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, July 29, 2009

Muskoka Beer Festival Newspaper Article - The Muskokan

A couple of months ago I was interviewed by Kerri MacDonald, a nice young lady with the Muskokan Newspaper in Bracebridge. She was putting together a piece about the upcoming Muskoka Beer Festival and she needed some quotes. I was more than happy to assist, after all this craft beer only festival is a great idea.

Today the article popped up on-line for all to read and it turned out terrific. Here is a snippet of the story:
Event co-ordinator Ali Hunter said the goal is to see 3,000 people come through the gates.

Hunter said the admission price will include five beer tokens and an eight-ounce plastic beer glass that festival-goers can use to sample beers, which cost one token each. She’s also working on beer passports to help people keep track of their tasting tour.

“Every beer company is going to give you a list of all the beers that they’re bringing,” she said. “If you don’t get to try it, we have them at the Griffin.”

The pub — which specializes in house-made food and Ontario craft beer — will run a beer garden at the festival, offering barbequed items from their menu as well as its usual selection of beers, for regular price.

Beer vendors — which include Wellington Brewery, Scotch Irish Brewing, Mill Street Brewery, Nickel Brook Beers, Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewery, Robert Simpson Brewery, Amsterdam Brewing Co., Steam Whistle Brewing and Thornberry Village Cider — are paying between $250 and $300 for booths.

Hunter said the Griffin has spoken with organizers from the Toronto Festival of Beer, which has been running since 1995 and offers beers from both microbreweries and major labels. But the Muskoka festival includes beers only from Ontario Craft Breweries.
Click here to read the full article.

**The only thing that is incorrect about the article was the sentence where MacDonald stated that I am organizing an event in Toronto on the same day. The event in Toronto is the Golden Tap Awards hosted and organized by Cass Enright, and I mentioned that I would be attending the event in the evening as I am on the Editor's Circle Panel that Enright puts together.

So far the breweries involved are:
Scotch Irish Brewing - Ottawa
Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewery - Bracebridge
Steam Whistle Brewing - Toronto
Amsterdam Brewing Co. - Toronto
Thornbury Village Cidery - Thornbury
Steelback Brewery - Tiverton
Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery - Barrie
Nickel Brook Beers - Burlington
Trafalgar Brewing Company - Oakville
Black Oak Brewing Company - Etobicoke
Church-Key Brewing Co. - Campbellford
Cameron's Brewing Company - Oakville
Great Lakes Brewery - Toronto
Grand River Brewing - Cambridge
Mill Street Brewery - Toronto
Neustadt Springs Brewery - Neustadt
Highlander Brew Co. - South River
Cool Beer Brewing Co. - Toronto
MacLean's Ales - West Grey
Old Credit Brewing Co. - Port Credit
Hockley Valley Brewery - Orangeville
Granite Brewery - Toronto
The County Cider Company - Picton
Magnotta Brewery - Vaughan
Railway City Brewing - St. Thomas

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hart House Craft Beer Festival & Summer BBQ - July 30th

There are only two days to go until the 2nd annual Hart House Craft Beer Festival and Summer BBQ gets underway, and if you don't have tickets yet, but are planning to go, you better make the call or email today as tickets are selling out fast.

Your $35 ticket grants you access to the event, terrific bbq meats and fresh salads, samples of local Ontario beer and the opportunity to listen to some great local musicians. Held outside in the beautiful courtyard, the festival and bbq will will go ahead rain or shine.

The event, which kicks off at 7pm, was so popular in its inaugural year that many breweries ran out of beer early, leading the organizers to bring in more participants this year, hoping to avoid that problem. There will be a total of 17 Ontario breweries (and 1 from Alberta) pouring samples of their product well into the night:

Barley Days Brewery
Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company
Big Rock Brewery
Black Oak Brewing Company
Brick Brewing Company
Cameron's Brewing Company
Flying Monkeys Brewery (Formerly Robert Simpson)
Grand River Brewing
Great Lakes Brewery
Hockley Valley Brewing Company
MacLean's Ales
Mill Street Brewery
Nickel Brook Beers
Scotch Irish Brewing
Steam Whistle Brewery
Steelback Brewery
Wellington Brewery

I'll be there working in the TAPS Magazine booth all night selling subscriptions, taking questions, and showing off the latest issue. Make sure you drop by and say hi!

Hart House, University of Toronto
7 Hart House Circle
Telephone: 416.978.2452

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Heads up Halifax - Nash is Back

Tomorrow is Greg Nash's last day brewing at the Pump House Brewery in Moncton, NB. Nash has been with Pump House since April 2008 after a stint with Garrison where he brewed the first batch of Garrison Imperial Pale Ale that went on to win the 2007 Canadian Beer of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards. I received an email from the award winning brewer today, letting me know what he's been up to.

"I'll be whipping up some crazy beers at the new pub (Hart & Thistle) in Halifax and working on getting a new micro off the ground at the same time. Tomorrow is my last day at the Pump House. I'm moving back to Halifax to get the new place opened, I'll continue brewing at the Hart and Thistle Gastropub and Brewery for the duration and likely even after myself and a friend get the micro up and running."

Nash stated that he has plans to open the new micro-brewery sooner than later. "We're looking for a location in the HRM somewhere, may likely end up in Burnside or North end Halifax, we'll see what we can find, we've already bought a brewing system so hopefully we'll be up in a few months."

He also has a blog (News and Brews at the House of Nash) up and running that you can visit to get the latest information about what he's brewing down at the Hart and Thistle, and his first post was a great one: This is the spot to get in on all the latest news about our handcrafted cutting edge beers, I'll be pushing the envelope and breaking down the boundaries on beer styles as we know them so be sure to check back often to see what we've been up to down at the Thistle!

The Hart and Thistle are having their inaugural beer release party this Wednesday July 29th where individuals will have the opportunity to sample the first two beers done by Nash - 37hr Simcoe SMaSH and Black Nitro, which will be paired alongside some hors d'oeuvres. The event kicks off at 7pm.

