Mill Street Brewery are a big thing up here. Their organic lager is everywhere, and lots of restaurants have other offerings from them available on draught. Their main brewery is in Scarborough, but their original location was in Toronto's historic - and beautiful - distillery district, and when they moved the main brewery to Scarborough, they re-opened the original location as a brewpub. After a slightly disappointing dinner venture the previous evening (see my review of the 3 Brewers Adelaide), I still had the bug for a good brewpub experience, so when I learned about this place, it sounded just the ticket.
Now I'll be up-front with the bad news first, and get that out of the way: Mill Street was bought by the big Labatt Brewing label, which was subsequently bought by the evil Belgian multinational Big Beer corporation AB InBev. I wouldn't normally go farther than that, but I wasn't aware of this when I chose to review Mill Street Toronto, and to be fair, it looks like InBev may have largely left them alone, so maybe there's some kind of Hasbro-purchased-WotC thing going on, and maybe they will continue to operate as a force for good within an evil corporation, who knows... OK, enough beer trade politics, and back to the review...
After a bit of googling and a short but frenetic cab ride through rush hour Toronto traffic, we emerged into the quaint and gorgeous historic Distillery District of Toronto, and after a short stroll along cobbled streets lined by red brick buildings, we found our target along Tank House Road: the Mill Street Toronto Brewpub.
Now this, this is what the doctor ordered! If the charming vicinity wasn't scenic enough, this has all the in-your-face vibe of a brewpub. Dark wood furnishings, a large outdoor patio with red canvas umbrellas, and a large glass-enclosed central area with lots of visible and unapologetic tankage: lauter and mash tuns, fermenters and bright tanks. While I suspect the majority of the brewing is actually done off-site at their main brewery, the vibe was authentic, and it was clear that these were not merely ornamental: some actual brewing happens there, clearly, from the workmanlike state of the brewing area.
A decent music mix of old (Aretha's excellent "Chain of Fools") and new, enjoyable "buzzed music" droned pleasantly and not-overwhelmingly from well-concealed speakers. Discrete TVs showed a single sports game on all, for those who need their fix of Jays or Leafs, as the season provides.
After being seated by a somewhat self-important front-of-house host guy, a friendly and helpful waiter quickly attended to us. They have a huge set of beers available: 4 running house brews, 6 "permanent seasonal" brews - listed as seasonal, but printed on the permanent menu - and 9 "special seasonal" brews - listed on chalkboards affixed to the walls. Of these latter chalkboard seasonals, 3 had run out, as had one of their regular seasonals, but even still that's 15 branded brews available!
Unfortunately, they only had flights of 4, and in rather large (8 oz) tasters... Why is this a thing? Maybe Toronto doesn't have the kind of brewing-literate craft brew scene that would inspire wider tasting of smaller amounts, like brewpubs in the states?
Regardless, I ended up getting 3 flights of 4 brews, to cover a majority of the brews available, pre-filtering out ones that I was more confident I wouldn't find to fit my palate. That's still 96 ounces of beer, and the server looked askance at me when I said I wanted all of them delivered at the same time, until I explained that I brew beer, and would not be drinking all (or perhaps even any) entirely. Once I explained, he understood, and went henceforth with alacrity to serve up the frothy zymurgic quenchables (he fetched the beer).
The menu had a good mix of pub fare - both traditional and with a twist - and even a gluten-free item for wifey: a coconut Thai vegetable curry. My son got the same thing he had had the night before: a huge pretzel and a Caesar salad, although this one consisted of kale, which he nonetheless surprisingly enjoyed. I decided almost immediately on a chicken and chorizo pot pie. We elected to start with an order of calamari, which was drizzled with a spicy sauce - which I suspect was a mixture of sriracha and mayo - and served with a Thai-like sweet chili sauce. All of this was quite good, the pot pie being excellent, and the calamari providing heat without ruining my palate for the beer.
Having got that out of the way, back to the beers, since that's what this blog is all about, after all...
The flights came on big boards, and with three flights in front of me, I used my space for the beer, and the empty seating next to me for the food. I have my priorities straight, after all...
Here are my notes, in the order in which I tasted them, grouped by flight (farthest to closest in the picture), and within each flight by right-to-left (since that's the order the tickets had for each flight). My notes are, naturally, less coherent towards the end of the third flight, but I think it's still accurate and a reasonable capturing of my impressions. Also, keep in mind that - in keeping with how I've done these tastings in the past - I did not read the descriptions of the beers prior to taking notes - beyond the names, and any vague descriptions from the server when the name was ambiguous - as I wanted to not unduly bias myself in my reviews; I have included all the available info in pictures along with this post, though, so readers can have a laugh when my tasting disagrees with the description. With all that having been said, here goes...
Stock Ale - kinda stock light pale ale, lightly hopped - decent starter, but not something about which to write home, as they say
Rye Rye Z - tastes like a cascadian dark, well-hopped and roasty - liked it very much, and loved the name (a play on YYZ)!
The End is NEI(PA) - piney Citra hops and eastern IPA yeast, slightly cloudy - not bad for an NEIPA, and of course i loved the name...
July Talk - lagery Pilsner but with well-chosen hops - not bad, a definite summer beer
Meridian - an amber lager, which seems to be the rage up here, but ultimately still quite lager tasting, and light on the hops - meh
Tankhouse - ale with decent hopping - not bad at all
Stout - pretty generic stout, roasty and toasty, light hopping, ala Guinness - a good rendition of a stout
West Coast - very cloudy, lots of pine, that Simcoe/Citra cat pee thing; funny what easy coast folks think a west coast IPA is! - not great
Hopped and Confused - looks Belgian, and has the definite wheat thing going on, and very cloudy, surprisingly little hop flavour, the only one with an appreciable nose - ok, very drinkable
Organic - stock lager, just ok (I've had it lots while up here), under-hopped - ok
White Space - hazy, wheaty, fizzy - very drinkable and inoffensive, but not adventuresome
IPA - an amber IPA, lots of pine, no floral - not a great IPA, they might want to stick to lagers, which they seem to do better
On balance, this was a very enjoyable experience, both from the consumables as well as the ambiance and vicinity. Oh, and the pot pie and Rye Rye Z. I would definitely go back, which says a lot.
I had some downtime after sightseeing the next day, so I figured I'd go back there and pick up a T-shirt. While one staff guy in the tasting room was digging around for a big enough T-shirt for me (sigh), the other offered a taster. Of course I requested the Rye Rye Z (and yes, I pronounced the Z correctly!), and received a taster of extreme yumminess again. Very good stuff! Kinda porter-like in the roasty coffee notes, but with good hopping of a cascadian dark. Good stuff! (And yes, I got a T-shirt, too...)