Definitive Guide to Craft Beer in Toronto
If you are like me, and you always worry that you won’t have enough time to cover every must-visit craft beer destination when travelling to a new city, then you know how difficult it is to map out an efficient beer discovery plan. No matter how hard I try, I know that I have always missed something, like the time I went to Brussels, miscalculated my time, and ended up missing the Cantillon Brewery, my favorite beer maker.
Well, if you are visiting Toronto (or living in Toronto and new to the craft beer scene), then we are here to help. Rarely a week goes by when Yashy and I are not making our way, kids in tow, to a newly opened brewery or revisiting an old friend (we have a lot of friends that are actually pubs). We have developed something of an expertise on tracking down craft beer in Toronto – an expertise we continue to expand.
Listed below are 15 of the top beer drinking establishments within the city of Toronto. To help you choose your destination, we have included a ranking (on a scale of 1 to 10) on the 5 most important factors we consider when judging a craft beer venue: the beer selection available, the overall quality of the beer offered, the food quality, the ambiance, and the location accessibility. In addition to providing an overall rating for each location, we have also provided some additional information on what’s nearby, as well as details on How to Bring Kids (if that is of importance to you). Travelling with a family, I always need to know the travel time needed to get to a place, the capacity, the noise and crowd levels, the stroller parking availability, and the food options.
Here are the rankings. Cheers!
See below for a full description of the ranking factors and a full map of all 15 locations.
1: Bar Volo
Beer Selection (10) | Beer Quality (10) | Food (6) | Ambience (7) | Location (10)
Total Score: 43 out of 50
What it’s got: 32 heavily rotating taps, including 6 cask taps, and a revolving selection of hard to find bottles (60 to 90 bottles), plus the occasional Hill Farmstead and Cantillon beer on tap. Bar Volo is often nicknamed the Beer Mecca amongst Toronto beer lovers. The owners of Bar Volo also happen to operate a beer importing service and organize the annual Cask Days event, the city’s best beer festival. With far reaching connections, they are able to offer an unparalleled beer selection. A patio overlooks Yonge Street and the pub hosts frequent tap takeovers and special events, including Zwanze Day.
What it’s missing: Space. The pub is not very large, even when the patio is open. This September, the pub will need to vacate the Yonge Street address it has held for 28 years. A new location is still to be determined but the owners have indicated that they look to stay in the area.
What’s nearby: Church Street Gay Village (5 min walk), Yorkville Upscale Shopping (10 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: Arrive between 2 and 5 pm to grab one of the limited number of tables. Don’t bring a stroller.
2: Bar Hop Brewco
Beer Selection (9) | Beer Quality (10) | Food (8) | Ambiance (7) | Location (8)
Total Score: 42 out of 50
What it’s got: 36 taps, plus rotating cask taps, and a selection of approximately 100 bottles from around the world. Bar Hop does not offer the variety of beer that Bar Volo does but comes pretty close. The space is large, with 2 floors plus a rooftop patio, offers some great food options, and is a great place to visit after a Blue Jays game.
What it’s missing: Compared to some of the livelier pubs in the city, Bar Hop can feel a little bland, even when packed. Bar Hop’s original location on King Street was small and unwelcoming, but it’s new Brewpub on Peter Street holds a lot more people and offers the same great beer selection at pretty good prices. However, the all black decor could use some style.
Best Route to Get There: Take Queen Street Streetcar (501 Line) to the Soho Street stop
What’s nearby: The Rogers Centre (10 min walk), Queen Street Shopping District (1 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: Head up to the second floor to grab a booth. The stairs are steep so fold your stroller and ask the staff to store it downstairs.
3: Only Cafe
Beer Selection (9) | Beer Quality (9) | Food (5) | Ambiance (9) | Location (8)
Total Score: 40 out of 50
What it’s got: 24 taps, plus 1 rotating cask, and a selection of approximately 50 bottles, some aged for a year. The graffiti style logo out front aptly reflects the fun interior. A number of board games are available plus a backyard patio. In the summer, live music and even mini beer fests are held at the cafe.