As I've stated here on more than one occasion, I am a fan of what Nash brings to the Canadian brewing industry, playing with extreme styles for the beer geeks while crafting nicely balanced beers for the everyday individual. This is just great news for the Halifax beer scene.

More information about the proposed micro-brewery to be posted once it becomes available.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Update: LCBO's Beer Selector - Coming Soon

Yesterday I posted about the LCBO's beer promotion, Beer Selector, and its numerous errors and today it seems that the LCBO has come to realize that it should not have gone live so soon, without fact checking.

I contacted the LCBO yesterday morning to let them know about the site and I was told that they were working on correcting the page to reflect the proper information. Today they have taken the page down and replaced it with a 'coming soon' image.

Good for them to act so quickly after being told of the farce. But it shouldn't have happened in the first place, constricting timelines or not.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

LCBO's Beer Selector - Huh?

The idea behind the LCBO's new summer beer program, Beer Selector, is a good one; however, when the site became live today it was, and still is, rife with many, many errors. Errors in beer descriptions, errors in styles, errors in packaging formats, and errors with pricing. How could 1 of our 2 alcohol retailers screw up the start of a province-wide promotion this bad?

What am I talking about? Well, if you haven't been following the discussion over at Bar Towel let me introduce you to the Beer Selector. Head over to the LCBO's website and click anywhere on the floating beers. This will lead you to the new beer promotion that the arms-length government run liquor retail system is currently running - The Beer Selector.

Now here is where the hair on the back of my neck rises. The website breaks beers down into two categories: Ales and Lagers. Click on the Ales and start scrolling down the page. You'll notice a number of beer bottle shots. Here's the fun, yet heartbreaking part of this journey I'm sending you on: Try picking out all the Lagers listed under the Ale category. Shocking isn't it? Or is it?

On a rough count I immediately found 20 lagers under the Ale section, with notable inclusions of Brooklyn Lager, Creemore Springs Traditional Lager, Cameron's Dark 266 Lager, Moosehead Lager, Nickel Brook Organic Lager and many more. Creemore Springs Traditional Lager is now an Ale? Nickel Brook Organic Lager an Ale? Frankly I find this whole mess to be quite embarrassing. But it doesn't end there.

Click on Lagers now and pick out all the Ales. I could swear that Great Lakes Devil's Pale Ale is indeed an Ale as the name implies; however, it appears that the LCBO thinks it's a Lager and they want you to believe that too. La Fin Du Monde is not a Lager. Neither is Neustadt 10W30 Brown Ale or Mill Street Tank House or Dogfish Head 60 Min IPA or Fullers ESB or Hockley Dark Ale and so on. Who looked this over before it went live?

Then it gets even more humourous. The actual descriptions of some of the beers. Take Unibroue's La Fin Du Monde for example:

Lager | North America | Canada | Light
4.8% Alcohol/Vol.
Created by monks of the middle ages, this 9% ale is triple-fermented for three times the glory.
6x330ml bottles
927350 |$5.45

At least they got the product number right for anyone who wishes to enter it into the product search function on their homepage. It will give you clearer tasting notes if you're interested.

Or how about the tasting notes for Southern Tier IPA: "This beer features a fantastic aroma of fresh raspberries. The taste is tart & crisp, with a raspberry flavour dominating, but also with a nice dry, slightly hopped finish. A very light & refreshing summer ale that can be paired with a variety of dishes." Sounds like the Southern Tier Raspberry not the IPA.

We have two options in which to purchase beer here in Ontario and the government run LCBO is showing how little interested they are in the beer segment. Would this happen for a wine promotion? Definitely not, no way. As a good beer drinker of this province, and as a stakeholder in the LCBO, there should be higher standards than this in place. It is embarrassing to see the world's largest purchaser of alcohol put a world class beer like La Fin Du Monde in a category it should never be in. Just shouldn't happen.

I can also see it being a bit disconcerting on the brewers behalf that the beers they work so hard to produce can get mis-labelled this badly by the LCBO.

The LCBO has made some significant changes in the last couple of years, bringing in and offering some top quality beers, winning back some LCBO naysayers. It seems that they have been listening to customer requests and have become somewhat more flexible than they've been known for in the past. This seems like a step back, right to the basic understanding between what constitutes an Ale from a Lager; and it shouldn't be that way. As I said, the idea behind the 'Beer Selection' is great and if the information was correct it would be a great way for people to learn about new beers. Get back on track LCBO.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Halifax Seaport Beer Festival - Ontario Representation

There will be eleven Ontario Craft Brewers participating in this years Halifax Seaport Beer Festival taking place on August 8, 2009.

Mill Street Brewery
Great Lakes Brewing
Trafalgar Brewery
Neustadt Brewery
Black Oak Brewing
Steelback Brewery
Wellington County Brewery
Muskoka Cottage Brewery
Hockley Valley Brewing
Grand River Brewing
Railway City Brewery

This will be the first time that many Nova Scotians will get the chance to try many of these beers for the first time, and its great to see so many Ontario breweries taking part in a festival outside our provincial border again (Mondial).

"We're pretty stoked to have so many of the fine Ontario breweries coming out east to take part in this event," stated Brian Titus, owner of Garrison Brewing and co-founder of the festival. Titus and Bruce Mansour (other founder) wanted to add another element to the festival, growing it a little and adding Ontario breweries seemed like a good fit. "Mill Street will be having their own booth because they already have shelve space here in Nova Scotia, but the rest of the breweries will all be together in the OCB pavillion, showcasing their products."

There will also be a good number of Nova Scotia beers available and some terrific breweries from Maine (Allagash!) will also be attending with their beers as they have for the last two years.

Tickets can be purchased at many NSLC shops throughout Nova Scotia, at the Garrison Brewery, or at Bishop's Cellar for $35, or you can show up at the festival and pay $40. The festival will be broken up into two sessions: Session #1 takes place between 2-5pm and Session #2 from 7-10pm.

Creemore Kellerbier..May I Have Some More

Creemore has come along way since its inception into the Ontario brewing industry back in 1987. For years they brewed and marketed only one brand, Creemore Springs Traditional Lager, then introduced a seasonal beer in UrBock, and in 2005, after years of steady and profitable growth, Creemore was purchased by the Molson-Coors Brewing Co.

