Beer Tours

Amsterdam Brewery – Toronto, Ontario

Looking for something to add to their Christmas 2014 social calendar, Bucky and his entourage decided to visit Amsterdam Brewery at 45 Esander Drive in Toronto, ON for a tour and tasting. Amsterdam runs these sessions every Saturday from 1pm to 5 pm, with the tour and subsequent tasting each lasting about 30 minutes. Did I mention that the whole thing is free? Amsterdam’s employees were helpful and friendly during both the facility tour and tasting in the lounge, taking the time to answer any questions that the visiting group asked. The only part of the brewery that was off limits this day was the bottling function because it was in operation when we arrived. On tap for the beer sampling (after the tour) were the brewery’s All Natural Blonde (their biggest seller), Big Wheel Deluxe Amber, Boneshaker IPA, Downtown Brown and KLB Raspberry Wheat. Bucky was most partial to the Downtown Brown with honourable mention given to the Boneshaker IPA. Respectable brews all, and Bucky left the retail store with bottles of Vicar’s Vice and Tempest Imperial Stout to try at a later date.

Black Oak Brewing Company – Etobicoke, Ontario

During the 2011 Christmas break, Bucky and his entourage toured Black Oak Brewing Company (“Black Oak”) located at 75 Horner Avenue Unit #1 in Etobicoke, Ontario. Call ahead to book your tour, which costs $5 per person and includes samples of the company’s two year-round brews (Pale Ale and Nut Brown Ale) and whichever of its seasonals are then on offer.

Black Oak was established in 1999, and its beers are currently brewed in small batches using a 17 hectolitre brew house with four 34 hectolitre Unitanks and one 34 hectolitre Bright Beer Tank in a 4,200 sq. ft. facility. Black Oak uses reverse osmosis water during the brewing process to ensure the consistency and quality of its water supply. Both its Pale Ale and Nut Brown Ale have been gold medal winners in the Great Canadian Brewing Awards.

Ken Woods, Black Oak’s President, showed us around the facility, beginning with samples of the brewery’s Pale Ale, Nut Brown, and seasonal Oaktoberfest beers. Unfortunately for us, the brewery had been cleaned out of its Nutcracker Porter shortly before our visit due to a favourable newspaper article. While the Oaktoberfest was my personal favourite (watch for an upcoming review in the next few weeks), all three of the beers were solid brews.

While Black Oak’s facility is fairly modest in size, a tour is definitely worthwhile for the chance to discuss how beer is made, the Ontario craft beer market, and the industry generally with Ken Woods. Ken is a man who obviously loves what he does…and be sure to ask him about creative uses for broken garden rakes during the tour! For me, one of the most interesting discussion points was the history of the brewery’s successful, and not quite so successful experimental brews. One noticeable trait about Black Oak’s facility relative to some other craft brewers is its cleanliness…as Ken himself pointed out “many things other than people like beer.”

Overall, the tour is an enjoyable way to spend an hour of your weekend, and is a good idea for entertaining any beer loving visitors that you may have. Black Oak’s seasonal Double Chocolate Cherry Stout will be ready some time in January, so you may want to time your tour to catch a sample of this brew.

Ken Woods, Black Oak’s President

Flying Monkeys Brewery Tour

In the mood for a brewery tour during the 2014 Christmas break, Bucky and company set sail for Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery, located at 107 Dunlop Street East in Barrie, Ontario. At the time of writing, the brewery was running tours Monday through Friday at 2 pm; Saturdays at 1 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm and 4 pm; and Sundays at 1 pm and 3 pm. Tours are free, and much more importantly, so are samples of the brewery’s wares.

Diving straight into the free samples with some time to spare before his tour began, Bucky began with the Chocolate Manifesto, billed as a Triple Chocolate Milk Stout. The beer lives up to its billing with three different chocolate tastes discernible, an overall sweetness and very smooth mouthfeel. Bucky was sorely tempted to buy a bottle from the brewery’s on-site retail store, but was scared off by the price; $11.95 for a 750 ml bottle. While a very tasty beer, it should not be priced at a premium to the best Belgian Abbey beers. Having previously tried many of Flying Monkey’s hop-centric brews, Bucky went next to their Oatmeal Stout…another solid, enjoyable brew. It’s good to see Flying Monkeys stretching themselves beyond the hop bombs that originally made their name.

