Steam Whistle Tasting Panel

Darcy O'Neil :: June 23, 2006 7:20 PM
Steam Whistle PilsnerAs I mentioned in a previous post, I had the opportunity to sit on a tasting panel to blindly compare and rate a number of beers at the Steam Whistle Brewery. The goal of the tasting was obviously to see how people perceive Steam Whistle, compared to other beers in the market. There were 15 people on the panel and oddly, it was fifteen guys and no girls, even though Steam Whistle is a girl friendly beer, even my wife likes it. I guess guys take their beer a little more seriously. Everyone on the panel seemed like a pretty good bunch, who enjoyed finer micro-brew beers. The one thing that worried me was that tasting beer blind might lead me to rate a “bad beer” as a good one. I generally like more flavourful beers and it would be a funny result if I rated a cheap, light, megabrew as my favorite.

For those that don’t know much about this beer here’s a little background. First, Steam Whistle is an interesting company because they deliberately chose to make only one product, a pilsner, and it is their intention to stay this way. This is a unique approach in the modern beer world because most companies try to saturate the market with different products. Heineken is a company that, up until a few months ago, only had one product and was very successful, so it’s not a bad strategy.

The company is located in Toronto, beside the CN Tower and Skydome (Rogers Centre), in a historical building which is actually a very old roundhouse once used to repair coal fired locomotives. They currently reside in a portion of the building that has been fully restored. The brewery has a couple of open areas where you can have parties, weddings and other events. Of course fresh Steam Whistle beer is always available. The other cool thing about Steam Whistle is that they do tours of the brewery. These tours are very entertaining and I highly recommend a visit the brewery, if you are in Toronto, you won’t be disappointed.

As for the tasting panel,  I arrived early and was provided with a glass of beer while I waited. I love their hospitality. When the time came to start reviewing the beer, we were all taken to a room that was setup, including water and unsalted crackers. Each beer was presented individually and it took roughly four to five minutes to judge each beer. The beers were rated on a number of characteristics, including appearance, aroma, flavour and finish. After rating the beer, and making comments, a cracker went down the hatch and was followed by a swig of water. Then on to the next beer.

The one thing I found interesting was that each category was judged equally. Appearance is more of a binary judgements, either it look good or it doesn’t. Flavour and finish are more important and should get a higher weight in the final score instead of being equal to the appearance. Anyway, I digress.

After the ratings were completed, we were given the beers and the order they were presented. The interesting part was that they included Steam Whistle twice. I liked the first beer (Steam Whistle) but it’s hard to rate the first beer highly because then it leaves you no room to work. Luckily my palate didn’t fail me and both times I rated Steam Whistle the highest. The surprise for me was that I didn’t like Mill St. Organic, which is another micro-brewery. I love their Mill Street Coffee Porter. I guess organic beer isn’t for me. The fact that I didn’t like Heiniken was no surprise and Stella has never done much for me either. Here’s how I rated the beers:  

1. Steam Whistle Pilsner    16
2. Lakeport Lager             13
3. Mill St. Organic             12
4. Steam Whistle              18
5. Stella Artois                 14
6. Heineken                    13

After the tasting we were given another pint of Steam Whistle and taken for a thorough tour of the brewery. I’ve been on the tour before, but this one was even more thorough, which was cool. After the tour, we were given more beer and they had ordered pizza for us, which was even cooler. Beer and pizza, a great combination. While we ate, our tour guide went and pulled off two pitchers of unfiltered beer for us to try. The major difference between the filtered and unfiltered was the lack of the crisp characteristic of Steam Whistle pilsner. After that we were given out lifetime free tour cards, a six pack of beer and a t-shirt. All in all, a great evening.

I was a fan of their beer before I ever stepped foot in the brewery, but every time I go to the brewery it makes me happy to drink their beer. If you live in Ontario, or Alberta, pick up a case, you won’t be disappointed. Here’s a previous review I did on Steam Whistle.

Steam Whistle Requests


1. Don’t fold your beer caps and stick them in the bottle, they have to manually fish them out.

2. If you put a message in an empty Steam Whistle bottle, they will receive it. If it’s very creative they may even respond. It makes their day a little less boring.


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