A Few Beers at Goose Island Toronto

Below I comment on some of the beers at Toronto’s new Goose Island Brewhouse. I didn’t try them all and one, a cask English-style bitter, is not available yet.

The brewpub is situated downtown in a historic block on The Esplanade, adjacent to the business district and burgeoning young crowd condo area. It gets a good tourist trade as well in the season. I’ve included some images to give a flavour of the neighbourhood.

The brewery has a joint venture with Biermarkt, a beer house chain and restaurant in Toronto. Biermarkt has some good offerings, many are imports, and a good kitchen so the link up makes sense. The eastern side of the total space, formerly an Irish pub, is home to Goose Island and Biermarkt’s space continues much as before except an additional bar was added in front. The wall between Biermarkt and the old pub was opened to make one large space. The idea is people in the brewpub will tend to favour its beers while those on the other side have a wide range of imports (and other beers) to choose from.

There is a pleasant outdoor “garden” as well.

By any definition, it’s a beer haven – another in a town that offers an increasingly wide range of restaurant-format beer options.

Goose Island has established a number of these pubs around the world in the last couple of years. Its parent AB InBev bought the Goose Island brewery, founded in 1988 in Chicago, some years ago. The Toronto brewers, Bernard Priest and Marc Mammoliti, were most helpful to talk to and open about their approach and recipes.

Goose Island IPA and Honkers Ale are available, not brewed on site; all other beers are. They are described on the company’s site with well-drawn notes that largely save me the trouble of describing the tastes. But some personal impressions:

The ’59 Brown, 6% abv, is an American brown ale that is full-bodied, malty, with a blend of New World hops. It reminded me of the original Pete’s Wicked Ale but was better. The Off Season Lager was a Marzen style with an orange zest note and grainy, “cracker” quality. It recalls somewhat Holsten’s Festbock but with a freshness and appeal only a beer brewed on site can have. The German-sourced brewhouse is arranged in a U shape with seven gleaming cylindro-conicals arrayed behind the bar.

Cult Classic is a Munich Dunkel, well-made and rather like the dunkel from Collingwood, ON’s Side Launch: tasty but light.

The Mantis, a Double India Pale Ale, had all the advertised flavours (see the company’s note). At 8% abv it’s something to savour rather than drink by the pint. I’d call it a stylish strong American ale.

I had a taste from the tank of the Polish Grodziskie, known to some as Gratzer, 3% abv and made mostly from lightly smoked wheat malt, the rest is pilsener malt. It was first-rate, with a grainy character and faint, lemon-like acidity that is the marker of a wheat mash, malted or otherwise. I recall arguments in beer historical circles whether this style should be sour but the confusion may arise from a natural tang imparted by the wheat. Phenolics from the smoked malt may contribute as well.

The other four or five beers on the list must await another day for sampling.

All the beers were well-made and when I say that I mean the brewing gets the basic beer palate right. Some brewpubs and breweries make idiosyncratic products, often I feel due to not realizing what a “sound” beer profile is, or from shortcomings in brewing or storage. The beers I had at Goose Island were faultless in execution and most were in my personal zone of taste, as a bonus.

I visited the original Chicago brewpub a number of times about 20 years ago. The beers I had yesterday were much better than my experience at the original G.I. Some of those beers were wonky, not well-made in the sense I’ve indicated.

Whatever one thinks of big brewery purchases of smaller outfits, and I made my position clear yesterday, in this particular case, the buy-out resulted in better beers than 20 years ago.

To give some final context, while there are some good beers up the street at Batch, Molson Coors’ brewpub, on the whole I thought the five I tried at Goose Island Toronto were better. On the other hand, Batch offers the India Pale Lager brewed at Creemore which is one of the best in Ontario. As good as the (apparently) tweaked Goose Island IPA is, that IPL is better, IMO.

In my view, if a pub has just one superlative brew, it’s reason enough to patronize. In practice both places mentioned offer even more than that. It’s no different at most brewpubs in town and for the offerings of most craft breweries. Batch and now Goose Island Toronto just add to the choice and palate range. As well, each will focus on a particular demographic. It’s all good.