Canada… is… AWESOME! If you need proof, just walk down Toronto’s hipstery Bloor Street (you know, where Scott Pilgrim hangs out). If you’re lucky, a cute girl in a Carlsberg onesie will hand you a FREE BEER. Who cares if the beer isn’t that good, it’s just proof that our floppy-headed neighbors from the north are that much closer to God.
Ok, that was a bit much. Maybe the heat in Toronto baked my brain. We were literally in the city on the hottest day ever (45˚ C with relative humidity) and the Rogers Centre roof was closed due to heat for the first time. Open or closed, a game under a dome is not a great baseball experience and the tickets were expensive even with the bad exchange rate. (THAT’S why we love minor league baseball.)
Anyway, after the game we headed over to Steam Whistle Brewing right across the street from the stadium. It’s built inside Toronto’s historic John Street Roundhouse and an antique locomotive sits on the rail outside. Oddly though, the Steam Whistle name has nothing to do with trains. The founders of the brewery liked the idea of a steam whistle ending the workday (like in the opening of The Flintstones), signaling it’s time to relax and have a beer.
Despite heat that even kept the brewery workers home, the tour was packed. While dripping with sweet, wort-smelling sweat, we learned that the brewery is unique in that it only produces one type of beer: it’s namesake pilsner. For you beer geeks, you should also know that they employ the old-world practice of decoction, taking 1/3 of the mash, boiling it, and reintroducing it to the remainder to give the beer its trademark two fingers of head.
The best part of the tour wasn’t the beer – it kind of tasted like Tecate – it was learning that the brewery was both environmentally conscious and genuinely caring about its employees. All you need to know about the latter is that each worker is given three free beers at the end of every workday. As for the environment, the brewery is #2 in eco-consciousness in North America (behind my personal favorite, New Belgium). In fact, the Canadian beverage industry is more green in general with policies that encourage refillable bottles. Each Steam Whistle bottle is washed and reused up to 30 times!
Speaking of green things, at a Toronto pub I asked the bartender “What’s the deal with this ‘Organic Lager’ you have on tap?” thinking I’d get a detailed description of its taste, its hoppiness , or, at least, if she liked it or not. She gave me a funny look and said, “It’s organic beer.” Canadian literalism aside, I enjoyed the lager immensely. Produced in East Toronto by Mill St. Brewery, it had a very soft, vanilla taste, like the beer equivalent of cream soda. I’m not sure if this was because it was organic, but I’m all for natural beer.
Unfortunately, we had to leave maple leaf utopia for the thruway-filled hell of New York. We saw three games there: from crowded AAA Buffalo to tiny A-level Batavia to the minuscule NYCBL where 39 people watched the Webster Yankees game. In Buffalo, desperate for food at 11pm, we were fortunate enough to find the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery. The micro-brews were tasty – I tried their signature Trainwreck – and the backstory was intriguing. The structure was built in 1841 in an area of the city called “the most evil square mile in America” where, at the western terminus of the Erie Canal, 70 to 80% of the major crimes in the country were committed during its heyday.
The next day in Buffalo, we visited the Flying Bison Brewing Company. It was a smaller mom-and-pop type place reminiscent of the industrial park breweries in San Diego. Our tour consisted of a quick 10-minute jaunt around the back of the warehouse to see the brew kettles and a stop in front to sample the beers. They were quite generous, letting us try every beer on tap (and their orange cream soda!). Josh and I both enjoyed the thick Rusty Chain, their most popular beer. We also liked that, in the true spirit of small-scale brewing, the investors in Flying Bison often stop by to help them brew a batch.
Well, that’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the “Beer, Brett & Baseball” series. It was a fun 3,478 mile, 3 country, 10 state, 12 game, 5 brewery, 3 brewpub journey. I hope to bring you some more brewery and hardball stories soon. After all, did not the great slugger Babe Ruth once (conceivably) say: “Man needs only two things. Give me beer and baseball and I will be happy.”
– Brett P.