What it’s missing: Like Bar Volo, the bar is small but does not attract the line ups common at the former. The managers use the space well and the unique atmosphere in fun.
Best Route to Get There: Take subway to the Donlands Station (Green Number 2 Line)
What’s nearby: Located in Greektown on the Danforth, one of Toronto’s most vibrant neighborhoods.
How to Bring Kids: Enter on the left side of the pub, to the left of the blue door and try to snag a seat at the back, where there are books and games for little ones. Strollers need to be folded.
Beer Menu: Taps | Bottle list not posted online
4: Bellwoods Brewery
Beer Selection (9) | Beer Quality (10) | Food (6) | Ambiance (7) | Location (7)
Total Score: 39 out of 40
What it’s got: Toronto’s best craft brewery. 6 to 10 in-house beers on tap, plus several guest taps, are usually available, as well as a selection of approximately 30 bottles, including reserve barrel aged and bottle conditioned beers produced and stored on site. If you are looking to try great beer that is not available anywhere else in the world, Bellwoods is a must stop. Its front patio overlooks Ossington Avenue, a Toronto neighborhood known for great food.
What it’s missing: The place is so popular that only a few beers are available for purchase at any given moment. Most barrel aged beers sell out within a week, sometimes a day, but can usually be ordered (at a higher cost) in the brewpub for several months after selling out in the bottle shop. Space is also an issue at Bellwoods, but a planned second location in the area should address the problem. Arrive early on weekends in order to secure a table.
What’s nearby: Located within a vibrant foodie community around Queen and Ossington, Trinity Bellwoods Park (10 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: Arrive early to grab a picnic table outside. The inside is too cramped and hectic for little ones. Strollers need to be folded but we have parked them on occasion with a sleeping child in it.
5: Get Well
Beer Selection (8) | Beer Quality (7) | Food (NA) | Ambiance (9) | Location (7)
Total Score: 38.75 out of 50* (31 out of 40 adjusted for a score out of 50. Food not available)
What it’s got: 12 taps and a bottle list with approximately 100 options, with a great mix of hard to find local beers and international selections. If you are looking for something different, Get Well is a good choice. The back of the spacious bar features a number of old arcade games, many of which can be played for free. More of a beer drinking space than a pub, the place is a great place to hang out and talk.
What it’s missing: Food, but the place will usually allow you to bring in outside food. I once attended a pizza party at Get Well. Seating is limited but the space is open and large enough for big groups.
Best Route to Get There: Take Dundas Street Streetcar (505 Line) to the Ossignton Avenue stop
What’s nearby: Located within a vibrant foodie community around Dundas, Queen and Ossington, Bellwoods Brewery (4 min walk), Trinity Bellwoods Park (12 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: Plan to be there early. Kids are not allowed after 9 pm. The kids will enjoy the space and possibly the video games in back. Stroller friendly. No food here but you are welcome to bring snacks for kids or adults.
6: C’est What
Beer Selection (7) | Beer Quality (6) | Food (7) | Ambience (9) | Location (9)
Total Score: 38 out of 40
What it’s got: 42 beers on tap, including 8 casks. Great location just east of Union Station with one of the coziest set ups in the city. Located in the basement of a building on Front Street, this large pub has two separate rooms, one often featuring live music in the evenings, the other replete with a fireplace, pool table, couches, and a number of dining tables. This is my favorite place to meet large groups downtown.
What it’s missing: C’est What is one of the places where I began discovering craft beer, but the pub has fallen behind in its offerings and could improve on the range of beer it stocks from the numerous craft breweries that have opened in the region.
Best Route to Get There: Take the subway to King Station (Yellow 1 Line)
What’s nearby: St. Lawrence Market (2 min walk), Union Station (7 min walk), Air Canada Centre (9 min walk), Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (3 min walk), Hockey Hall of Fame (5 min walk), The Distillery District (17 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: Once you get down the one flight of stairs, you’re in a very kid friendly area, with lots of space and a fireplace area to make them comfortable. Strollers need to be carried down the wide staircase but not necessarily folded.