While the samples were first rate, the tour itself could use some improvement. Sadly, the brewery was undergoing some construction during Buck’s visit, consequently, a good part of the brewery was off limits. Learn from Bucky’s experience and call ahead before your visit to specifically ask if any part of the brewery is out of bounds that day. Flying Monkeys is situation right on Lake Simcoe which would make for a nice after-tour stroll…in the summer time. Overall, a worthwhile experience.

 Orlando Brewing Company If you find yourself in Orlando and badly in need of a break from the over-zealous commercialism of the Disney empire, try a visit to the Orlando Brewing Company. Located at 1301 Atlanta Avenue in an industrial area of the city, the company offers free tours Monday through Saturday at 6:00 pm. They do not take reservations for brewery tours, they are first come first served and you can get a ticket from the bartender or server.

During the 15 minute delay in the start of his tour, Bucky and his entourage took the opportunity to sample a flight of 8 of the brewery’s beers, with the stout and IPA being Bucky’s personal favourites. The delay was quickly forgotten when we realized that this tour was the most comprehensive (yet understandable) that we had ever experienced… and we’ve been on quite a few brewery tours. Our thirsty guide, James, explained that he conducted tours in such detail because he himself had been disappointed by the superficial nature of many a tour. Good work James! So if you’re looking for an hour or two of adult time away from the kiddy attractions, a tour of Orlando Brewing Company and a flight of its wares fits the bill.

Mill Street Brew Pub

Just after Christmas Day 2012, Bucky and a couple of his minions decided to visit the Mill Street Brew Pub, located at 21 Tank House Lane in Toronto’s Distillery District. The Toronto Brew Pub opened in October 2006, and is located in the original Gooderham and Worts tankhouse that housed Mill Street’s original brewery. Most of Mill Street’s brewing is now done from its Scarborough facility, but the Toronto Brew Pub still produces Mill Street’s specialty beers and conducts some research and development work.

The total Brew Pub consists of a retail store with a sampling license, a small brewing operation and an adjoining restaurant. The brewing portion of the facility is so small that it probably wouldn’t warrant a visit in its own right, but combine your tour of the brewing room with the Mill Street beer samples from the retail store, and one of their Angus burgers in the restaurant and the trip is certainly worthwhile. In fact, the Brew Pub is pretty well the highlight of the old Distillery District, which otherwise consists of a series of overpriced cafes and art stores, and nearby condos under construction. Tours of the Brewing Room are offered Monday to Friday at 4pm, and Saturday & Sunday at 3pm and 5pm. Tours are free with no reservations required…just check in at the retail store 15 minutes prior to the tour and you’re good to go.

During our tour we were shown the ropes by Andrew, who actually works in the brewing room. In addition to explaining the basics of the brewing process and the Brew Pub’s role in Mill Street’s overall operations, Andrew provided us with samples of Mill Street’s Helles Bock in the unfiltered stage of production. At 6.2% alcohol by volume, Helles Bock is a strong German Lager with the aromas and tastes of sweet light malts, alcohol, orange and raisins, with a mildly bitter finish to balance things out…very nice! I hope Mill Street is planning to give this beer wider distribution at some point in the not too distant future.

Cameron’s Brewing Company – Oakville, Ontario

Cameron’s Brewing Company is a craft brewery located at 1165 Invicta Drive in Oakville, Ontario. Founded in 1997, it produces four beers which are sold only in the province of Ontario; a Cream Ale, Auburn Ale, Lager and its Dark 266. Apparently the Dark 266 is only available in the Toronto area in limited distribution. Cameron’s is known for selling its beer in 9 packs as opposed to the conventional 6 pack, and for its use of all natural ingredients.

We toured their facility on a Saturday afternoon in August 2011, and while the company offers tours from 12pm to 5pm on Saturdays, it currently offers tours from Monday through Friday as well. Due to safety concerns they cannot run tours during bottling runs, so it is best to call in advance (905-849-8282) to be sure you’re not disappointed. Cost of the tour is $5 and includes samples of each of Cameron’s four brews plus a full bottle of your favourite afterwards. The tour plus sampling lasts about 40-45 minutes.

