Top Bars That Brew Their Own Beer in Toronto

Toronto Life

According to many archaeologists, beer played an instrumental part in the formation of civilization. And this legacy persists today. The most recent example is a friendly wager between Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and United States President Barack Obama, where the latter lost a bet because of Canada's 3-2 victory over the United States in the gold-medal match in men's hockey. Prime Minister Harper received 24 bottles of Molson Canadian and in return presented his American counterpart with a case of Yuengling. President Obama also exchanged beers with United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron at the G20 Summit in Toronto to honour their bet over the England-U.S. World Cup soccer match that ended in a draw. This time, it was an exchange of Goose Island 312 beer from Chicago and Hobgoblin, a local brew from Whitney.

Steam Whistle Brewery 22
Fresh Steam Whistle beer on tap is available for visitors to enjoy.

The fascination with beer flows down to every strata of society — from the rich and the famous to the average Joe. It is a drink of all seasons and moods. If you are down and sad, you drink one or two — or more — to forget your sorrow And if you are happy, you drink beer to relish your success. A perfect ice-breaking beverage, nothing beats drinking a cold one on a warm summer day. How awesome would it be if you were drinking a fresh one right from the brewery?

In Toronto, there are many microbreweries with bars or vice versa, but the inception of brewpubs in Canada was infused with the phenomenon of microbrewing in the late 1980s and '90s — much later than European countries like Germany, the United Kingdom, and Belgium. As microbreweries flourished, they led to the concept of craft beer, which subsequently led to the related term "brewpub," which means pubs that brew their own beer and sell them onsite.

Steam Whistle Brewery 30
Steam Whistle Brewery entrance

Steam Whistle Brewery

As I sat sipping a cold pilsner on a beautiful September afternoon, I could not help admiring the weather, which was alarmingly great for a patio. The other thing that caught my attention was a model train as well as a fleet of vintage cars, mostly in green colours, that were parked in front of the Steam Whistle brewery, where I was sitting and appreciating the view. The John Street Roundhouse, where the brewery is located, is a designated national historic site, as it was the Canadian Pacific Railway's steam locomotive repair facility in 1929.

Steam Whistle Brewery 21
Steam Whistle Brewery interior

Steam Whistle produces only one beer — a crisp, flavourful pilsner. That means there is no light or strong beer here.

At Steam Whistle, our motto is "Do one thing, really, really well." We chose to brew a beer with very high standards of quality and consistency,

said Sybil Tailor, communications director of Steam Whistle Brewery.

Steam Whistle Brewery 23
The three ingredients that are used to make Steam Whistle Beer.

In addition to the patio, there is also a bar in the brewery with rustic furniture, which is situated in the middle of the floor, giving a 360 degree view of inside and outside. It is an exclusive sitting area where only beer is served. The first beer at the bar is complementary and the rest are $4 each for either a bottle or can. The brewery receives about 100,000 visitors every year.

Tailor stated that at Steam Whistle, besides focusing all their energy on brewing one premium product, they strive to create a cozy, relaxed atmosphere when people visit.

Our aim is to create a Canadian pilsner, which can compete with the best in the world. Our target customers are not divided in any form of age group. We reach out to everyone especially those who support local food movement,

she added.

Steam Whistle Brewery 13 fermentation tanks
Two of the fermentation tanks – the tanks tanks are all in open spaces, viewable to the public during the tour.

The beer is available in a green bottle, which is replica of the industry-standard beer bottle from the 1950s.This is one of the best beers that was right for my palette. It is smooth and light with a hops taste to it and hint of bitterness in the aftertaste. This is a European-style pilsner made with traditional brewing techniques and only four ingredients, comprising spring water from Ontario, malted barley from Saskatchewan, hops from Germany, and yeast from Hungary — without any genetically modified additives. The brewery is well known for other green initiatives and supports bike commuting for their staff and also visitors - there's a free public bike maintenance station for easy repairs on the site.

Steam Whistle Brewery 3 bike
Steam Whistle is a very environmentally cautious brewery, and participates in The Ride to Conquer Cancer. They offer free public bike maintance stations, more info on their website.

