One of the events that I was most curious about in the lead up to Ontario Craft Beer Week was the Taste of All Ontario at the Granite Brewery in Toronto. There are a number of reasons for the curiosity, not the least of which is that the Granite Brewery is a comfortable stumble from my apartment. Despite this fact, and my claim to prefer English style cask beer to just about every other variety, I don’t spend very much time there. I get over there maybe twice a year, and given my proclivity against doing a great deal of planning for a late afternoon outing, I always forget to bring back the empty growler that has been sitting under my sink for yonks.
The Granite is tucked away at Mount Pleasant and Eglinton. It’s just far enough away from the subway line that people tend to forget about it as a beer destination in Toronto. I know that at Volo, the regulars are always pleased to see a cask of their beer turn up, but I’m not aware of a large number of people that actually visit the place. I suspect that the majority of the local business that they do is supported by people from within a radius of a couple of kilometers: essentially people who actually live in North York, Forest Hill, Leaside and Davisville Village. It’s a sprawling place with a dining room, two patios, a bar area and a cozy library. The brewing area itself is crowded into a glass partitioned area halfway down the corridor to the dining room, and it’s from this cluttered area that the place has derived its reputation for excellent English ales. The selection is fairly astounding when you consider the space that Ron Keefe, the brewmaster, has to work with.
There’s the Best Bitter, which is sort of a typical northern pub ale, brewed with Yakima Fuggles. For the patio crowd, there’s the Summer Ale and the Ringberry Ale, which are fairly lightly flavoured and which go well with a lazy afternoon. There are three separate varieties of cask ale on offer at the moment. The Best Bitter Special, The IPA, and the relative newcomer Hopping Mad which is a perennial contender in the Volo IPA challenge. These are all fine products which the brewery should rightly be proud of.
This is why the event is such a curious departure: It’s your typical coals to Newcastle situation. The selection of Ontario beers available are in bottles and cans, and I’m not sure that it’s possible for them to live up to the Granite products in comparison. Some of the beers have travelled across the province. The Granite’s beers have travelled maybe 30 feet, depending on where the kegs were stored.
Here’s what’s on offer during Ontario Craft Beer Week at the Granite:
Amsterdam Big Wheel Amber; Barley Days Harvest Gold; Black Oak Pale Ale; Brick Waterloo Dark; Cameron’s Auburn Ale; Cool Buzz Beer; Denison’s Weissbier; Durham C’est What Hemp Ale; F&M Stonehammer Pilsner; Flying Monkey Hoptical Illusion; Grand River Galt Knife Old Style Lager; Great Lakes Devil’s Pale Ale; Hockley Valley Dark; King Pilsner; Magnotta Copper Altbier; Mill Street Organic Lager; Muskoka Dark Ale; Neustadt Lager; Niagara Best Blonde; Nickel Brook Ale; Old Credit Pilsner; Railway City Dead Elephant Ale; St. Andre Vienna Lager; Scotch Irish Sgt. Major; Skeena Wolfgang’s German Style; Steam Whistle Pilsner; Stratford Pilsner; Trafalgar Paddy’s Irish Red; Wellington Arkell Best Bitter.
The thing that struck me initially about this list is something that I hadn’t considered previously. I had assumed that since Ontario Craft Beer Week was hosted by the Ontario Craft Brewers that it would only include products from member breweries. This list includes Amsterdam, Cool, Denison’s, Hockley, Magnotta and Steam Whistle, which are unaffiliated as far as I can tell. It appears that the OCB are going for inclusivity and I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if they are able to announce new members shortly after the week-long festival has finished. It makes a lot of sense given that this week will likely result in an annual event and increased product awareness, making inclusion a very desirable thing.
The other thing that struck me was a healthy level of skepticism. Given the quality of the Granite products, it seemed to me like people would probably stick to them rather than ordering bottles from other breweries. The lesson I learned was this: Never underestimate the innate curiosity of beer drinkers or the pull of free glassware with purchase. In combination, these factors result in a force large enough for Stephen Hawking to derive a theory about.
The octogenarian couple at the next table were drinking Barley Days Harvest Gold. Wolfgang’s was in evidence on the patio. Groups were ordering several kinds of beer and then sharing them. Even my server was getting in on the act. I ordered a Railway City Dead Elephant (partially due to finding myself in need of a Father’s Day gift on short notice. Hooray for free glassware with purchase.) and since she had never tried it before, I offered her a small sample. Judging by the look on her face, she may not have enjoyed it, but she learned something!
That’s what this week is about: Educating people about the fact that these products exist; Sharing the pleasure of company and a quiet drink in the afternoon sun; Getting people to engage in a dialogue about craft beer. Y’know… beer… for learning.
I did learn two important things about this week-long event. First of all, because of the number of breweries involved and a certain amount of restriction of storage space, there isn’t all that much of any one product. Secondly, Father’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year at the Granite. If you want to get in on this event, you had best do so quickly. Each beer is $5.95 with a free pint glass while supplies last.
Even if you don’t make it in time for the event, it’ll be worth it for the Hopping Mad.