Much has been written, both here and other places, about the tremendous growth in the Ontario beer scene that took place during the past twelve months. The are a multitude of theories as to why the growth has been so rapid (market demand, the rise of the local food movement) but another idea came to me when reading about the 10,000 hour rule made famous by Malcolm Gladwell. To paraphrase, the theory is that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become great at something. It got me thinking about how that might apply to the Ontario beer industry. Are a bunch of brewers who had been working in the industry for years now becoming masters of their craft at the same time? Were the seeds to this growth laid five to ten years ago, only to be realized now?
The most valid argument against this might be that the Ontario beer industry has been in operation for decades. A number of breweries – Wellington, Great Lakes, Amsterdam – have been active since the 1980s, so why did it take this long? To some extent, I think it does also have to do with a changing of the guard. Older brewers, who had long brewed traditional English or German styles and perfected their craft, are now giving way to a younger group of brewers who are able (because of market demand, scientific advances, differing tastes, etc) to experiment with a wider range of beer styles. It’s not just that people are experimenting with new beers now, but the level of quality has been increasing with each subsequent year. The 10,000 Hour Rule may provide some explanation.
While the hop infatuation is still strong, there was far less experimentation done with the flower than in past years. Instead, a lot of breweries were playing around with yeasts. Belgian yeasts were popular this past summer, with different variations of the saison/table beer/farmhouse ale appearing on many a chalkboard, along with the odd Belgian IPA. Breweries started to explore the world of brettanomyces and other yeast strains that create funky, sour flavours. The Niambic experiment between Indie Ale House, Great Lakes, Amsterdam and Sawdust City showed that this will likely not be a passing fad.
A Bar for Every Drinker, A Drinker for Every Bar
Toronto was blessed this year with a number of excellent new watering holes – Get Well, Bellwoods, Bar Hop, Indie Ale House, Sauce and probably a bunch of other ones I’m forgetting. Other cities did alright, as well. Imbibe Food/Drink in Kitchener and Brother’s Beer Bistro in Ottawa sound like nice spots. Most of these places feature almost 100% Ontario taps and strive to bring in an exciting, diverse array of beers. The days of dedicated tap lines are facing a slow death, at least in places trying to lure in beer geeks.
Small is Beautiful
The business side of the Ontario beer industry underwent a huge shift this past year, with most new breweries trying to do more with less. Contract brewing kept growing and became big business, both for new companies looking to start with less capital and for established breweries looking to maximize the profits. Brewpubs are becoming popular again thanks to modern versions found at Bellwoods and Indie Ale House. Toronto got another nano-brewery at Get Well and more are expected to pop up in 2013. That’s not to say that the bigger craft breweries had a bad year, but the smaller breweries provided some instant competition.
What I said last year still stands true – I’m not a big note taker, so these aren’t necessarily the best beers I had in 2012 but the ones that stick out in my head. It was a great year for Toronto breweries, led by the Amsterdam Full City Tempest, Bellwoods Monogamy (Summit), Great Lakes 25th Anniversary Imperial Black IPA (plus that bourbon barrel Robust Porter!) and House Ales X Murdoch Night Train. The burbs got competitive with Cameron’s RPA and Nickel Brook’s Naughty Neighbour and Green Light Berliner Weisse. Muskoka had a winner with the Twice as Mad Tom and Beau’s released a small amount of the incredible Venskab. The one bottle of Knee Deep Simtra Triple IPA that I brought back from San Francisco wasn’t enough. I was lucky enough to have a friend share a lot of Hill Farmstead and a bottle of the Anchorage Galaxy White IPA. My best cask ale was the Durham XXX IPA at Bar Hop, a beer that was just perfect in every way.
This year really affirmed my belief that the Ontario craft beer world is strong and getting better every year. For instance, I drank a lot of great beers at Mondial, but nothing stuck out. Same thing from my trip to San Francisco. The most memorable beers from the past twelve months were the great Ontario brews that (for the most part) I kept going back to whenever possible. It was an incredible year for Ontario!
Thanks to everyone that took the time to read my beer ramblings this year. It was a great year for the blog – my site views are way up and this December has been the best month ever. Thanks for commenting, retweeting, posting links on Facebook, sending emails or telling me in person when you liked an article. I wish everyone the best in 2013!