Ontario Microbreweries: The Second Tier

The breweries in this tier make great beer but have one or two fatal flaws that prevent them from being top-notch. Most tend to make traditional styles with lots of flavour

Black Creek

Regulars: 3/5. The IPA and porter have always been at the brewery during my visits and each is a nice classical example of the style. The brown is nothing special.

Seasonals: 4/5. Black Creek seasonals are some of the more interesting ones in the province – they’ll use odd ingredients (like dandelion) and grow their own ingredients whenever they can.

Consistency: 4/5. Perfection will never be possible with their setup, but they do pretty well considering.

Availability: 1/5. The porter in the LCBO isn’t a true reflection on Black Creek beers, so they only get a point for that. You need to head to the brewery to really get the true experience.

Extras: 3/5. Their brewing setup gets them most of their points. Where else can you get pioneer beer?

Total: 15/25. Black Creek can never be a huge brewery, not when you’re selling a beer with such a short shelf life. I wish it wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, but that keeps it as a nice secret.

County Durham

Regulars: 4/5. I can’t say enough good things about their beers. No one makes casks as consistently (or as consistently good) as County Durham.

Seasonals: 4/5. Seasonal might not be an appropriate word – sporadically made might be more appropriate. That just means beers like the Black Katt and ESB are pleasant surprises when you come across them.

Consistency: 4/5. Maybe the publicans are at fault for selling the occasional pint of cask ale that is a day or two past fresh, but that is enough to knock one point off.

Availability: 2/5. Yes, you know what bars will usually have a County Durham tap or cask, but their circumference is mainly in downtown Toronto. It is hard for the rest of the province to experience the joy of sipping a County Durham beer.

Extras: 2/5. They make a lot of cask, but do little else. They don’t even have their own website, so don’t ask about social networking.

Total: 16/25. County Durham is a brewery that could probably be great if it wanted to, but are comfortable sitting back and doing their own thing. Hard to fault them for it, but also hard to commend them.

Grand River

Regulars: 3/5. Their regulars are full-flavoured, sessionable beers. Not a big wow-factor, but good to show people a true lager or pils.

Seasonals: 4/5. A Flemish red and their own take on an imperial stout lead the way, but the Highballer pumpkin is tasty too. Unfortunately the fruit beers are lacking.

Consistency: 4/5. They usually make small changes to every batch, but the backbone of each beer is recognizable everytime.

Availability: 4/5. They’re making great use of the LCBO, getting various beers in the general list and seasonal availability. A good model for other Ontario micros.

Extras: 2/5. They do the occasional ever, but not enough to push their beers. Their monthly events at the brewery do seem very popular, though.

Total: 17/25. A rising star in the Ontario craft beer scene.

Granite

Regulars: 4/5. The Granite line-up is well loved by beer drinkers desiring classic British styles just like your grandmother made. The Peculiar is vastly underrated.

Seasonals: 3/5. The Gin Lane is most notable for being a barley wine made in Ontario, but then I like mine hopped to near-IPA levels.

Consistency: 4/5. Just the rare cask issue, which is par for the course with live beer.

Availability: 1/5. Judging a brewpub on availability is tough, but blame me for an unjust point system. Has anyone seen their beers outside of Toronto? (And no, Halifax doesn’t count.)

Extras: 3/5. Toronto’s cask pioneers! They host a good number of events and are regular supports of all things craft beer.

Total: 15/25. A venerable Toronto institution, the Granite would be in the top tier if not for being a brewpub.

King

Regulars: 3/5. The King Pilsner would totally be my beer if I loved pilsners.

Seasonals: 3/5. This is coming off very limited exposure, but the odd seasonal has always intrigued me and put the brewery in a good light. Can’t ask for more than that.

Consistency: 5/5. Never had a bad King beer, so kudos to the brewery.

Availability: 3/5. The same problems as other micros – get seasonals in the LCBO and get into more bars.

Extras: 1/5. Want to put something in here, but drawing a blank. Nice logo?

Total: 15/25. This score will likely be a few points higher next year due to the recent purchase by Beer Barons. Expect some expansion of King brands at the very least.

Don’t forget to check out the third, fourth and fifth tiers. Might as well reacquaint yourself with the criteria at the same time. The final tier will be posted on Monday.

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