This article was originally written in January 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in September 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after the Taste T.O. blog was shut down and taken offline.
For this inaugural instalment of Beer of the Week, it seemed fitting to take a look at a beer that is synonymous with Toronto for many drinkers. Since its launch in 2000, Steam Whistle Pilsner has become one of Canada’s fastest growing craft beer brands, but even as their popularity has spread beyond our city’s borders, they’ve still managed to build and retain a reputation as Toronto’s hometown beer.
It’s a reputation that has been well-earned, as Steam Whistle founders Greg Taylor, Cam Heaps and Greg Cromwell were all employees of Upper Canada Brewing, one of Toronto’s first microbreweries. When Upper Canada was bought by Sleeman and the original brewery closed down, the three friends moved on to other things, but the brewing world pulled them back in, and they began concocting plans in 1998 that led to the launch of Steam Whistle two years later. With it’s iconic 1950s-style branding and the picturesque brewery in The Roundhouse where they host numerous art and social events, it didn’t take long for their painted green bottles to become ubiquitous around the city.
Ah, yes, the green bottles. It’s hard to deny that they look snazzy as hell, but they are also one of the reasons that some beer aficionados have a problem with Steam Whistle. ‘Cause if there’s one thing that can ruin a beer – especially a light lager like Steam Whistle – it’s putting it in a green (or clear) bottle. Leave it sitting under light for even a little while and the beer will become light-struck or “skunky”, which is obviously not an ideal state for beverage enjoyment. In fact, the very first Steam Whistle I tried soon after its launch was completely skunked, and it took me a couple of years to give it another shot.
When I did try it again, it was on draught from a fresh keg, and I found it to be an enjoyable and refreshing pint. The colour has a nice golden hue, the aroma holds some inviting grassy hop notes, and the flavour is fresh and clean with a mellow maltiness and a nicely hopped finish. The flavour isn’t quite as full as some of the classic European pilsners like Czechvar and Urquell, and it also has a less prominent hop character, making it less bitter. But if you can find a place that has it on tap and keeps it fresh, it pairs well with many pub foods, and provides a fine accompaniment to warm afternoon on a patio.
I still stay away from the bottles, though…