Mike Smith is a man on a mission. He’s heard the voices — and they have said it’s time to brew. Having been an avid craft beer fan, and having spent thousands of travel hours to sample fine beers at destination breweries and brew pubs, Mike has decided to let his passion for craft beer and brewing guide him in that endeavour. Mike will be opening London’s first brewed-on-premises craft brew pub soon, possibly by the time this is published. Tentatively christened Toboggan Brewing Co., the new brewery-pub will occupy the old Jim Bob Ray’s location. Mike hopes to integrate fresh crafted beer with eclectic pub and fest-hall ambience. The brewery will also have a store for take-home sales of growlers (litre and two litre jugs of fresh draft).
You probably know Mike Smith as the successful restaurateur who has graced London with some of its most popular restaurants, cafés and pubs. He knows good food and he knows hospitality industry excellence. But few are aware that Mike also knows great crafted beer.
Mike has assembled a nice new 10-hectolitre brew set for production and a small one hectolitre pilot brewing set to run test batches and special one-offs — a wise micro brewing strategy but not really uncommon. Where Mike goes beyond the ordinary is in treating the city water (filtering out chlorine, fluoride, iron etc.) then adding mineral salts as needed to approximate the softer well waters of the world famous brewing regions. Not being a brewer himself, he has assembled some of the best brewers in local craft brewing today to collaborate on recipes, style sculpture and brewing processes. Tom Schmidt is the Toboggan head brewmaster and Gord Slater is the brewing operations manager. You might not recognize the names, but the brews they have produced for other regional craft brewing companies are very familiar, and successful.
The business plan looks promising as Mike will be offering not only his house-brewed ales but a wide array of local craft beers as well — a wonderful show of support for the industry as a whole. Toboggan will have a constant rotating tap selection of styles and types, from filtered light ales and lagers (for entry level craft beer drinkers) to unfiltered robust beers (for the seasoned bierophile), from cream ales and Belgian blondes to abbey triples and doppelbocks, and every style in between — plus a constant rotating offering of one-off special brews. Add to this a bierfest-hall atmosphere and upscale pub grub to compliment what is on tap, and I see great potential for this enterprise.
I was recently able to sample some of Mike’s latest brews in the new Toboggan brewery before the doors opened, and I got an exclusive glimpse into what Mike has bubbling away in the fermenters and mellowing in bright tanks. I have to say there are surprises in store for London craft beer foam heads at this new brew op.
Here are my impressions of the finished (conditioned) beers sampled (no trade names for them yet).
Oatmeal Stout: this tapped off a turbid dark mahogany colour with a resilient one-finger tan cap. Aromas of deep roast coffee and porridge, some light grassiness and earthiness. Taste and character were sturdy, chewy, rich and roasty with a long finish which becomes dry and lightly bitter — if I was doing a blind tasting I’d have thought I was drinking St. Ambroise oatmeal stout.
Amber Cream Ale: an American take on the cream ale style with Amber malt base and Pacific Northwest hops. Poured a hazy deep amber colour with a rocky white cap. Subtle nose — mostly malty, some light floral tones. Flavour was bright, hoppy and balanced with a nice hop bite in the finish, fairly substantial for a cream ale.
Blonde Ale: light in alcohol only. This one was a delight to drink. Lightly hazed, bright gold colour, one-finger bone white cap that hangs in. Aroma of biscuit malts, herbal hops and that wonderful Belgian yeast funk. Again, well balanced between malt and hops up front but goes dry and hoppy in the finish — a well attenuated brew. Very flavourful and great drinkability as a potential sessioner.
APA: IPA with American Pacific Northwest hops, Toboggan’s rendition of Pacific Northwest IPA. Poured a rich looking amber with orange highlights and a puffy, sticky cap that stacks in the glass. It’s a rich IPA done with Simcoe and Citra hops which give it both a citrus-fruity, piney hop nose and a clean, resonating bitterness. On the palate, the malt blend is slightly caramel for just a touch of malt sweetness to offset the ample hopping. This IPA is well-balanced but very expressive with hops — Mike says they still want to tweak it, but I think it’s good to go as is. There certainly is nothing left to be desired in this big juicy APA. It’s a drinker.
Mike Smith has put a lot of capital and work into this enterprise. If the quality of these first brews is any indication, he is in for another success story. I can recommend checking out Toboggan when it is opens. There will be something for novice to savant craft beer fans alike. A welcome addition to the local craft beer landscape.
Toboggan Brewing Co.
585 Richmond St., London
Tastes of the Month
This spring had its share of big IPAs showing up as import releases, but we were given a real treat with the addition of two world class wheat ales, “uber weizens”. Uberweizen is my moniker for the new genre of super-hopped and higher strength hefeweizens which are evolving in the craft brewing markets. This spring we had two of the best available to welcome the approaching warm days. Hopfenweiss is a highly hopped hefeweiss style pioneered by Schneider and Brooklyn brewing. Weizen heller bock is a traditional but more arcane Bavarian style resurrected by modern craft brewers — both make for a wonderful imbibing sensation on a warm spring patio.
Ayinger Weizen Bock 7.1% abv LCBO# 409458 — This beer was 500ml of ecstasy in a glass. Truly a remarkable wheat ale offering, from arguably the best craft brewer in Bavaria (Ayinger). Pungent clove and banana aromas augment a sturdy malt undertone which seduces the taste buds, then a honey-lemon sweet and sour finish. My sample was bottled; I can only imagine how great this was fresh from the taps. As an acolyte of German brewing and beer styles, I think this is a near-perfect wheat brew, one that will not disappoint even the lofty expectations of a craft beer savant. This offering is definitely on par for quality with Ayinger’s Celebrator doppelbock or their Jarhundert helles lager and Altbairisch Dunkel. Bottled heaven.
Les Trois Mousquetaires Hopfenweisse 6% abv LCBO #333468 — Comes in a 750 ml caged corked bottle — pours a murky light gold ale with a three-finger deep meringue cap that lasts. Peppery natural carbonation. Aroma of spice, succulent fruit, dusty wheat and some grassiness. Sharp peppery mouth feel, dry spritzy character with a moderately firm body. The flavour profile gives a big blast of sweet biscuits and fruit in the front side then more balance with herbal-spicy hops mid-palate, finish then goes dry and a wee bit bitter with a kiss of biscuit sweetness at the end. A first-rate wheat ale from a great Canadian crafter.
THE MALT MONK is the alter ego of D.R. Hammond, a passionate supporter of craft beer culture. He invites readers to join in the dialogue at maltmonksbeerblog.wordpress.com