Mighty Neighbourly

Tara Rafiq photo-illustration


It’s a beautiful beer in the neighbourhood.

The day after I got back from the holidays in January I woke up to find that the building was a little chillier than usual. Freezing, even. After several hours all the tenants in our eight unit building learned that the boiler was broken and getting a replacement part to fix it would take some time. More than a week; A week that also just happened to be the coldest one we would get in the city, with temperatures running down to -30. With such a massive and uncomfortable disruption to our lives, it’s safe to say that at that point we all needed a drink, so I did what any good neighbour would do. I put together a small box of toasty, fairly high ABV stouts, left them outside my unit’s door, and sent an email to my neighbours telling them to help themselves. It didn’t fix our problems, but they were appreciative and it made us feel that we were all in this together.

Being known as the neighbour who is always ready to share a beer is something I’m pretty proud of. Working in the industry I’ve gotten a lot of extra beers along with my samples that I’m sometimes happy to let my neighbours try, but if I’m out and about and taste a beer that is so good I think someone will like it, I will often check its availability at the LCBO or the brewery directly so I can buy them a can personally. To me beer is a wonderful gift to share. It can break the ice, act as an olive branch during conflict, and even just be an easy way to show a sense of thoughtful companionship. A lot of proponents of craft beer espouse the sense of community the beverage can elicit and I try to embody that by not being stingy with what’s chilling in my fridge.

Here’s the thing; as lovers of good quality beer we tend to hit a point where we can either be snobby about the thing, making fun of people’s tastes and allowing them to regard craft beer as an elitist luxury item that takes itself too seriously, or we can promote the joy of the thing by pointing them to a good quality version of a beer they already like while encouraging a sense of adventure with new flavours. The world of better beer is vast and having an entry point can go a long way. Sometimes that just requires making a suggestion. Other times it means literally putting a beer in their hands.

And sometimes you can give them a chance to pick new and interesting beers themselves. That’s what Dan Grant, co-founder of RunTOBeer and co-owner of the recently opened Bossanova Wine and beer bottle shop did in the early days of the pandemic. With both a desire to reach out to his neighbours and support Ontario breweries whose fate was uncertain, he printed out 100 flyers inviting neighbours to reach out with beer orders for a group buy.

“Before the pandemic I hadn’t really talked to any of my neighbours, and this was a great way to come out of my shell a bit.” he explains. “At the beginning of the lockdown we were all afraid to touch surfaces, much less walk near someone, so this was a safe way to do things.”

Grant’s simple initiative paid off and soon the neighbourhood group buys were a regular occurrence, with orders being made to over 20 breweries. They even inspired a number of people throughout Toronto to put together their own. All in all, the situation was a win-win for everyone. Breweries got some much-needed support so they could keep making excellent beer, and neighbours got to try some new beers and form a sense of community without having to leave their house.

“I run into a lot of the neighbours on the street and we chat a long time about what beer we’re drinking, so it was a good ice breaker.”

But if organising a group buy for the neighbourhood seems daunting, you don’t need to go that far. Honestly just throwing a can a neighbour’s way or making a recommendation during conversation can be enough. If you want to be thoughtful when making suggestions, try to figure out their favourite beer and expand on some of the key flavour elements of it. Do they like Molson Canadian? That’s a beer loosely based on Pilsner. Cold, crisp, and clean. Right off the bat you can suggest Thornbury’s award-winning Pickup No. 26 Pilsner and from those flavours you can suggest beers like Amsterdam’s 3 Speed Lager and even something as premium as Godspeed’s Světlý Ležák 12°. Do they like Guinness? That’s a nitro stout, friend, and it just so happens that the C’est What/County Durham Brewing 4-Blak Katt nitro stout is in cans right now and is mighty tasty.

Look, I’m going to level with you. With all that has been going on in the world the past few years, we could all do with a little kindness and a sense of togetherness with our fellow humans and often the simple act of handing a person a beer can go a long way in achieving that. In doing so you might be able to get them to think a little bit more about what they consume and how they can make the experience better, or you can just put a smile on their face. Either way, that’s a win.

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