Local Pairs: Toronto’s WVRST

wvrst

Since opening in mid-2011, WVRST has established itself as one of Toronto’s premiere destinations for great food and craft beer. With a menu that boasts sausages made with everything from chorizo, lamb and veal to guinea fowl, wild boar and rabbit, and 24 taps + one cask tap pouring the latest and greatest from Great Lakes, Sawdust City, Dieu du Ciel! and Indie Ale House among others, they’ve taken the idea of pairing sausage and beer to a delicious new level.

As simple an idea as pairing may seem, WVRST take both seriously. Bar staff are required to pass Level 1 Cicerone training within three months of being hired, sending a message to both customers and suppliers that those pouring the beer really know what they’re doing. They’re also committed to cleaning their draft lines every two weeks to prevent bacterial growth and lime build up, ensuring the highest quality of beer is served.

Speaking with Pat Thomson, manager at WVRST, it’s clear they have a passionate team that insists on delivering the best to their customers.

THEREGION: What’s your beer background?

PATTHOMSON: I got into beer, like most kids do, in late high school, early university. But the beers I was drinking at the time were more high quantity than high quality.  That being said, I think I really started to discover some interesting beers later in my early to mid-twenties. The first one that really sticks out is Schneider’s Aventinus, a really nice doppelbock, which to this day is still one of my favourite beers. And that was my gateway to realizing that beer was more than just yellow fizzy water. I really think that in the last five years my palate and mind have been blown by all the beers I’m seeing across the border and now here in Ontario and Quebec. As far as background—I had never worked in hospitality before. My really good friend Bram, who’s the GM at WVRST, started working here and thought this was something I could get into. I had worked in sales prior to that and I think I was a little tired of the uncertainty. I was working for MLSE and it was one strike/lockout after another. You start to feel like you want something a little more stable and something to build.

REGION: The restaurant business isn’t  the most stable place to be, either! You’ve done well to stick around!

PAT: It’s true. We’re going into our third year in May—I’ve been here for two of those three years—and for me its been what I’ve seen behind the scenes with our owners who are very passionate people and who have a plan and myself and Bram and our kitchen manager James have all bought into it. We want to take this place and make it more than just some restaurant. We want to build it up and really carry the torch of craft beer and good comfort food.

REGION: Tell us about the selection process of what you’re pouring at any given time.

Pat: Our owner was the one who started the philosophy of having good beer to match the sausages he created, and it just kind of started to take on a life of its own when I came on and more breweries started to pop up. When I started there were half as many in Ontario and suddenly there was a new brewery every month. When I started to realize that I had more breweries than I had taps, we realized we need to expand a bit, so we added eight more. That started to allow me to roll out more rotational elements.

We’re really all about what we consider to be the best available Ontario and Quebec beer; if a brewery comes to us and we’re as excited about their brand as they are excited, it’s passion. If we see that from a brewery it carries over and we want to sell and support them. It’s really something that happens organically too. When you see things like Bellwoods, Indie Ale House and Kensington showing up around us, we want to support them because they’re local but also beer we believe in—it’s tasty stuff!

REGION: Does personal preference ever enter the picture?

PAT: Yes and no. There are breweries I know I can rely on; they continually make great beer so the demand is there, and people are constantly asking for them. There are breweries we go to on a non-stop basis because they have a rabid following. But sometimes breweries start to surprise you with some really nice stuff and you start going back to them more often to make sure you have your finger on the pulse. It’s also about making sure that the beer we offer has a good style background. So I’m not carrying eight IPA’s at once. That I have over 16 different styles to share with people. Our old world styles typically stay the same. We usually have the Munich Lager, which is super seasonable and very approachable for people to drink. The classic pilsner, the original Urquell, then a hefe-weiss, dunkel lagers, a Belgium, etc. Staples that you need to have to show this is where it started.

REGION: Do you work closely with the kitchen to consider pairings? Having been to a couple of the Beer 101’s we’ve experienced the pairings that you put together and it always seems like you guys nail it!

PAT: James, our kitchen manager, has certainly become more interested in beer and it’s been fun to watch the kitchens tastes change too! I shouldn’t say this because it’s generalizing a lot, but a lot of times I see the kitchen guys drinking the straight forward, easy drinking beer. Over time however, once allowed they will start to develop more of a taste and they’ll go from the easy drinking lager to something more robust. James is no different; he’s really started to take a liking to APA’s and IPA’s, and it’s become more approachable for him. So we definitely work closely together, especially with the Beer 101 stuff, to make sure that what we’re pairing makes sense. We have a policy here at WVRST: at the end of a shift, we’ll have staff pints available and there’s always a lager and an ale and you’ll see the kitchen guys getting a little more interested in what that ale might be.

REGION: What’s your favourite pairing of recent memory?

PAT: It’s the same beer I brought up earlier, the Schneiders Aventinus. We had done a Schneiders Beer 101 where we paired our venison with it, and it stood out as an excellent pairing. That style of beer—very malt forward—matches the darkness of the venison well. That being said, we’re actually the only place pouring any of the stouts we carry, like the Péché Mortel by DDC or the Great Lakes 25th Anniversary Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout, and those match beautifully with a dark sausage or something like duck.

REGION: You mentioned getting feedback from diners and drinkers—have you seen their feedback change at all? There was, or still is, a huge trend of high alcohol IPAs and stouts, but now we’re seeing a ton of great session beers coming out.

PAT: It’s almost cyclical. You’re going to see it happen where people have to change; I call it palate burnout. How many 7-10 percent beers can you drink before you get that fatigue? I love IPA’s and big beers but there is a time and a place. I may only have one big IPA or Double IPA and try to move onto something else. Or I’ll go for the straight forward approach American Pale Ale or Kolsch where you can have a few and not feel like it’s going to affect you or potentially give you a big, hop headache in the morning. IPA’s are wonderful and so are the big beers. But sometimes you want to have more “lawnmower beers”. This summer I think the new trend will be seeing more low-alcohol gateway ales allow people to transition from being a typical lager drinker, dipping their toes in the water, to trying something more flavourful in terms of the hop bitterness and aroma.

Pat and the team at WVRST have no intention of being content with their current success. Upgrades in the restaurant include adding a new fridge that will display the bottles they offer, as well as those they are aging. They’ll be listing the cellar list on the menu with “To Be Opened On” dates to tease those of us hoping to get their hands on a special bottle. They’re even adding to the menu by adding a dessert! The appropriately named WVRST Pop is cold chocolate ganache on a stick, with dried currants, cherries, Italian butter soaked biscotti, pistachio, and hazel nuts, making it the perfect candidate to be paired with one of the great stouts on tap!

Pro-tip: the WVRST Pop is perfectly paired with Dieu du Ciel’s! Aphrodite and would make a great choice for the dessert section of your hypothetical “last meal” menu.

Looking for a great excuse to head to WVRST? On April 9th they’ll be launching a one-off cask of “Local 7 Sessions”, a collaborative effort between seven craft beer bars for Sessions Festival’s 5th anniversary. Make sure you stop by and try a pint of the raspberry saison with lemon verbena! T+A will be there!

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Feature image taken by Tej Sandhu.

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