Beer Menu: Taps (a frustrating menu to load and not mobile friendly)
7: Indie Ale House
Beer Selection (7) | Beer Quality (9) | Food (10) | Ambiance (8) | Accessibility (3)
Total Score: 37 out of 40
What it’s got: Great food, a wide range of in-house beer only available on site, great service, and great ambiance. Indie Ale House usually has about 12 in-house beer on tap but only offers its own beer. The pub has also has one of the best food menus in the city amongst craft beer establishments.
What it’s missing: This microbrewery would score higher on the list if it had a better location. If you live in the neighborhood, you’re lucky to have such a great local pub. If you are visiting and want to taste some great local beer, public transit takes about 40 minutes from downtown. Taking a taxi to and from High Park Subway station is probably the best option.
Best Route to Get There: Take a Taxi (it’s worth it)
What’s nearby: Junction Craft Brewing (10 min walk), High Park (18 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: Plan on getting out before 9 pm. We have always been treated kindly when arriving with kids and our big double stroller. Lots of great food for kids here too, including the black truffle popcorn.
Beer Menu: Taps (not the easiest to decipher)
Beer Selection (8) | Beer Quality (8) | Food (7) | Ambiance (3) | Location (10)
Total Score: 36 out of 50
What it’s got: A great location, a pretty good selection of about 20 beers on tap, an extensive bottle list with approximately 100 beers. If Toronto scares you and you want to stick to the downtown area, Beerbistro is a safe but expensive option for those looking for a wide selection of beer and food options.
What it’s missing: A range of local beers. Beerbistro has a few local selections but no more than most pubs in the area. Most of its extensive beer selection consists of good, but well known beers, and so those looking to experiment would be better served elsewhere. The food here is varied but expensive.
What’s nearby: Union Station (12 min walk), Air Canada Centre (10 min walk), Toronto Eaton Centre (9 min walk), Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (4 min walk), Hockey Hall of Fame (3 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: Closer to a fancy restaurant than a pub. If you frequently bring your kids to restaurants, you may be able to pull off a calm meal. Very little room for a stroller, even if folded.
Beer Menu: Taps and Bottles
9 (tie): Burdock
Beer Selection (6) | Beer Quality (8) | Food (8) | Ambience (6) | Location (7)
Total Score: 35 out of 50
What it’s got: An increasingly nice range of experimental craft beers, including its recent collaboration with winery Pearl Morissette on a delicious beer with a 40% Pinot Noire grape juice / 60% Saison mix. Several Berliner and Gose beers have been produced in the past for those who lean towards Sour Beer (as I do). The restaurant also features some excellent vegetarian dishes and frequent musical acts also perform in the Music Hall. While outside the downtown area, the place is a short walk from Dufferin Station.
What it’s missing: Like Bellwoods Brewery, the beer turnover is fast and furious. If a beer appears that I want to try, I need to make sure I get there quickly. While the dining options are excellent, the restaurant is a little austere. I like my craft beer stops to be lively.
Best Route to Get There: Take the subway to Dufferin Station (Green 2 Line)
What’s nearby: Little Portugal (5 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: Bring the kids in the afternoon to enjoy a quiet meal. The food options are delicious and somewhat healthy compared to most brewpubs. Strollers are OK but may need to be folded.
9 (tie): WVRST
Beer Selection (9) | Beer Quality (8) | Food (7) | Ambiance (4) | Location (7)
Total Score: 35 out of 50
What it’s got: Charm. WVRST is a concept: sausages, beer, and good times. They offer a revolving array of 22 beers and ciders on tap, an extensive selection of bottled beer, and have even started a cellaring program that will make aged beer available in the future. Combined with sausage options that include kangaroo, rabbit, and duck, amongst many others, WVRST is an experience that is hard to forget.
