Ontario Microbreweries: The First Tier

The moment you’ve been waiting all weekend for: the top microbreweries in Ontario as decided by me, your unqualified beer blogger (unless you count being literate and having working taste buds as qualifications).

Beau’s

Regulars: 3/5. I like the Lug-Tread in the scorching days of summer, but it doesn’t feel the same in the winter. Points for making a kölsch, a style not represented in Ontario until now.

Seasonals: 5/5. Yeah, I love them all, which is high praise considering some of their seasonals are German lagers that usually don’t appeal to my taste buds. Not only do they produce yearly seasonal beers, but terrific one-offs as well. Every new Beau’s beer is a must-try.

Consistency: 4/5. You could easily argue for a perfect score here, but the Happy Pils from the past Oktoberfest is the one stain.

Availability: 4/5. Beau’s has been steadily gaining in distribution for the past couple of years – now they’re found in a range of bars and in the LCBO. The only problem is the seasonals are hard to get. Get them into the LCBO and I will be one happy man.

Extras: 5/5. Where to begin? They host their own Oktoberfest party every year, have great marketing and design for their products, attend every event, started the OCB Week and employ some of the nicest people in the industry. I wish I could give more points. They deserve all their success.

Total: 21/25. Beau’s has been steadily growing for the past couple of years and it will be exciting to see what new ideas they’ve got cooked up for the future. If I could invest in one brewery it would be Beau’s.

Black Oak

Regular: 4/5. Both the Pale Ale and Nut Brown are really underrated to me. Nothing fancy, but great for those times when you want to enjoy a simple pint.

Seasonals: 5/5. Another outstanding round of seasonals. 10 Bitter Years, Nutcracker Saison, Summer Saison… three great beers in three very different styles.

Consistency: 5/5. I doubt they can make bad beer, or even have a bad batch. The beers always taste the same, which is a very good thing.

Availability: 3/5. Black Oak is available in the LCBO, but most of their taps are located in Toronto. This limited distribution docks them a point, as well as only having their seasonal bottles available at the brewery.

Extras: 4/5. If there is a beer event in Toronto, you can almost guarantee the Black Oak guys will be there. Need a one-off cask? No problemo. Not great at marketing the brewery though, making them a bit of a beer geek secret.

Total: 21/25. Probably my favourite craft brewery in Ontario. They frustrate me at times with the business side, but all their beers are incredible.

Flying Monkeys

Regular: 5/5. I will happily drink the Netherworld Cascadian Dark Ale or Hoptical Illusion whenever the option arises. Not great, but really good for Ontario.

Seasonals: 4/5. Yes, I’m counting Smash Bomb as a seasonal, even though it may not be considered as such in their eyes. And I may have underrated this beer. Time will tell on both counts.

Consistency: 3/5. The Hoptical Illusion always tastes a little different to me – sometimes lots of hops, sometimes almost none. It really affects my enjoyment, so a bit of reliability would be nice.

Availability: 4/5. They’ve done well to get into the LCBO and expand the number of bars that have a Flying Monkeys tap. One of the breweries that is happy to use the system for their benefit.

Extras: 3/5. Flying Monkeys are very smart in appealing to beer geeks, but their wacko packaging stands out no matter what your beer preferences are. I imagine they sell a number of six-packs based on look alone.

Total: 19/25. A brewery on the rise after rebranding themselves. Expanding on the number of beers they make will be the crucial next step.

Great Lakes

Regular: 3/5. The reworked Devil’s Pale Ale is really nice, and the prospect of the Canuck Pale Ale and Miami Weissbier in the LCBO bumps their stock. The Horseshoe and Red Leaf beers are their attempt at bringing in the average beer drinker, which means they are very plain.

Seasonals: 4/5. Their seasonals in the LCBO may not always be spectacular (looking at you, Green Tea and Orange Peel), but their one-offs and casks they do for bars and events are usually really well done (or at least very interesting). They’re starting to try barrel-aging, which is very exciting.

Consistency: 3/5. A year without diacetyl issues will be very welcome.

Availability: 5/5. Okay, so maybe the Project X beers are hard to get because you have to go to the brewery, but Great Lakes do their best to reach a wide audience.

Extras: 5/5. Between their monthly cask nights, pilot brewing system, regular casks around town and going to every event in the province, Great Lakes are at the forefront of

Total: 20/25. Great Lakes has been around for over twenty years, but it only seems like the past year or two have them really brewing some seriously good beers.  They are poised to make some good things happen

Lakes of Muskoka

Regular: 3/5. Maybe a little high, but the hefe is really nice and the others beers are good for their styles (and yes, that may be a bit of a backhanded compliment).

Seasonals: 4/5. Did you not love the Harvest Ale and Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout? Not only were they great beers, but they also showed that Ontario drinkers were willing to pay premium prices for local beer.

Consistency: 5/5. No complaints on their products ever.

Availability: 4/5. Another brewery showing how to use the LCBO to their advantage. Some more bars carrying the beers would be nice, though.

Extras: 4/5. They’re starting to host more events by themselves, rather than just going to beer festivals.

Total: 20/25. It is amazing what a couple of seasonals can do. Muskoka was always a guilty pleasure, but the Harvest and Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout showed that my faith was well placed.

Mill Street: Regular: 3/5. The Tankhouse was huge in creating craft beer drinkers and the Coffee Porter started my personal journey. But the Stock Ale and Organic are just depressing.

Seasonals: 3/5. They don’t make great seasonals, but rarely is one an abject failure. I tend to describe them as tame with obvious imperfections, but unique to Ontario.

Consistency: 3/5. See above. Anyone else get a little scared when trying a new Mill Street beer?

Availability: 5/5. It is rare that a bar doesn’t carry any Mill Street products. The LCBO feature last year was a real boost for them, as are the mix packs.

Extras: 5/5. Great at marketing and traveling the province to promote their brews. Have started to get into promoting big events like the Ottawa Bluesfest,

Total: 19/25. Mill Street are responsible for my love of craft beer, but now I view them in a mixed light. They turn a lot of people onto craft beer and will always be a big player in the province, but the beers aren’t as amazing once experiencing great American craft beers.

And that’s the last of our tiers! I’m curious to know what people thought of the scoring system and final results, so leave a comment or email. If you need a refresher, check out the second, third, fourth and fifth tiers, as well as the criteria.

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4 responses to “Ontario Microbreweries: The First Tier

  1. Nice work Mike. It must have been a challenge putting this together. Anything with a rating system can be hard just based on the subjectiveness of it.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed the ratings, and your blog generally! Keep it up. I was happy to see Grand River at the top of your second tier. Taste-wise, I think they beat most of the regular offerings from your top tier. I might be biased though, since they are from my hometown. GR Galt Knife Lager, along with Great Lakes Devil’s Pale Ale, are my go-to everyday beers.

    I wish the LCBO stocked more from Beau’s and Black Oak, especially the 10 bitter years. And yes, that Muskoka Harvest Ale was really wonderful.

    • Thanks Jonathan! Personal tastes count for a lot, which is why the criteria were crafted so that it didn’t turn out to be the breweries I liked the most.

      The LCBOs relationship with Ontario microbreweries seems to be changing for the better. A lot of the time the onus falls onto the breweries, so hopefully they will do their part to get delicious beer into our hands.

  3. Thank ya for the report card, we’ll continue to try our best to keep ourselves in the great company of the breweries you’ve included. Good news on the Beau’s seasonals in the LCBOs… look for our spring seasonal, Beaver River IP Eh? in select LCBOs starting this March, and each of our other 3 seasonals to follow after that as the months go by. Cheers! Jen

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