Head to Head: Three of West Toronto’s Best IPAs
It would be an understatement to say Toronto’s best end brews some damn good IPAs. Far too many to include in this piddly little blog post. So I chose based on, well, vibes.
These vibes being “does the brewery specialize in IPAs” (this would exclude Burdock Brewery, known for its sessions and sours, or Henderson’s holding the lager fort down), but also “does the brewey have a flagship IPA”. Not a bunch of seasonal experiments, but one you could reasonably expect to find on tap if you walked through the door.
Enter: Our contestants. First on the docket, a brewery so eponymous with the Toronto beer scene I’ve never bothered to write about them — Bellwoods. Far from an IPA-only brewery, Bellwoods is perhaps best known for their sour, Jelly King. But their Roman Candle IPA is a legend unto itself, and was a harbinger for IPAs to come as the craft scene began to flourish. Thusly, it’s on our list.
Next up, my very own neighbourhood brewery — Halo. Literally across the street from me, it’s dangerous proximity has invited me for a lovely pint on more than a few occassions, as often for a beer as the absolutely fantastic music played by bartender and book-nerd, Sam. And the brew I reach for most often is their delightful New Wave IPA, undoubtedly the flagship beer on an IPA-dense menu.
Lastly, an old fave of mine, Blood Brothers Shumei. Deep during the darkest days of lockdown, I used to have a case of these delivered to my door every Friday. So, I’ll fight against my nostalgia and fondness to give this a fair shake. And again, while Blood Bros have a few flagships (Paradise Lost being their sour series) Shumei is perhaps their most iconic pour, and among the first to grace the shelves of the LCBO.
But which is best? I dove into each to find out. Here’s what I thought:
Bellwoods Brewery Roman Candle IPA: 8.7/10
Spoiler alert — this isn’t the highest score you’re going to see on this list. And it’s pretty darn high — 8.7 puts it ahead of another of my fave IPAs, Ransack the Universe. Bellwoods knocks it out of the Trinity Bellwoods park with Roman Candle.
Its opacity is closer to milky than hazy, and the head is a delicate lace when poured by my less-than-delicate hands into a waiting nonic pint. According to their site, Roman Candle was the very first IPA they ever brewed, and it does have a kind of old-school vibe. The citra hops its made with rear their heads early and hit you with a good bit of orange zest, but there’s also some tropical fruit on the nose, and a sweet note that kinda reminded me of cotton candy.
At 6.8% ABV, Roman Candle will take you where you’re going. But the alcohol is pretty subdued, as is the bitterness. The flavour is a bit more pine-tree than fruit, but there’s lovely citrus, and the finish is refreshing. It’s a damn fine beer. A word to the wise — I had to buy a second can of this to review because Roman Candle skunks FAST in the sun. The 5 minute photo shoot I took of it turned the aroma from “good IPA” to “bad weed” in shockingly little time. Not a fault of the beer, but rather the dumb dumb in the sun.
Halo Brewery New Wave: 9.1/10 (Winner)
I’m drinking a New Wave as I write this review. It’s practically a perfect IPA — for me at least. Definitely on the bitter side (which I like) and strong (which I also like). It artfully blends 6 different hop varietals to make a surprisingly complex beer.
Normally, I find this New England-style IPA nearly as hazy as Roman Candle, but the batch I got for this review was surprisingly translucent. That said, the taste was as familiar as a slap in the face (which…I like?) and was a treat to review. BIG hits of citrus, but more lemony than orangy. There’s something like passionfruit, and a tiny kiss of evergreen on the nose.
The texture of New Wave is genuinely tremendous. A lush, medium body that somehow manages to maintain its refreshing qualities without stickying up your mouth — the perfect vehicle for the orange juice and melon that dominate the taste. You can also taste the 6.8% alcohol in this one, but the added hint of sourness actually serves to round out the already-complex flavours. The finish is…well its bitter, but if you’re a seasoned IPA drinker, it’s not something you can’t handle
Blood Brothers Shumei: 8.5/10
I think, despite my intense love of this beer, I knew it was going to place last out of these heavy hitters. Shumei does what it does very well –exceptionally even — but what it does is a pretty straight-forward, bitter badass, high ABV IPA (you can understand my attraction).
Another hazy boi, Shumei (pronounced shoe-may, I asked) has a delightfully frothy head, and a slightly deeper complexion than Roman Candle. Like its Bellwoods brother, Shumei tends towards the oldschool in scent and taste, even if it does combine West and East Coast IPA styles in a novel hybrid. It smells of bright citrus, with a kiss of pine and something like dried apricot just barely creeps in.
After a sip, Shumei reminds you you’re drinking a high IBU, 7% beer with a quick shake at your collar. Once the bittnerness clears, there’s a surprising fruity sweetness — almost like pineapple — that saves your tongue, and preps it for a surprisingly clean finish. If I’m forced to deduct points, I’ll point to Shumei’s relative simplicity, and perhaps its brashness might be off-putting to some.
Final Thoughts on Toronto’s Best IPAs
These are all really, really good beers. Try them all, and message me telling me I’m wrong, I’ll barely disagree. I think each fits a mood and a moment, and all are frequently found in my fridge. But, after careful thinking and a note or two, I have to award Halo’s New Wave the crown — for now. But don’t take my word for it, make the pilgrimage to Wallace Ave. and sip a pint or two slow.