CAN T.O. EVER BE BEER CITY?

Coun­cil­lor Mike Lay­ton wants that des­ig­na­tion for Toronto, but some find it a hard con­cept to swal­low.

NOW Magazine - Beer Guide - - TORONTO BEER GUIDE - By DAN GRANT

If Mike Lay­ton has his way, Toronto will be the craft beer cap­i­tal of the world. But what would that look like? Would it re­sem­ble Port­land, Ore­gon, which boasts nearly 60 brew­eries in­side city lim­its and more than 80 in the sur­round­ing metro area? Would there be per­ma­nent beer gar­dens in city parks, like in Mil­wau­kee? Would it be more like Brus­sels, where it’s not un­com­mon to have a pint with break­fast, and brew­ers are cel­e­brated each year with a pa­rade? The coun­cil­lor for Ward 19 isn’t sure, but it was never re­ally his in­ten­tion to shape the in­dus­try – just to help it along.

“The whole idea of the craft beer cap­i­tal was re­ally just me tak­ing some dra­matic li­cence in writ­ing a no­tice of mo­tion.”

That mo­tion – put for­ward with the sup­port of Coun­cil­lor Gord Perks (Ward 14) – was passed by the Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee. It di­rects city staff to stop get­ting in the way of craft brew­ers and in­stead make things eas­ier for them.

Right now bu­reau­cracy is a big prob­lem, lead­ing to frus­trat­ing months of ex­pen­sive de­lays for start-ups like Lans­downe Brew­ery.

Lo­cated at 303 Lans­downe, on the small strip where Dun­das West and Col­lege meet, it sits ready for cus­tomers but for­bid­den to serve them, co-owner Jeremy Coghill tells me.

“You can talk to plan­ners and all these peo­ple who are re­ally keen and gung-ho. But once you’re in a sit­u­a­tion where you’re talk­ing to the zon­ing peo­ple, they’re not nec­es­sar­ily talk­ing the same way as the plan­ners. Fig­ur­ing out how to speak their lan­guage turned out to be an is­sue.”

Coghill says the guy in charge of zon­ing was a hard-ass about ev­ery­thing.

“He just kept say­ing no while pro­vid­ing no un­der­stand­ing about why he said no. There are all these brew pubs all over the place. How did they open? He’s like, ‘I don’t care. I didn’t ap­prove them.’”

The open­ing ear­lier this year of Left Field Brew­ery at 36 Wagstaff, off Greenwood near Ger­rard, was held back by a bizarre by­law de­mand­ing that man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties have at least five park­ing spa­ces, ir­re­spec­tive of what is be­ing man­u­fac­tured.

Left Field’s build­ing, a for­mer brick fac­tory, is more than a cen­tury old and opens onto a nar­row side street.

“In or­der to get past that re­quire­ment, we went through a costly process to en­gage ar­chi­tects, engi­neers and city of­fi­cials,” re­calls co-owner Mandie Mur­phy.

Even­tu­ally, they were granted the right to open with­out park­ing, but only af­ter meet­ing with the Com­mit­tee of Ad­just­ment.

“The panel that makes the de­ci­sion didn’t quite say it, but their at­ti­tude was more or less ‘You shouldn’t even have to be here; this is a waste of time.’”

These are the types of is­sues Lay­ton hopes to fix. His mo­tion al­lows him to call to­gether staff from var­i­ous de­part­ments to clar­ify the rules. In his opin­ion, brew­ers should be han­dled like bak­ers.

“You’re mak­ing some­thing out of raw in­gre­di­ents and selling it on site, whether you’re selling to a bar by the keg or to a lo­cal by the bot­tle. A bak­ery func­tions in the ex­act same way. It’s tak­ing raw in­gre­di­ents, mix­ing them around.... Why are they be­ing treated dif­fer­ently?”

For home brewer Eric Porte­lance, Lay­ton’s ini­tia­tive is good news. Cur­rently look­ing for a lo­ca­tion to open Halo Brew­ery, he’s al­ready spo­ken with Lay­ton, Perks and his lo­cal coun­cil­lor, Ana Bailão (Ward 18). He also sits on a city of Toronto work­ing group to dis­cuss in­dus­try is­sues. But as en­cour­aged as he is by the progress be­ing made at the mu­nic­i­pal level, he wor­ries brew­ers might be drop­ping the ball when it comes to Toronto’s craft cred­i­bil­ity on the world stage.

“I’ve had more off-flavours in beer in the past six months in bars in Toronto and around the province than I had in the pre­vi­ous six months. Qual­ity con­trol, qual­ity as­sur­ance, even ba­sic sen­sory eval­u­a­tions just aren’t there. Some brew­ers are rush­ing their beer out be­cause they think our mar­ket is still im­ma­ture, but that’s not go­ing to fly in a few years when peo­ple get wise to it.”

Porte­lance points to Van­cou­ver, which has more than 20

brew­eries within walk­ing dis­tance of BC Place, as a mar­ket that’s more evolved.

“We have Toronto Beer Week. We have a cal­en­dar of events that hap­pen around beer. But Van­cou­ver’s moved from these blips of events on a cal­en­dar to more of an on­go­ing thing.”

Com­pared with some Amer­i­can cen­tres, we’re even fur­ther be­hind, claims Jor­dan St. John, for­mer na­tional beer colum­nist for the Sun news­pa­per chain.

“I’ve done the math on this. Asheville, North Carolina, which is Beer City USA, has 45 brew­eries for 85,000 peo­ple. If we wanted to match that per capita, we’d need some­thing like 1,483 brew­eries,” he says.

The au­thor of Lost Brew­eries Of Toronto, St. John nev­er­the­less feels we could still ben­e­fit by putting a greater fo­cus on craft beer.

“You could get the same thing Lon­don, Eng­land, has, where stop­ping in for a pint at the end of the day is part of the daily rou­tine. A blog by a friend of mine sug­gested the con­cept of a third place that’s nei­ther work nor home. If you’ve got re­ally good beer, that gives peo­ple a rea­son to stop off at the pub. You don’t re­ally live in a city; you live in a neigh­bour­hood. Any­thing that cre­ates that sense of neigh­bour­hood is a good idea.”

Lans­downe’s Coghill agrees. “Maybe, as time goes by, peo­ple will see that places like ours are not the death of neigh­bour­hoods and they’ll loosen up a bit.”

You’re mak­ing some­thing out of raw in­gre­di­ents and selling it on site. A bak­ery func­tions in the same way. It’s tak­ing raw in­gre­di­ents and mix­ing them around. Why are they be­ing treated dif­fer­ently?

Mike Lay­ton says city staff should get out of brew­ers’ way.

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