Did I get your attention? If so, you’ll surely be interested in this tour!
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Toronto Urban Adventures (sister company of Tour Guys) hosts a historic walking tour of Toronto, but with beer. It’s called the “Beer Makes History Better” tour. This Toronto beer tour strongly focuses on this region’s craft beers with a sprinkling of local history as we travel past the city’s landmarks. Let’s explore Toronto and beer together. Cheers!
We met our tour guide, Mike, at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Justin and I were joined by a German family of four who were traveling around North America for the summer holidays. We walked past Toronto’s Flatiron building – yes, Toronto has one, too, though it’s a little smaller than its famous New York City counterpart. The first pub that we visited was called C’est What.
C’est What is an underground brewpub and restaurant with quite the selection of beer. There is a huge menu of beer from all over the world and right from our backyard. C’est What brews their own beer, too. I couldn’t resist trying C’est What’s “Homegrown Hemp Ale” (A light ale that’s just a little nutty) and Justin tried the “Rhyme & Reason” (Extra pale ale with a crisp finish). Both beers were quite refreshing on a summer day. Our small group selected various pints to try with the assistance of our guide. We ordered at the bar and gathered at a table to relax, drink our beer, and listen to some interesting stories and facts about beer.
Mike taught us all about the history of prohibition in Ontario and the current laws regarding how alcohol is sold in the province. We also learned some interesting facts about the beer itself. I had no idea what IBU stood for before this tour (it stands for International Bitterness Unit). It measures the amount of hops in a particular beer, or the bitterness of the beer. It was great to learn these little details that will surely help me to choose which drink to try in the future.
I should also make a quick mention that we did have to purchase our own beer on the tour, though there were plenty of free samples along the way. As for the pints, they weren’t included in the price of the tour as we were allowed to choose which kind of beer we wanted to try at each place, as well as the size of the glass. It was great to have that amount of flexibility as each person could try a beer that was more suited to their liking.
We made a quick stop at an LCBO which Justin and I found to be quite funny as we’re from the area and we know what an LCBO looks like. For those who don’t know, LCBO stands for Liquor Control Board of Ontario and that’s where mostly all of the alcohol is sold in our province. No, you can’t walk into the local grocery store or convenience store and buy alcohol like you can in many other places around the world. It is rather strict here! Even though it was a familiar sight to us, it was all new to our tour-mates from Germany.
Our second stop was St. Lawrence Market, a huge indoor farmer’s market and marketplace in the middle of downtown Toronto. It is one of the world’s greatest markets with over 10,000 square feet of space…and until this tour, I’d never visited it! I’d been meaning to go for what seems like forever, but never had the chance. It was an exciting moment to finally step inside St. Lawrence Market.
We only had time to stop at a couple of places within the market, so I can’t wait to return sometime to explore the rest of it on my own. The first booth we reached was one selling different types of gourmet mustard. “Mustard…” I thought. “I can’t stand mustard!” Canada is the largest exporter of mustard in the world, accounting for 80% of the world’s supply. I had no idea that Canada grew that much mustard. Several varieties of mustard were lined up across a shelf with little pretzel sticks to try a sampling of each. I tried the first one. “Wow…this is really good!” Justin was shocked. He knows my disdain for mustard. I tried the next one. And the next one. They were all delicious. Thank you so much for broadening my horizons, Kozlik’s! We bought a jar to bring home as we couldn’t resist.
Next, we stopped at a wine stand to try some local Niagara wines. I tried a sample of Riesling and some white ice wine. Yum! We are so fortunate to live so close to a fantastic wine country that exists in the Niagara area. Ontario is home to many great grape growers for wine, including ice wine that is created by harvesting frozen grapes in the winter.
One of the wineries is owned by the “Great One”, Wayne Gretzky. Our German friends didn’t know who Wayne Gretzky was! It totally reminded me that a household name in one place isn’t necessarily that in another. For those of you who don’t know who Wayne Gretzky is, he’s a Canadian hockey legend. And I’m certain that all Canadians know about him!
After a quick jaunt around St. Lawrence Market, we continued our pub crawl towards our second location, Betty’s. This bar is a local favorite and I was glad to be introduced to it. The bar used to be called The Betty Ford Clinic, named after the famous celebrity rehab facility. When the Betty Ford lawyers found out about the bar, they sent a cease and desist order to the establishment. The name was shortened to Betty’s, though a blown-up image of the cease and desist order still hangs on the wall to this date.
At Betty’s, Justin and I decided to split a beer flight where we got to try four different beers. We asked our guide to choose for us and he chose four local craft beers: Hops and Robbers, Boneshaker, Radler, and Sidelaunch. The Sidelaunch beer was by far and away my favorite of the lot all day! It was a lighter beer with a hint of banana. So delicious.
Mike also wanted to show us a cool place on the upper level of Betty’s, designed to look like someone’s basement. You can rent out the room for parties or special events. There are mismatched sofas, beer signs, and random art all over the walls. It’s quite an eclectic spot and would be perfect for a gathering with friends.
Our third and final destination for the day was the historic Distillery District. You might remember it from my past blog post about the Toronto Christmas Market. The Distillery District is a pedestrian-only city block that was once home to the Gooderham & Worts Distillery. It has the largest and most preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America. There were some adorable art installations, including a giant heart and the word “Love” spelled out in love locks (an expanding artwork of locks!).
We stopped for a small sample of sake before heading to the final brewpub, Mill Street Brewery.
Visiting Mill Street Brewery is always a treat. I’ve been here in the past with Justin. Their organic beer is one of my favorites. We gathered in their tasting room and tried several free samples of their varieties of beer.
It was a great final stop on a wonderful tour. We spent about four hours strolling the streets, learning about the history of Toronto and drinking lots of yummy beverages. Our tour guide, Mike, was really knowledgeable and a really cool guy all around. We tried some new craft beer and pubs that we wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. Justin and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on the tour and we highly recommend it to anyone visiting Toronto – or wanting to play tourist in their own town!