The tour began with the samples, and having recently tried Cameron’s Cream and Auburn Ales in their Sampler 4 pack, I found the difference between ‘company store’ and ‘LCBO sold’ product to be fairly dramatic. The aromas and tastes in the company store beers were much more pronounced than in the LCBO product, even though the LCBO bought beer was only 6 weeks old. According to the Company, its beers have a shelf life of 6 months and the packaging date is printed on the box. The moral of this story is…if you like Cameron’s beers and don’t live too far from Oakville, you may be better off buying them directly from the company store.

Cameron’s facility is relatively modest in size and doesn’t take long to see. Our tour guide was friendly and knowledgeable about the operation, and the only negative comment that I have is about the unpleasant smell coming from the back of their operation…likely from the filtered by-products of the brewing process that the company gives to local farmers for use as animal feed. It smelled like the by-products had been sitting in the non-air conditioned loading dock area a bit too long…apparently cows aren’t all that fussy about what they eat.

Overall though, an enjoyable tour and certainly worth the $5 price.

Old Credit Brewery – Mississauga, Ontario

Old Credit Brewing Co. Ltd. is located at 6 Queen Street West in Port Credit, Mississauga and offers daily tours, though it’s best to call in advance to make sure someone is available to show you around. We toured their facility on a Saturday morning in August 2011, with a gentleman named Ralph being kind enough to show us around. There was no charge for the tour, which included samples of the company’s two year-round brews…alas, their seasonal Holiday Honey wasn’t yet available. As a craft brewer, Old Credit has a fairly small brewing operation and 30 minutes should be enough to see the facility, but since our tour guide was especially knowledgeable about the company’s brewing process and operations, we took considerably more of his time than half an hour.

Old Credit has been in existence for roughly 17 years and currently brews 3 beers; an Amber Ale, Pale Pilsner and the previously mentioned Holiday Honey. These are available in both 341 ml and 680 ml bottles, and for those of you who have a large group of thirsty people to entertain, the company also offers kegs of various sizes. Old Credit uses a sub zero brewing process and ice ages its beers with no additives, preservatives or pasteurization, though its beers are artificially rather than naturally carbonated. As a result, its beers have an estimated shelf life of 6 months but our guide recommended drinking it within 45 days for the best flavour. Old Credit does not believe in printing production dates or best before dates on its beers, but chooses instead to pay particular attention to its inventory management. Apparently the company sells as much beer from its on-premises retail store as it does through the LCBO. The company’s distribution is limited to the Greater Toronto Area.

The tour itself was an enjoyable one, with Ralph delving into the brewery’s history, the finer points of the company’s production process, the economics of Ontario craft brewers in general, and the province’s beer distribution system. You don’t usually get that level of insight on a brewery tour. The cleanliness of the operation was also impressive…none of the water on the floor seen at other operations, and no foul smells.

At the end of the tour we bought a couple bottles of the Amber Ale and Pale Pilsner, which we look forward to sampling in the not too distant future.

Creemore Springs Brewery – Creemore, Ontario

Creemore Springs Brewery Limited (“Creemore”) is a microbrewery located at 139 Mill Street in the village of Creemore, Ontario. It has been open for business since 1987 and the brewery is known for avoiding the use of preservatives during its brewing process with no pasteurization afterwards. Water used in the production process comes exclusively from an artesian well which is trucked from the source to the brewery daily. Creemore produces three beers year-round; a Kellerbier, Premium Lager and a Pilsner, and also produces a winter Urbock. With its 25th anniversary approaching, we can probably look forward to a new addition to the product line-up to celebrate the occasion. Creemore is now a subsidiary of Molson, having been acquired on April 22, 2005.

Creemore runs free tours of its facility every hour on the hour from 12 pm to 4 pm. During my visit just before the August Civic Holiday in 2011, samples of its Kellerbier and Premium Lager were available just before the start of the tour. For those of you interested in trying to pin down the various aromas associated with the beer, the company keeps glasses full of the Czech and pelletized hops used in its production processes, along with samples of the various roasted malts used, imported mainly from Alberta we understand. The guided tour takes about 30 minutes to complete since the brewery is relatively small.

