Patio Hop Between Some of Toronto’s Best Breweries

Toronto has a lot of truly fantastic microbreweries. What’s even better, is that most of them are congregated in the east-end (Leslieville area) and west-end (Junction,  Roncesvalles and surrounding neighbourhoods). Why does that matter? It makes for the perfect setup for an afternoon brewery hop! Check out some suggested itineraries below and enjoy the last few hot afternoons on a patio sipping a cold one.

Below, you’ll also find interviews with the brewers and founders from spots along each hop – they share how they got started, how COVID-19 impacted their business, their patio vibe, beer recommendations and of course, some of their favourite places to spend a Saturday afternoon and refuel along your brewery hop.

East-end brewery hop

There are plenty of brewery options in the east-end; however some have limited their operations to their bottle shop and delivery only due to COVID-19. I‘ve rounded up a few of my favourites, and did the work for you to confirm that their patios are open for business! A safe bet is to always check the breweries’ Instagram pages for the latest updates.

Toronto East End Brewery Hop

Saulter Street Brewery

Responses by Angela Ehrhardt, Creative Director and Eoin Macgearailt, GM of Saulter Street Brewery.

Brewery Questions:

What’s your background, how did you get into beer & what prompted you to launch a brewery? Why have a physical taproom instead of selling via the LCBO or Beer Store?

Pulled from John Sterling (Founder) on Saulter Street Brewery’s About Page: Saulter Street Brewery opened in August 2017 “with the goal of making great beer and creating a space that inspires people to come together and live in the moment. So, with that goal in mind and with a talented team in place, we started brewing. It didn’t take us long to fall in love with the entire process. The endless combinations kept our curiosity alive and I developed a patience that I didn’t know I had. Watching others enjoy our creations made me feel like I’d found my true calling in life and, in that moment, I knew that we had the opportunity to do something great.

When it came time to decide on a location for the brewery, we were immediately drawn to the community and timeless charm of Riverside, where we found a peculiar little barn on Saulter Street. Upon my first visit, I had feeling that time seemed to have slowed down. It felt like a little escape from the city, hidden within it.”

How have you pivoted your operations through the pandemic?

AE & EM: Once we had to close our taproom down, we decided we would put our beer to good use. We have a working relationship with Last Straw Distilling and donated our beer to them to produce hand santizer for Health Care facilities when there was a shortage of hand sanitizer.

We then needed to change our production schedule from 50:50 packaged goods and kegs to 100% packaged goods. But now that patios have opened up, we are back to 50:50.

What would you like your brewery to be known for?

AE & EMOur customers like to call us a “hidden gem” in the community which we are definitely proud to be because hidden is the right word to describe our location! I guess we would like to be known for A community based brewery that brews traditional beer with a twist, Great vibes, cottage within the city. And that’s just at the top of my head. wink wink.

Recommend one of your brews for someone who is unfamiliar with your brand.

AE & EM: If someone was new to the brewery and wanted a recommendation (and is open to anything) I would have to say first try our Riverside Copper Pilsner. It’s the beer that we started with, it’s the beer that won Gold at the Ontario Brewing Awards 2019 and it gets better every time you drink it. But brewmaster Tanner is always coming up with some really cool seasonal brews. Theres a new brew for every season and it’s always a party with our “After Hours” experimental brew series.

Three words to describe your patio vibe?

AE & EM: Our patio is located down a back alleyway next to the train tracks, so every now and then you get the train passing by. But the breeze from the trees and the sounds of birds and not the sound of road traffic is something to be thankful for, especially being right off of Queen St East. Like we said before, a cottage in the middle of the city.

Peaceful. Chill. Good Times.  

Toronto Recommendations / Places You Love For…

1. Dinner with friends: Definitely Tabulé on Queen St East. Their falafels are something out of this world! Bonus they are at the top of the street from us!
2. Spending a Saturday afternoon: Shoutout to Castro’s Lounge in the Beaches! GREAT spot for craft beer in that area. Before the pandemic, this little spot had live music of all genres almost every day of the week. Support the small guys like this, especially during this time.
3. A nearby spot to grab a snack on a brewery hop: We are so lucky to be located smack dab in the middle of two great neighbourhoods: Riverside and Leslieville. Looking for a place to eat is difficult because there are so many great choices.
BUT my choice is when you are at the very end of your brewery hop (the very very end) and nothing else is open except the numerous A&W’s (soo many) – LESLIEVILLE PUMPS late night curry. O.M.G it hits the spot. It is always a gamble when you go because you never know if there is going to be any left, but when there is, it is fabulous. Their BBQ is amazing during the day (brisket poutine yes!) but that late night curry hits differently.

