thethirsty­ Robin LeBlanc, free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher and au­thor of theThirsty­Wench. com, tra­verses beer ter­ri­tory near and far, cater­ing to a world­wide read­er­ship. She does it so well, in fact, that she was named a fi­nal­ist in Saveur’s food and wine blog awards. As a bud­ding wine snob, LeBlanc changed course after a friend fed her an in­au­gu­ral sip of Chi­may Rouge. Ro­manced by its spicy com­plex­i­ties and the rich tra­di­tions of Trap­pist brew­ing, she’s been on a beer-fu­elled tra­jec­tory ever since.

What’s your take on Cana­dian craft brew cul­ture?

It’s amaz­ing to see how popular craft beer’s be­come. I know for each thing I learn, there are prob­a­bly hun­dreds of thou­sands of things I don’t know. I never stop be­ing a stu­dent of beer. New things pop up all the time. Like sour beers – where beers un­dergo an in­ten­tional in­fec­tion – and they taste great! That’s what I love: it’s so, so di­verse.

Any changes you’d wish for?

There are a lot of re­ally amaz­ing one-offs – and that’s just it, they’re one-offs. I’d like to see more [read­ily avail­able] crazy beers.

Favourite T.O. wa­ter­ing holes?

Bar Hop (391 King West, 647-352-7476, barhop­ is al­ways a plea­sure to go to. The Only Café (972 Dan­forth, 416-463-7843, theon­ly­ and, when I can, Thirsty and Mis­er­able (197 Bald­win, 647-607-0134).

Lo­cal brew­eries to watch?

In­die Ale­house: I want to taste more from them. Shack­lands Brew­ing Co. cur­rently based at Junc­tion Craft Brew­ery: they fo­cus on Bel­gian and farm­house beers. I had a peach sai­son from them that was un­for­get­table. Also Snow­man Brew­ing Co. (based at Black Oak Brew­ing): they spe­cial­ize in gluten-free beers that don’t taste like gluten-free beers. Grow­ing up around the Gran­ite, north Toronto’s leg­endary brew pub, it was in­evitable that Mary Beth Keefe would learn the ropes of the fam­ily business. Now the Gran­ite’s head brewer, Keefe worked front of house through­out her teens, but it wasn’t un­til she re­turned from a tem­po­rary trans­plant to Eng­land that she was in­spired to try her hand at brew­ing the tra­di­tional English-style IPAs, bit­ters and cask ales that have al­ways been the Gran­ite’s spe­cialty.

What’s the Gran­ite brews’ se­cret?

We use the Peter Austin-Alan Pugs­ley sys­tem, also called the Ring­wood sys­tem, which re­quires open fer­men­ta­tion. I just took it for granted that we used open fer­men­ta­tion, but it’s not common. Ring­wood yeast is a defin­ing fea­ture in all our beers. It has a very fruity, es­tery character. It’s goes with the styles we pro­duce – the English IPAs, bit­ters, mild brown ales and golden ales and ESP. Stout has al­ways been in our lineup, and the Ring­wood yeast works re­ally well with it.

What ex­cites you most about brew­ing right now?

Ex­per­i­ment­ing with our smaller brews and one-offs . What I like most about work­ing in a small brew pub is that the cus­tomers are right there and can give me feed­back. I can hear crit­i­cism straight from their mouths and work on it for next time.

How do you see the fu­ture of On­tario craft brew­ing?

There is a shift right now to­ward go­ing lo­cal – whether it’s beer or what you’re eat­ing – and sup­port­ing your com­mu­nity.

Peo­ple are more open to things now and will­ing to ex­per­i­ment with what they’re eat­ing and drink­ing. Brew­ers are be­ing more cre­ative, and that’s ap­peal­ing to the cus­tomer.

I just hope it con­tin­ues, that more bars open up serv­ing good beer and that peo­ple will be­come more and more aware of what’s out there.

What’s your favourite Gran­ite beer?

Our Galac­tic Pale Ale – there’s a nice trop­i­cal fruit aroma [from the Galaxy and Cas­cade hops], but it’s pretty easy to drink be­cause of the low al­co­hol con­tent. Dur­ing the sum­mer, I like to keep the al­co­hol low but with lots of flavour. I

re­ally like saisons, too.

Favourite T.O. wa­ter­ing holes?

Bar Hop (391 King West, 647-352-7476, barhop­ and Bar Volo (587 Yonge, 416-928-0008, bar­ I re­ally like Get Well (1181 Dundas West, 647351-2337, getwell­ a lot, although I don’t make it out to the west end as much as I’d like.

Cana­dian brew­eries to watch?

Get Well’s beers are ex­cel­lent. Volo’s house ales are also ex­cel­lent. I’ve al­ways been a big fan of Am­s­ter­dam and Great Lakes.

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