Ontario Microbreweries: The Third Tier

The third tier is by far the largest of the tiers I’ve devised, which says a lot about microbreweries in Ontario. Most of these breweries straddle the line in most categories without doing a lot to distinguish themselves from each other.

Amsterdam

Regulars: 2/5. The Blonde and Nut Brown are bland, the Big Wheel Amber the best choice at a lot of bad bars and that means the Framboise is the best of the bunch.

Seasonals: 3/5. The seasonals are definitely getting better, showing talent and skill. Another year of solid releases will see this score increase.

Consistency: 3/5. The flavour of individual beers doesn’t change, but this mark reflects the disparity between their regular and seasonal beers. Whenever I try a new beer there is a voice in the back of my head that reminds me they make the Blonde.

Availability: 4/5. It is hard to avoid Amsterdam most days – the beers are in stores and many bars that cater to diverse clientele. Look for the Springbock in the LCBO Spring release, their first seasonal to make the list.

Extras: 2/5. They advertise themselves a lot, but don’t do a great job of promoting craft beer. More selfless acts, like brewing winning beer of the Toronto Beer Week Homebrew Competition, will boost their stock.

Total: 14/25. Amsterdam appears to be in a state of flux, not quite sure what beer drinkers they are trying to appeal to. They are on the rise again after toiling in mediocrity for years.

Cameron’s

Regulars: 2/5. Others may give them more points for their main brands, but they don’t do much for me mainly because they don’t offer anything missing in Ontario.

Seasonals: 3/5. Give them points for guts – their seasonals don’t always work, but they take risks. Experimental is a good thing in the beer world (most of the time).

Consistency: 3/5. See above.

Availability: 3/5. If the seasonals were consistently available outside of Oakville this would be a different score.

Extras: 4/5. They host their own cask night and that alone puts most breweries to shame. They also regularly make the trek from Oakville to a lot of events.

Total: 15/25. A decent microbrewery, but their score surprised me considering that they’re not one of the first ten or so breweries I’d think of in Ontario. They seem content to keep doing what they’re doing.

Duggan’s

Regulars: 3/5. A lot of good beers but no true standouts make it hard to give higher marks. The #9 IPA seems like a passing fancy in retrospect.

Seasonals: 3/5. See above.

Consistency: 3/5. A couple of unpleasant experiences with off-putting seasonals brings them down a few notches.

Availability: 3/5. Anyone else notice that the #9 went into LCBOs and suddenly disappeared from bars? I know you’ve got a brewpub to manage, but don’t forget that other bars exist.

Extras: 2/5. Yeah, they make casks for festivals, but Duggan’s hasn’t become a destination brewery that one would expect given their location in downtown Toronto.

Total: 13/25. Duggan’s was over-hyped when the brewpub opened and haven’t managed to keep up with expectations. The talent is there and hopefully they can get through their growing pains.

F&M

Regulars: 3/5. Yet another brewery making average beers across the board. Anyone noticing a trend yet?

Seasonals: 3/5. Most of these points go towards their Oatmeal Coffee Stout, which is always a pleasant find during the cooler months.

Consistency: 3/5. Another courageous brewer with their seasonals. The Beta Red at Cask Days was intriguingly good, but they also make some big misses.

Availability: 2/5. Rarely on tap and their beers seem to be sporadically in the LCBO. If you want the seasonals in bottles you’ll need to trek to Guelph.

Extras: 3/5. They’ll go to events and make the odd cask, but nothing really sets them apart from the other micros.

Total: 13/25. A bit of promotion could go a long way in furthering the F&M brand, as well as upping production to make their beers easier to find on a regular basis.

Lake of Bays

Regulars: 2/5. Oh look, another flagship pale ale (emphasis on the pale). This will now be referred to as a “cut and paste” beer, because every new brewery seems to follow this formula.

Seasonals: 4/5. Yes, this is based on one seasonal, but I thought the Mocha Porter was a nice step forward for a new brewery. Don’t make me regret this, Lake of Bays!

Consistency: 3/5. Once again, hard to judge a new brewery. Two very different beers adds up to one score in the middle.

Availability: 3/5. Getting into the LCBO is great, but when will the beers start showing up on tap with some regularity?

Extras: 2/5. First thing that comes to mind: nice packaging. Second thing: get out of cottage country every now and then.

Total: 14/25. A promising first year for a new brewery. Hopefully they will expand on their successes in year two.

Neustadt Springs

Regulars: 3/5. Beer geeks don’t fawn over Neustadt, but they make some nice beers in my opinion and are a good starting point for anyone getting into craft beer.

Seasonals: 3/5. The seasonals show some ingenuity, but the Marzen loses points because I don’t think it fits the style.