Note: Saulter Street Brewery is a bit hidden, which makes it all the more worth it to find! Head south down Saulter St., off of Queen St E., and it will be on your left about half a block down. It’s tucked down an alleyway, in behind houses. Be sure to follow Saulter Street Brewery on Instagram and Facebook for the latest updates!

Saulter Street Brewery Toronto
Saulter Street Brewery Toronto
Saulter Street Brewery Toronto

Black Lab Brewing

Responses by Billy Madden, owner of Black Lab Brewing.

Brewery Questions:

What’s your background, how did you get into beer & what prompted you to launch a brewery? Why have a physical taproom instead of selling via the LCBO or Beer Store?

BM: I worked in Brain Injury Rehab and my partner is a corporate lawyer. I was completely burnt out from working with car accident survivors and I had this dream of combining my two passions – dogs and beer. My partner and I worked tirelessly building a business plan and meeting with many people in the industry.  We finally took the plunge and opened Black Lab Brewing in October 2018. 
We always planned to brew on site and be a local community brewery.  We love seeing our customers and their dogs, and it always brings a smile to our faces to see so many people happy with what we’ve created.  
We’re still a small brewery and sell to only a handful of bars and restaurants in the area. We’re lucky that we get to select who we sell to and only the best restaurants and bars get our beer.

How have you pivoted your operations through the pandemic?

BM: We shut down on March 18, I think it was. The next 12-24 hours are a blur. We were lucky enough to have started work on an e-commerce website a few weeks before, so we really focused on getting that up and running. In the meantime we used social media to let everyone know we were accepting email orders. The retail and bottle shop remained open throughout. Luckily we have a very strong customer base and they came through big time for us.  Some days I was on the road with 30+ deliveries. Long hours and grueling work but my team made it work.

What would you like your brewery to be known for?

BM: Producing the best quality beer, being innovative but above all creating a warm and welcoming environment for everyone (2 and 4 legged).  

Recommend one of your brews for someone who is unfamiliar with your brand.

BM: Probably our sour. Every month we feature a new flavor and it always sells out quickly.  Our sour is really an introductory level sour in terms of tartness, and the flavor profiles are always seasonal and fun. We have made jelly bean sour for Easter, spiced raspberry cranberry for Thanksgiving.  

Three words to describe your patio vibe?

BM: Spacious, relaxed and fun. 

Toronto Recommendations / Places You Love For…

1. Dinner with friends: Khao San Road and then drinks upstairs at Bang Sue
2. Spending a Saturday afternoon: enjoying good food, good people and great beer at Tap Works on St Clair West
3. A nearby spot to grab a snack on a brewery hop: the patio at any of the fine Leslieville restaurants – especially The Burren. Perfectly situated between Rorschach, us and Radical Road.  The east end has so many great breweries, you can’t go wrong.

Note: Be sure to follow Black Lab Brewing on Instagram and Facebook for updates on upcoming events (oysters, Sri Lankan food and more!)

Black Lab Brewing Toronto
Black Lab Brewing Toronto
Black Lab Brewing Toronto

Rorschach Brewing

Responses by Violet Hill, Social Coordinator of Rorschach Brewing.

Brewery Questions:

What’s your background, how did you get into beer & what prompted you to launch a brewery? Why have a physical taproom instead of selling via the LCBO or Beer Store?

VH: The brewery’s three owners are all chemical engineers who became close friends in university. Our co-founder and head brewer, Matthew Reiner, began homebrewing in university and sharing his experimental beer creations with his friends. After 8 years of homebrewing and extensive traveling, sampling beers across North America, the three friends realized their long-term dream of opening their own brewery in Toronto. The decision to launch a physical taproom vs. simply a production facility stemmed from the desire to engage with guests and fully immerse them in the experience we strive to create with our beer. However, as Rorschach has grown, we have expanded into the LCBO and numerous bars and restaurants across Ontario.

How have you pivoted your operations through the pandemic?

VH: We are fortunate to have two seperate outdoor spaces for accommodating guests; the 22-table rooftop with a full-service bar and the 4-table front patio! Our front patio is dog-friendly, as well, making it an ideal rest stop for dog walkers in the East End. We are offering service exclusively in our outdoor spaces and have added a host role to our service team to ensure guests are seated quickly and efficiently! Naturally, we are contact-tracing, enforcing masks as guests move through the building, and are following all goverment protocols and regulations attentively. Furthermore, we are enforcing a 6 person limit per table to maximize social distancing.

