Most people would rather crack a beer than swap it, but the folks at Toronto Bottle Share recommend spreading the brew-love.
On a cold Saturday in October, I stood in the east-end backyard of rabid homebrewer Richard Sigesmund, shoving beers into an ice bucket. I noticed one twentysomething stranger eyeing my selections expectantly. “What did you bring?” she asked, smiling.
“Um, Three Floyds Dreadnaught, and this one—it’s a collaboration between Nøgne Ø in Norway and an Australian brewery, Bridge Road,” I replied. “My sister lives in Sydney and she brought it over here for me.” I went back to wedging my wares between 20 other weird and wonderful bottles from Ontario, the U.S., England, Italy, and Belgium.
So began my first Toronto Bottle Share experience.
Popularized by the craft-beer movement in the U.S., bottle shares are forums for enthusiasts to get together and drink each other’s brews. Torontonians have been doing this for a while in private, but the city’s first public Bottle Share chapter was launched this past summer by friends Mike Warner and Sam Cerizza.
“We met at Session Beer Festival a few years ago, when I had just moved here from Milan,” says Cerizza, who works as a construction-site supervisor. “My English was pretty bad, and [Mike] was the only one interested in my beer-blogging experience.”
The pair began exchanging bottled brews they had brought home from trips. “I knew there were a lot of people out there who might be getting into beer, maybe starting a cellar, and didn’t have a wide network of people to share them with,” Warner says.
Here’s how it works: Anyone with any level of brew expertise is encouraged to sign up (for free!) at Torontobottleshare.com. The swaps, which are usually held at members’ homes, fill up on a first-come, first-served basis, and attendance is capped at around 15 people. Participants are asked to bring two regular-sized bottles—or one large bottle, provided it’s not available at the LCBO or Beer Store—along with a donation to the host to cover food. And one last note of Bottle Share etiquette: The person who brings the bottle opens the bottle.
I was surprised at the lack of overt beer geekery happening that day; no one was cataloguing the samples tasted that afternoon on beer app Untappd, and there was minimal fawning over the bottles being poured. Instead, as has been the case for centuries, the beer acted as a conduit for good, old-fashioned conversation.
The next Toronto Bottle Share will be held on Dec. 7 at Great Lakes Brewery, 30 Queen Elizabeth Blvd., 416-255-4510, greatlakesbeer.com.