Over six months later, a lot of people still make reference to that time I called the Ontario beer industry “fucking boring.” Maybe it resonated with people or maybe it’s just because there haven’t been any posts since for people to talk to me about – I don’t know. For that reason it’s something I’m always thinking about too. There’s nothing in that post I regret saying and I stand behind what I wrote, but I don’t want that to be my last comment on the Ontario beer scene. I never know which post will be the last one on this blog and I don’t like the idea that my final words will be so negative about a beer industry that I’ve done my best to support. It might be the weather (this is being written on a beautiful day, as opposed to the frozen hell of February), but I’m feeling more positive about our beer industry these days.
The most exciting thing is that there are some new breweries making some really nice beer. I’d heard a lot of good things about Burdock and my first visit did not disappoint (neither have subsequent trips to the bottle shop). Folly (formerly Habits) is making some interesting saisons and adding a barrel aged program. They have recently re-branded to place an emphasis on the beer, which will hopefully help more beer lovers find this lovely spot. I’ve only had a couple of offerings from Rainhard, but they’ve been a solid start and my friend Sam usually says good things about their beers.
The beers from all three breweries have shown a lot of promise and made me excited to see what they’ll do next. Most importantly, the quality across these breweries has been very consistent. Nothing angers me more than a brewery that makes a great beer one week, then puts out a beer that never should have been released. This seems to plague a lot of new breweries (and a lot of established ones, too), so it’s pretty exciting to have three new breweries avoid this pitfall.
The past seven or eight months have also made me appreciate the diversity of beer styles within Ontario. I went down to Vermont with friends in June and within two days was sick of pale ales and IPAs. It was as if all the Vermont breweries decided to forget that other styles existed. Most recently I was in Seattle and spent an afternoon do a brewery crawl in the Ballard neighbourhood. Almost every brewery had Citra and Mosaic single hop pale ales, which makes for an interesting comparison but a bit of palate fatigue (not to mention that it was the end of fresh hop season). No one stuck out as doing something really different.
On both trips I had this nagging thought that Vermont and Seattle were lacking the wide variety of beer styles that you can find in Ontario. It has become very common to see a saison or berliner weisse on draught lists in Toronto (often more than one). Yes, pale ales are still the standard, but they are never the only option. Ontario is even starting to become interested in making interesting lagers (Amsterdam Starke Pils, Burdock West Coast Pils), while Vermont and Seattle were dominated purely by ales. Obviously it was a very small sample size, but I love that Ontario breweries are willing to brew such a wide variety of styles.
A bunch of things are still boring (beer in grocery stores, Mill Street finally getting bought by one of the big conglomerates, everything about the LCBO including the growler station), but there are now a growing number of breweries with bottles to go (Left Field, Burdock and Rainhard, to name three newer breweries) that it’s easier to get fresh beer directly from the source and not have to worry about Ontario’s archaic distribution system (or the amount of shelf space the LCBO is giving to boring beers from contract breweries). Given how terrible the LCBO is in providing shelf space for interesting beers that don’t suck, I’m really surprised that Ontario has come so far in producing quality beers. Things will get really exciting if the province ever gets its act together and modernizes the sale of beer.