A very useful part of the tour came right at the end when our guide explained Creemore’s date codes…an area of some mystery and confusion with other breweries. Using the example of a can that I recently purchased, the date code is F071114:01. This corresponds to a production date of June 7, 2011, with the ‘F’ being the sixth letter of the alphabet and therefore representing the sixth month of the year. Keep in mind that Creemore does not use preservatives, so it’s beers have an estimated shelf life of 45 days.

Unless you seriously enjoy beer tours, I don’t think that that this one warrants a special trip to Creemore. If you’re headed to Collingwood or Wasaga Beach from the Greater Toronto Area though, it would be a worthwhile detour.

Wellington Brewery – Guelph, Ontario

Over the Victoria Day long weekend in 2011, we toured the Wellington Brewery located at 950 Woodlawn Road West in Guelph, Ontario. It was more of a tasting than a tour really, since the company’s production facility is quite small. The Iron Duke House where the tasting occurred is a bit Spartan with just a pool table and a bar, but our hostess was friendly and in the end it’s mainly about the beer and the company. The tasting included 4 ounce samples of the following brews:

  • County Dark Ale
  • Special Pale Ale
  • Arkell Best Bitter
  • Imperial Russian Stout
  • Trailhead Lager

The Silver Wheat Ale and Iron Duke Strong Ale were not on offer that day. We will be posting our reviews of each of these on the “Beer Reviews” page over time. The short version…there’s not a weak product among them. At the end of the tasting you also get a pint of your favourite Wellinton beer and a plastic Wellinton Brewery mug to take home (while supplies last). While the mug is a nice touch, be sure not to drink your end of tour pint from it…mine had a strong smell of plastic which was not condusive to enjoying a good beer.

Starting Saturday May 28th 2011, the brewery begins regular Saturday tours from 1:00-4:00 pm every Saturday throughout the summer. Tours are $5 per person, and while no reservations are required, groups of 10 or more people should call ahead. Wellington also holds private group tours by appointment for groups of 10 to 50 people. Group tours are $10 per person and are booked over a 2 hour time period. The tour of the brewery operation itself is pretty quick, with the balance of the 2 hours giving you time to enjoy your free samples in the lounge. For group tours the Brewery usually requires a couple of weeks notice and a $50 deposit at time of booking.

Overall, a worthwhile experience on a Saturday afternoon. The Iron Duke House could use a bit of sprucing up though…and some bar stools!

Steam Whistle Brewery – Toronto, Ontario

Our tour took us to an older part of downtown Toronto to visit the Steam Whistle brewery, home of, as the brewery calls it, “Canada’s Premium Pilsner.” This tour will tell you how the brewery is linked to the history of the railroad, what makes them a “green” brewery and why it will be there for many years to come. We won’t spoil the tour for you, but let’s just say it starts and ends with a free sample and you can take home beer, a bottle opener, or a Steam Whistle glass. Steam Whistle has been voted in the top 5 of all tourist destinations in Toronto by TripAdvisor.com. Visit the Steam Whistle site for more information.

We took the tour of Steam Whistle’s facility in December 2010. The brewery is located in the old railway Roundhouse at 255 Bremner Blvd. in Toronto, just behind the CN Tower. If you’re interested in trains, turn up a little bit early and see several examples of old locomotives and rail cars on display just outside the brewery. The Roundhouse used to operate as a Canadian Pacific steam locomotive repair facility.

Tour Review

Steam Whistle brews a single beer. It is a Pilsner, which is a type of pale lager that takes its name from the city of Pilsen, Bohemia in the Czech Republic. Steam Whistle’s particular Pilsner is produced using hops imported from Germany which give it a distinct, slightly bitter taste.Steam Whistle’s brewing process uses just four natural ingredients: the German hops already mentioned, barley from Saskatchewan, spring water from Ontario and yeast from Hungary.This is almost in compliance with the Reinheitsgebot, or “Bavarian Purity Law” requiring that the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops, the yeast being the only additional ingredient used by Steam Whistle.

Having grown up drinking slightly bitter British ales I really enjoyed this beer, although if your preference is the mainstream mass produced North American beers it may not be to your taste. Free samples are available before and after the tour, the tour being a bit basic but worthwhile nonetheless. I went with the 6 Pack tour myself, which gets you the tour and a 6 pack to take home for $15.00 at the time of writing.