Mill Street Brewery

According to a recent Nielsen survey, all four generations — Millennials (21–36 years old), Generation X (37–48 years old), Baby Boomers (49–67 years old), and the Greatest Generation (over 68 years old)— are increasingly shifting from below-premium and premium beers to above-premium beers, including craft beers. As per the survey, more than 15 per cent of Millennials' total off-premise beer spending goes to craft beers, making their shift most prominent among all other generations. The survey also revealed that Generation Xers and Baby Boomers are shifting their dollars towards craft beer, which makes up a little less than 10 per cent of older generations' beer spending.

Mill Street brewpub bar 2007
Mill Street bar by Mill Street

That is why Mill Street Brewery's cofounder, Steve Abram, feels that the perks of being associated with craft beer are countless:

People of all ages enjoy craft beer and the increase in the interest makes us innovate and invent new flavours. This is the beauty of producing craft beer.

Mill Street brewpub interior
Mill Street bar by Mill Street

The brewery opened in 2002 in Toronto and was named after its original location at 55 Mill Street in the Distillery District, which in the 1860s was the largest distillery in the world. The brewery also has a pub that is nestled in an imposing red brick building. The bar has high ceilings, large skylights, and wooden beams, which makes it look highly impressive. The pub is always filled with happy tourists and locals discussing their work and life and generally having a good time. On the other side of the pub, there is a retail office, which regularly has tasting sessions of flavoured and regular beersOne of the beers to try is the Original Organic with 4.2 % ABV ($13.65 for a six-pack), which is Ontario's first organic beer. 

Toronto Brewpub MSt
Toronto Brewpub MSt

This German pilsner has a clean finish with light, crisp, and refreshing flavour. The other must-try is Tankhouse, with 5.2% ABV ($13.45 for a six-pack), which has a deep copper-red colour and is brewed with five different malts and plenty of Cascade hops. It tastes a bit spicy and citrusy, with snappy bitterness. However, the one that I really enjoyed was the Coffee Porter, 5.5% ABV ($13.45 for a six-pack), with aromas of burnt malt and dark roast coffee. This slightly bitter beer also had notes of chocolate. It was interesting to learn that the coffee beans used in the beer are from Balzac's Coffee, which is also located in the Distillery District.

Granite Brewery 3 Granite Brewerys shop
Granite Brewery 2
Granite Brewery has a small shop attached to their main restaurant/bar, which sells 2 litter bottles of their beer, and company merchandise.

Granite Brewery

In 1991, Ron Keefe — the owner, brewer, and pioneer of Toronto's Granite Brewery — opened a home to a great line-up of craft-made English-style ales.

When I started in early '90s, the idea of brew pubs was not popular. But over the years, it has caught up as more and more people are inclined to experience local products,

said Keefe.

Granite Brewery 4
Granite Brewery has a large space to hold functions such as parties, and even has a space out back to host weddings.

The brewery and pub are visited by about 300 visitors every day.

Earlier, our patrons mostly comprised of people aged 35 and above. However, in recent years, we have seen some change in the trend as many of our customers are below 30 now,

added Keefe.

Granite Brewery 5
A homage to two of their very frequent guests back in the days.

The bar has special beers for summer and winter. The Summer Ale, as the name implies, with 4.0% ABV is only available from May through October. The Gin Lane Ale, also called Barley Wine, with 9.0% ABV, is available from November to April. Other popular beers are the Dark English Ale, Blond Ale, and Real Ale. The latter is a cask-conditioned beer. The average price of a pint of beer here is $8.50.

Granite Brewery 1 Dave Keefe tests the beer
Brewer Dave Keefe, son of the owner Ron Keefe, tests the beer.


Address: 587 Yonge St.
Phone: 416.928.0008

The folks at barVolo are great at multi-tasking. They pump their popular brews in a nano-brewery tucked in the corner of their kitchen, which they call "House Ales" (because they like brewing "House-Conditioned Ales"), import rare finds, and host the largest cask-conditioned ale festival in Canada, Cask Days. They have both hands in the cookie jar, or in their case, beer cask.

BarVolo Mic Drinks by Andrea and Ben Tongue
BarVolo Mic Drinks by Andrea and Ben Tongue

As Julian Morana, proprietor of barVolo, says,

We have brewed over 300 different beers. The concept of House Ales is to constantly experiment with traditional styles — we mostly brew beer that is cask-conditioned. There are a few brands that we consistently brew: RUN ESB (Black ESB), Tu-Hop (American Pale Ale), Westside IPA (West-Coast Style IPA), and our Robust Porter.