I was just starting to experiment with craft beer at that time and the fact that such a small brewery that I looked to for inspiration sold to Molson-Coors was saddening to say the least. I look back on it now and see, and read, about how some people took it, going so far as to abstain from ever drinking Creemore again because they can't in good conscious support the large multi-national ownership. Thankfully I didn't take that approach. I continued to drink the beer and support the brewery because it was the taste of the product that I was mostly concerned with.

In the years I have been doing this I've been fortunate enough to be invited out to the Creemore brewery on a number of occasions for tastings or special brewery events and the only thing that I have ever heard changing due to the sale is the capacity increase and quality control measures that Molson instituted. Marketing and distribution are the obvious and most significant changes that have occurred for the brewery since 2005, which allowed Creemore to introduce another beer, Pilsner, to their line-up as a seasonal (to celebrate their 20th anniversary) only to see it sell extremely well, so well that Creemore has since decided to make it a year round offering.

Now Creemore, even though still owned by Molson-Coors, has started playing the 'I'm a craft brewery' angle again, advertising their brands more so than ever, bringing back they tagline they introduced in 1987 - A hundred years behind the times, and it's great to see Molson-Coors giving them the extra tools to bring us new and interesting beers.

Creemore certainly is 'a hundred years behind the times' with their most recent seasonal offering - Creemore Kellerbier, reviving an old style of beer first introduced in the middle ages, which made its debut last month at an event held at Toronto's Victory Cafe. Many Bar Towel members who tasted the beer had nothing but positive things to say about it, and Stephen Beaumont declared it to be one of the best new beer launches in Ontario. Word of mouth is the best kind of advertising and Creemore has accomplished that by simply creating a well crafted old school style of beer.

The can is attractive and full of educational reading material for the individuals out there looking for something new (you've seen these people standing in the beer section at the LCBO reading all the cans). The unfiltered Kellerbier (cellar beer) pours a lovely hazy tarnished gold with a strong bold white layer of foamy protection that decides to hang out with me for the duration of the tasting, covering my glass with thick lacing.

My nose awakens as I dip it into the glass to get a big whiff of aromas, aromas that take me to an autumn day in the country. Floral, biscuity and a slight grassiness are picked up along with some sweet fruit, white peppery notes and a little citrus. The first sip is a good one. The second is even better. Caramel notes and some of that Creemore fruitiness, along with some of the left over yeast is found up front leading into a nice subtle hop body that sparks a slight peppery touch ending in a nice dry, yet clean and refreshing finish. The malt base plays nicely with the hops and only has a mild cloying effect on the palate.

This unfiltered lager is bursting with flavour and aromas, resembling a cask conditioned ale in a can, which is essentially what a Kellerbier is in Germany. Creemore has certainly taken the ball and ran with it on their latest seasonal, which will hopefully awake some of the smaller craft breweries in this province who produce lagers. Get some while it's fresh as the brewery has only produced enough for 80,000 cans.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine - Summer Issue

The summer issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine was recently released and is now available on newsstands across the country.

This is a big issue. Over 90 pages of beer facts, brewery news, interviews with brewers, international brewery profiles and drinking hotspots, beer reviews and much much more.

Without giving away what the entire magazine contains, here is a sneak peek at what some of the writers put on paper.

Stephen Beaumont weighs in on the "Does Size Matter" debate when it comes to the alcohol strength of beer and he doesn't believe it does - perspective does.

Mirella Amato takes readers on a trip to the Benelux brewpub in Montreal where she talks to head brewer and part owner, Benoit Mercier. Amato also interviews Gordon Strong in the Quaffs, Questions + Answers feature, who happens to be the President of the Beer Judge Certification Program

Bill White once again works with editor, Karla Dudley, to put together the Perfect Pair section of the magazine, matching food with the right beer. White was in Boston for the Craft Brewers Conference and wrote about his time there, and he also profiles the world's oldest brewery - Weihenstephan.

Craig Pinhey questions how the ANBL gets away with releasing their own brands of beer (Selection Lager) and why the local craft breweries weren't allowed to bid on the contract to brew it. It's a great look at something that didn't get much attention in this part of the country. Pinhey also judged in the Garrison Ultimate Brew-Off competition and shared his insiders view of how the challenge unfolded.

Joe Wiebe wrote a great article on Granville Island's 25th anniversary.

Greg Clow choose Belgian Witbier as the style to profile in his Beer Styles 101 column and made me thirsty. Clow also covered this years Brewers Plate event for the magazine.

Connie Proteau takes a trip to BC's Salmon Arm to have lunch at the Barley Station Brew Pub with the owners and brewmaster.

Sam Corbeil continues his Confessions of a New Brewer column with a witty article about the difference between standing behind the serving table at an event as opposed to being the sampler.

Roger Mittag shares some tips on tasting and reviewing beer.

I interviewed Anders Kissmeyer of the Danish brewery Norrebro Bryghus for my Burtch on Beer column when he was in Toronto to help host the Danish beer dinner at beerbistro. I also interviewed Scott Kerkmans, Chief Beer Officer for Four Points by Sheraton Hotels. Kerkmans also wrote his first article in the magazine.

There is a lot more inside the 95 pages, including regional beer news, beer reviews by our Tasting Panel, a profile of the Great Western Brewing Co. in Saskatchewan and news of another Bill Perrie book on pubs.

TAPS is available at select Chapters/Indigo nation-wide and at many independent book and magazine retail outlets from coast-to-coast. Subscriptions for the magazine can be purchased by visiting the TAPS website ( or by calling 416-536-9100. On-line digital versions of the magazine can also be purchased for the low yearly price of $12. Click here for more details.

Thank you to all our advertisers (in no particular order):
Ontario Craft Breweries,
Muskoka Beer Festival,
Grand River Brewing Company,
C'est What,
Granite Brewery,
Creemore Springs Brewery,
The 3 Brewers,
Pump House Brewery,
Great Lakes Brewing Co.,
Innis and Gunn,
Picaroon's, and
Draft Care.

