At one time or another, every craft beer drinker in Ontario has probably described a beer by saying, “It’s pretty good… for Ontario.” Our judgments of beer made in Ontario are always skewed by something I call the Ontario Inferiority Complex. There is often a qualifier added to any comments about a locally made beer, which can sometimes be positive (“I can’t believe this is made in Ontario!”) or negative (see above). In either instance there is a strong undertone that Ontario beers are being judged by a different set of requirements, with the understood implication that beers from Ontario are inferior to beers from other countries or provinces.
I am just as guilty for making statements like those (even last Friday night, when trying the awesome House Ales X Amsterdam Night Train, which I couldn’t believe was made in Ontario), but am fucking sick and tired of them. Saying that a beer is good considering it was made in Ontario is pretty much the same as saying the beer is okay, but it surpassed your lowered expectations. No beer drinker should make a concession for flavour – say if it’s a bad beer or just okay. Judge an Ontario-made beer the same way you would any other, or else you are continuing to reinforce the idea that our beers are inferior.
It would be great for the beer industry in Ontario if everyone stopped comparing beers made in the province to those from the States. Not that I think Ontario beers can’t match up to American ones, but how is it fair to compare the output from one province to everything made in the USA? You’re pitting a province of thirteen million people (where liquor laws and bureaucratic red tape are a hindrance to breweries, both provincially and nationally) to a country that has three-hundred million more people (and many states with significantly different liquor laws). There are twenty-nine breweries in the OCB and 1,400 in the Brewers Association. This is a comparison that Ontario will never win, no matter what our breweries produce.
Yes, it is easy to drive to Buffalo or Detroit and get lots of awesome beer, but those beers don’t all come from New York or Michigan. We think “Look at all these great American beers,” because they are representative of the whole country and not the state itself. Our attention is also often focused on the best breweries in a state (say, Brooklyn or Founder’s) and miss all the crappy ones. Sure, Wisconsin has New Glarus, but they also have Leinenkugel’s. Our beer blinders don’t allow us to see all the shitty breweries that other states or countries have. Our focus is usually on the best of everywhere else and the worst of Ontario.
The most infuriating part of the Ontario Inferiority Complex is when people aren’t willing to spend money on good Ontario beer. The same people that bitch about the lack of availability in Ontario are the same ones that complain when a beer costs over eight dollars (often making the comparison that for the same amount of money they could get Beer X from Stone or Beer Y from Dogfish Head). Have they tried the beer and do they know how it tastes? Usually not, but they know it is from Ontario and there is no way an Ontario beer could be worth that much money.
I always find it funny when people say that, yet have no problem spending twelve or thirteen dollars on a six-pack of Ontario beer when some states have sixers of something like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for seven or eight dollars. In this case it is understandable that laws and taxes create an inflated price, but the expectation for a 500 or 750mL bottle is that it should be cheaper because it is from Ontario. If it is good beer, there is no reason to expect it to cost less just because it is from an Ontario brewery.
The cure for the Ontario Inferiority Complex is for beer drinkers and breweries to stop making excuses. Yes, the situation in Ontario is less than ideal, but that is no reason not to make great beer. Our breweries have the resources, knowledge and capabilities to produce fantastic beers, which is what consumers should expect. We have to stop unfairly trying to compare Ontario to the States and just focus on creating a dynamic, thriving beer industry that allows Ontarians to have access to great locally made beer.