Mike Layton met me on the patio at beerbistro on a sunny afternoon in June, and just as he settled in, before I even started recording, he recounted a story from his youth. His father had acted as auctioneer for charity and one of the items up for bid was a beer fridge from Upper Canada Brewing. Jack Layton announced to his wife beforehand that he wanted the fridge, so each time someone signalled, he would reflexively point the next bid to Olivia Chow, strategically placed in the crowd. Eventually, she won.
That appliance became a daily craft beer reminder for Mike Layton, chilling his bottles as he worked through a Masters in Urban Planning at the U of T. Although he readily admits campaigning for the industry is new to him, he insists his appreciation for flavourful beer is long standing.
I was skeptical when I interviewed the Councillor for Trinity Bellwoods. NOW Magazine assigned the piece for its annual Beer Guide based on Layton’s suggestion – and subsequent motion to council – that Toronto should be the Craft Beer Capital of the World.
It reeked of posturing. I mean, the whole notion is absurd. I’m optimistic about where the city’s craft beer scene is going, but capital? Of the world? Keep drinking, Mike.
It turns out he didn’t really mean it. Well, he did… but not reeeally. As I mentioned in NOW, Layton knew he was being more than a little grandiose when he inserted that statement into his motion. But it wasn’t just for the sake of headlines. His submission (technically a joint motion with Councillor Gord Perks, although his office had no interest in scheduling an interview) passed at Economic Development Committee on April 16th, and now gives council a mandate to compel staff to make things easier for those involved with craft beer.
“It allows us to pull together other divisions from planning, zoning and building and say ‘Look guys, council has said to support this sector.’ Why don’t we have clear direction about what brewery means and what brewpub means… and how you interpret it when it sits on your desk?”
City bureaucrats, he told me (between sips of Shillow Beer Co‘s Sass on the Side), are referencing bylaws that are really old or else citing something they think they know, but might not entirely understand. “And that’s not the level of certainty you want. We should be able to give one answer.
“It seems so simple, but I think we’ve made it confusing. And because people… they’re human, they’re interpreting stuff, right? I don’t think we have a good, standard definition of brewery anywhere.”
Fixing that is a priority, but lobbying the provincial government to get its own shit together, isn’t. Relaxing restrictions on where and when you can drink, isn’t. And what do you do with a problem like Paula Fletcher?
Right. We’ve got a long way to go.
Though I applaud Mike Layton for his new “Cask Force” and sincerely believe things will improve as a result of his efforts, we need to get a lot more beer fridges in the homes of future politicians if Toronto is ever going to be the craft beer capital of anything.