As promised, the second annual version of the Ontario Microbrewery Tiers is upon us. Creating the tiers is a simple process, but very time consuming. A list is made of all the breweries in Ontario that could considered microbreweries or craft breweries, which are then judged by five criteria. The first is their Regulars: how good are the beers that they make year round and how often do I want to drink them? Then comes Seasonals: what is the quality of their seasonal releases and one-offs? Next is Availability: are their beers available in the LCBO and bars with regular frequency? (I do my best to judge this for the province and not just Toronto, which is admittedly difficult). Following that is Consistency: do they have bad batches of beer or can you always rely on them for a good pint? Finally, there is the broad category of Extras: is the brewery active with events, making casks, promotion using social networks and anything else that generally raises the bar of beer in Ontario? Each criteria is given a score out of five, which is then added up so each brewery ends up with a mark out of twenty-five. The breweries are then roughly divided into five groups, or tiers.
There were some breweries that were missed last year, which has hopefully been corrected this year. A number of newer breweries (Sawdust City, Junction, Indie Ale House) have not been included. I think it would be unfair to judge them so soon, especially as two of them have not opened their breweries yet. The other reason a brewery may not be included is that I did not try enough of their beers in 2011 to accurately ascertain their quality.
I have done my best to be objective and treat all breweries equally, which is difficult when you know brewers, sales reps and owners. My goal is to be fair, but honest. Any industry needs criticism to grow. People new to craft beer need to know that not every brewery is created equally.
That being said, there has been a definite improvement of most scores from last year to this year. The brewery that I thought would get the best marks didn’t, which surprised even me. With the tiers I also want to applaud all those breweries that have taken great strides in the past year to improve their products and the beer scene in Ontario. Lists and ranks also seem to be really popular, leading to lots of great discussion. Look for the tiers to start appearing tomorrow, with new ones being posted on a regular basis through the next two weeks. In the mean time, have a look at the 2011 tiers.