New to Town? Welcome to Toronto!

Not from around here? Not to worry. Torontonians may seem a bit reserved – it’s our Victorian heritage – but we’re actually pretty friendly, especially when we’re in one of our favourite pubs. (And if you’re visiting from our neighbour to the south, yes, that is the way we spell ‘favourite’ and ‘neighbour’. We’re funny that way.)

(Since we’re in brackets here, American visitors will observe that an official pint in Canada is actually 20 ounces, though some of our more advanced beer venues offer a range of glassware appropriate to whatever you’re drinking. Oh, and if you see beer from the Great Lakes brewery, it’s a local beer and not from the Cleveland brewery of the same name. They’re both excellent breweries, they’re unrelated, and they’re from different Great Lakes. American visitors of a youthful disposition may also be glad to know that the drinking age here is 19; you’re welcome.)

While you’re in Toronto, no doubt you’ll see the CN Tower (it’s hard to miss it), maybe Casa Loma, or whatever people do when they visit Toronto, but if you really want to see this city and its people, you’ll need to discover its pubs.

It’s what beer lovers do when we travel. We go to local pubs and drink local beer. We want to know what local brewers are making and where the locals are drinking it. My wife calls it alcotourism.

That’s what the Toronto Beer Guide is about. We want to help you find the good places to go, because that’s where you’ll find us.

First, the rules. You can’t smoke anywhere, even on a patio. The good news is that you should have seen the laws fifty years ago. (Fifty years ago, smoking was almost the only thing you could do.) Like much of North America, we’re still battling the hangover of Prohibition (1916-1927 in Ontario, plus another seven years before they allowed taverns), but we’ve come a long way.

And so have our brewers. Craft brewing didn’t get started in Toronto until 1985, and even then there were plenty of hiccups along the way. But, as is the case practically everywhere except maybe Riyadh, we’ve witnessed a boom in new breweries making all sorts of beers. We have brewpubs, breweries with brewery stores, breweries with taprooms, and pubs selling all manner of good beer and cider. Please join us; we can’t drink it all ourselves, though we do what we can.

It used to be the case that pubs – or beverage rooms, as they were properly called in the dark days of drinking in Ontario – were open all the hours possible, which meant noon till midnight, six days a week. Sunday in Ontario was kept holy, unless you knew a speakeasy. Nowadays, alcoholic beverages can be served generally from 11am to 2am, seven days a week, but many Toronto licensees choose not to open their doors until later in the afternoon. This, of course, is the curse of the tourist, not to mention retired people, the unemployed, those who work odd hours, and anyone who’s looking for a beer at lunchtime. We’re trying to advise you generally about pubs’ opening hours, but you’re wise to check individual websites in advance. As a rule, the farther a pub is from an active lunch crowd, the less likely it is they’ll be open during the afternoon.

It is a truth of the world of good beer that for a movement like this to thrive you need three groups of people: brewers bold enough to make it, licensees sufficiently forward thinking to serve it in their bars and restaurants, and enough adventurous drinkers to make it worth the brewers’ and pub owners’ while.

We reached that blissful state in Toronto a few years ago, and we’re glad you’re here to enjoy it with us. Have a good time.

Nicholas Pashley

(c) 2016 Toronto Beer Week