If you are interested in advertising in the Fall Issue, please feel free to contact me at the email address listed at the top of this blog, or email me at

Monday, July 20, 2009

In Pictures - Neustadt Brewery: Neustadt, ON

I was able to get out of the city for the weekend, heading to Elmwood for a wedding. Looking at Google maps to get a sense of its location, I noticed it was very close to Neustadt, home of Val and Andrew Stimpson's Neustadt Springs Brewery. It was determined that a slight detour was in order to stop in and take a tour of the cellar/tunnel beneath the historic brewery.

The brewery, built in 1859 by Henry Huether, is situated just off the main street in the small village and sits atop on a natural clear spring of water that still flows underneath the brewery to this day. The Stimpson's moved here from the UK in 1997 and purchased the old brewery, which hadn't seen beer produced on-site since 1916 due to the brewery closing because of prohibition.

Due to the timing of the wedding, I couldn't afford to stay at the brewery for too long, but I did manage to get in a self tour of said cellar/tunnels, where Huether once stored his beers to keep cool. The tunnels, as people in Neustadt said, used to run all over the downtown area to supply the local Inns and Taverns; however, they have since been blocked and no there is now no access past the brewery.

Here are some pictures.

After walking down a set of stairs and rounding a corner, this is the first room in the cellar that you enter. Notice the chandelier hanging from the ceiling? It dates back to the start of the original Crystal Springs Brewery - 1859.

This was the entrance to one of the tunnels (turn left at end). Some of the rooms had adequate lighting; this one did not. The girls I was with were a bit nervous about walking through.

Another room with one light. Old beer barrels are scattered in this room and there are some metal artifacts hanging on the stone walls (not pictured).

A bunch of barrels lined up against the wall. The opposite wall was also lined with barrels.

This is an original barrel with the original 'Huether's Beer' symbol on it.

The water. This is one of Neustadts biggest assets. You can hear the water flowing gently as you enter the last room and pictures of Huether pulling up water for his brews runs through my head.

And back out to the front where Val was busy selling their products to a bunch of locals. The Big Dog Porter was available in cans for $2.65.

On Saturday August 15th, Val and Andrew will be opening the doors to the brewery for an open house, leading people on a brewery tour and taking people on the underground adventure to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the oldest operating brewery in Ontario.

Guided tours of the brewery, cellar/tunnels and the spring run from May to September on weekends only and cost a mere $5. Individuals are encouraged to call ahead to book the tour in advance. Group tours for up to 10 people can also be arranged. Call ahead to book.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Ceili Cottage: Toronto, ON

The Ceili Cottage
1301 Queen St. East Toronto, ON

When I first stepped foot into the decrepit old garage back in March to meet world famous oyster shucker and owner of Toronto’s Starfish Oyster Bed, Patrick McMurray, to get a picture of what his proposed Irish local would be, I thought to myself, "why choose this location of Leslieville, and why did he choose this run-down building?"

However, after hearing his plans and envisioning his layout the next thought that crept into my head was how dangerously close this new 'local' (McMurray does not consider it to be a pub) is from my home. McMurray sold me immediately on his goals for the Ceili Cottage (pronounced Kay-Lee, an Irish word for social get together of music and dance) as we stood there amongst the high mounds of debris. This was to be an Irish local, a real Irish local and not one of the faux-pas pubs that our province is awash in.

McMurray's life-long goal came to fruition as the Ceili Cottage officially opened on June 23rd and it has almost instantly become a new hangout for the area residents of Leslieville. Everything that McMurray touched on back in March has come to life and the transformation of the old garage is simply stunning, to say the least. Situated at 1301 Queen Street East, just east of Leslie Street, the white building with black trim-work is surrounded by a white picket fence closing it off from the busy street and if not for the black Guinness umbrella's on the patio the Cottage is almost indistinguishable as a drinking destination, looking more, well, like a cottage.

There is a small entrance that greets you upon arrival and you know you’ve reached your destination as the Cottage’s address is laid out in spent oyster shells in the cement. More shells have been embedded into the cement throughout the large patio, which can accommodate 40 patrons during the warmer months. Flower boxes sit atop wooden planks that are supported by decades old Irish whisky barrels and the white tables have a somewhat picnic table quality about them, evoking memories of the family gathering together for annual summer bbq's.

The Cottage is separated into two rooms: the dining room is located at the front of the building and the bar area is situated in the back, but to get there you must enter through the heavy bright red painted wooden door at the front of the building.

Walking into the dining room feels like entering a proper Irish local the way it would have been in the late 1800's (judging by photographs from the book: Dublin Pub Life and Lore). Large thick wooden plank flooring, barn like open wooden rafters, church pews, original brick and stone walls that have been cleaned up but have otherwise been left untouched and undistributed, are just some of the key pieces that put this room together. The tables in this room are very unique. Floorboards obtained from the now demolished 'Packing House' in the Historic Distillery District have been cut down and attached to form the heavy tables. "Thousands of Irish immigrants got off the boats in the early 1800's and headed to the Distillery District for work," stated McMurray. "They went looking for work in a field they already had experience in and the Distillery District provided them with that opportunity. Literally thousands of Irish feet have stepped foot on these floor boards so it was a no-brainer to go out and get them."

The back area, where the long 'L' shaped bar is located, is a large slender room with a piano, a century old church pew and a large cast iron bell above the bar. The main attraction in this room is the bar, which features a 2 inch thick Kilkenny Limestone bar top that dates back 4 million years. McMurray had it shipped straight from Ireland and the corrals and oyster markings are clearly evident in appearance. It is also here, behind the bar, that McMurray can usually be found chatting with customers as he shows off his shucking prowess. There are 16 bar back chairs that surround the long bar and gas fitted piping has been assembled to provide a unique footrest. Behind the bar are two large wooden shelving units that hold all the glassware, bottles of Irish whisky, plus a few extra trinkets and trophies and some copies of the book McMurray authored on oysters. In the middle of the shelving units is a chalkboard where the bartender informs patrons of what’s on tap at the moment and above that is a large flat screen television that is normally playing soccer matches, muted of course.

