Toronto Beer Update: Halo, Indie, High Park

Today's micro-brewery pub crawl started at Landsdowne station at noon with a short walk to Halo Brewery. It appears my last visit to them was in 2019 (the COVID-19 pandemic stopped my visits to almost all brew pubs). We were there early, and pretty much had the place to ourselves except for the young and very knowledgeable bartender who also appeared to be one of the brewers. We tried:

  • Key Lime Shapeshifter (Sour IPA w/ Key Lime, Vanilla & Lactose)
  • Event Horizon (Stout w/ Sarsaparilla)
  • (Barrel Aged) Prelude (Golden Ale Refermented on Fresh Niagara Peaches)
  • (Barrel Aged) Precursor (Golden Ale Refermented on Bourbon Barrel Aged Ugandan Coffee Beans)

The Shapeshifter was milder than you'd expect from something that's both a sour and an IPA. The Vanilla is really hiding at the bottom of the heap - none of us could really detect it. Quite a nice beer, vanilla or no. The Event Horizon did not (to me, at least) taste like root beer (which is the commonest outcome of adding sarsaparilla to a drink), but it did make for an interesting and rather nice stout. The barrel aged Golden Ales were rather less of a success: our bartender sung their praises, but both of them tasted like sours (truly, they did) and none of us were finding peaches or coffee in either of the respective beers. This may sound like a 50-50 review (ie. two good beers and two bad), but Halo gets a lot of credit with me for continuing to experiment and try different things with their beers: I'm hoping to get there more. It's relatively small, but it's a very nice space with a decent patio out front (not open on this rainy day).

At Indie Alehouse we ordered:

  • Burning Boat (Barley Wine)
  • Zombie Apocalypse (Imperial Stout)
  • Breakfast Porter (English Porter)
  • Bones & Honey (English Brown Ale)
  • Indie X Collab 004 (Blackberry Smoked Wit)

The Indie X elicited some interesting responses: three of us who were used to smoked beers were having trouble finding the taste of smoke in it at all, while our fourth who wasn't familiar with smoked beers found the smoke quite potent. None of us seemed to get much in the way of blackberries off it. The Bones & Honey - you know how some brown ales have descriptions that say "roasty notes?" This one was roasty-notes-all-the-time. It wasn't bad, but there wasn't much else happening. The porter was ... indifferent. The Zombie Apocalypse was a fairly decent imperial stout, although none of us felt there was an end-of-the-world scenario invoked. Finally, the Barley Boat. That one is a trip: it smelled like making caramel in your home, and burning it ever so slightly. It tasted like that too. I found it a bit too sweet, and "too sweet" isn't something I say all that often.

We had lunch at Indie. Being relatively uninventive people, two of us ordered the Shakshuka, and the other two of us ordered the B.E.L.T. sandwich. I have no idea what that stood for, but it had fried pork belly on lettuce and tomato with a lovely mayo served on fried bread (because pork belly doesn't have enough fat). It was delicious, and reports of the Shakshuka were equally positive.

After we ate, we split a bottle of Indie's "10-4-22" (Belgian Quad). This was a 650ml or 750ml bottle for $22 - expensive as beer bottles go, but Quads tend to be strong and aged and that drives up the price. This one was worth it. I don't think any of us would have wanted to drink that bottle on our own, but it was a lovely and complex beer, and if you have a couple other people with you I highly recommend it.

One of our party had to leave after that, the remaining three of us proceeded to High Park Brewery. I've been there several times, and more recently than most of the city's other micro-breweries, because a friend lives out in that area. Their food has proven very good. But we were all disappointed - I was disappointed because the beer menu had barely changed since the last time I was there, and we were all disappointed because their beers tended strongly to the lighter end of the scale. We ordered a flight:

  • Irish Stout (Dry Irish Stout)
  • Ghost (Tropical IPA)
  • Black Magic (Raspberry Sour)
  • Across the Pond (English Special Ale)

Of these, the Ghost was the surprise winner. I like IPAs with tropical fruit flavours, but can be a bit picky - and I thought this one was quite good. Of our other two reviewers, one almost never likes IPAs and wasn't enamoured of this one, and the other was like me: an occasional fan of IPAs who thought this was quite good. The Black Magic was interesting, as a sour that was in the most literal sense "black:" none of us had seen a sour anything like that dark before. But this is sour patch beer: it was both too sweet and too sour, and the taste was of artificial candy. The Irish Stout came across as a serviceable stout, but none of us (all stout lovers) were inspired by it. The loser of the day was the "Across the Pond," which was still a third full when we left ...

We speculated that the lack of variance in High Park's beer menu may be a result of their combining forces with Lost Craft. When I found out this was happening a year and a half ago, I thought it was win-win: Lost Craft got a home (I think they'd previously had their stuff brewed at Brunswick Bierworks, one of the city's contract brewers), and High Park got a stable income and partner. But in practice I'm wondering if, to keep up with the volume Lost Craft needs to push into the LCBO, the only stuff they're brewing these days is Lost Craft's line-up.

As patio season gets into full swing, I hope to be getting out to the city's breweries a lot more to keep the map updated and to post more reviews.