Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

C'est What Vin/Brew Pub: Toronto, ON

On a fantastic day in Toronto, my fiance and I took the streetcar down to Yonge street where throngs of people were waiting for a glimpse of Brad Pitt and his companion Angelina. Although I would have enjoyed seeing Jolie, my goal was to walk down to Front street and visit the much hyped C'est What Brew Pub. I called ahead and arranged a meeting with pub owner George Milbrandt so I could gather some first hand knowledge about the history of the pub.

C'est What is known as a terrific beer destination as they serve 35 different Ontario and Canadian craft beer on tap. The pub also features six house beers brewed by County Durham micro-brewery in Pickering. Al's Cask Ale, Homegrown Hemp Ale, Coffee Porter, Chocolate Ale, Rye Beer and Mild Brown Ale which was delicious. Milbrandt has a beer manifesto that brewers must follow in order to get added to his draught line-up which is good as it limits the amount of similar style beers:

1. Single Batch Brewing (The contents of each brew kettle are used for one beer only)
2. All Natural Ingredients
3. Fresh (the beer must be fresh when it arrives)
4. Only Canadian brews to be served

The pub is located in the basement of a building that has been on Front street in Toronto since 1890. It is just down the way from the St. Lawrence Market and the Esplanade.

As you open the front door, you are greeted by a large poster welcoming you into the pub. At the bottom of the stairs you are faced with the decision of entering one of two sides of the establishment (if their both open). On this day, the right hand side is not open during the day, but I was informed that this is where the music is played three to five times a week. So, we head into the left side of the pub and we meet our server at the door. She graciously welcomes us in with a big hello and promptly brings us over some drinks.

The bar is located to the right as you enter and it is a nice long wooden bar with 20 or more wooden stools. All the wine and beer glassware hangs overhead in racks. There are two tv's behind the bar playing sports with no volume. The draught beer is located directly behind the bar with each brand clearly identifiable by their unique tap handles. Because of the amount of draught available, half of the beer is located in the left side of the pub and the rest on the right side. Needless to say, bar staff get a workout going back and forth serving beers. C'est What also has room for some rotating brands and Great Lakes Devil's Ale is featured this month after Great Lakes Orange Peel Ale ended as a seasonal. For a complete beer list, visit

The layout of the pub has a lot to do with Milbrandt's University education in architecture. He designed the original pub largely on his own and with the help of a former bartender (who was also an interior designer), Milbrandt created a more modern look for the left side of the pub, which has been in use for four years. When you enter, you'll notice two pool tables as well as a couch against the back wall. A fish tank and other creative art work create a sense of hominess along with the three circular couches surrounding the large fireplace. Milbrandt confirmed that the fireplace is active and gets going in the winter. I assured him that he would see me hanging out there come winter. It is very homey and attractive. A great place for a group to come and relax while sipping on some terrific beer.

As you continue past the fireplace you'll come to the dining area with square tables seating up to four. For larger crowds, staff put some tables together and everything is peachy. (can you believe I just said peachy)? In this area you'll notice a lot of exposed brick from the original foundation as well as the wooden rafters. The copper light fixtures provide a dimmed lighting experience adding to the rustic look that complements nicely with Milbrandt’s modern additions. There are two larger tv's on stands in the dining area, but they are turned off. Continue pass this area and you come to a game room. Two more pool tables that get regular usage are against the back wall and a golden tee arcade game sits along the ride side. The arcade game is the only thing in this pub that looks out of place, but Milbrandt’s goal is to satisfy all customers.

The right side of the pub is “more puby” in appearance. Dark, without lots of tables and a stage for the music, it looks like a great place to share some drinks with friends. I will have to return to listen to some live Jazz and have some drinks on the couch. The music playing overhead was a mix of jazz, classical, electric etc. It wasn't too loud and bothersome and there wasn't any pop rock thank god.

I have to comment on the bathrooms as well. In Nicholas Pashley's book "Notes on a Beermat", he claims his wife can tell if a pub visit is going to be good by the condition of their bathrooms. Well, lately my fiancé has been doing the same. When we arrived, she came back from the bathroom and loved it. The men's was very clean and organized, which tells me that if they look after the bathrooms this well, then they must care about everything else too.

C'est What is a great place to go to have some delicious craft beer made by your Ontario Craft Brewers. A very nice and clean location with the pub touch in the heart of Toronto, it is a must stop for beer enthusiast's and tourists in general. Milbrandt is a great publican who truly loves what he does.

67 Front Street East Toronto, ON
phone 416 867-9499 Hours: 11:30 - 2am 7 days a week Publican: George Milbrandt


Godot said...

I agree, very nice. One of my favourites in downtown Toronto. Great beer and a very nice place to hangout and have a nice bite to eat. However, be cautious about ordering Whiskey there. One night we were served watered-down Connemara Irish ($$). To their credit, they replaced it without complaint -- but to a less "sophisticated" pallet it may have gone unnoticed (except for the absent buzz).

joner said...

This place sounds pretty fantastic.. I like the fact that it seems like a place where a few friends could go and just hang out. Like you said Troy, it seems very homely and has a comforting aesthetic to it. I wouldn't mind sitting on some of those couches around the fire place enjoying some browns or stouts. Definitely something to keep in mind for when I come to visit.

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