What it’s missing: Tranquility, peace of mind, the opportunity to converse with others. WVRST gets busy, then it gets loud. Lineups are common and so visiting early for a few pints in the afternoon and then moving elsewhere is recommended.
Best Route to Get There: Take King Street Streetcar (504 Line) to the Portland Street stop
What’s nearby: Numerous restaurants and bars, TIFF Bell Lightbox (11 min walk), King Street Theatre District (11 min walk), Rogers Centre (14 min walk), Bar Hop Brewco (12 min walk), Fort York National Historic Site (15 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: In the afternoons, kids are OK and they may enjoy the space. In the night, don’t bring kids. Strollers need to be folded and carried up a set of stairs.
11: Bier Markt
Beer Selection (8) | Beer Quality (7) | Food (6) | Ambiance (5) | Location (7)
Total Score: 34 out of 50
What it’s got: Mass appeal. Bier Markt specializes in European style food and drink. The approximately 40 beers on tap and over 100 bottle options remain fairly consistent and if you have members of your party who prefer yellow fizzy water to craft beer, they’ll be happy with the Bier Markt as well. With multiple locations in the Toronto region, including two in the downtown area, Bier Markt is essentially a chain restaurant specializing in good beer.
What it’s missing: Local beer. This is not the place for those looking to explore the burgeoning craft beer industry in Toronto.
Best Route to Get There (original Esplande location): Take the subway to King Station (Yellow 1 Line)
What’s nearby (original Esplande location): C’est What (3 min walk), St. Lawrence Market (4 min walk), Union Station (7 min walk), Air Canada Centre (10 min walk), Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (4 min walk), Hockey Hall of Fame (6 min walk), The Distillery District (16 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: The place gets loud and busy at night, but the dining area and food options will keep kids happy. Strollers are OK.
Beer Menu: Taps and Bottles (PDF)
12: Folly Brewpub
Beer Selection (6) | Beer Quality (6) | Food (9) | Ambiance (5) | Location (6)
Total Score: 32 out of 50
What it’s got: Excellent food, suitable for sharing, and a nice range of Belgian style beers on tap, most produced in-house, along with a guest tap. A small but quality selection of bottles are available, including some great sour beers. Many of the beers on tap are also available for purchase in the bottle shop. Folly only started brewing this year and so I expect their beer to continually improve. The food is already top notch. A small patio overlooks College Street.
What it’s missing: Sunshine. Folly is a little dark, better for cozy winter drinking than summer patio season.
What’s nearby: Little Italy (7 min walk), Bellwoods Brewery (13 min walk), numerous international cuisine options in the area.
How to Bring Kids: Bring them to the back, where there is lots of room and a little privacy at two large tables. Strollers are OK.
13: Amsterdam Brewhouse
Beer Selection (4) | Beer Quality (4) | Food (7) | Ambiance (9) | Location (7)
Total Score: 31 out of 50
What it’s got: Room with a View. Located right on the Toronto Harbourfront, this is the ideal spot for a Saturday afternoon pint or an evening meal after a day of exploration. Amsterdam is Toronto’s original craft brewer and, though most of their beer is closer to a mass market product than a craft beer at this point, they still produce some fine ales and some nice seasonal brews. Their large patio helps reduce wait times and they offer a wide range of food options.
What it’s missing: Originality. Amsterdam seems content to be a successful beer producer rather than an experimental brewer. They do offer the occasional barrel aged beer but it’s clearly not their focus.
Best Route to Get There: Take the Exhibition Streetcar (509 Line) or Spadina Street Streetcar (510) to the Rees Street stop
What’s nearby: Harbourfront Centre (4 min walk), Waterfront Trail (4 min walk), HTO Park (5 min walk), Rogers Centre (8 min walk), Ripley’s Aquarium (9 min walk), Air Canada Centre (14 min walk), Sugar Beach (20 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: A kids menu is available and the place is spacious and noisy enough to drown out overactive kids. Lots of room for a stroller.
