Photo by kstashuk.
Nothing says loving like a cold beer on a hot day. Luckily for us, the good people at The Beer Store decided to open up Fort York to us again this year, allowing us to drink, frolic and be merry in an enclosed and historic setting. In such an environment as this, how could we help but pit four GTA-centric Ontario Craft Brewery beers against each other?
To make things a bit more specific—not just, “does it get us feeling fuzzy?”—we decided to narrow the contestants down to ales, and specifically ones that by name would seem to be good light summer drinking.
We must admit, there were some surprises along the way, but as the mother of our guest judge—all the way from beer-loving Britain—always said, surprises paired with beer are surprises worth experiencing. Except those associated with poison monkeys.
- Black Oak Pale Ale. Located in scenic Oakville, Ontario, Black Oak considers their Pale Ale (pictured above left) to be their flagship beer .
- Granite Brewery Summer Ale. With locations in both Toronto and Halifax, the Summer Ale (pictured above right) is a limited edition offering that is a bit lighter on the alcohol side.
- Great Lakes Devil’s Pale Ale. Great Lakes is apparently Toronto’s oldest craft brewery. On the one hand, we say “kudos to you”, on the other, we’re concerned that our oldest craft brewery was founded in 1987. Devil’s Pale Ale (pictured below left) was the big surprise for Torontoist during this challenge—apparently, we took the name a wee bit too literally. The folks at Great Lakes sure put the craft into crafty!
- Niagara’s Best Blonde Premium Ale. The people at Niagara’s Best, located in the “oh-so-close to the GTA” hamlet of St. Catherine’s, consider their Blonde (pictured below right with friendly mascot) to be full bodied with a clean finish. Insert tacky blonde joke here.
- Colour. Does its appearance suit its monicker? Is it a strange colour, and if so, does that still appeal to you?
- Taste. Is it crisp? Hit your tongue in a delightful fashion? Does it have an unfortunate after-taste?
- Fizziness. Considering these are ales, is it too fizzy? Does your mouth hurt after taking a sip? On the other hand, is it fizzless and make you stick your tongue out and go “blech”?
- Overall Refreshingness. Pretty simple—it’s hot out and you have to sit on a patio all day— will this stuff do the trick?
In the case of a tie, we always like to consider a few other factors, in this case we decided to consider the beers by availability (how many stores carried the beer in the Toronto area) and cost (for a 6-pack).
- Availability: The most widely available is Black Oak Pale Ale, which can be found in 17 Toronto Beer Stores. Great Lakes Devil’s Pale Ale is for sale in 11 LCBO locations in Toronto and Niagara’s Best Blonde is for sale in both LCBO and The Beer Store, but the locations are limited. Finally, the least available beer is Granite, which is only available at their brewpub on Eglinton Avenue East.
- Cost: Niagara’s Best Blonde takes the cake at $10.95 for a 6-pack, followed by Black Oak ($11.95), and then Great Lakes ($15.00). Granite Summer Ale is, according to their website, available for sale at the brewpub, but the price listed is for a keg. We therefore advise you to get your drinking shoes on and hope for the best.
- Colour. Granite—21/25. A rich gold colour, Granite’s Summer Ale’s appearance definitely suited its name.
- Taste. Granite—19/25. With a hint of fruity goodness, this beer had a summery flavour that put a twinkle in our eye and a swagger in our step.
- Fizziness. Niagara’s Best—16/25. A point of some contention amongst our judges, the general feeling was a good ale, summery or not, shouldn’t be too fizzy and Niagara’s Best danced its way over our palate in just the right way.
- Overall Refreshingness. TIE: Black Oak and Niagara’s Best—18/25. Niagara’s Best, light in colour and flavour, refused to compromise on the all important deliciousness factor. Black Oak, though darker, was deemed by the judging panel to be a great beer, that delighted with its fruitfulness.
As one of our judges commented, “it’s still a beer!” Unfortunately, beerness aside, Great Lakes Devil’s Pale Ale has to be declared the loser, with an overall score of 59%. While the tongue-in-cheek nature of its name wasn’t lost on us, this isn’t a contest in irony, though that could have interesting possibilities. At the end of the day, this beer was dark, bitter and yet really fizzy, bordering on maniacal.
The offerings of Niagara’s Best and Black Oak took up the middle ranks of the Challenge. Black Oak, albeit widely available and well-priced, seemed more suited to cooler weather and did a “weird throat thing” to our guest judge, which he blamed on its overly nutty flavour and unfortunate after-taste. Niagara’s Best Blonde Premium had a lovely initial creaminess, but the aftertaste ended too sweetly and while we enjoyed the kitsch factor of having the girl on the bottle serve us the beer, this one didn’t fully captivate us.
The winner, with a score of 72%, was Granite Summer Ale. The beer’s appellation was spot-on for this challenge, and lived up to expectations for a great warm weather drink. While some of the judging panel found Granite a bit flat, bordering on “slimy”, our guest judge, of London fame, appreciated the less fizzy experience as being more true to form for an ale. Not as widely available and perhaps a bit pricier, it didn’t surprise us with a bitter aftertaste and was completely irony free, which delights us—we like our beer to be quite literally what it says it is, and Granite’s was definitely all summer. Torontoist’s recommendation? Next time you’re up Eglinton way, take a mo and skip on into the Granite Brewery and have a pint. Going all out for the keg afterwards is completely up to you.
Photos of our contestants by Julie Reitsma.