Additionally, we have incorporated a delivery service into our everyday operations–we deliver beer to customer’s homes in the GTA and in select towns outside of the GTA (Hamilton, Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo) every Thursday. We offer free Toronto delivery on orders above $50.

What would you like your brewery to be known for?

VH: We would like to be known for redefining the idea of “traditional” balance in beers, simultaneously focusing on flavour and drinkability. We have exceptional variety (we strive to always have at least 15 original craft beers on tap) and all of our beers are rich in unique nostalga-inducing flavours, typically higher in alcohol, but still go down smooth. We believe that we always have something for everyone!

Recommend one of your brews for someone who is unfamiliar with your brand.

VH: Hedonism is a brew which has a passionate cult following! It is a “Sorbert” Sour IPA, balanced in sweetness, sourness, and hoppiness, and has been released in a plethora of fruit flavours. On tap right now is are our Passionfruit-Orange-Guava, Boysenberry, and Apricot versions of Hedonism.

Three words to describe your patio vibe?

VH: Casual, rustic, serene

Toronto Recommendations / Places You Love For…

1. Dinner with friends: Lake Inez
2. Spending a Saturday afternoon: The Only Cafe
3. A nearby spot to grab a snack on a brewery hop: Eulalie’s Corner Store

Note: Be sure to follow Rorschach Brewing on Instagram and Facebook for updates on new brews, like the new flavours of Afterglow. The brewery is also within walking distance from Woodbine Beach – a perfect respite after a hot day in the sun, or pop by to pick up some beers to-go.

Rorschach Brewing
Rorschach Brewing
Rorschach Brewing

West-end brewery hop

I spent two Saturdays in August brewery hopping in the west-end. The first time was so fun, that I just had to go again and tack on additional breweries. See below for one of my favourite routes.

Psst – if you want to add on a fourth brewery, Bandit Brewery has a fantastic, large patio and is only a 12 minute walk from Woodhouse Brewing.

Toronto West End Brewery Hop

Halo Brewery

Responses by Callum Hay, head brewer at Halo Brewery.

Brewery Questions:

What’s your background, how did you get into beer & what prompted you to launch a brewery? Why have a physical taproom instead of selling via the LCBO or Beer Store?

CH: My background is in software engineering, mostly computer programming. I got into brewing with a friend after a discussion over the lack of choice of beer in the Ontario scene – this was well before the relatively recent explosion of microbreweries in the province. The hobby became a passion/obsession and eventually drove me to open Halo. The decision to open a physical location was so that we would own the means of our own production and have full control (or as much control as is possible) over our product. In this sense, the control is myriad: We can experiment as needed, we have no restrictions on the ingredients or microorganisms that we use, we can follow our product and keep an eye on its quality all the way to the customer.
The LCBO and Beer Store are antiquated models of alcohol distribution, they add restrictions, volume minimums… there’s no guarantee that your product will even sit on a cold shelf… and those issues don’t even begin to cover the issue that the Beer Store is essentially owned by the macro brewery conglomerates who are trying to keep their market share despite representing the practical antithesis of the philosophies of craft beer creation and distribution.

How have you pivoted your operations through the pandemic?

CH: In the early days of the impact (mostly Mar-Apr 2020) a lot of things had to change (as I would assume for pretty much any business, especially those within the sphere of the service industry). We had to shut down our taproom operations and licensee keg sales came to a dead stop. To supplement this we focused all our efforts on bottle sales through our bottle shop and online store. Luckily we already had a well-established bottle shop and online store, but we had to augment both to cope with all the pandemic-related changes. Our bottle shop had to have social distancing and stricter cleaning measures implemented. Fortunately we managed to keep a small team of dedicated team members that felt comfortable continuing to work with the new stricter operating procedures. The largest customer-facing change was to start delivering all of our Toronto orders by hand within a day or two of them being placed online. We were lucky enough to have Dan (our front of house manager, and sales person) handle this, which he did spectacularly. This provided a significant increase in our bottle sales channel, which helped a ton. Throughout the mid-summer we even started doing dedicated out-of-town delivery days, which also helped. Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of trouble with Canada Post throughout the pandemic. Recently, we made the move to switch over to Canpar/ICS for out-of-town deliveries, which has sped things up dramatically and pleased a lot more of our online customers as a result. 

From a production standpoint, we scaled down to just myself working the back-of-house throughout the pandemic. This helped keep costs lower, although at the cost of more of my time – the lower than usual volume has kept the work manageable though.

