2012 Ontario Microbreweries – The Fourth Tier

A lot of interesting things are going on in the fourth tier. Some breweries are working their way up, other breweries are just barely outside of the fifth tier. All of these breweries scored either thirteen or fourteen points, meaning there isn’t much wiggle room between them and the other tiers. If you missed it, have a look at the fifth tier and how the tiers were created. The top three tiers should be up on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with beer reviews showing up on Tuesday and Thursday.

Church-Key

Regulars: 3. The Holy Smoke is always a nice find on a cool fall evening. The Northumberland brings down the mark, while the West Coast Pale Ale falls squarely in the middle.

Seasonals: 3. Nice seasonals, except for the ones that taste like cheese. Some claim the parmesan taste is on purpose, but I don’t care. Get it out of my beer.

Availability: 3. Easier to find in the LCBO than on draught. Where has the Holy Smoke gone?

Consistency: 2. See above re: parmesan cheese taste.

Extras: 2. Yes, they will sometimes make the trek out for certain beer events, but they operate on a fairly local scale, just like many of the fifth tier breweries.

Total: 13. Last Year: Not rated. Just snuck into this tier, barely elevating them above a lot of other small-town breweries. But the cheese…

Durham

Regulars: 4. Used to be some of the finest beers in Ontario, but now the market has caught up to them. Ordering the Hop Addict/Head less and less.

Seasonals: 3. Hard to know exactly which Durham beers are seasonal, but this mark mainly represents the Red Dragon and ESB, neither of which really impress me.

Availability: 2. Instead of flourishing as more bars added casks, Durham beers have become harder to find.

Consistency: 4. One of the better breweries in the province for making every batch taste the same.

Extras: 1. A single point for cask ale and that is all. Would a little promotion hurt? Or an actual website?

Total: 14. Last Year: 16. The beers have stayed the same, but they’ve become harder to find. Laissez-faire attitude hurts, especially with an increase in competition with hoppy beers. Should have been leading the craft beer movement, but now find themselves being overtaken. How long can they last with the current business model?

F&M

Regulars: 2. The Stone Hammer Light, Pilsner and Dark are all okay, but make me think of what Ontario craft beer looked like two or three years ago.

Seasonals: 4. The Oatmeal Coffee Stout is a very good beer and they’re willing to experiment, even if the results are mixed.

Availability: 2. F&M is another example of a brewery that has been lax in getting into bars and restaurants.

Consistency: 3. Like I said before, sometimes those experiments don’t work out, but the regular lineup is consistent.

Extras: 2. Starting to see more casks around. Redesigned website and getting into social media. Seeing their beers at more events is the next step.

Total: 13. Last Year: 13. There were gains in some areas and losses in others, which offset each other. I know F&M is working to get back into more licensees, so an improvement next year is quite possible.

Hockley Valley

Regulars: 3. Not a fan of the Black & Tan, but the Dark and Stout are fine.

Seasonals: 2. This score is mainly for past beers, as I can’t remember the last seasonal or one-off from Hockley.

Availability: 3. The cans are everywhere, at least in terms of retail. Anyone seen them on tap anywhere recently?

Consistency: 4. Never been a problem with Hockley.

Extras: 1. Well, there was that one time they did something… at least I think it was them. Ahem.

Total: 13. Last Year: Not rated. As I wrote this evaluation, it became clear that Hockley should have been in the last tier. My judgment when giving marks was clearly clouded by sentimental memories of those Hockley jugs. A brewery that has been left behind by the sands of time.

Kensington

Regulars: 3. The Augusta Ale is not my favourite of beers from Paul Dickey, but a decent flagship that will appeal to a wide variety of beer drinkers.

Seasonals: 1. There has been lots of talk of the Fisheye PA, but haven’t seen any evidence of it so far. Token point for that reason.

Availability: 3. LCBO cans are on their way, while major strides have been made in getting the Augusta Ale into bars.

Consistency: 4. A reliable product that has been uniform in flavour in my experiences.

Extras: 3. Brock has been willing to get to events and push the Augusta Ale. The Burger Bar connection helps get it out on cask and put through Randall the Enamel Animal.

Total: 14. Last Year: Not rated. A good start for a new brewery that is operating on a fairly small scale. There are bigger plans in store, which could easily see Kensington jump a tier next year.

Neustadt Springs

Regulars: 3. The 10w30 and Scottish Ale are rarely in my fridge, but they are a nice surprise on those occasions.

Seasonals: 3. Nothing spectacular, but nothing terrible. One of the first on the bandwagon with their Sour-Kraut.

Availability: 3. Cans are common in a lot of LCBOs and they do pretty decent draught business compared to a lot of other breweries in small towns.

Consistency: 4. Another strong mark, which has helped differentiate the fourth and fifth tiers.

Extras: 1. The Double Fuggled cask makes an appearance around town, but there isn’t anything else that would warrant a higher mark.

Total: 14. Last Year: 14. My knowledge of Neustadt is fairly small, but I picture it being a mom and pop operation, albeit one that operates very well. They do enough to stay relevant in the craft been scene.

