Summer, it’s been fun, but there comes a time when beer drinkers must put away childish things. Painful as it may be, we must bid adieu to our wimpy summer Coronas! Bye-bye, Bud Lite Lime! Sayonara, Sapporo! We’ve entered the season of hearty beers. Lucky for you, this fall’s got a lot of good suds on offer.
Forget TIFF—the real week of partying begins this Friday.
Brewmasters from across the city have had their heads down for the last little while coming up with wild, wow ’em one-off brews especially for Toronto Beer Week—nine barley-soaked days jam-packed with festivals, dinners, workshops, and pub crawls all in the name of craft beer. From puckering sours to bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stouts, you’ll see them popping up on taps at your favourite watering hole this week. That’s a lot of really good excuses to stop by the pub after work (in case you needed a new one or two).
And this fall, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate. When Bellwoods Brewery opened its garage doors in the spring, local barley-heads finally got the big, bold craft-beer mecca they’ve been thirsting for. Other inventive brewers, like Jason Fisher from the Indie Alehouse, are about to open their doors, and in the last year, so many new breweries have launched in Ontario that we’ve almost lost count. All of these beers need a home—and new bars like Thirsty & Miserable and Bar Hop are making room for them on their taps.
Meanwhile, some of the city’s earliest adopters are marking their own milestones: The Only Café blew out 30 candles on its cake this year, and with its quarterly beer festivals, eclectic crowd, and 24 tap handles, it’s still a favourite with Toronto brew-hunters.
But the biggest reason to raise a glass is to salute what’s inside—and our guide is all about the beer. As the leaves fall and the sun takes a little longer to rise in the morning, it’s time to reach for autumnal ales. We’ve done the tough job of drinking through all of the possibilities and selecting the best Oktoberfests and roasty lagers, spiced pumpkin and brown ales, piney India Pale Ales, darker porters and stouts, and a few boozy Belgian beauties to seek out this fall. All you have to do is pick ’em up, pop the cap, and savour the season’s finest brews.
Taking a sip of this lager is like biting into a thick slice of wholegrain toast drizzled with a bit of dark honey. It’s a full-on grain party in your mouth and it’s really, really good. It can only be bought as part of the brewery’s Autumn Harvest Sampler pack containing three Oktoberfests and three nutmeg-forward Pumpkin Ales.
$13.25/six pack, LCBO.
Housed in an ancient windmill in the Netherland’s rolling countryside, De Molen is the darling brewer of beer-nerds around the world. Bar Volo is bringing in a limited run of nine of its beers this week. De Molen’s Imperial Porter has none of the roasted, coffee notes of a stout—instead you’ll find overtones of dark plums, figs and cherry, with a toffee centre and hints of dark chocolate and star anise. At 11 per cent, trust us you’ll most definitely taste the booze. This is a beer to sip and savour.
Price TBD, Bar Volo, 587 Yonge St., 416-928-0008.
First brewed in 2009 to commemorate Friar Isidorus Laaber’s founding of this Trappist brewery, this lush deep amber ale has big notes of caramel, banana, and dates with a spicy white pepper and clove backbone. Delish.
When Czechoslovakia’s golden pilsners were all the rage in 19th- century Europe, German ale-makers got huffy. A group of four Düsseldorf breweries decided to kick it old school, giving their signature nutty ales a new name “alt (or old) bier.” For its 25th anniversary, Creemore managed to pilfer some yeast from brewery Zum Schlüssel, one of the original four, and create an altbier of its own. The best part? The beer is as good as the story: Fresh bread and caramel flavours come with a peppery backbone and a crisp finish.
$2.80/473 ml can, LCBO
The label on this made-in-Toronto beer makes it look as if it’s ready for a luau, but don’t believe the hype: The addition of pineapple juice is barely detectable in this hazy, orange brew. Instead, it’s a hop-forward ale that’s perfect for warm fall days with fresh grapefruit-peel bitterness from start to finish.
$ 13.95/six pack, LCBO.
This is one surprising brew. Take a whiff of this chestnut-hued wheat beer and you’ll smell caramel, brown sugar, and a hint of toast, but sip it and you get a long, lemon and malt vinegar sourness. By marrying the tart Berliner Weisse style with a brown ale, Bellwoods’ inventive brewers have created a refreshing sipper for bright fall days.
$5.75/16-oz glass, on tap at the brewery. 124 Ossington Ave., 416-535-4586. Sometimes available in bottles through the pop-up retail store next door; follow @bellwoodsbeer for details.
It doesn’t come out until Oct. 1, halfway through Germany’s Oktoberfest celebration, but that doesn’t mean this beer misses the mark. Made with Munich malts, this creamy lager has hints of fresh bread and golden toffee, and keeps its spicy German Tettanger hops firmly in the background—Prost!
$13.75/six pack, available starting Oct. 1 at the brewery, 75 Horner Ave. Unit #1, Etobicoke, 416-252-2739, or on draft at C’est What, The Rhino, Bar Volo, and other beer bars.
This is the grandpappy of doppelbocks (doubly-malty, boozy lagers) the world over. A deep ruby brew with dark ginger cake, snappy spice, and brown-sugar flavours, this is a bock to drink while baking. Don’t worry if you spill some into your cake mix, it’ll taste even better.
Perhaps it’s the unsexy label (War of 1812? Yawn) that’s kept this beer from flying off the LCBO shelves, but that’s a good thing for us locavores and history buffs. This complex brown ale has a toffee and burnt toast start and a dry, lemony finish with a hint of coffee. Created by Black Creek Pioneer Village’s brewmaster, Ed Koren, to mark the only war our city has ever seen, it would be a sin for any Torontophile to overlook this ale.
This mahogany-hued brew will help you kiss summer’s light lagers goodbye and say hello to fall. Its light-roasted coffee and dark caramel notes are bigger than the bready notes of summer pounders, but like those brews, the taste is in and out of your mouth like a lightening bolt. Try it with a fall salad sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds.
$2.25/473-ml can, LCBO, The Beer Store.
A former World War I lieutenant-colonel-turned-brewmaster created this sweet, smooth brown ale in 1927 to rival the pale ales of Burton-on-Trent. A few sips is akin to drinking toasted banana bread. A favourite among Newkie’s coal miners and shipbuilders, this is the kind of work-a-day brew we can raise our glasses to salute.
$12.95/six pack, The Beer Store; $2.90/500-ml can, LCBO.
If you like your pumpkin pie heavy on the spice, then this ale’s for you. Made with dried pumpkin, this fruity, heady orange brew is one to share with your neighbours when you’re raking the leaves.
Next page: 12 more essential autumn beers