Restaurant critics generally tend to let newly opened establishments have a one or two month grace period to sort out the kinks of servers, dishes and generally getting settled. Luckily beer reviewers aren’t beholden to the same set of unwritten rules! My trip to the new Mill Street Beer Hall this past weekend, three weeks into their soft open but one week before their official grand opening (happening May 30th), was more for the beer and to check out the space than to critique the service and food (though both got passing grades, for the record).
Located just around the corner from the Mill Street Brewpub, it is best not to expect the Beer Hall to reflect its name. While the term beer hall may evoke long picnic tables with communal seating, a meat heavy menu and bar maids holding eight steins in one hand (with the closest example in Toronto being Wvrst), the Mill Street Beer Hall is more like the younger, trendier sibling of the Brewpub. There is some communal seating, but they are high bar tables that have become common in many restaurants in Toronto and remind me most of ramen places like the Momofuku Noodle Bar or Kinton Ramen. There is an actual bar, though it is quite small, and lots of table seating as the restaurant stretches far back. The patio is still under construction, so maybe that will be more reminiscent of a German beer garden.
There is a German connection to the new beers on offer - the Ampel Weiss, a Berliner Weisse that can be served au natural or with a raspberry or green woodruff syrup added. The plain version is slightly tart and very refreshing. It is not especially complex, but will be a great patio beer in the summer months. The woodruff syrup lended a nice green apple flavour while not being overly sweet. The Distillery Ale is a 5.8% Old Ale that left me a little stymied. The caramel and bready malts just didn’t seem to quite fit the earthy, spicy hops. It was more strange than unpleasant, but not something I’ll be rushing to try again. It was one of those beers where you just couldn’t see what the brewer was trying to achieve.
The final new beer at the Beer Hall was the real winner for me – the Minimus Dubbel. I’m always a little concerned when breweries start playing around with Belgian ales because they can often end up being cloyingly sweet from the candi sugar (the Betelgeuse from Mill Street being a previous example of a sickly sweet Belgian-style Golden Ale). The Minimus was definitely not sweet as the sugars are offset by oak aging that helps give a woody and slightly tannic quality. (My assumption is that fresh oak is used, likely chips or staves). Filled with notes of cocoa and toasted grains, slightly fruity and bready, the beer has a nice balance of flavours. It is served too cold, so let it warm up to really let the beer shine. Unfortunately the bierschnaps are not yet available, but I’ll be planning another trip as soon as they are.
The Beer Hall is definitely a step up from the neighbouring brewpub, but the name really isn’t fitting. To me it is a proper restaurant and the name doesn’t match the final product. The menu is designing for sharing (once again, not very common in a beer hall), which is fine but not all the tables have the appropriate space by the time you add in beer flights. The flatbread we ordered came out on a giant wooden board that was unnecessarily large, another sign that the Beer Hall was going for modern dining in everything but name. For the record, I have no problem with that – I’d much rather spend more for dinner at the Beer Hall than have an inferior meal at the brewpub. While the name is unfortunately here to stay, I’m sure the kinks will be worked out in the coming months and that Mill Street will have another successful establishment to add to their growing collection.