aged in wine barrels and this one had been aged in a pinot noir barrel presumably from our wine area of Niagara. It had a decided aged note, lactic with some notes of acetic acid, but was outstanding in retaining its rich brown stout character. There was an amazing complexity of flavour difficult to describe, sort of racy/fruity/earthy. I would bet this kind of taste was what some long-aged London porter tasted like and it would be ideal for blending but I enjoyed it on its own, some prefer all-stale, right?


Alan said...

One other point that I would be happy to be corrected on. I think Volo was a coffee focused cafe for the first half of its life. I was first there in 2006. Bad old days? Was Peter going on again about his fear of malty beer? Crystal malt angst? He may need an interrogation by the man named Maximillian!

Anonymous said...


What a coincidence! In early May of 1974, I stayed at the Hotel Selby during my senior year in high school. I was there along with my classmates in our environmental studies class. At the time it was -how shall I say - a little more nondescript - and cheap. I'm glad to see that the old place has been restored to its proper glory. I never knew Hemingway stayed there. I hope you enjoyed Toronto as much as I did.

Ron Groves