Rumour has it that is a misquote and Ben Franklin was really talking about wine. I’ve also seen it attributed to Mark Twain. Whatever.
Over the course of the last year, Mr. and I have developed a heartfelt appreciation for beer. Not like “let’s get drunk on Molson” but like “I love the hoppiness in west coast microbrews.” We’re like less pretentious versions of wine lovers, and we don’t spit. Admittedly, we have become snobbier with every glass of craft brew – but I’ll still crack a can of Coors Light when the situation calls for it.
Our mutual interest in beer grew from a very serious debate: Mr. felt that Canada (Ontario specifically) has the best microbrews – I disagreed. I maintain that the west coast has the best microbrews and a superior beer culture: lovers of beer acheive the delicate balance between hipster and yuppie and appreciate not only the flavour of the beer but the story behind it. There’s also more selection: just look at this map for example – Oregon (my home state) and Montana (my University state) are leaders. I’ll admit that Beau’s All Natural and Mill Street are fantastic – but on the whole, Oregon dominates.
The debate went on for months and we even drug some friends into it, demanding they choose sides. Said friends, being Canadian, chose patriotically. Mr. and I decided to settle it on our trip to Oregon last summer. Per my request, my mom stocked a cooler full of the best of the best from Rogue, Widmer, Deschutes, and BridgePort. We threw in Blue Moon because Colorado is west coast too, and of course my favourite North American beer: Summer Honey from Big Sky Brewing Co. in Montana. The ice in the cooler hadn’t even melted before Mr. conceded that the west coast beers prevailed (although he’d never admit that this side of the border). To celebrate the victory, I took him to one of my favourite places: Terminal Gravity Brew Pub in a nearby town. From a picnic table outside a place where regulars have customized glasses made by a local artisan and they serve nachos on a plate so loaded with awesomeness you can barely lift it, we started dreaming of one day opening our own brew pub.
I bought Mr. a complete home brewing system for his birthday last year. We were rather proud of our first attempt: we called it “Not Bad Nut Brown” because we thought it was, well, not bad. We were like parents who call their child’s scribbles art. When we debuted our creation to friends, all but one faked a smile and said “mmmmm, tasty.” The one honest person we know, however, described it as tasting “like flat Diet Coke.” It was hard to disagree. We bought a library of books on home brewing and tried it again. We called our second batch “Lascelles Lager.” We called on the one honest person we know who said, very convincingly, that this one was actually good. Success.
We’ve found a couple of great places here in Toronto with a good selection of beers, local and international. Smokeless Joe is my favourite because the girls who work there know everything about beer and they’re girls, which is extra cool. The Only Café has a great selection (even a few Oregon beers) it is the ultimate contrived “dive bar.” The girls look like pin-up models and the boys roll cigarettes into their white t-shirt sleeves. I secretly wish I could be a hipster but I don’t look good with bangs. Bar Volo is excellent if you’re looking for a classy place with too many beer choices to count, good food, and knowledgeable servers. It was at the latter that we met a couple of fellow enthusiasts who described their recent vacation to Belgium – visiting Trappist breweries and tasting some of the world’s best.
The “Best of North America” was a debate, but there was no question that Belgium is unrivaled. So we raised a glass to Belgium and decided to go there and check it out for ourselves.