The top 10 local beers in Toronto for summer 2014
Summer in Toronto is a special time when after-work drinks can easily turn into pub crawls, rooftop barbecues can turn into parties, and a new pair of sunglasses can be an excuse to start drinking at noon (maybe that one's just me). It's also a time when we put away the dark, boozy beers we require in colder months in favour of bright, refreshing, beers we might easily consume in large quantities on those warm summer days and long summer nights.
Here are my picks for the top local beers in Toronto this summer.
Left Field Brewery's Sunlight Park Saison
Named after the first baseball stadium in Toronto, Sunlight Park Saison is not only an appropriate nod to baseball and the fledgling brewer's under-construction east Toronto home, it's also a great beer. A refreshing, 5.3% saison, this beer has the spice and Juicy Fruit aromas of a saison but balanced with a sweetness and a touch of grassy hops. Notably, even though Left Field Brewery zests 100 organic grapefruits into every batch, those fruit tastes don't dominate and instead the beer remains a rather subtle sipper, ideal for drinking while watching (hell, even while playing) baseball. Available on tap now at Brooklyn Tavern, Hitch, Penny's, The Oxley and more.
Nickel Brook's Naughty Neighbour
Arguably the first beer in Ontario to usher in the "hoppy but sessionable" trend that's currently taking the US beer scene by storm (and what a great trend it is!), Nickel Brook's piney and aromatic but low ABV American Pale Ale has become a staple in my fridge and its 4.9% ABV is ideally suited to extended summer beverage consumption. Rumour has it that tall boy cans of this bad boy are in the works (though still far down the road) as is a label makeover, so enjoy the bottles (and porno DVD-esque label) while you can. $11.95 for a six pack of 341ml bottles at the LCBO.
King Brewery Pilsner
I tend to give a lot of (deserved) love to another, green-bottled, local pilsner, but frankly it's time I gave Nobleton's King Brewery a little love, too. Their pilsner is an excellent, soft-bodied, easy-drinking pilsner in the European traditional style with subtle malt flavours, a clean finish, and just a touch of hoppy sharpness, making it an ideal quencher for a hot summer day. $12.95 for a six pack of 341ml bottles at the LCBO.
Side Launch Wheat
Earlier this year, Side Launch Brewing finalized their rebranding of what was formerly Denison's Weissbier, thus: Side Launch Wheat. The beer's the same one that brewer Michael Hancock has kept alive since the 2003 closure of his brewpub, and that's a good thing: the 5.3%, cloudy, aromatic, banana and coriander beer with hints of citrus still ranks in the top three for ratebeer's list of the best German Hefeweizens in the world. A beer by any other name... $2.70 for a 473mL can at the LCBO.
Great Lakes Brewery's Canuck
"Crazy" Canuck might actually be the best regularly available North American Pale Ale in the province, but it doesn't seem to get the love it so richly deserves. For my money, the easy-to-drink, 5.2% ABV but still suitably hoppy and ridiculously aromatic beer likely gets overlooked because of its god-awful, energy-drink-inspired cans. Fortunately a little birdy told me that this tasty beverage is slated to get a name change (they're dropping the "crazy" part) and will be getting a label makeover better suited to its excellent flavour, so you'll no longer have to hide yours in a brown bag at the park. $2.70 for a 473mL can at the LCBO.
Bellwoods Brewery's Cherry Berliner
Tonight (Thursday) in events that seem ripped directly from the pages of my dream journal, Bellwoods Brewery and Indie Alehouse will takeover all the taps at Bar Hop. To mark the occasion, Matt Bod, the absolutely delightful bartender at Bar Hop, brewed a collaboration Berliner with the folks from Bellwoods and they opted to add Ontario cherries to the mix. To learn about the science behind the beer's deliciousness, check out Bellwoods' blog, but just know that the result is a tart, delicious, refreshing (pink!) summer beer that will be available at the event tonight and then at Bellwoods until it runs out.
Sawdust City's Golden Beach Pale Wheat
I've stretched the limits of "local" up to cottage country before, and if there was ever a beer worth doing it for again it's certainly Golden Beach. This hoppy American Pale Ale is unfiltered and brewed with wheat making it one of those cloudy, aromatic, delicious hybrids that this beer writer dreams about in the cold winter months. At just 4.8% ABV with healthy helpings of summit, mosaic, galaxy, and sorachi ace hops, a freshly-tapped keg of this and a sunny patio are a hop-head's dream come true this summer. Available on tap now at select Toronto bars.
Cameron's California Sunshine APA
The latest installment of Cameron's ongoing Brewmaster's Series of limited edition one-off beers, California Sunshine is described by the Oakville brewery's brewmaster, Jason Britton, as having a "lively, fresh taste." And indeed the 5.1% ABV features a California-influenced "juicy" hop profile with hints of honeydew melon, guava, orange and lime, a solid bitterness and a lingering, resiny finish. A perfect beer for after-work patio-hopping that's destined to turn into an accidental late night. $5.95 for a 650mL bottle in the LCBO.
Wellington Brewery's Shangri-La IPA
A Welly-One Off that is back by popular demand, Shangri-La is a 6% unfiltered IPA with all the tropical fruit, lemon and pine notes a good summer beer needs but, dry-hopped with Simcoe, Centennial, Amarillo, and Citra hops, this IPA has a hoppy earthiness that makes it a little different than your usual IPA. Bonus: If you can get to Guelph to buy it in 473 mL cans from the brewery, the label features a totally bitchin' drawing of a tiger from illustrator and Sheridan-College grad Michael Byers. Available on tap at select locations as of next week.
Amsterdam Brewery/Great Lakes Brewery's Ezra
Easily the best beer you'll ever have named after a dead dog, Ezra is a collaboration between Iain MacOustra and Mike Lackey, the talented head brewers of Amsterdam Brewery and Great Lakes Brewery, respectively. A tribute to Lackey's dear departed pooch, the beer is a blend of farmhouse ales that was aged in cider barrels from Spirit Tree, imparting the beer with a funky, sour-apple, barnyardy, spice characteristic that remains suitably dry and refreshing for enjoying on a warm summer evening. Don't even think about wasting any by pouring some on the curb for your own dead pet.
Amsterdam Brewery's Space Invader
This summer-time hop laser blast in your face won't be around long so if you want some, you should stop reading now and get your ass to one of Amsterdam's retail stores. They announced a very limited run last week of this fantastic 6% pale ale, being sold in cans for the first time. Yes, this list is already dominated by hops, but aren't big, floral, piney, citrusy beers what summer is all about??
Thanks to Pure Leaf for sponsoring our summer adventures. For more things to do this summer, check out our Best of Summer page.
Photo by Giulia Ciampini.