Keeping up with the brewery scene in Toronto recently is a difficult task. As the craft beer industry has continued its rapid growth in North America, would be brewmasters have been busy. In Ontario, some of the initial players, Great Lakes, Flying Monkeys, and Nickel Brook have achieved widespread distribution at the LCBO, while others, such as Mill Street, have been taken over by the big guns as they desperately try to halt stagnant sales. Rapid growth in craft beer sales continues to create opportunities for beer lovers like me to keep exploring, and when I recently learned about a couple exciting “new” brewers in the Bloor West area, I pulled up Google Maps and decided to map out a Sunday afternoon tour. What I found surprised me.
Covering a total distance of approximately 5 km, starting at the Lansdowne Subway Station and ending at Burdock Brewery, one can spend an afternoon discovering 5 new breweries, all of which have opened in the past 2 years. This is in addition to several others in the area that we had already discovered. And so Yashy and I filled up the stroller with afternoon essentials and made our way to Lansdowne Station for an afternoon of discovery, and we were not disappointed.
Stop 1 – Halo Brewery
The Halo Brewery is a charming little pub about a 7 minute walk north of Lansdowne Station. On the day we visited, 5 out of the 10 beers listed on their website at the time were available on tap and 3 were available for purchase, either in a 1 Liter growler or 500 ml bottle. All of the brews are available separately or in generous sample flights and the 5 beers we tried were all excellent. My personal favorites were the Ion Cannon Gose with Strawberry and Kiwi and the Impossible Geometries, a very well made Imperial IPA with a refreshing juicy hoppiness. The place does not offer food but indicated that they were in talks with the Neon Cafe next door to enable them to offer sandwiches in the future. Check out their amazing website for details on what’s available that day as well as detailed recipes for each of their beers. The kids loved sitting by the window and playing with their toys while Yashy and I enjoyed our beers.
Stop 2 – Bandit Brewery
The brewers at Bandit must be keeping pretty busy since opening earlier this year. On the day we visited, the small brewpub had 14 of their own beer on tap, and they estimate that they will be producing about 60 different beers over this first year of operations. We sampled 5 different beers, including a Wheat, Porter, Pale Ale, Black IPA, and an Imperial Stout. Not all were good, though I did enjoy the Night Mist Imperial Stout. The brewery is clearly doing a lot of experimentation in trying to find a few great recipes and I look forward to returning in the future to see how they progress. The pub itself is a fun place to hang out, we were watching the Euro Cup action on the big screen, and they do have some intriguing food options as well, including Chicken Tails with (Aziz Anzari inspired?) White BBQ sauce. I had ordered the chicken tails thinking it was a naming twist on Chicken Fingers, but no, they were actual deep fried chicken tails! The texture was a little fatty, and there was a small bone in the centre that I started eating, only to have Yashy tell me that chicken bones are not safe to eat. Now I have been worried all day and can’t even find answers on the Internet as to whether eating the entire chicken tail is safe or not. Next time, I am sticking with chicken wings.
Stop 3 – Henderson Brewery
Henderson Brewery also opened recently and have taken the opposite approach as Bandit Brewery. Their flagship beer, Henderson’s Best, is an outstanding Amber Ale that is already available in dozens of locations throughout the city. On site, they were also offering a Blonde Ale and an IPA, as well as some Cold Brew coffee that mixes very nicely with Henderson’s Best. Root Beer for kids is usually on offer but runs out quickly due to demand we were informed. The place is quite large and can be a fun place to hang out. They also offer snacks from the Drake Mad Mexican and have a bottle shop with 650 ml bottles and growlers. Very pet and kid friendly as well. The colouring sheets and change table were definitely welcomed! Plenty of stroller parking but the seats are bar stool only.
Stop 4 – Lansdowne Brewery
This place is the youngest of them all despite having been open for over a year. The onsite brewery is not yet licensed and so the pub was only offering its Lansdowne Buck 10, an Imperial Amber that I enjoyed. As they prepare to launch, the restaurant is offering a number of guest tap options that included beer from some other burgeoning Ontario breweries, including Left Field, Clifford, Rainhard and Collingwood. We also ordered a couple food items, the house made Pickled Egg – straight out of Moe’s tavern – infused with Tarragon and the perfectly marinated and grilled Chicken Skewers. I’ve decided that I need more pickled eggs in my life, as has Baby Boy, who also enjoyed the crayons and colouring sheets here. High chairs on offer here!
Stop 5 – Burdock Brewery
After showing up a little too early on our last trip to Burdock, we finally made it back to enjoy what looked to be a very promising dinner menu. Still feeling the effects of the Chicken Tails, we went full vegetarian and ordered the Rye Spätzle, consisting of pea sprouts, shitake mushroom and turnip broth, plus the Spelt Linguine, which contained green garlic walnut pesto, edamame, carrot purée, and comté. I excitedly order the BUMO, a wine/beer collaboration that was even more delicious than I imagined – refreshing but not overly carbonated. I was disappointed that bottles of this mixture had sold out, but I am sure they’ll be making more.
Overall, a great day of discovery. The Lansdowne area is a great place to walk around and explore Toronto’s beer scene. We even found a great playground on the way from Halo to Bandit, where the Little Monkey was able to practice her monkey bar skills while the Little Man made his way up and down the slide. We started our little tour around 1:30 p.m. and ended around 8 pm. For those of you with more time, three of Toronto’s best brew pubs, Bellwoods Brewery, Indie Ale House and Folly Brewpub are all in the vicinity and would make for great additions to the afternoon brewery agenda.