Nickel Brook

Regulars: 2. I know the Gluten Free and Green Apple Pilsner are probably big sellers, but they drag down this mark.

Seasonals: 4. This mark would have been unheard of last year, but Nickel Brook has churned out a nice imperial stout and Flemish brown ale that show just what is possible. Not sure if the Headstock IPA is going to be a year-round beer, but for this year it helps bump up the seasonal mark.

Availability: 3. The retail side has always been a strength, but the increase in seasonal offerings has led to an increase in draft availability.

Consistency: 3. This mark does not reflect any inconsistencies within an individual beer, but the fact that they make some bad beers and some really good ones.

Extras: 2. Starting to get out some casks and I’m seeing them at more events. Social media presence is coming along.

This Year: 14. Last Year: 11. A brewery that is definitely heading in the right direction. Nickel Brook will always make the Green Apple and other less desirable beers, but they’re starting balance that with more interesting beers. It reminds me of Amsterdam a year or two ago, which means that expectations have now been raised.

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9 responses to “2012 Ontario Microbreweries – The Fourth Tier

  1. The craft beer revolution continues. It’s great to read about some of the great craft beers that are available in Canada. I hope to try some one day.
    Cheers!

    David Ivey
    Black Bucket Brew Inbox Magazine Editor

  2. Enjoyed reading this bit. It’s hard to disagreed with your analysis – can’t wait for the next few tiers!

  3. I would have given Durham an extra mark for availability as I have seen more LC’s carrying the Signature this past year

  4. I’m in sales and marketing for Stone Hammer, so take what I say as highly subjective, however our beers are in more bars & LBCO/Beers Stores than ever before, and still growing. A complete list is here: http://fmbrewery.com/tagged/locations and you can see we are in quite a lot of bars for such a small brewery.
    Also, while I’d be the first to agree with you that our three main beers are a bit traditional compared to many of the beers coming out today, they are made true-to-style and are still very good in their own right. King Brewing make traditional, true-to-style beers and were rated a 4 so I’m not sure how we only garner a 2. I guess I’m not the only one being subjective! 🙂
    Although I’m in slight disagreement with you over the few things above, overall I agree with your analysis. More events would be great, not all of our experiments have worked (guess that’s why they’re experiments!) and our social media is really starting to take shape, but it’s not there yet. 2011 was a transitional year for us, like many other breweries (thinking of Nickel Brook in particular), and I think you’ll see us head in the right direction for 2012.
    Thanks for your write-up Mike. Cheers!

  5. Hey Mike,

    Thanks for your review on us here at Nickel Brook. We find your write up to be quite accurate however I would like to clarify a few things that are happening here at Nickel Brook. First are formost will try and bump that regulars mark because our Headstock IPA will be available at the LCBO in cans starting next month which is real exciting news for us. Also, as Matt discussed, we are in a transitional phase as well, we have added a few sales staff and have started to update social media and a complete reconstruction of our website, even expanding into the rest of our building with a new bottling machine arriving in May enabling us to bottle some limited editions that have been ageing in barrels since the fall of 2011. These limited editions will be available this upcoming fall and winter. We love reading your feedback because it only encourages us to grow and gives us confidence in the direction we are heading. Thanks for your thoughts. We remain fascinated.

  6. After reading all the tiers you set up, I conclude that our tastes in micro aren’t similar. I do have a couple comments you might find helpful for next year though. Cheshire is a one man, one tank operation as far as I know so referring to Paul’s brewery in the plural is misinformed. Second, Durham Brewing is harder and harder to find because Bruce’s output is spoken for by a few extremely busy pubs. He rarely has had extra capacity up to this point. That will change now that the brewery has doubled in size. Look for more taps around the city but not too far outside it. Durham is doing very well as a micro. Lastly, I’m somewhat at a loss as to how you can call Steam Whistle a micro brewery. Its a massive operation that should be called a regional.

    • Thanks for the comments. I would just like to point out that the tiers are only partially about taste and I have tried my hardest to give unbiased ratings. If it were merely about taste, the tiers would look very different.

      It was easier to refer to Cheshire in the plural as it helped distinguished the brewery from just being about Paul. I love Paul and all his beer, but I am trying to talk about his brewery, not just him. Your comment about Durham only seems to prove that his beers are becoming harder to find. Glad to hear that his output will be doubling and I hope to see more Durham beers around. As for the definition of a microbrewery, that is debatable. Steam Whistle is a massive operation, but still independent from Molson-Coors and InBev.

      • So is Sleeman/Unibroue.. but owned by someone else. Moosehead is independent as well but I would be hard pressed to call them a micro. As to Durham and other micros that focus on making great beer and selling it to the bars that move it fastest… well that’s just good business. Because it doesn’t appear at your favourite bars suggests *they* move more of another beer. We are blessed with a variety of cask ales in the GTA but a tiny number of bars that can serve it properly. Hitting those bars on those nights when the cask hits its peak is a crap shoot unless you are plugged into the scene to the point of obsession. If you are the man to do that – damned! Thanks for sharing! 😉

  7. Pingback: Bolshevik Bastard – Nickel Brook

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