When it comes to beer selection McMurray knows his stuff. “I decided that there would be no bottle service here at the Cottage,” he stated. “The beer served here will only be available by the ½ or full pint, which helps to cut down on extra waste and it also ensures fresh beer.” McMurray chose the four core Diageo brands: Harp, Kilkenny, Smithwick’s, and Guinness to complement a number of local regional beers like Mill Street Organic, McAuslan Apricot Wheat, Church Key Lager, O'Hara's Stout County Durham Hop Addict, and Scotch Irish Stuart's Session Ale. McMurray also chose to install a cask engine in order to serve the increasingly popular segment of cask-conditioned ale, joining a select handful of other Toronto establishments. County Durham’s Red Dragon was the first cask ale to be showcased upon opening and proved to be a hot commodity going dry just four days after opening. “I plan to rotate the cask here at the local, offering customers a variety of the style.” McMurray also plans to introduce his Oyster Stout to the Cottage regulars soon, which is produced by County Durham. Each beer is also served in the appropriate glassware baring the logo of the corresponding brewery. Should there be no glass to match the pint the bartender will serve up the drink in an unbranded pint glass to avoid confusing the patrons.

The atmosphere inside the walls of the cottage is something special. Normally when you enter a pub for the first time if feels exactly that way - like the first time. A little awkward and overwhelming. But because of the atmosphere at the Ceili Cottage I immediately got a sense of comfortableness, and it felt like I had been going there for pints for years. It has a welcoming effect that, to be very honest with you, I have not felt anywhere else upon first impressions. McMurray has done a lot to create this atmosphere with everything from the soft Irish music he continuously plays over the speakers to the Irish peat moss he smokes behind the bar filling the Cottage with the smell of the Emerald Isles. McMurray also plans to have live, local, Irish music sessions on Tuesday nights and he encourages people to join in.

"We're getting a lot of locals in and it's great to see them coming back for repeat visits. We already have a number of regulars," stated McMurray while preparing an order of oysters. He says this as a gentleman at the bar starts up a conversation with the person seated next to him only to find out the two live on the same street. In less than 10 minutes the whole one side of the bar is deep in conversation with each other yet were strangers before heading up to the bar.

It also helps to have great bartenders and McMurray has found two in Eoghan and Dom. Eoghan, here from Ireland, and Dom, from Australia, have been with the Cottage since day one and are terrific at their jobs. "I never expected it to be this busy, so soon, but it has been great," said Eoghan while trying to keep up with the never-ending drink orders. The two bartenders do something that I find rare in Toronto - they engage with the people sitting at the bar, starting conversations in between pulling pints.

The food is terrific. I've had a couple of items off the 'Staples' menu and each time I was overwhelmed by how scrumptious they were. The Peat Smoked Organic Scottish Salmon was simply delicious. Large chunks of tender salmon with homemade brown bread, sour cream, and pickled onions was very nice with my pint of the Red Dragon. The hearty dish of Ontario Mutton Stew with Champ is always a pleasure and reminds me of Sunday dinners back on the farm. The snacks are creative and satisfying as well. Too many times I've entered a pub after work hours with a hungry stomach wishing for something small and cheap to nosh on before dinner and McMurray's chef, Kyle, has put together a fun snack menu that includes roasted Ontario peanuts ($3), kettle chips ($2), and pickled sausages ($1) that hit the spot nicely.

It's really hard to fully describe the Ceili Cottage in a way that I want and in a way that it deserves because there is so much to it. It is a place that needs to be experienced first hand and taken for what it's meant to be.

When George Orwell wrote his famous piece of his vision of the perfect pub, The Moon Under Water, he described a number of things that I strongly believe in when it comes to my thoughts of an ideal pub. McMurray and the Ceili Cottage have already, in a short time, and in my opinion, incorporated many of these qualities and that's what will keep me heading back.

So back to that part where I mentioned how dangerously close the Cottage is to my place - I couldn't be happier.

The Ceili Cottage on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Taps Brewing Co. Grand Opening - July 17, 18, 19

The Niagara Falls Review informed us back in January about Taps Brewing Co.'s plans to re-locate their brewing operations to a more accessible downtown location (from Niagara-on-the-Lake), hoping to attract more tourists and generate more revenue with the addition of an on-site restaurant that will feature a variety of brands on tap (Vanilla Wheat, Charleston Lager, Premium Lager, Red Cream Ale).

After seven months of work, Taps is set to host a grand opening this weekend with celebrations getting underway on Friday evening. Live music, food and samples of beer will be available all weekend long, rain or shine.

Friday: 7pm - 2 am
Saturday: 3pm - 2pm
Sunday: 12pm - ??

Taps on Queen - Brew house and Grill
4680 Queen Street
Niagara Falls, ON
(289) 477-1010

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Raspberry Rhubarb Ale - Great Lakes 'Project X'

When Great Lakes Marketing Representative, John Bowden, told me about a 'Project X' last month he was anxious to see how well the first monthly session would go, and judging by his reaction to the crowd last Thursday evening, he was ecstatic.

"We didn't expect to see this many people come out for the first event," stated Bowden as he pulled 1/2 pint samples of Orange Peel Ale, Horseshoe Lager, Red Leaf Lager, and Devil's Pale Ale for 50 or so customers before the tapping of the casks, "but am I ever happy to see so many faces."

The first edition of 'Project X' got underway just after 6:30pm in the retail/tasting area of the Great Lakes Brewery as Chef Darryl cooked away in the back corner. Great Lakes Vice President, Peter Bulut Jr. addressed the crowd in his 'mad scientist' jacket and told everyone a little about why the brewery created 'Project X' and what the brewery hopes to get out of each monthly tasting. "There was a small brew-your-own store behind the brewery where we would often do test batches of different beers and it recently shut down. Because of this we decided to purchase a small pilot system to help us play around with recipes and 'Project X' was born," said Bulut Jr.

