Tree Brewing Co. made their first foray into the Ontario market in February with the release of their award winning Hophead Double IPA through the LCBO as part of the Spring Speciality Release Program, and Ontario residents made the brewery proud when they purchased every bottle in the retail system shortly after they appeared on store shelves.
Fast forward to April 1st - Tree's brewmaster, Stefan Buhl, and Tree's Director of Marketing, Chris Stirling, made their way to Toronto to do two tastings/Meet and Greets at two of the LCBO's Toronto flagship stores: Cooper Street and Summerhill. Both stores had to hold back a number of cases of the 650ml bottles for the tastings, making them the only places in Toronto to get your hands on the last of the shipment.
I met up with the two men from Tree on Friday at Canoe Restaurant to do some work with them for TAPS The Beer Magazine. We had a great lunch with a number of solid Ontario beers (Muskoka Harvest Ale with a Canoe Lobster Clubhouse and Grand River's Ploegers Vlaams Rood was paired up with a delicious array of Canadian cheeses and sauces) before heading off to C'est What for a pint of Flying Monkeys Smashbomb Atomic IPA.
After shooting a small TAPS podcast with Buhl (look for it with the release of the Summer issue) we sat around Toronto's oldest craft beer bar and shared some stories about the BC and Ontario brewing industry. We discussed the LCBO system and how it has changed for the better over the last number of years, talked about Tree's 15th year anniversary, and the two men provided some tips on where to drink good beer in Kelowna if I ever get to visit. Buhl was very impressed with C'est What and their dedication to local breweries. "To see all these beers on tap, from Ontario, is simply great," he said while browsing the daily beer menu.
We finished our pints and took off on foot to the Cooper Street LCBO for the first tasting, scheduled from 4pm-8pm. The welcoming face of Bill George (if you shop at Cooper St. you'll know who I'm talking about) greeted us upon arrival and he quickly summoned for the last remaining 'hidden' cases of the Hophead Double IPA to be brought out .
With the display built and with Buhl's poster on display, people started showing up to have a taste. Two men, one from Markham and the other from Mississauga, were the first in line and tried their best to purchase two cases each before the LCBO staff kindly mentioned that there was a two bottle limit due to demand. The men waxed poetically about how much they enjoyed the beer when it first arrived in Ontario and took their bottles and headed for the checkout. Minutes later they were back to get two more. Then again 10 minutes later... these guys knew what they were doing.
Stirling was pouring the beer for sampling while Buhl chatted with customers about the brewery, the beer, and how they'd like to one day get a listing with the LCBO for one of their most popular brands. A shy guy Buhl is, but he did a great job engaging with everyone who stopped by to shake his hand and get a bottle or two signed by the brewmaster.
By the time I had to depart at 5pm there were only a couple of cases left. A pretty successful tasting in a short amount of time. It was good to catch up with these guys - hear their thoughts on dealing with the LCBO and knowing how serious they are to getting a brand listed here in the near future. Tree Brewing makes some great beer and it would be to our (Ontario residents) benefit if they become a regular fixture on store shelves across the province. And judging by the amount of positive comments they received from people who stopped by - their beer would be most welcome here.
Click here to read an old Meet Stefan Buhl post from October 2008.