great lakes brewery robust porter

The top 5 new craft beers in Toronto 2012

As I noted last week, 2012 has been a big year for Toronto's beer scene. And, owing to the increased availability of local beer and our increasingly sophisticated beer tastes, this year's new beer offerings were even more diverse and interesting than last year's. Narrowing the field to just five of the best new beers brewed by the city's brewers this year was no easy endeavour, but let's be honest--there are no losers when there are so many new breweries opening up in and around Toronto. Some new beers, however, stood out among the others this year.

Here are my picks for the best five.

Great Lakes Brewery's 25th Anniversary Robust Porter
In honour of their 25th anniversary this year, Toronto's oldest craft brewer has been rolling out a series of beers made in a traditional style. Realistically, any one of brewer Mike Lackey's anniversary series beers could have made this list. His 25th Anniversary Saison and his 25th Anniversary Imperial Black IPA were also ridiculously good, but my personal favourite is the Robust Porter. The aroma is all roasted malts with hints of chocolate and the taste is mildly bitter black chocolate, with semi-sweet coffee.

It's got a virtually undetectable alcohol flavour but still weighs in at a substantial 7.2%. In short, it's a perfectly creamy, smoky, and rich sipper and, while it was brewed to be a one-off, if Great Lakes doesn't find a way to continue brewing this all year, I will personally lead the angry mob out to Etobicoke to change their minds.

Bellwoods Brewery's Witchshark Imperial IPA
It's hard to find a beer on Bellwoods' ever-changing lineup that is anything less than stellar, but one of the beers that Mike Clark and Luke Pestl have been brewing ever since they opened hits all the right marks. The Witchshark Imperial IPA is something like the perfect hop bomb, managing great bitterness and a remarkable balance. The aromas are citrus, grapefruit, and a bit of pine, and it's got awesome head retention and lacing that ensure the aromas stick around until the last sip.

The flavour is a cascade hops smack in the mouth, but it stops short of being offensive with a sweet, caramel malt backbone. Essentially, this double-IPA is the perfect bitter, hoppy pint that other Ontario brewers wish they made--on steroids. It weighs in at a dangerously imperceptible 9% ABV and has been known to send more than a few of my Saturday afternoons off on an unexpected wobbly tangent.

Cameron's Brewing Company's Rye Pale Ale
Technically this beer was first brewed in 2011 as an entry in the Cask IPA Challenge at bar Volo, but it got its first commercial run in April of 2012, making it eligible for this list, well, because it's my list and I can do whatever I want. If you've never had an RPA, you need to get your hands on this beer: not only is it possible that RPAs could become the next big thing in Ontario brewing, but this beer is largely the reason that might happen. It's that good. It's a sort of amber orange with a thin foamy head and the pale ale part of this beer delivers all the citrus aromas you would expect of a beer that combines British and American hops.

It's also got some bitterness on the finish, but the generous portion of rye gives this 6.6% ABV beer some unique spiciness balanced with a little sweet caramel malts. Unfortunately, Cameron's RPA is currently only available in select bars and in the bottle at Cameron's on-site retail store. Hopefully it will show up on enough "best of" lists that Cameron's will get their asses in gear and get this in LCBOs so we city dwellers can drink it all year round without having to trek out to Oakville.

Indie Alehouse's Red Tape Stout
Most of the beers Jason Fisher and Co. are brewing out in the Junction are something of a revelation, but for me, the best of the bunch has been the cheekily-named Red Tape Stout, so dubbed to commemorate the arduous process of getting his brewpub up and running. This stout is just a great beer. It pours as dark as motor oil with a thick taupe head and the aroma is rich like strong coffee. It's got a fantastic creamy mouthfeel, just the right touch of smokiness, and just a hint of sweetness.

Red Tape actually joins an oft-overlooked class of fantastic Ontario stouts (e.g. Wellington Imperial Stout, Amsterdam's Tempest Imperial, even the newly-brewed Get Well/Duggan's collaboration) and like some of its peers, Red Tape manages a great creamy smoothness while still packing a wallop (a potent 10.5% ABV, in fact). As evidenced by the pinot-barrel aged version that was debuted at Indie's recent stout night, Red Tape seems destined for experimental iterations, but here's hoping it finds a regular place in the Indie lineup because it does just fine on its own.

Amsterdam Brewery's Calm Before the Storm
Possibly the most underrated in brewer Iain McOustra's lineup of "Adventure Brews," Calm Before the Storm uses the same malt bill as their Tempest Imperial Stout, but instead of the nap-inducing heft of that beer's heavy 10% profile, Calm Before the Storm weighs in at a ridiculously drinkable 3.2%, making it one of a very small collection of locally brewed English milds.

This beer has all the richness and interesting espresso and dark chocolate flavours you'd expect from a great dark beer, but with its low alcohol profile, amped up carbonation, and frothy rather than creamy head, Calm Before the Storm is more akin to refreshing than complex. It's basically a great dark beer you could drink a dozen of.

2012 honourable mentions:
Kensington Brewing Company's Baldwin FisheyePA
Spearhead Brewing Company's Moroccan Brown Ale

2012 out-of-town favourites:
Muskoka Brewery's Twice as Mad Tom Double IPA
Silversmith Brewing Company's Black Lager

Photo by Traven Benner

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