Last night was the grand opening part for the Beer Academy and Six Pints brewery located 75 Victoria St, the former location of Denison’s and then Duggan’s. This may not be the most anticipated brewery opening in Toronto this year (or it may be – I’ve already fielded a couple of emails based on my first post, including a resume of someone looking to work for the Beer Academy), but it probably will be the most talked about due to the fact that Six Pints is the craft beer arm of Molson Coors. I had a tour of the facility in March before they started brewing and came away impressed, but knew that the real test would be the beers. The timing of the opening seemed curious, deflecting some attention away from Ontario Craft Beer Week – hopefully it was just a coincidence. (Six Pints is not a member of the Ontario Craft Brewers and most people would not call it a craft brewery because it is owned by a multinational corporation.)
The space didn’t look very different from my first visit, except that it had a lot more people and beer was flowing from the taps. The details had been filled in – the brewing history wall was complete, the retail fridge was full, the library was full of books, branded glasses lined shelves, and Creemore and Granville Island merchandise was available to purchase. There were five beers being poured, all of which were version 1.0 and will be refined in subsequent batches based on feedback. The logical place to start on a sweltering day was the Kölsch, a style that should be familiar to anyone that has tried Beau’s Lugtread. The beer was unfiltered, giving off lots of yeast characteristics. Combined with a slighty green hoppiness and some ale elements, the beer was refreshing and did not lack flavour. I haven’t tried many beers in the style, but the Kölsch seemed non-traditional in a good way.
The IPA was a little confusing. My wife and I each tried it, getting two very different samples. It was likely our palates (it was her first beer sample, while I had it much later) seeing as our samples came from the same tap and I doubt they blew a keg serving 3 or 4 ounce servings. Either way, the IPA was probably my least favourite beer of the night. There was a little diacetly in the nose, but it was small enough that it could be passed off as fitting within the English style. Lots of caramel sweetness upfront, leading to a peachy middle and an odd finish (herbaceous, vegetal, bitter). They were clearly going for an English style IPA and showed how difficult making an excellent version can be. There were no big flavours to mask the flaws, unlike bigger American-style IPAs. Following the IPA was the Dunkel Weiss, which was straightforward but very pleasant. Hard to complain about a beer with big flavours of banana, esters and caramel malts – basically banana bread in a glass.
Probably the boldest move in their beer lineup is the Belgian Brown, simply because it is not a style that frequently gets made in Ontario. It had the hallmarks of a brune (dark fruits, bready, candi sugar, plus a bit of cocoa and coffee), but the alcohol was too present at the end. Maybe it was more noticeable because of the weather and the lighter beers that came before, but the beer probably needed some aging to try and mellow out the heat in the finish. Once they figure out how to tame the finish, this could be a really nice beer and fill a gap in Ontario. The last beer to try was the Porter, a nice beer that (once again) had all the hallmarks of the style. It could have been a little moreish, but was well made and a beer I would happily order again. Overall, the beers were well made, but there was nothing that really amazed me. At the same time, the worst beer I had was the Creemore Pilsner, which was recommended as a pairing for a certain dish. That really is not a good beer, but help put the Six Pints beers in perspective. It should also be noted that everything was served in sample sizes, so it would be interesting to see what may grow on me over the course of a full pint.
What the Beer Academy does really well is education. The serving staff were all very friendly, able to talk about the beers and seemed genuinely happy to be pouring beers. There was a booth where they showed the brewing process in micro. There was a beer and cheese pairing station with someone there to guide you. I don’t think that someone like myself (read: a beer geek, though many of Toronto’s beer geek community were in attendance) is the intended audience for Six Pints and the Beer Academy – their big push is beer education for people beginning to be interested in beer, which makes sense given that they make a number of accessible beers in relatively approachable styles. Most of the craft beer industry probably won’t feel threatened for this reason. People looking for the next Bellwoods will be disappointed, but Six Pints isn’t trying to be a beer vanguard. The Beer Academy can help act as a gateway from macro beers to the world of craft beer. Their production size isn’t big enough to really affect anyone else. The only craft brewery in Ontario that may feel threatened is Mill Street, because they both make fairly accessible beers for people looking for some flavour in their beer. But their production sizes are so different that Six Pints is a mere blip right now compared to Mill Street. (For the record, I’d rather have a drink at Six Pints that the Mill Street brew pub. Better beer, more knowledgeable staff, no degrading kilts.)
That being said, there is clearly a lot of money behind Six Pints and the Beer Academy. Chefs Anna and Michael Olson were cooking dishes in the downstairs kitchen. There were copious amounts of food, both canapes and food stations, that went beyond the usual catering fare. As anyone who ever went to Duggan’s or Denison’s knows, the building is also just plain big and a common refrain from people was that it will be hard for them to break even. However, the money will be a pittance to Molson Coors and one also has to remember that the Beer Academy will also be helping to promote the Granville Island and Creemore brands. The one surprise was that there were very few corporate types at the launch (though the cynic in me thinks that the corporate launch was another night – they knew the beer folks wouldn’t stand for people in suits making speeches). Attending events like this gives a greater understanding of the many ways that larger companies like Labatt’s and Molson Coors have an advantage over independent craft breweries. It is one thing to know it exists, but seeing it in person is something completely different.
Hours for the rest of this week are: 12pm-7pm on Thursday, 11am-9pm on Friday and Saturday, 12pm-6pm on Sunday. Normal hours will start next week: 12pm to 7pm on Monday to Wednesday, 11am to 9pm on Thursday to Saturday and 12pm-6pm on Sundays.