The best beer I’ve ever had: Justin Cournoyer

Previously I’ve asked “beer folks” to talk to me about memorable beers for my ongoing series, The best beer I’ve ever had. For this month, I put the call out to chefs and restaurateurs to detail their “best beer” experiences for me in hopes of exploring the important connection between food and beer.

For today’s installment, Justin Cournoyer  shares his story. Cournoyer is the Chef/Owner of Actinolite, where the menu changes according to what’s in season and the result is a dining experience that prompted The Globe and Mail’s Chris Nuttall Smith to dub Actinolite”one of the most essential places to eat in Ontario, if not in Canada.”


Most days, there just isn’t enough time. As a chef, restaurant owner, husband and father, downtime is not something I’m used to. Most of the week I’m in the restaurant, and when I’m not, my thoughts often wonder back to it. What do I need for service tomorrow? Is the fish going to come in on time? What’s going to break down today? That’s why it’s important to make the most of the time you do get.

Such was my thinking last summer before the restaurant shut down for a much-needed vacation. With my wife stuck at work, I decided to take my then three year old son, on an impromptu adventure to Copenhagen. It’s easy to get trapped into the daily routine of service, and to lose the inspiration one needs for creativity. I wanted to soak in as much food culture as I could, to experience the delights of Amass, Relae, and Manfreds. To recharge really.

And in between seven course tasting menus and weird natural wine, came Mikkeller. Out and about on a single rented bike, Toby and I would stop in for a midafternoon tipple, then return again after dinner. In the same glass as his father, my son would have the fresh-pressed apple juice they made daily. I would make up gibberish and tell him it was Danish. He’d speak it back to me.

As for the beer, the one I remember best is the Vesterbro Spontanale, an unfiltered lambic on tap that summer. It was sour, with loads of grapefruit, rhubarb, and lemon. Of course it could have been a Blue Light, for all I cared. Just to spend time with my boy, half a world away from the pressures of the restaurant, was enough to make everything taste sweet.

This summer, as we close for vacation, I won’t be making the trip again. I’ll be welcoming the birth of my second child. I suppose whatever I drink that night is likely to taste just as sweet.

One thought on “The best beer I’ve ever had: Justin Cournoyer

  1. Cool concept. Sometimes hard to choose the best…but certain beer experiences definitely stand out!

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