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Whistling in the steam

Do one thing really, really well.

Thus reads the motto of Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto. I had gone up for the weekend to attend Riot Fest, and of course the laws of nature dictate that I find at least one brewery wherever I go.

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Despite living fairly close I had never actually gone to any brewery or good beer bar in Toronto: I think the last time I stayed any length of time in the GTA I had only recently started homebrewing and had not yet become the monster you see before you. I followed the suggestion of the friends who attended the Fest with me1 and we headed to Steam Whistle, which only does one thing: make a pilsner.

Your first thought is what you’ve been conditioned to believe. Your second is what you actually think.

I took some solace in that quote — mostly directed at unconscious racism, sexism, etc — because my brain initially jumped to “The one place I visit only makes a pilsner?” The old “corn and rice? evil!!” mentality all too common among craft beer lovers.

Pilsners have their place, though, at least if done well. I told the part of my brain responsible for snap judgments to shove it and bought tickets for the tour — $10, which includes either a glass or a bottle opener, and one can never have enough glasses — and got our free samples.

The malt tasted bready, the hops slight but noticeable. Corn in abundance, but not in a negative, DMS-y way. It erred on the side of sweet over dry, but not sickeningly so. When I want a beer for easy drinking, which I’ve found myself doing with increasing frequency, I’d love to drink this. If only we could get it over here.

Then: the Energizer Bunny walked around, for some reason? Never did quite figure that out. Our tour started, complete with headphones so we could hear our intrepid guide as we walked. Noah started the tour off right, walking us to an old fashioned cooler for a bottle of their beer.

Why yes, it is.

Why yes, it is.

The three founders of Steam Whistle came from craft: they had worked at Upper Canada until, well, they didn’t. Thus fired they decided to start their own damn brewery, initially and impudently named “Three Fired Guys.” They had done craft ales and wanted to make an alternative to good European import lagers.

The tour turned technical: they follow the Reinheitsgebot, which either denotes an adherence to tradition or an old fashioned resistance to innovation depending on the person (I see both sides). They decoct, use Hungarian yeast, use natural carbonation from fermentation for carbonation. Noah casually mentioned their keg washing machine, capable of washing 50 an hour, and I salivated: I can get about 20% of that when I wash kegs.

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The envy continued: employees get a free 12 pack a week, plus up to three pints for free after each shift. Excitement at this might sound strange, seeing as I own a brewery of my own and can in theory just give myself whatever I want, but we need to sell that beer! I wouldn’t need that much in any case: I’ll drink seven or eight pints in a “heavy” week.

Our tour ended with another free sample along with a tease: while Steam Whistle only makes one beer, they also have an unfiltered version available at the brewery. Well, I would certainly need to try that! We headed back downstairs where I was promptly upsold on their one liter (litre?) ceramic stein and pretzel combo. Again: you can never have enough glassware.

The unfiltered initially tasted less hoppy, but then more bitter as I drank. I suspect we may have had an unreliable narrator by this point. The characteristics of the beer had been smoothed out, little craggly bits filled in with yeast spackling.

We left the brewery, in search of poutine and another day of music.

Your humble author, plus Matt

Your humble author, plus Matt


  1. Fun fact: If the driver of your car only tells the border guard that your reason for visiting is “Riot Fest” they ask you lots of questions! 

One comment on “Whistling in the steam

  1. Thom Cleland on

    I don’t know if you wound up finding any good beer bars while you were up in Toronto, but I can recommend The Town Crier for tasty beers and duck fat fries/poutine. I head there with my friend whenever I’m in town (I still prefer Blue Monk’s selection, though.)

    Beer-Drinking Friend also recommends Mill Street Brewery and Bar Volo!

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