With a wide selection, barVolo has carved out its niche in the Toronto craft beer scene. The average price of a pInt of beer here is $10.

BarVolo Bottles by Andrea and Ben Tongue
BarVolo Bottles by Andrea and Ben Tongue

Black Creek Historic Brewery

Black Creek Brewery 1
This is Ed Koren, he is the one and only brewer at Black Creek Brewery.

Walk down a bygone era and witness beer being brewed the way it was done in the 1800s and 19th century at the Black Creek Historic Brewery located at the Black Creek Pioneer Village.

A reproduction historic brewery is a perfect fit for a historic village,

said Wendy Rowney, assistant general manager at Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Our brewery and pub are all in one room. We are a small operation, just as many breweries were in the early years of the 1800s. On weekends, visitors to the pub can enjoy watching beer being brewed right beside them as they sample our heritage-inspired ales,

said Rowney.

The aim of the brewery is to recreate an ambiance that transports you back into history, which you can also see in its pub.Black Creek Brewery 5Growlers available for perchance for $18.

The brewery, from December 23 to May each year, closes its doors for the season — but not without a buzz.

In December, we brew our popular Winter Warmer. Every year, our brewer alters the recipe slightly but it is always a dark beer flavoured with spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla and with an alcohol content specially designed to provide a bit of winter warmth. In addition to this, our Pumpkin Ale tends to top the popularity charts. Flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, and real pumpkin, it flies off the shelf every fall! People love the great flavour that comes from using real pumpkin and brewing it the old-fashioned way,

Rowney explained.

Black Creek Brewery 6
Brewery tours are available, more information on their website.

The brewery also conducts tours, where participants not only learn about the brewing process and sample the beers but also explore the world of drinks — and drinkers! — in 19th century Toronto.

For those more interested in the beer itself, we offer a Beer Sampler daily. Sitting at the pub bar, participants sample three of our ales and discover what makes Black Creek beer so unique,

she added.

Black Creek Brewery 8
The yeast used in the beer.

In 2013, about 600 people took the brewery tour and 1,660 more enjoyed a Beer Sampler. As of October 2014, over 750 people have taken the brewery tour and an additional 1,424 have participated in the Beer Sampler.

The brewery caters to people of all ages, but everyone has their preferences.

Younger adults enjoy the brewery because they are interested in sampling beers from a wide variety of craft breweries. Older visitors appreciate our ale as it reminds them of beer made before the dominance of microbreweries,

Rowney observed.

Beer brewed at the Black Creek Historic Brewery is $18 a growler, which includes a $4 bottle deposit. The Beer Sampler and the Historic Brewery Tour are $4.50 plus the price of admission

Black Creek Brewery 18
Visitors get a chance to sample the beer.

Though, in Toronto, the concept of craft brewery pubs is relatively new to the beer world, there has been a surge in the number of microbreweries in the region, with new players continuously adding innovative choices. This has given customers a large variety to choose from taste to strength, successfully catering to the tastebuds of even the seasoned travellers. The brew pubs has brought both consumers and breweries closer than ever before. It has given the latter a better understanding of their target audience, while consumers get an idea of what goes into making their favourite drink, infusing in them a sense of pride at the same time creating a niche experience. This helps make the process both educational and fun.

Black Creek Brewery 4
Beer is stored in these barrels for fermentation to take place.


John S. Fernandez
John S. Fernandez

John Steven Fernandez is a Toronto based freelance photojournalist with several years of experience covering an array of assignments including political, social, news, and documentary stories, while working for several non-profit organizations. John's passion for story telling is what drives him to capture an objective view of the world and communicating a message through his photographs.


2 thoughts on “Top Bars That Brew Their Own Beer in Toronto

January 12, 2015 at 1:41 pm
Really? says:

No indie alehouse, no get well, no bellwoods, no junction. Sounds like you did the research off the top of your head.

February 4, 2015 at 4:59 am
Claire says:

Mill Street is usually crowded and it takes forever to get your food. But well, the beer selection is excellent… Visit the tasting room before entering the main bar and you can sample 4 different draft beers for free! 😉

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