Consistency: 4/5. Goods beers every time. Can’t ask for more than that.

Availability: 2/5. Their mainstays are easy to find in LCBOs and Beer Stores, but finding them on tap is a challenge. Getting a seasonal into the LCBO would be a treat.

Extras: 2/5. The Victory usually has cask beer from Neustadt, but I cannot recall ever seeing them at an event.

Total: 14/25. Neustadt consistently make good beers, but they need to do more work to get the word out. Another example of a microbrewery that needs a good marketing consultant.

Railway City

Regulars: 3/5. The Dead Elephant is the saving grace for their regulars. Amber and Blonde Ales? No thanks.

Seasonals: 3/5. Some creativity starts to shine through the seasonals, but no outstanding beers.

Consistency: 2/5. They’ve had some problems in the past with severely off-flavours in the beer.

Availability: 2/5. The Dead Elephant is easy to find in stores and bars, but it can be slim pickings after that.

Extras: 3/5. They’re making it out to more events lately but aren’t doing much else to spread the craft beer love to drinkers.

Total: 13/25. Railway City are one of those micros that appears to be fairly happy focusing the the small geographic area around them and not building support throughout the province. Unfortunately this is common for a lot of other breweries in this tier.

Steam Whistle

Regular: 2/5. The Steam Whistle philosophy is to do one thing really well, which is why they only make the pilsner. A solid beer overall beer, though not one I turn to frequently.

Seasonals: 0/5. Tough to give them the goose-egg, but such is life when you only make on beer.

Consistency: 4/5. They drop a point for using green bottles, which can lead to skunky beer when exposed to light. Other than that, the pilsner is consistently well made.

Availability: 5/5. Go into five bars and you’ll find Steam Whistle in four of them. Doesn’t everyone have some Steam Whistle in the fridge in the summer?

Extras: 3/5. They are big at marketing craft beer and getting the message out there. But they also only make one beer, so it is hard to get excited about Steam Whistle most days (except for those times you’re at a bar and the Steam Whistle tap means you don’t have to drink Keith’s).

Total: 14/25. The hardest brewery to judge, but they earn a lot of points for their vision and scope. Probably the best known craft beer and brewery in Ontario.

Wellington

Regulars: 3/5. A lot of classic English styles, most done well but not exceptionally. A good stop on the way to the land of beer geeks.

Seasonals: 3/5. Their Russian Imperial Stout will always excite me when I see it on tap/cask. But the Silver Wheat anniversary beer? That would lead to a divorce in most marriages.

Consistency: 3/5. Another of those you-kn0w-what-you’ll-get situations. Minus points for the Silver Wheat, which I vow never to let them forget.

Availability: 3/5. Wellington seems to be disappearing from a lot of taps, at least in the Toronto area. There are a couple of bars that always have it, but only a handful.

Extras: 2/5. Yup, they do casks but they are infrequent in most bars that serve cask. More likely for them to skip on events than be in attendance.

Total: 14/25. A solid brewery but one that lacks in excitement. Just because you brew British styles doesn’t mean you have to act like a stoic Englishman.

In case you missed them, check out the fourth and fifth tiers. Come back tomorrow for the second tier!

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5 responses to “Ontario Microbreweries: The Third Tier

  1. “Oh look, another flagship pale ale”
    I think all breweries need at least one beer like this be it a Pale Ale, Blonde, Pilsner…etc. You have to make money to allow you to do the other fun beers. No matter how you cut some of these beers may not be our favourites but they make the brewery good money!

    As for Duggan’s not having a standount beer, I would say you are wrong. The Porter is fantastic, you have to drop them one more point for availability as the Porter is never available anymore!

    • I disagree with the point that every brewery needs a pale ale/blonde/pilsner. To me that market looks saturated, so take a different approach – IPA, saison, ESB. There are lots of other styles that will appeal to a good cross-section of people. But that’s my take on it.

      I like the porter but it’s not something to go out of my way for.

      • IPA,ESB the hops/bitter may not appeal to the “Masses”. Saison well mass appeal???that goes with out saying.
        As beer geeks I think we have a different perspective on what we think would work but I know far to many people who do not like hops or bitter or belgian etc. …..I am not saying people should not try just giving the perspective on what works from a financial perspective.
        Look at Beau’s they took a safe approach with Lugtread as far as a flavour profile then just ramped up marketing and their Seasonals. But I would bet dollars to donuts that Lugtread is what brings in the $$

      • But isn’t that what the macros do – make beer that will be the least offensive to the most amount of people? Will slightly different products make people craft beer drinkers? I know it’s easy to judge when my money isn’t at risk, but I think Ontario could support a radical craft brewery or two.

      • Macros use Adjuncts so I guess that is the difference for me!

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