Guidebooks are grand, and wandering is wonderful…but neither takes the place of a proper, ultra-touristy sightseeing tour.
That said, tours can be hit-and-miss. I’ve got a special place in my heart for London Walks, a company that has taken me through Old Westminster, along the Thames, Old Hampstead, Shakespeare’s London and Soho. But other tours in other cities (won’t name any (Belfast)) have left me shifting from foot to foot and wishing I’d worn earplugs.
That’s why Urban Adventures is a brilliant idea.
An offshoot of très awesome travel company Intrepid Travel, Urban Adventures offers day tours in over 100 cities around the world, including Bangkok, Delhi, New York, Moscow, Quito and more (for the full list, click here). Though the tours are given by local teams, the advantage is that Intrepid is doing quality control.
In Canada, there are Urban Adventures in Toronto and Vancouver. On Tuesday, I was invited to experience the “Beer Makes History Better” tour ($37 for 3.5 hours).
The guide is one Jason Kucherawy, who has a bit of a Jack Black thing going on. Wouldn’t have been surprised to spot a Lilliputian darting out from his sleeve.
Right off the bat, Jason said he wants his guests to feel like they’re just strolling around Toronto with friends.
The beer element definitely helps that illusion. Because as soon as you’re seated around a table nursing a pint, the walls of strangerhood crumble.
Our first stop was C’est What?
“It’s heaven to beer geeks,” Jason said.
The selection of craft beer at C’est What? is truly outstanding. It’s not that I’ve ever thought “if only Terry’s chocolate orange could take a dip in beer, my life would be complete.” But when I saw it on the menu, I was tempted to try it.
Mind you, the Big Butt Smoked Dark Ale was even more compelling. Jason sold it like this: “it tastes like campfire in your mouth, with a bacon aftertaste.” He was bang-on. You’ve gotta wonder whether the idea for this beer came from getting a surprise cigarette butt in a bottle of lukewarm Bud at a party.
I ended up choosing the Grand River Blackberry Wheat Beer, which was far more palatable. Also in the fruit-inspired category at C’est What?: raspberry wheat and apricot wheat.
Scott and Jenna from Edmonton bond with Ontario beers.
Can you believe that Toronto’s flatiron building once dominated the skyline?! Now it’s a runt.
From there, we popped into the St. Lawrence Market, where we paired butter tarts with the beer in our stomachs. Other specialties at the market include peameal bacon sandwiches…
…gourmet mustard…and weird meats such as…
…Australian ‘Roo Tail…
Jason introduces one of Toronto’s old drinking fountains along the way. I bet nobody ever urinates in there after dark.
Next stop: a bladder refill at Betty’s.
The menu was a harbinger of more tough decisions, but I opted for the sampler quartet with Lemon Tea Ale, Radler (a grapefruity concoction that’s more soda pop than beer), Blanche de Chambly and a pear cider. So, yeah, a “beer” selection befitting an eight year old girl.
The Distillery District was a natural conclusion to the booze/history tango. I was feeling tipsy by this point and it was time to sober up. I needed a cup of coffee or a cold shower.
I opted for the cup of coffee at the Mill Street Brewery. Coffee Porter, that is.
Whether you live in Toronto or are just visiting, I recommend taking this tour. You can book here.
So, did any of these beers sound appealing to you? What’s your poison?