Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chancey Smith's: Ontario Beer Mecca #1: plus Aphrodisiaque

I have just returned from an exhausting work trip to a land governed by the world's most hostile opponent of beer: the LCBO. For those who are not familiar with the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, their achievements include declaring half of a guy's wine store "dry" and insisting that the checkouts and all alcoholic merchandise be moved to the "wet" side, and failing to allow private beer stores to open — enslaving thousands of Ontario beer drinkers to their cruddy LCBO store selection or the dreaded "Beer Store".

Imagine my surprise when my trip turned into a revelatory pilgrimage to my new beer mecca of Canada: Chancey Smith's in London Ontario.

I had never heard of this place. Sitting glumly in Sudbury Airport, waiting for a transfer to Toronto and then London, I was googling "half decent pubs in London" — not getting my hopes up. I found a few kind remarks about Chancey Smith's, and became intrigued. The website suggests it is an average-looking steak pub, albeit with a pretty bar, but nothing special.

Then I found a link to their beer list, and promptly soiled my underwear in excitement. This place stocks the deepest, broadest selection of European, American and Ontarian craft beer I have ever seen under one roof (the beer list doesn't cover half of what they actually have, hidden away). They have a stunning range. By the time I'd finished reading it, I was in real danger of missing my flight.

Needless to say, the first thing I did upon landing was dump my stuff in the hotel and head down to Chancey's. I sat at the bar and engaged the bar manager — an imposing guy with closely cropped grey hair and beard, mischievous eyes, and the demeanour of a somewhat-tame pitbull. This is Milos Kral, a fine, fine bar manager, who for the next four days befriended me and attempted to destroy my liver in the process.

We began with a Flying Monkeys "Netherworld" — only my second Cascadian Dark (after Phillips Skookum). Milos later informs me that that was a test. Although I introduced myself as a beer blogger and we had struck up a pretty good conversation, Milos is very discerning over who he will share Chancey's secrets with. I must have done something right, as once I've finished my pint (delicious by the way — Flying Monkeys are an outfit to watch for sure), he motioned to another member of bar staff, whispered in their ear, and sent them into the cellar to retrieve something. A full five minutes later, the staff member returns and hands Milos a bottle. Milos theatrically glances up and down the bar, as if to see if anyone is watching. "Black Oak's 'Ten Bitter Years'," he says, "we've been sitting on a handful of these for six months. We tell no-one that we have them. You should try it."

It was brilliant. A very accomplished imperial IPA with the biggest, most portly body you'll find in an IPA. A truly world class IIPA. IMO. ETC.

As I mentioned, over the following four days I was treated to some fantastic beers, and was also very hospitably adopted by Milos and his fellow bar worker and chemist/home-brewer Adil. I will be blogging some of the excellent experiences I had there over the coming posts.

But, returning to my LCBO-ribbing opening, here's a picture of a bottle of Dieu du Ciel's "Aphrodisiaque" — one of the many rarities I managed to find at Chancey's. Some of you may know that outside of Quebec, Dieu du Ciel was forced to rebrand this beer "Aphrodite" because "Aphrodisaque" was felt by the geniuses at LCBO (and also US importers who similarly objected) to suggest some indecent qualities that the beer might not be able to guarantee... With this batch, however, the LCBO agreed to let it on the market in Ontario, but only after hiring a LCBO employee (at a cost of $700) to take a black sharpie and erase the offending part of the beer's name from every, single, individual, bloody, bottle.

Nice one LCBO! And cheers to Milos and Adil for a great stay in London.


  1. Wow, that's crazy about the LCBO. And I thought Philadelphia had crazy beer laws. It's insane to me that governing bodies try to vilify craft beer when in actuality, the only beer that's really being abused is the inexpensive mass market crap that they don't give a second thought.

    Need to take a trip up to Montreal one of these days to visit Dieu De Ciel. Supposed to be an awesome pub.

  2. Oh man, what a joke.

    We have a consistent supply of the Aphrodisaque here in Edmonton, its a great seller at the Sugarbowl. I've been telling my beer nerd co-workers about the shot of port in the stout, we have yet to try it out but it sounds pretty good.

    Looking forward to more stories about your trip!

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