After having a couple of samples from the Great Lakes products on draught in the tasting area, and munching on some of the terrific creations by Chef Darryl, all the new members of the project were led into the brewhouse where one of the Great Lakes brewers was waiting with a cask of Silly Pucker Raspberry Rhubarb Ale. The beer featured at the monthly tastings will all be casks and will be different each month, so brewing a Raspberry Rhubarb Ale for the first session was a good start at capturing the audiences attention. *(Note - Great Lakes offered two casks for this first tasting, but future tasting will only see one beer)

The beer featured a raspberry aroma, sweet, fruity, barn-yard and a touch grainy. The palate was shocked with bitter punches from the rhubarb. It actually tasted like biting into a ripe juicy rhubarb stalk with a berry finish. The rhubarb was prepared the very same way the orange peel and the pumpkin is - the stalks are dried then grinded up and added to the brew. Very different and not too bad. But the star of the night was about to be tapped.

Great Lakes has brewed an IPA a number of times for different events and they've called it 'Superior IPA'. There have been times where I've tried it and found it underwhelming, more malty than hoppy, leaving me thinking they could do better. While they've done it with 'Superior III'. This was the best batch of the IPA to date and one that would be a great hit at cask festivals. A little green, the Superior III was all hop in the nose, a hop bomb in the mouth, but nicely rounded out with a good amount of balancing malt. "This would have been a good beer to send to Volo's IPA cask challenge," thought Bowden as we worked on our samples, and I agree, as did most of the paying members who had nothing but praise for the IPA.

A great thing about 'Project X' is that Great Lakes wants to hear from the people that plan on attending each month. They want to hear their suggestions for what beers Great Lakes should look at brewing and even recipes they'd like to see the Chef whip up to go along with the beer. "We also think it would be a great idea to brew a couple of casks and bottle some of the one-offs for our members to take home with them at the end of the night," Bowden mentioned. That would a good way to attract some new members for sure, but don't expect it to happen until 'Project X' gets a few more tastings under its belt.

The staff at the brewery did a good job and kept things on schedule yet made sure the night was casual and loose. They also made sure that each member left with a complimentary Great Lakes pint glass and an exclusive black 'Project X' t-shirt.

The next tasting will take place on Thursday August 13th (the week after the Toronto Festival of Beer) and will run from 6:30pm-9pm. Getting to the brewery is easier than you think. Hop on the GO Train to Mimico and make the 10 minute walk to the front door. Or grab the Subway to the Royal York station and take the bus to Evans and walk 2 minutes to the brewery. A one time $10 gets you a membership (t-shirt and membership card) and then each session is $10, which will get you 2 free drink tickets of regular Great Lakes products, beer-themed food, and samples of the special cask beer.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cameron's Steak Night @ Cam's Place

When there is word of a beer dinner here in Toronto one usually thinks it will be an importer showcasing one of their products, or a handful of their products. It is not to often that you hear of a small Ontario craft brewery engaging in a three course beer and food dinner. Sure, there are food and beer pairings at various tastings throughout the city, and events where chefs take a craft beer and match it with one of their creations, but rarely do we have the opportunity to attend a dinner featuring beers from a small Ontario brewery (well, other than the monthly brew masters dinners hosted at the Griffin Gastropub in Bracebridge).

Well Cam's Place, located at 2655 Yonge Street (North of Yonge and Eglinton), and Cameron's Brewing Co., have taken it upon themselves to organize what certainly sounds like a great night of food and beer pleasure.

On Wednesday July 15th, Cam's Place will be hosting a three course dinner featuring Cameron's Auburn Ale, Cream Ale, and Dark Lager and they're calling it Cameron's Steak Night.

Here is the menu for the evening:

First Course - Paired with Cameron's Cream Ale
Horse steak tartare, quail eggs, russet potato chips, accoutrements
Lobster cobb salad with flying fish caviar

Main Course - Paired with Cameron's Auburn Ale
New York striploin, duck fat fries, grilled white asparagus, sea urchin buerre blanc
Prime rib, blue cheese potato croquette, port caramelized onions, sage béarnaise sauce

Dessert - Paired with Cameron's Dark Lager
White chocolate strawberry cheesecake, frangelico pistachio sauce
Ontario cheese selection

For booking information for this Cameron’s Steak Night contact Cam’s Place at: mailto:// 416.488.3976. Tickets cost $65.

Mike Duggan's Number 9 Wins Ontario IPA Cask Challenge

The winner of the first ever Ontario Cask IPA Challenge was announced yesterday as Mike Duggan's Number 9 IPA beat County Durham's Hop Addict in the final showdown at Volo. Volo, who has been hosting this event over the past four months, posted this message on their Facebook page.

Volo would like to thank all the brewers for participating in the first Ontario Cask IPA Challenge and everyone who made it out to each round over the last few months. It was a pleasure having all these great beers available. We would like to congratulate Mike Duggan #9 IPA who won over Durham Hop Addict IPA Yesterday at the Final Showdown. A fresh cask of Mike Duggan Number 9 has been tapped!

Since Volo is thanking all the people who made it out to participate, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ralph and his team for putting this event together and carrying it through to the end. Ontario needs more and more events like this and Volo's strict adherence to perfection has set the bar for future showdowns like this in the future.

Good work Volo! And congratulations to Mike Duggan and Bruce Halstead (County Durham) for making it to the finals.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hart House Craft Beer Festival & Summer BBQ

Thursday July 30th - Clear your schedules for the 2nd Annual Hart House Craft Beer Festival and Summer BBQ. For one night the historic courtyard, located on the grounds of the University of Toronto, will play host to a delicious bbq featuring succulent pig, up-and-coming musical talents, and one terrific list of local craft brewers, which was recently finalized (below).

Barley Days Brewery
Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company
Big Rock Brewery
Black Oak Brewing Company
Brick Brewing Company
Cameron's Brewing Company
Flying Monkeys Brewery (Formerly Robert Simpson)
Grand River Brewing
Great Lakes Brewery
Hockley Valley Brewing Company
MacLean's Ales
Mill Street Brewery
Nickel Brook Beers
Scotch Irish Brewing
Steam Whistle Brewery
Steelback Brewery
Wellington Brewery

I'm particularly happy to hear that the good people from Beau's will be making the trek down the 401 to attend, as will members from Heritage Brewery, two eastern Ontario breweries that we don't see too much of here at Toronto events. Last years festival featured 10 breweries; however, the event turned out to be such a success that most booths went dry early. To help rectify that issue the organizers have added some more breweries, bumping the number of participants up to 16.

