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, November 7, 2007

Caffe Volo: Toronto, ON

If you enjoy drinking fine beers in a small intimate setting, then Caffe Volo is the place for you. Located at 587 Yonge Street just north of the Wellesley subway station, Volo has been a popular Toronto destination since 1987. Owner Ralph Morana, a former landscape architect turned restaurant owner, is a friendly, energetic man, who is very passionate about his place and goes to great lengths ensuring his customers leave Volo feeling satisfied.

I just happened to have some extra time after a meeting on Monday afternoon so I walked over and took part in their $4 pint night special. $4 for a pint in Toronto is exceptional and its even better when you can choose from fantastic beers like Black Oak Nut Brown, Mill Street Tankhouse, Mill River Mild, Church Key West Coast IPA, St. Amboise Oatmeal Stout, King Dark Lager, Denison’s Weissbier, Durham Hop Head cask conditioned and more. I got there around 4:15 just as Volo was opening and by 5pm the place was almost full, which is a testament to the success Volo has received from noble locals and regulars alike. Nicholas Pashley, who I have mentioned before in past posts, was there enjoying the ambiance.

Beer aficionados have known about Volo for years as Morana has been responsible for serving imported beers that are not available for sale anywhere else in Ontario. "Importing your own beers is a very daunting task as you have to go through a lot of rules and regulations, but it has been great for me and Volo," states Morana. Because of the high costs of importing and the long delays it sometimes takes, Morana has started to scale back in recent months and has been looking at other angles for his establishment. He has since applied for his brew pub licence and plans are in the works to install some small brewing equipment in his basement and possibly have a local homebrewing club come in to produce some inspiring beers. So we'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I'll get back to telling you about the place. As you walk into Volo, you are greeted by a large red Chimay tin sign and a beer cooler displaying many different kinds of beer from all over the world. It gives you an idea of what the place is going to be like if you haven't been there before. There is a seating area to the left for roughly 20 people and features all wooden furniture including two old church benches. Hardwood floor mixes with grey tiling for most of the lower level of the caffe and wooden floors on the upper level. The walls are covered with many pictures of movie scenes, landscapes and beer related signage along with many framed newspaper clippings on Volo and many awards and plaques. Their is a large window that opens up to the nice days of summer right on Yonge street and offers passerby's a sneak peak inside.

The upper level has two island sit down bars with bar back stooling where you can sit and read one of the many beer books or beer magazines Morana has donated to the place. There are a couple of shelving units containing various imported bottles from around the world which make for interesting conversation with friends as you try picking out what you've tried before and what you wish to try. Volo has a lot of wood in the place with creates a cozy, intimate setting, that looks great with the lovely angel figurines and attractive burgundy leather couch. The bathrooms are located down a flight of stairs that reminded me of walking into the crevices of a cave. Lots of stone and an exposed rock floor meet you at the bottom of the old rickety stairs.

The bar is located on the second level and although small and cramped, it still offers that delicious beverage that we love to consume. The most attractive piece of the bar is the large assortment of different glassware stationed above in metal racks. Tulips, goblets, pilsners, weizens, sniffers and pint glasses of all different shapes and sizes are available to match each individual beer, adding character to your beer and it looks very professional. Something you'd find in Belgium or Germany. There are no bar stools at the bar, so people stand in front of the taps while socializing with Morana's son Thomas who is a regular fixture behind the bar.

The Beer: Well, it would be hard to list everything that Volo carries as it changes regularly so I'll just direct your to their website. There are hundreds of bottled beer from United States, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Czech Republic, England, Scotland and more. You will be able to find everything from light lagers to robust stouts that are just as good as the day they left the brewery. The 12 draught lines change regularly so you have pay attention to the chalk board on the lower level to see what's available. Volo is also home to the annual Cask Days event the Morana created three years ago and is widely considered to be 'the premiere' beer drinking event in the Province. It attracts loyal cask lovers from all over which is held on Volo's side patio making for tight quarters. Morana is also an avid supporter of Ontario Craft Beer and you can usually find some on tap along with literature that the Ontario Craft Brewers Association has provided for customers. Not only is Morana a supporter of the OCB, he also support locally produced food and regularly holds cheese events at Volo to offer customers a little bit of everything.

Props go out to Lawrence who was behind the bar and was a very friendly and gracious barkeep. He engages every customer in conversation and was quick and steady as the caffe got busy. Volo will remain a top notch beer destination if they continue with their trend of offering customers a unique beer line up and locally produced food. It is a beautiful caffe with great music and a nice book selection and one should not pass up the chance of attending. I highly recommend visiting should you be in the area.
587 Yonge Street

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