This summer, after three long years of fleeting visits and spontaneous attempts, M and I (accompanied by old favourites O and T) were finally able to tick a big one off our Toronto bucket list: take a tour behind the scenes of the iconic Steam Whistle Brewery.
…and let me tell you something: It was worth the wait.
Situated opposite popular tourist attractions, the C.N Tower, the Rogers Centre (or SkyDome as it’s commonly remembered as) and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, the Steam Whistle Brewery is instantly recognizable by the collection of retired and historic trains guarding the entrance. This is a (not so subtle) nod to the building’s past as a Canadian Pacific Rail repair facility. Oh, and if you’re in the area when the clock strikes the hour, you can just follow the sound of the whistle. Either way you can’t miss it.
Free samples, a glorious array of green merchandise and a DJ booth greet visitors upon entering. This area alone is atmospheric and enjoyable, although enthusiasts like myself may chose one of the multiple tour options available to drink deeper into the Steam Whistle story. It’s highly recommended to make a reservation, although the weekend is on a first-come-first-serve basis – hence the ‘three long years of fleeting visits and spontaneous attempts’
Our tour began as every good tour should – with a bottle straight from the source. Our tour was scheduled at 2.30pm. According to the label, the beer was bottled at 2.05pm. It’s safe to assume that this was probably one of the freshest beers I’ll ever have.
After a celebratory ‘cheers’ and group introductions, we were off.
Walking around the brewery building high above the workers (who, might I add, were proudly representing their city by playing Drake), we learnt of the company’s past. If you’ve ever looked at a bottle of Steam Whistle (I mean reallly looked), you would have noticed ‘3FG’ engraved into the bottom right hand side. This stands for ‘Three Fired Guys’, the original name of the company….because it was the brainchild of three recently jobless friends, obviously!
One of the Three Fired Guys was on site at the time of our visit and our guide was quick to mention the benefits of working for Steam Whistle. For example, staff can enjoy work breaks on a private patio overlooking the brewery’s bustling and desirable John St Roundhouse location. They also celebrate their annual summer party at one of the owner’s cottages, and after several loyal years of employment, are even treated to a trip to the Czech Republic. I’m starting to think that maybe I’m in the wrong business here.
The tour ended with more samples (yippee!), enjoyed at leisure.
What I found interesting is that, unlike so many other breweries, Steam Whistle focus only one style of beer – the classic Pilsner. Instead of experimenting with failed flavours or seasonal specials, the company chose to master its talents rather than spread itself thin. It’s the quality over quantity philosophy. This is evidently a source of pride as the company slogan embraces this ideal wholeheartedly:
‘Do one thing, really, really well’.
In a world that constantly craves newer and flashier products, I see this decision as admirable and inspiring – and maybe a little rebellious too. What more could you want from a beer?
Whether it’s the architecturally remarkable building, the company’s humble beginnings, its environmental initiatives (its more than just the bottle that’s green) or the taste of the beer itself, it’s hard not too fall in love with Steam Whistle.
If I wasn’t already a fan, I’d sure be a convert now.