Once upon a time beer in Canada meant Molson, Labbatt and O’Keefe.
Now the scene is much more diverse.
One of Canada’s best these days is Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto. They produce a premium pilsner lager packaged in distinctive green glass bottles and a non-twist cap. In 2004, Steam Whistle Pilsner was voted best beer in Toronto at the Golden Tap Awards. Steam Whistle has also been voted Best Toronto Microbrewery on more than one occasion.
The three founders are former employees of Upper Canada Brewing Company before it was bought by Sleeman’s. The original name for the beer was going to be “Three Fired Guys Brewing Company” since they were all fired from Upper Canada Brewing Company when it was purchased by Sleeman; however, they chose Steam Whistle Brewing to evoke an image of steam rushing from a factory’s whistle signaling the end of the work day. Embossed at the bottom of Steam Whistle bottles is “3FG” as an inside joke, referencing “Three Fired Guys”.
The brewery occupies Bays 1-14 within a building known as the John Street Roundhouse. Built in 1929, it was previously the home of a CPR steam locomotive repair facility, and operated as such until May 13, 1988. The John Street Roundhouse is designated a National Historic Site, and is owned by the City of Toronto. It is located within walking distance of the Rogers Center and the CN Tower. A similar roundhouse, the CNR Spadina Roundhouse, was torn down to make way for the SkyDome (now Rogers Centre).
Steam Whistle is also known for maintaining a promotions fleet of some 8 vintage vehicles used to market their products, ranging a 1949 Navistar International Stake Truck to a 1965 Ford Blue Bird Bus.
In this Journey into Beer, we speak with Greg Taylor about Steam Whistle, its origins, its place today and what it represents in the bigger picture of beer making in Canada today.