2012 Ontario Microbreweries – The Second Tier

Last year, the second tier seemed like a mix of decent-to-good breweries, but not thrilling on the whole. This year I am thrilled by this cluster of breweries and view them as a snapshot of the great things that are happening in Ontario. (Well, that is mostly true. There is clearly one brewery in here that I don’t love, but no spoilers.) The first tier had better watch out, because any of these breweries could move up a spot next year.

In case you’re just joining us, catch up with the third, fourth and fifth tiers.

Amsterdam

Regulars: 2. Saved by the Boneshaker. The other beers are usually only needed at bars with small or predominantly macro beer lists.

Seasonals: 4. Huge leap in the quality of seasonals last year, led by the Tempest. One-offs have shown tremendous promise and good things are expected from their new pilot system.

Availability: 4. A lot of their main seasonals are now in the LCBO. Really easy to find their beers on tap or in bottles, at least in Toronto.

Consistency: 4. Docked Steam Whistle for green bottles and Amsterdam gets the same treatment.

Extras: 4. Starting to use the brewery more for events. Helping to bring funky beers to Ontario.

Total: 18. Last Year: 14. Amsterdam gained the most points of any brewery, which was much deserved. Their regular lineup will make it harder to go much higher, but they should rock the other categories for years to come.

Cameron’s

Regulars: 2. The Auburn Ale is decent, but none of the other beers offer anything unique.

Seasonals: 4. Nice to see Cameron’s enter the seasonal game with a barrel aged beer and the Deviator Doppelbock. Add an attempt at a sour for Cask Days and they get a solid four.

Availability: 4. Getting a seasonal product into the LCBO would probably push it up to a perfect score.

Consistency: 4. Reliable beers for the most part.

Extras: 3. Cameron’s host a monthly cask night, which I always wish was more accessible. Doing a better job of trying to reach out to beer drinkers at events and online.

Total: 17. Last Year: 15. Cameron’s is another brewery that started to gain some respect this past year. Like the track that they are on, which includes more innovation and less following.

Flying Monkeys

Regulars: 5. Can any other brewery in Ontario compete with the Smashbomb, Hoptical and Netherworld as their year-round offerings?

Seasonals: 3. They talk a big game with their experimentation, but little is ever seen (at least outside of Gambrinus in London). The Super Collider was nice with some age on it, but I will never forgive or forget the Toronto Festival of Beer debacle.

Availability: 4. Lots of LCBOs and bars. As with Cameron’s, another seasonal in the LCBO would gain a perfect score.

Consistency: 3. An area they have struggled with for some time. Impossible to predict just what a beer will taste like.

Extras: 3. They go to just about every event possible and usually bring a one-off. Pair up with Gambrinus in London a lot, as mentioned.

Total: 18. Last Year: 19. Another brewery that people either seem to love or hate. Some will say that this mark is too low, others that Flying Monkeys are overrated. For me, the sometimes atrocious one-offs and lack of consistency in the normal beers really keep them from the top tier.

Grand River

Regulars: 5. Lots of great beers in classic styles that all come in under 5%. Great session beers.

Seasonals: 4. The seasonals are a tad more experimental, with a hoppier IPA, pumpkin beer and imperial stout among them. All unique and tasty in their own way.

Availability: 3. Seems their push to get bottles in the LCBO has left them on tap in fewer bars.

Consistency: 4. The variations between batches have long been thought of as intentional. That being said, the beers all have the same backbone.

Extras: 2. There are events at the brewery, but not much else aside from the odd cask.

Total: 18. Last Year: 17. Another great year from Grand River. Slowly increasing production and availability, while keeping the same ethos behind their beers. Making tasty beers that don’t care for industry trends.

Granite

Regulars: 4. Not the sexiest beers in Ontario right now, but the Best Bitter Special and Hopping Mad are a nice change of pace in terms of traditional British ales.

Seasonals: 4. Nice to see the Granite starting to brew some different seasonals, like the Mild, Darkside IPA and Hazy Daze Wheat Beer. Add in the Gin Lane barley wine and a nice group of seasonals are starting to form.

Availability: 2. Starting to see more kegs and casks making it out of the brewpub, which is the only other place to get your Granite fix.

Consistency: 4. Casks are never completely similar, which would make a five nearly impossible for Granite to ever achieve. Not a knock, just a fact of beer.

Extras: 3. I was at a craft beer event this summer, talking to someone about how it was the first time we had seen Granite with a booth at a festival. Points for that, plus being a cask pioneer in Toronto.

This Year: 17. Last Year: 15. The Granite was in a bit of a rut. They were making the same beers for years and that was fine, but the industry was changing. Luckily the Granite realized they needed an update in the styles they offered, but kept all the old beers we all know and love. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to renew your love affair with the Granite.

Mill Street

Regulars: 3. A generous score on the basis of the Tankhouse, Coffee Porter and Wit. The Stock Ale, Lemon Tea and Organic keep them down.

Seasonals: 3. Every now and then there is a Mill Street seasonal that is really good, like the Weiss from last summer. But then they make the Tripel or something else that is a watered down version of a nice beer style, which undoes all the nice feelings.

Availability: 5. Lots of retail, including their seasonal samplers that bring one or two seasonals to the LCBO. Plenty of draft, though it feels like I see them less often (or Mill Street is abandoning the hardcore beer geek bars).

Consistency: 3. There have been a number of times when the brewpub beers have been noticeably off, both growlers and bottles. Especially evident in beers like the Pilsner, where it is hard to mask defects.

Extras: 4. Host a wide menagerie of events at their brewpub. Always at events, often with a cask of a seasonal brew or a reworked brand, like the dry-hopped Tankenstein.

This Year: 18. Last Year: 19. Mill Street does a lot of things right, especially when it comes to marketing and making their beers available to the public. But as craft beer in Ontario to continues to become like the American market, the beers are becoming less relevant. A good transitional brewery for those just getting into craft beer.

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