The meat will once again be provided by Mario Pingue of Niagara Speciality Meats who did an amazing job last year carving up the delicious pigs. There will also be vegetarian options for those who cannot stomach the awesomeness of the swine.

The live entertainment portion of the evening will feature performances by Bonjay’s, Alanna Stuart, who will be the headliner of the night. There will also be the rising band, Everything All The Time, and DJ Grahm Zilla from Thunderheist.

Bonjay “hands-down one of the city’s most enrapturing performers.”
- Now Magazine

Everything All The Time “electro-dance fused pop” - Much Music Blog

The festival will take place on Thursday, July 30th starting at 7pm and will run until midnight. The Hart House is located at 7 Hart House Circle at the University of Toronto campus. U of T students can pick up tickets for the low price of $25, while non-students can snag one for $35. Tickets can be purchased on-line by visiting (Early Bird Prices of $25 Adult / $20 Student in effect until July 17th!)

Event Partners: Taps Magazine, CIUT 89.5, Big Rock Beer, Niagara Food Specialties, NOW Magazine, Ontario Craft Brewers Association

What's on Tap Tonight

Volo's Ontario Cask IPA Challenge
Tonight marks the start of the final round of Volo's Ontario Cask IPA Challenge that is scheduled to run through to the end of the weekend. Customers will be able to sample from the two remaining casks and judge the beer blindly, which will help determine the overall winner.

The two remaining beers: Mike Duggan's Number 9 vs. County Durham's Hop Addict

Great Lakes Brewing 'Project X'
Also on schedule for tonight is the inaugural Great Lakes 'Project X' event. 'Project X' which was announced early last week, will be a monthly event that will see Great Lakes brewing one-off cask conditioned beers for sampling at the brewery. The cost to participate in this monthly beer tasting will be a fee of $10, which will get you samples of the new beer, 2 regular drink tickets, and some beer-themed food. There will also be a one time membership fee that will cost $10 and with that you'll receive an exclusive Project X t-shirt and membership card.

Tonight's tasting gets underway at 6:30pm. To get on the list, email or sign up in the Great Lakes retail store.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Have Your Say - Vote in the Golden Tap Awards

Granite or Grand River? Volo or beerbistro? Black Oak Double Chocolate Cherry Stout or Nickelbrook Cuvee?

These are some of the questions you'll have to yourself as the voting has commenced for the 7th annual Golden Tap Awards hosted by Bar Towel founder, Cass Enright. Enright, who started Bar Towel more than 10 years ago to help promote craft beer in Toronto, created the GTA's as a way to recognize the best craft beer achievements in Ontario. Beer lovers from across the province are encouraged to visit the Golden Tap website ( to place their votes on the following categories:

Best craft brewery in Ontario
Best cask-conditioned brewery in Ontario
Best pub in Ontario for draught beer selection
Best pub in Ontario for bottled beer selection
Best pub in Ontario for cask-conditioned ale
Best brewpub or tied house in Ontario
Best regularly-produced craft beer in Ontario
Best seasonal or specialty craft beer in Ontario
Best cask-conditioned ale in Ontario

“The Golden Tap Awards have become one of the leading craft beer awards events in Ontario,” says Enright. “Our province has a very dynamic beer scene that has been expanding and evolving over the past number of years. I’m confident that this year’s event will continue to build upon our previous ceremonies while honouring the best in beer that Ontario has to offer.”

The awards will be handed out on August 29th at a reception to be held at Toronto's beerbistro, who have accommodated the awards celebration for the past four years. All draught lines will be turned over to Ontario breweries for the night and bottle stations will be set up around the perimeter of the building.

For more information about the awards you can contact Cass Enright at

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Finalized Beer List for Victory Cafe Cask Festival

I posted the 'almost complete' cask line-up for this weekend's Victory Cafe Cask Festival last week, and as promised, here is the completed - finalized list.

Black Oak Summer Saison (Marmalade Edition)
C'est What? Caraway Rye (County Durham Brewing Company)
Durham Hop Head
Durham Hop Addict
Durham Witbier
Compass Albion Ale (Better Bitters Brewing Company)
Cheshire Valley IPA
Cheshire Valley English Mild
Grand River C'est Wheat
Granite Summer Ale
Granite Hopping Mad
Great Lakes Orange Peel Ale
King Pilsner (unfiltered)
MacLean's Farmhouse Ale
Michael Duggan No.9 IPA
Mill St. IPA (dry hopped)
Neustadt Black Velvet
Cameron's Brewing Company High Hop Silver
F&M Brewery Stonehammer Strawberry Light

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lakes of Muskoka on the Dock

I headed up to the cottage this weekend to celebrate a birthday and decided to make a pit stop in Bracebridge. It has become a new cottage tradition to pay a visit to the best pub north of Toronto, The Griffin Gastropub, for some lunch and a pint and this weekend was no different.

We caught up with owner, Jed Corbeil, who mentioned that the cozy, craft brewery friendly pub has been doing great and the monthly brew master dinners have been a real success. He also mentioned that the Muskoka Craft Beer Festival that he is organizing is all starting to come together and ticket sales have been really good.

Jed talked while we sat at the bar eating our Smoked Trout and Peameal sandwichs and noshed on the Quebec Boar and Lamb cured sausages and three varieties of cheese, drowning it all with a delicious pint of Black Oak's Summer Saision. Simply devine. Black Oak just happens to be the brewery of the month and is being featured at the pub with their Saison and Nut Brown on draught and their Pale Ale and Double Chocolate Cherry Stout in bottles.

After saying goodbye to Jed we headed back down the road to the Lakes of Muskoka Brewery to catch up with founder/brewer, Gary McMullen. And to grab a flat of his Muskoka Hefe-Weissbier to take to the cottage (see pic below), which has completely won me over. (Look out for the LOM Hefe-Weissbier in the TAPS summer issue tasting panel)

McMullen greeted us at the recently re-modeled front entrance and led us on a tour of the brewery. The brewery is housed in an old grainry right off Bracebridge's main strip and is much larger than it appears from the outside.

