Monday, June 9, 2008

A look inside the Steam Whistle Brewing company

Saturday afternoon, we went for a tour of the Steam Whistle Brewing factory, located on the Toronto harbour front. It was blisteringly hot outside, so we appreciated the chance to escape the heat by enjoying some free cold beer and learning a bit about how it's made.

It didn't hurt that we had picked up some free tour passes at this year's London Food and Wine Show, either!

So, after being greeted by the antique/industrial aesthetic of the historic John St. Roundhouse--decades before it was Steam Whistle's home, steam engine trains used to be repaired and sent back on their merry way there--not to mention a jovial doorman who gave us each two free drink tickets, we made our way into the factory.

First, a little background: Steam Whistle's one and only beer is a Pilsner that's "golden and refreshing with a distinctive hop aroma and a clean, crisp finish." So say the folks at Steam Whistle, anyway. I'm no expert when it comes to beer tasting, but I can tell you what I like and what I don't, and I happen to like Steam Whistle for its very light and smooth flavour. Take a peek:

The tour was enlightening, overall. I learned a lot of great trivia about Steam Whistle, like how the company started and how it's managed to hold onto its roots. Here's how the (true) legend goes: three guys who were fired by Upper Canada Brewing Company wanted to start their own brewery and name it, creatively enough, "Three Fired Guys." They changed their mind about the name, but not the sentiment: at the bottom of every bottle of Steam Whistle, "3FG" is engraved.

Why "Steam Whistle?" The founders wanted to capture a retro vibe, and figured the Steam Whistle that used to signal the end of the workday in the '50s was a perfect symbol. That vintage feel is captured by the beer's green bottle:

We were also invited to taste the barley and hops that go into every batch of Steam Whistle. The barley was delicious, but the rather, um, piquant smell of the hops (they're part of the cannabis family, if it helps you imagine the odour) led us to look, not touch (or taste). The hops are the pellet-shaped bits on the right.

Although our brewery tour was free, I would still recommend buying a pass if you're in Toronto in the future. The cheapest tour pass is $8 (including a bottle opener, drinking glass and a Steamwhistle comic book), but a $14 tour will get you a 6-pack of Steamwhistle, which is just $1.25 more than the price of a Steamwhistle 6-pack at the Beer Store.

You'll get that $1.25 back in your two massive samples alone. Plus, they let everyone sound off a real Steam Whistle.


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