As we move up to the third tier, the quality of the breweries significantly increases and it becomes much harder to differentiate the quality of beers and breweries. Your favourite brewery could possibly be in this tier, right beside another that you regard as vastly inferior. I just distribute the points and figure out who goes where after. Remember to check out the fourth tier, fifth tier and how the points are assigned. The second tier will be up on Wednesday and the first tier on Friday, with some other programming in between.
Regulars: 3. The Pale Ale was quite nice, but the Porter and Stout were just okay.
Seasonals: 3. Nice seasonal selection that tries to use ingredients of the time, plus they’re experimenting with growing their own hops and barley.
Availability: 3. Black Creek started brewing offsite and getting into the LCBO, which really helped raise their score here.
Consistency: 4. Remarkable consistency considering, a) they brew using 19th century methods and b) their bottled beers are made at Trafalgar.
Extras: 2. Yes, the whole 1800s brewery concept is really cool, but it kind of limits them to being a brewpub located in a crappy part of the city. The dusty growler on my floor is evidence of that fact.
Total: 15. Last Year: 15. Black Creek was actually tough to judge. How does one separate their bottled products from the historic brewery? Does it matter? Regardless, it is nice to see that the brewery is surviving, adding an interesting twist to the Ontario craft beer market.
Regulars: 1. A pity point because there is not really a year-round beer available from Cheshire Valley. One instance where my rating system fails.
Seasonals: 5. The Robust Porter is one of my favourite Ontario beers. Love the mild and the Galaxy IPA. I order a Cheshire beer whenever possible, because they are just phenomenal.
Availability: 2. Mainly found in Toronto and strictly in bars. Sadly, this will probably not change in the near future.
Consistency: 5. The next time I have a bad Cheshire Valley beer will be the first time.
Extras: 3. It is hard to give a numerical value to this category, because Cheshire Valley is essentially Paul Dickey and Paul does so much for craft beer in Ontario. That being said, Cheshire beers are often on cask half of the time in bars and found at a decent number of events.
Total: 16. Last Year: Not rated. Cheshire Valley is one of my personal favourite Ontario craft breweries because they show that traditional styles can still have a place in the craft beer renaissance. I always expect the best from a Cheshire Valley beer and have never been let down.
Regulars: 4. The Run ESB, Tu-Hop and a couple of others aren’t regulars in the classic sense, but the most recurring House Ales beers and they’re all fine choices whenever they grace the barVolo chalkboards.
Seasonals: 4. The one-offs came and go so quickly, but all retain the same expectations. The In Limbo Rye Saison is a recent selection that will hopefully appear again.
Availability: 1. Blame the weird liquor laws in Ontario that determine that House Ales beers can’t leave the premises, even to go to another establishment.
Consistency: 4. There can be slight variations between batches, but not it in a bad way. Just, “Oh, that’s a little different from last time.”
Extras: 3. This is a tough category, as separating barVolo and House Ales is not easy. But points for doing lots of collaborations, plenty of casks and bringing the funk.
This Year: 16. Last Year: Not rated. Having a nanobrewery in barVolo had the potential to go very wrong. The bar is the focal point for craft beer in Toronto, which many that the House Ales beers had to be as good as the rest of Ontario, right from the beginning. Now the pressure is on to keep pushing the limits.
Regulars: 4. The Pilsner, Vienna Lager and Dark Lager do not get a lot of respect, but they are well made beers that honour the German tradition.
Seasonals: 2. Been a while since a seasonal appeared, but they were in line with the quality of the regular lineup.
Availability: 4. Three beers in the LCBO and a decent tap selection are good enough for four points.
Consistency: 5. Anyone care to argue with this score? Didn’t think so.
Extras: 1. A very quiet brewery for the most part.
This Year: 16. Last Year: 15. I was expecting the King brewery to expand and start to push the market when purchased from Beer Barons, but not much has really changed. It would be nice to see the beers get a big push, especially at events.
Lake of Bays
Regulars: 2. The Pale Ale is alright, but one I hardly turn to as there are so many better options in Ontario.
Seasonals: 4. The Mocha Porter is one of the more underrated beers in Ontario. Looking forward to their IPA this spring.
Availability: 3. Mainly found in the LCBO, Hopefully on draft in more places around Muskoka.
Consistency: 4. Pretty much the same from one bottle to the next.
Extras: 2. The odd cask and the bottle for the Mocha Porter is a beauty. Would be nice to see them at events and put some faces to the brewery.
This Year: 15. Last Year: 14. A slight uptick in this year, which is partially a bet on better things to come. Could easily see them going up or down next year.
Regulars: 4. The Hawaiian Style Pale Ale has been around sine June and the luster has not worn off. Always nice to have a pint of this beer.
Seasonals: 1. The Heart of Darkness collaboration with House Ales was excellent, but that’s the only other beer they’ve done in almost a year. Time to bring out the next one.
Availability: 3. Spearhead is pushing to get into bars all around Ontario. After a bit of a dip in availability, the HSPA is gaining traction once again.
Consistency: 4. The rare pint is just a little less than ideal, but that might be because they are catering to a lot of bars that normally don’t deal with craft beer.
Extras: 4. One of the most active breweries in Ontario. Pretty much a guarantee that they will be at every event, talking up craft beer. Also partner with a lot of bars for Spearhead-only events.
This Year: 16. Last Year: Not rated. I fully expect this to be a controversial rating, but the criteria mainly judge the beer and not the business practices. Spearhead will always annoy some people with their marketing and hype, but it helps get craft beer into more glasses. I won’t complain as long as they keep making good beer.
Regulars: 2. An okay pilsner, as long as it is fresh and not in green bottles.
Seasonals: 0. Sorry Steam Whistle, but it was your choice to only make one beer.
Availability: 5. Probably the most widely distributed craft beer in Ontario.
Consistency: 4. See: green bottles.
Extras: 5. Steam Whistle loves to throw parties and promote the crap out of everything.
This Year: 16. Last Year: 14. The constant stream of press releases boasting all the great things that Steam Whistle does may have finally gotten through my tough blogger exoskeleton. Someday I will find the flaw in their armor.
Regulars: 3. Perhaps a slightly generous score, but the Imperial Russian Stout is pretty much a year-round offering. Though I had forgotten about the Silver Wheat Ale. That one still stings.
Seasonals: 3. A little hit and miss, but at least they’re starting to try.
Availability: 3. The standard lineup is slowly fading from bars, but the seasonals help pick up some of the slack. Please get the IRS in the LCBO.
Consistency: 3. As mentioned, the seasonals vary in quality. The casks are a bit iffy as well.
Extras: 3. Regular production of casks. Starting to do more brewery events. At a decent number of events.
Total: 15. Last Year: 14. I had started to give up on Wellington, but they are one of many breweries this year that realized it had to update the way it does business in order to stay alive. Hopefully they will continue to build on these advances.