14: Halo Brewery
Beer Selection (3) | Beer Quality (7) | Food (NA) | Ambiance (7) | Location (4)
Total Score: 26.25 out of 50* (21 out of 40 weighted for a score out of 50. Food not available)
What it’s got: Intrigue and Potential. Having opened in 2016, this brewery is still in its infancy but is on the rise. Its owners think of the place as one of the world’s first open source breweries and have outlined what it’s like to quit a day job to open a brewery in a series of excellent blog posts on their website. Why open source? Because they post their recipes online. Check out this one for its Strawberry-Kiwi Gose. So far, so good, as the beers are excellent.
What it’s missing: A good location and space, for now. It’s a little difficult to find Halo but it’s worth seeking out as part of a potential brewery tour amongst several new microbreweries in the Bloor West area. The place has no space to open a kitchen and so don’t plan on eating here.
Best Route to Get There: Take subway to Lansdowne Station (Green 2 Line)
What’s nearby: Burdock Brewery (13 min walk), Indie Ale House (23 min walk), Bloor GO/UP Station (11 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: Not unfriendly but too small to keep kids entertained for long. Strollers will fit but may have to be folded depending on how busy it is. No food here so be sure to bring snacks.
Beer Menu: Taps and Bottles
15: Left Field Brewery
Beer Selection (3) | Beer Quality (5) | Food (NA) | Ambiance (8) | Location (4)
Total Score: 25 out of 50* (20 out of 40 weighted for a score out of 50. Food not available)
What it’s got: Friendliness. More of a local hangout than a brewpub, Left Field, as you may guess from the name, is a great place to hang out for a Blue Jays game. With about 8 beer on tap, the selection is small but if you find one you like, it’s a great place for a group get together. Pet friendly too.
What it’s missing: Offering food should be a top priority, since those Jays games can be long. More beer would help as well. Either a focus on 1 or 2 particular styles, a few experimental taps or perhaps some barrel aged offerings could help to make the place a must stop for beer lovers.
Best Route to Get There: Take 506 Streetcar to the Alton Avenue stop
What’s nearby: Little India (10 min walk), Only Cafe (18 min walk)
How to Bring Kids: A great space for the kids to play, with lots of room for a stroller and big tables for all activities.
Beer Menu: Taps and Bottles
Here is a breakdown on the factors used in the rankings
Three factors contribute to this score: the range of beer styles offered, the variety of regions covered, and the total number of offerings. This ranking tends to favor craft beer specialty joints over microbreweries that offer their own product, but in Toronto, a number of the best brewpubs like Bellwoods offer guest taps and bottles, enhancing the experience. The availability of local and regional beer is the most important element of this score. My focus is not to protect the local economy, I just think that the best part about visiting new cities is exploring beer that is only available locally.
Many pubs offer a beer like Westvleteren XII, which is a 10 out of 10 offering, but the places that score highly on this ranking offer a wide range of truly great beers. If you are looking to drink a wide range of samples rather than pints, check out the place with high beer quality ranks.
Sometimes (OK, almost always), we have to eat when exploring craft beer. A few of the places on this list don’t offer food, others offer a selection of appetizers, and a select few offer a dining experience that equals or surpasses the beer drinking experience. Toronto is one of the top cuisine destinations in the world and heavy competition has driven a number of the places on this list to excel as food destinations.
Beer drinkers just wanna have fun. This factor takes into account the venue, the music, and the space. A few of the place on this list offer incredible beer but are often beset with long line ups and/or cramped drinking areas. If comfort is important to you, this rating can help guide you to the ideal spot.
Location. Location. Location. Toronto is massive, sprawling city, with dozens of unique neighborhoods that are often underserved by a limited transit system. This ranking mainly factors in how easy the location is to reach from Union Station, the main hub of the city that is close to most of the major hotels as well as the Rogers Centre and the ACC. Bars that are a short subway ride or walk from from Union Station score the highest ratings for Location.