BREAKING THE (BEER)GLASS CEILING
thethirstywench.com 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, barhopbar.com) is always a pleasure to go to. The Only Café (972 Danforth, 416-463-7843, theonlycafe.com) 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, barhopbar.com) and Bar Volo (587 Yonge, 416-928-0008, barvolo.com). I really like Get Well (1181 Dundas West, 647351-2337, getwellbar.com) 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.