Over the past few years, the craft beer scene in Toronto has exploded. Just take a walk through the beer aisles at the LCBO and you’ll see how much shelf-space is dedicated to craft beer. As more and more beer lovers actively seek out unique brews for their individual palates, the industry is responding. And responding in amazing fashion.
One of the first truly craft breweries in Toronto is Amsterdam Brewery. Since 1986, they’ve been part of the revolution we see in the beer scene today. Using only traditional brewing methods, their beers are brewed fresh daily and include 6 year-round brews and a variety of seasonal offerings. In 2013, Amsterdam Brewery opened a new brew house right on the water’s edge of Lake Ontario. Merging the food and beer experience under one roof, it’s one of the best spots in the city to sit back with some friends on a hot summer’s day.
This summer, Amsterdam Brewery has partnered up with Toronto’s premier walking tour experience company, Tour Guys, for a series of “Neighbeerhood Crawls”. Part pub-crawl, part walking-tour, it’s an immersive experience for guests that incorporates Amsterdam beers, great local bars, delicious local food, graffiti sightseeing and historical revelations.
This past weekend I was invited to experience their second Neighbeerhood Crawl and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity! Each crawl takes place in a different part of Toronto and so for this installment we met up in Kensington Market to explore the neighbourhood and learn about its history and incredible graffiti culture.
We kicked things off at Supermarket with an Amsterdam Natural Blonde and sweet-potato chips. Dave from Amsterdam Brewery explained a bit about the beer, a blonde lager made with all natural ingredients and the first beer the brewery started producing. It was crisp, smooth and very refreshing for this particularly hot and sunny day.
Showing off his fine hosting skills, Dave made sure we weren’t drinking on empty stomachs. We headed down the street to 214 Augusta Ave, a medley of various food stands sharing a single space, to lay a base with empanadas. Greeted by the owner, Alfonsio, of El Gordo Empanadas, we got to choose from a huge selection including chorizo, chicken, and even kimchi stuffed Chilean-style empanadas.
With one beer down and some food to soak it all up, we were now ready to learn a bit about the neighbourhood. Dave handed the reigns over to the incredibly knowledgeable Jason from Tour Guys. I’ve taken a tour with Jason before and I highly recommend you do too if you get the chance. I’m always blown away with this guy’s breadth of knowledge and enthusiasm for sharing it with others.
Kensington Market is a special place in Toronto. It’s the only area in the city where big commercial chain stores won’t be found, with locals even fighting against any that try. Seriously, Google ‘Walmart + Kensington Market’ and you’ll see what I mean. The area prides itself on small, locally owned and operated shops, many of which have called the neighbourhood home for decades.
Kensington Market is also the most ethnically diverse area in the city with a rich history. In the early twentieth century, the area was mainly inhabited by Jewish immigrants. They converted the front rooms of the Victorian Style homes into shops and thus the “Jewish Market” was born. After the Second World War, the Jews moved north of the city and Italians and Portuguese immigrants moved in. Later, immigrants from the Caribbean, East Asia, Central America, Africa, and China moved in.
Speaking of graffiti, it was time for round two. Dave ushered us over to Graffiti’s, one of the oldest bars in Kensington Market and home to Black Metal Sunday brunches. The timing of our arrival couldn’t have been any better as the band that was playing that afternoon were coming back to do another set. Our next brew on the menu was the Big Wheel, an amber ale that strikes a great balance between an ale and lager, perfect to enjoy on a summer day.
After having the chance to meet royalty, it was time to wrap things up at our last stop of the crawl. Handlebar is a relative newbie in the neighbourhood whose name is inspired by the bicycle-loving locals and choice of facial hair rocked by many of the patrons. They hold some interesting events including a recent indoor bicycle race as evidenced by the rubber tire marks covering the floor. The bicycle seemed to be a running theme for the day. Dave handed out the last beer we would try on this tour and let me tell you, it wasn’t for the faint of heart. Boneshaker is everything its name implies. It’s an unfiltered American IPA at 7.1% and packs a hoppy punch. Even seasoned IPA drinkers will feel an extra kick in the pants from this one.
Amsterdam Brewery bills themselves as the neighbourhood beer, where you can find their products everywhere. As I said my goodbyes and meandered my way out of the Market, I thought about how well this rings true in this neighbourhood. An all natural area, locally run and supported, well balanced with countless ethnicities, and an edgier side for the adventurous.
NeighBEERhood Crawl Ticket Giveaway!
Amsterdam Brewery and Tour Guys will be running two more installments of their neighbeerhood crawls in the fall. Unfortunately, you can’t buy tickets to these tours. The only way you can get on one of these crawls is to win tickets. You can follow them on social media to find out when their next contest is. But, I’m excited to share that they’ve given me a pair of tickets for their next event to give away to one lucky reader right here! The neighbourhood and date have yet to be announced but you can expect it to occur on a Sunday in September.
So how can you score a pair of tickets? Simply comment below about what your favourite craft beer is and why, along with a neighbourhood in Toronto you’re most interested in learning more about. A winner will be randomly drawn out of a hat and announced on my Facebook Page.
Nitty Gritty: The contest is open to those 19 years of age and older. No purchase necessary. You don’t need to be based in Toronto, but note that the tours take place in the city and transportation to and from the neighbourhood will not be covered. If you are unable to attend, a runner up will be chosen instead.
UPDATE: The contest is now closed. Thank you to everyone who entered!