With the loosening of restrictions across the province, we were able to open our patio at a significantly diminished capacity (we only allow seating for 8 on a first come first served basis whereas the patio has a capacity of about twice that).

What would you like your brewery to be known for?

CH: I think the most important thing, for me, is to have Halo be known for making quality beer and spurring others within the industry to do the same. Everyday, my primary goal is to make the best beer I’ve ever made – I’m always trying to find better ways to make both new brews and our existing ones. 

Recommend one of your brews for someone who is unfamiliar with your brand.

CH: System Overload: Depending on your mileage when it comes to heavily hopped imperial/double IPAs (or just IPAs in general), you may be on the fence about hoppy beers – many people get exposed to bitter, caramel malt-infused and/or unfresh hoppy beers and it leaves them thinking that all hoppy beers are limited to being those things. They aren’t. System Overload is a golden orange hop juice with a focus on hop flavour, aroma, and a full, terpenoid-enriched mouthfeel. We avoid using many bittering hops or boil-time hops and instead focus on cool hop additions to preserve and extract the hop oils without creating excessive bittering compounds. Balance is not a matter of bitterness, but pithiness – derived from hop polyphenols during dry hopping to give a similar impression to that of biting into an orange. If you’re not a fan of ‘hoppy’ beers, it will change your mind about them. If you already love big juicy hoppy beers, it will undoubtedly satisfy that itch.

Three words to describe your patio vibe?

BM: Relaxed, sunny, cedar.

Toronto Recommendations / Places You Love For…

1. Dinner with friends: These days it’s on our or a friend’s patio. If and when things return to some form of pre-pandemic normalcy, I enjoy going to some of the small local restaurants/bars in and around where I live – The Commoner, Barque, Get Well, and Wallflower to name a few.
2. Spending a Saturday afternoon: I love a good brewery hop around the west end of the city – I would likely bike around and go to some combination of Blood Brothers, Bellwoods, Indie, Rainhard, Shacklands, People’s Pint, Burdock, and Folly.
3. A nearby spot to grab a snack on a brewery hop: One of my favourite spots to go, either as a destination in its own right or a stop between breweries, is The Greater Good on Geary. It’s a great spot to grab a slice or share a pizza from North of Brooklyn, and there’s an awesome selection of local brews.

Note: Be sure to follow Halo Brewery on Instagram and Facebook for updates on their latest brews. Their accounts are worth a follow alone for their stunning branding and product photography.

Halo Brewing Toronto
Halo Brewing Toronto
Halo Brewery Toronto
Halo Brewing Toronto

Woodhouse Brewing

Responses by Graham Woodhouse, owner of Woodhouse Brewing. 

Brewery Questions:

What’s your background, how did you get into beer & what prompted you to launch a brewery? Why have a physical taproom instead of selling via the LCBO or Beer Store?

GW: After several years working for Labatt I decided to try my best and start my own business. 6 years later I still love it.  

How have you pivoted your operations through the pandemic?

GW: We opened our brew pub in late November with the idea that food and drink sales would be the bulk of our sales.  COVID hit and we had to close the brew pub, but luckily the community really supported us and our bottle shop helped (and still is helping) us to get through these slow times.

What would you like your brewery to be known for?

GW: We want to be good members of the community and hopefully have a positive impact on the community as a whole.  Also, to be known for quality beer and service that people can relate too. 

Recommend one of your brews for someone who is unfamiliar with your brand.

GW: Our main beer is our amber lager which is what most people associate with the brand.  I would say though, I am really digging the small batch beers we are making at the brew pub so the best way for people to try is out is to come in and try a flight! We have 8-10 beers on tap always.

Three words to describe your patio vibe?

GW: Sunny, grassy, casual 

Toronto Recommendations / Places You Love For…

1. Dinner with friends: 416 Snack Bar,  love this place 
2. Spending a Saturday afternoon: Anywhere in Kensington Market (Ronnies,  Thirsty and Miserable, Trinity CommonEmbassy)
3. A nearby spot to grab a snack on a brewery hop: Any of the places on Dundas West are great,  we have so many amazing customers on that strip.  For a brewery, Henderson are great neighbours and have such a good crew.  

Note: Be sure to follow Woodhouse Brewing on Instagram and Facebook for updates on their latest brews. Be sure to ask about their rotating small batch beers – the Berry Sour was a big fan favourite with our group when we popped by the other weekend.

Woodhouse Brewing
Woodhouse Brewing

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