Definitely a worthwhile experience overall. Details of Steam Whistle’s tours can be found at http://www.steamwhistle.ca/tour/tourInfo.php

Black Creek Pioneer Village – Toronto, Ontario

Did you know there was a brewery at Black Creek Pioneer Village? Offering daily tours, this location offers the history of how the beer was made and how the incredients were grown. Samples included.

Black Creek Historic Brewery opened in June 2009 and is located inside Black Creek Pioneer Village at 1000 Murray Ross Parkway, Toronto, Ontario. The brewery aims to recreate a historic brewery, with brew masters in period costume handcrafting some of the ales enjoyed in circa 1860s Ontario. The guided tour of the brewery cost $3 at the time of writing (in addition to park admission).  In summary, I wouldn’t make the trip to Pioneer Village solely for the brewery tour, but if you find yourself there, it is certainly worth the time.

According to the Brewery’s website, “Black Creek Historic Brewery recreates the techniques, tools and recipes used by brewers in 1860s Ontario, [when] there were 155 registered breweries in Ontario, and countless smaller operations. Black Creek Historic Brewery is the first in this province to replicate the brewing processes of that era, when there was no electricity or refrigeration, no stainless steel tanks or bottling plants.”

“The equipment at Black Creek Historic Brewery is made mainly of wood and copper, and the beer ferments the way it was done in the old days, with wooden barrels to age the beer. Malted barley is shoveled by hand into the wort tun where it is boiled into a mash. After filtering the solids through a linen cloth, the sugary liquid is boiled and hops are added, both for flavouring and as a natural preservative. Once the boiling is complete, the beer is put in barrels where the yeast is added. A short time later, the beer is ready.”

Visitors can sample the three types of beer produced in various stages of the production process; a Pale Ale, a Dark Ale, and a porter. All ingredients are sourced locally, and other than hops, (which was originally introduced as a preservative), no artificial additives or preservatives are used. Unfortunately there was no finished inventory available to sample during our visit, but the tour was educational and enjoyable nonetheles as we were able to taste both the ingredients and the “beer in progress”.

A must see for beer lovers who happen to find themselves at Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Brick Brewery – Waterloo, Ontario

Though not a brewery tour, the Brick Brewing Co. Limited offers regular Saturday afternoon tasting sessions in its Red Baron Lounge. The Red Baron Lounge is located right on the brewery premises at 181 King Street South in Waterloo, Ontario.

Tastings start at noon every Saturday and go until 3:00 p.m. To join in, just walk into the Retail Store at the back of the building and ask for details. The Brewery advises that you try to arrive early, as the room has a tendency to fill to capacity quickly! $5 gets you decent size samples of 6 different Brick Beers. During Bucky’s visit these included their Red Cap Ale, Amber Ale, Waterloo Dark, Red Baron Lime, Traditional IPA, and Red Baron Blonde Lager. My personal favourite was the Amber Ale, and I enjoyed all of the samples with the exception of the Red Baron Lime..this one tasted too much like the Shandies my grandmother used to drink, which were essentially 50% lager and 50% 7Up. Way too sweet for me, but lime beers are all the rage at the moment. Feel free to share with your beertender what you liked about the beers, and even what you didn’t like…and you always have the option of picking up some of your favourites in the Retail Store on your way out. Overall, this is a decent way to spend a couple of hours with friends on a Saturday afternoon.

 A couple of hints from Bucky though, to maximize your enjoyment of the experience:

  1. Sit as far away from the Men’s Room as possible. This is situated too close to the actual bar, and few things can spoil the flavour and aroma of beer like a fellow bar patron “dropping a deuce” in the Men’s Room and then leaving the door open to share the aftermath with anyone sitting inside a 10 metre radius. To this individual (aka “the Poopetrator”) Bucky says “more fibre in your diet buddy…and less chili.”
  2. Do not sit too close to the bar itself, since the volume of traffic is high, and as a corollary to point #1, few things spoil the flavour and aroma of a good beer like a bar patron who stinks of stale cigarette smoke.

With these two points in mind, learn from Bucky’s experience and enjoy your visit!