We walked through the cold storage room and made our way through the pallets of cans. Lakes of Muskoka has recently announced that they will only be selling their product in can format; both in singles and six packs at select LCBO's. "So far the response has been great," stated McMullen as we walked by an employee emptying spent kegs. "We are receiving a lot of feedback about our Hefe-Weissbier right now, people want to see it stay on full year, not just a seasonal, so we're looking at that right now."

One thing that was noticed during our walk through of the brewery was how tight things are in the brewhouse. McMullen confirms that since opening the brewery years ago they have pretty much run out of room to grow, so he is looking at other properties to move the brewery. "We will be staying in Bracebridge for sure, you can count on that, but we will be needing more room eventually."

We left the brewery with a flat of cans and headed off to the cottage for some peace and quiet...and to drink of course.

Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me at the brewery, so I couldn't obtain any pictures. So a full write-up on LOM will have to wait for another time.

Friday, July 3, 2009

2009 Canadian Brewing Awards Call for Entries

Toronto, ON - TAPS Magazine is pleased to announce the 7th annual Canadian Brewing Awards. The call for entries has just recently gone out for this year’s Canadian Brewing Awards. The deadline for entries is July 31st and all products must be received by August 7th. The Canadian Brewing Awards are sanctioned by the BJCP and Judging will take place in Toronto on August 15th. This year's Gala will be held at the Art Gallery of Ontario with a date to be announced shortly.

Applications and rules for entry can be found at:

The CBAs are the premiere competition for Canadian-brewed beer, with judging overseen by 20 BJCP certified beer judges with no commercial links to the industry. Awards are decided in over 20 categories, with each entry being judged on appearance, aroma, flavour, mouth-feel and overall impression.

The CBAs are proudly presented by TAPS Magazine, Canada's only National Beer Magazine. Focusing on Canadian beer, TAPS is an excellent source of news and trends in Canadian beer, and the bars and taverns that serve it. It’s also a good place to find fun facts, beer culture, recipes and food and beer pairings.

For more information on the Canadian Brewing Awards or Taps Magazine, please contact Carole Hines, or go to

Contact: Carole Hines, TAPS Media Events Co-ordinator
Telephone: 416-531-0222 x 223

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Victory Summer Cask Ale Festival: July 12th

With less than two weeks to go until the 2nd annual Summer Cask Ale Festival at Toronto's Victory Cafe, the 80% completed cask list has been released and it looks fantastic (see below).

The July 12th event starts at 12pm and will run until the casks run dry, and if the last two cask festivals held at the Victory are any indication of what's to come, expect the casks to run out fast.

Admission to the festival will cost you either $12 or $8. The $12 admission fee will provide you with a souvenir glass, two half pint samples, plus one food ticket. The $8 fee covers admission, a souvenir glass and two half pint samples. Should you run out of your two half pint sample tickets, which you surely will, additional drink tickets will be sold for $3.

For more information regarding the festival contact Maz Bereton at

Durham Brewing
Hop Addict
C'est What Rye
Hop Head

Granite Brewery
Hopping Mad
Summer Ale

Better Bitters(Nicklebrook)
Compass Albion Ale

Great Lakes Brewery
Orange Peel Ale

MacLean's Ales

Mill St. Brewery
IPA (dry hopped)

F&M Brewery

Neustadt Springs
Black Velvet

Black Oak Brewing
Summer Saison (marmalade edition)

Grand River Brewing

Michael Duggan - The Numbered Beer Company
#9 IPA

Cheshire Valley

King Brewery

Cameron's Brewing

**The finalized list of beer will be posted closer to the actual event date.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day - Innis and Gunn Canadian Cask

Today is Canada's 142nd birthday and I'm having a quiet celebration in my apartment with my lovely fiancee. After a lengthy lakeshore rollerblade this afternoon it was back to the apartment and time for a beer and a Canadian movie.

I choose to celebrate our nation's birthday with a glass of the new Innis and Gunn Canadian Cask version that I received from Nic Rennie, an Innis and Gunn representative who recently made the move from Scotland to Canada. He mentioned that because Canada is one of the biggest purchasers of the regular Innis and Gunn beer, the brewery decided to brew a beer specifically for us thirsty canucks, and they did so by oak aging their beer using select Canadian whisky barrels. Which whisky? He would not say.

Pours a dull penny amber that looks incredibly appetizing in the Innis and Gunn chalice I obtained off Rennie. The nose is terrific. A beautiful aroma of a water soaked wooden plank, vanilla icing sugar, maple syrup, and warm candied fruits with some soft alcohol notes. The first sip produces notes of vanilla and mild smoke from the oak aging, subtle touches of dried fruits - raisins, and in the middle a slight tangy sharpness before ending with a dry boozy finish. A very nice touch and perfect for us here in Canada.

Innis and Gunn Canadian Cask
7.1% alcohol
LCBO #130534 - $4.95

Happy Canada Day!

**The movie we chose to watch was the newly released 'One Week' featuring Joshua Jackson. It was a terrific movie and one of the best, if not thee best, Canadian produced movie I've come across.

Volo's Ontario Cask IPA Challenge - Final Showdown

Three months ago (April 5) round 1 of Volo's Ontario Cask IPA Challenge took place and turned out to be a complete success. Round 2 took place in May (May 23) featuring all the winning beers from round 1 and on June 20th the 3rd round was held to determine which two beers would move into the finals.

As I mentioned on Monday, Mike Duggan's Number 9 IPA beat out Granite's Hopping Mad to advance, which will go head-to-head with Durham County's Hop Addict who fought off Scotch Irish's Sgt. Majors IPA to move into the final round.

So, for all of you who have been participating in the first three rounds, this is it, the big cheese, winner take all: The Final Showdown. Starting next Thursday, July 9th, and running all weekend long, Volo will have the two beers available at the bar to judge blind and score. Time to get out to Volo and show your support for the conclusion of Ontario's first ever Cask IPA challenge!

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