You know how sometimes, you acquire a bottle of beer that’s going to be really, really good? The temptation is to chill it and serve it immediately, but that’s not always the best course of action. You will have read about the beer on some rating site and it’s got a 98. It’s a world class beverage. You’re probably not going to be able to get it again unless you go across the border and pay a ludicrous amount of money. You put it at the back of the fridge and shift it to the back of your mind. Maybe you read about other people drinking it, but you think “I’m saving that one for a special occasion.”
Delayed gratification tends to make things sweeter. At least it cuts down on the immediate buyer’s remorse.
It’s the same way with events and locations in Toronto. Sometimes you want to save them up so that you can just go in with the selfish intention of enjoying them. I know that a lot of times a blogger is a publicity tool, but I’ve become relatively comfortable with the idea that there are enough beer bloggers in Toronto that I don’t have to go to every event. Actually, with the way the market is taking off there is frequently more than one event on the same day. It’s becoming impossible to cover everything.
It’s for this reason that I feel no shame in admitting that I hadn’t been to WVRST until Tuesday.
I know. It’s a huge part of the Toronto beer scene, and everybody has been there. There are beer school events where people learn about beer and it seems to have become a hip spot with lineups frequently stretching down King Street even in winter. I can’t even realistically claim that I’ve been too busy to go. I was sort of saving it up because I knew it was going to be good.
I hadn’t ever really gotten a full picture of the thing. I was astonished by how spare the décor is. The tile wall proclaiming the name of the place is immediately recognizable by anyone who has taken the subway (as Chris Grimley pointed out to me). The walls are dark, except for the giant whiteboard. The lighting might as well have been stolen directly from an outdoor beer garden. There’s none of the brewery ephemera that you might find on a patio, but it still somehow maintains the semblance of being an outdoor space, possibly because of the dark ceilings.
I was invited to a tasting of Schneider products. I had tried all of them before, because they’ve done very well in the LCBO in recent years. They make some excellent beer, but for me the focus of the evening was trying to understand what it was about WVRST that makes people gravitate there.
The tap lineup is quite impressive. Local craft offerings interspersed with some Dieu Du Ciel and a lineup of German favorites. It’s a very balanced selection and from what I’ve heard, they actively pursue local breweries in an attempt to get their beers on tap. Also, the serving sizes are well considered and the prices are reasonable. I believe on Tuesday it was possible to get a stein of Sawdust City’s Lone Pine IPA for eleven bucks, which is a steal.
We were drinking Schneider beers; in the presence of Susanne Hecht, no less. She’s a joy to listen to because she’s so knowledgeable about beer. Also, she’s a pretty formidable presence in the beer world, so Chris Grimley and I were on our best behaviour, choosing to forego the steins.
I have another admission: I have frequently been disappointed by beer and sausage as a combo. I realize that it is a classic pairing and that it is a no brainer and that everyone in the entire world from tailgaters to the Pope likes a beer and a sausage. Usually it’s taken for granted and there’s not a lot of thought that goes into it.
Not so at WVRST.
The sausages contain exactly the right amount of fat. Throughout the pairings the sausages were never greasy. The flavours that were intended came across precisely. The bun is of exactly the right texture and dimension to house the sausage. It contains any juice that runs from the sausage without becoming spongy. Somebody has clearly put a lot of thought into this.
We had the Pheasant Sausage with Schneider’s Original Weisse and the pairing worked incredibly well. The apple and shallots in the sausage complemented the underlying sweetness of the wheat beer nicely. We had the Venison Sausage with the Aventinus and the red wine and Dijon in the sausage worked with the spiciness of the wheat dopplebock. Finally we had the Lamb Merguez Currywurst with the Schneider Hopfenweisse, which managed to stand up to the heat of the harissa and curry. The duck fat fries came close to starting a fist fight.
The thing that I noticed, as we were going along, is that this is not a place that people stay and hang out at. People walk in. They walk to the counter and order food. They walk to the bar and order a beer. They sit down, they eat and then they walk out. This is not exactly a pub, and although you could hang around if you wanted to, it’s not really what it’s there for. The turnover is high and I would guess eighty to a hundred people came through in the two hours I was there.
This is clearly a lesson: too often we get caught up on making sure the beer list is great at the expense of other elements. WVRST looks like it ought to have been a no brainer. I kept thinking “why hasn’t someone done this before?” Those might be the best sausages I’ve ever had. The beer list would tend to be one of the best in the city. Either element could draw a crowd from all over. The prices are reasonable. It’s located fairly centrally. They’ve managed to strip the entire beer and food thing down to its barest elements without complicated menus and without pretense while maintaining quality.
Well, like I said: I knew it was going to be good. I just didn’t know how good.