Last night, night four of Ontario Craft Beer Week, was the inaugural edition of Cass and Troy’s pub crawl, which looks to be a continuing feature of Ontario Craft Beer Week. The pub crawl serves a number of purposes mostly because of the affiliations of its hosts. Troy Burtch is the man behind the Great Canadian Beer Blog and in his capacity at TAPS magazine not only a fine addition to the team, but also an inspiration to everyone who has ever dreamed of giving up their day job to get into the industry. Cass Enright is the founder of the Ontario beer website Bar Towel and also the man behind Free Our Beer, which endeavours to expand the amount of choice available to Ontario beer drinkers by bringing beer into the province that’s not yet available through the LCBO.
The crawl, which was announced last week, allowed representation for Bar Towel and TAPS magazine during the week. Upon joining the crawl, each guest was issued a wristband (to allow for discounted pricing at some of the stops) a raffle ticket for the giveaways throughout the evening and a snazzy new Bar Towel keychain. The crawl also allowed for members of Bar Towel to put faces to online handles. There’s a certain amount of anonymity on online forums that creates a decent amount of disconnect even between people who are in complete agreement about the fact that death is a favourable alternative to having to drink Schlitz. In this case, rather than having their remarks listed in chronological order by bulletin board software, people were able to voice their opinions at the same time without making Cass moderate them. The pub crawl turned out to be a relative who’s who of beer drinkers, beer writers, beer purveyors and industry professionals, all out for a night on the town. It’s an interesting exercise to discover that someone you know from a pub is the same person that you’ve been arguing with online.
The first stop of the tour was the Victory Café, a beloved Mirvish Village institution which serves a number of very decent craft beers, not to mention the fact that they have a guest cask tap. The cask of the day was Neustadt Double Fuggled, which is slightly reminiscent of Deuchars IPA and therefore a thing very much to be desired on a hot, muggy day. As guests of the pub crawl gathered in the front room of the pub, which rapidly surpassed maximum capacity, Cass and Troy explained the format of the crawl and people tended to have to introduce themselves twice; once using their real names and a second time using their online handles. It’s a fairly bizarre procedure and should have been a tip off about the level of nerdery which became evident later in the evening. Seemingly minutes after introductions were made, Troy took the reins and announced that it was time to move on to the second stop, Caplansky’s.
Caplansky’s, if you haven’t been yet, is a wonderful deli in the tradition of Schwartz’s or Yitz’s. The specialty of the house is the smoked meat, as it should be. If you’re ordering it in any cut other than fatty, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s moist and juicy and seemingly impossible to eat without abandoning dignity and just diving in. They had four craft beers on tap and I opted for the Denison’s Dunkel. It’s an excellent idea during a pub crawl to lay down some fodder relatively early in the evening so that you don’t end up staggering around saying things like “This guy… I love this dude… this is.. the guy…(blurghhhh).”
The third stop was Ronnie’s Local 069, which I skipped. I should perhaps explain the reasoning behind this decision. It was hot and muggy out to begin with and Ronnie’s is an extremely cramped and crowded place. With the humidity it was over thirty degrees out and the back room that we were going to be sitting in was essentially a sauna at this point in the evening; a sauna that smelled more than faintly of cat urine. I was worried that it was actually the stench of the alpha hipster marking his territory. You can pick the alpha hipster out of the crowd by the fact that he has the most obviously ironic moustache style, the tightest girl jeans and the most obscure tattoo sleeves. His mate will be the one in the least form fitting dress, which has been fashioned out of either burlap or sackcloth. I’m sure the CBC will eventually produce a field guide in a Hinterland Who’s Who format. (Now say what you will about me: I was born with a silver spoon lodged squarely in my forebrain. I’m midtown Toronto white anglo saxon protestant yuppie bourgeois reactionary scum. In high school I was voted most likely to turn fifty before I turned thirty. Some people are afraid of the unknown. I’m just leery of d-bags.)
After a brief stroll through Kensington Market, I headed to the fourth stop on the crawl: The Embassy. This was more my speed. Black Oak Summer Saison on tap. Geometric designs on the walls. Mood lighting in a Victorian space. It’s a nice pub and one I’d gladly go back to. It was at this point in the evening that Cass made an announcement regarding Free Our Beer. They’ve acquired a second brewery; Picaroon’s which is based out of Fredricton, New Brunswick. Cass will be spearheading the import of five of their beers, highlighted by their Imperial Pilsner. I keep hearing good things about them, so this should be a win for Cass. This was also the point in the evening when the crowd began to thin out. Depending on your size and how gung-ho you are about the pub crawl experience, the fourth hour can certainly represent something of a rubicon. Troy was no longer able to move the crowd along with the efficiency displayed earlier in the evening as stragglers delved into conversation and revealed which World of Warcraft server their alt characters were on.
The final stop on the pub crawl was the Cloak and Dagger, which is pretty much what you want in a late night pub. The dark oak paneling tends to absorb the light from the room, they offer 23 beers on tap and employ a very competent Jack Black impersonator as entertainment. Almost to a man, the remaining crawlers ended up ordering the cask ale: Lackey’s Caskey. You may recall that this was on offer the other night at the Harbord House. This version was almost certainly better. I find cask ale from pins to somehow contain less flavor than those drawn from a handpump, probably due to some of the oxygenation that occurs during the pumping. This was smooth, hoppy and delicious and probably would have worked with the cheesecake. They also had Duggan’s #99 double IPA, in which I feel Mike has doubled the amount of malt rather than the amount of hops. It’s drinkable, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to order it again.
The pub crawl was a vast success. People chatted and schmoozed and drank and enjoyed themselves and each other’s company. If the other events this week are a showcase of Ontario beer, this was a showcase of Ontario beer drinkers. By and large they’re a jovial, pleasant and extraordinarily nerdy group of people to spend time with.