The Rising Flight of Ontario Craft Beer

The Rising Flight of Ontario Craft Beer

Posted on June 8 by Robin LeBlanc
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I’m currently sitting at my desk looking over the weathered notebook that was my constant companion throughout the creation of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide. Every pub, every brewery, every beer that I was around, my notebook was always with me. Among the notes and impressions I had on the individual beers, I also included some of the lessons I learned while doing my part in putting this guide together. The biggest one, of course, is how far Ontario has come in beer selection. When I started writing in 2011, those in the know said that we were currently where America was in the early nineties. We had some impressive stuff, sure, but nothing that a better known brewery out of New York, California, or even Vermont had already done and done better. Let’s not even discuss how we compared to the Belgians.

"the progress Ontario has made in just a small time has been staggering."

Five years doesn’t seem like much, but in Ontario’s beer world it proved to be a lifetime. In that short amount of time the beer scene found its wings, gave them a few flaps to test them out, and, certainly in the past two years, jumped from the nest and began its long ascent to the heavens. We still have a ways to go, but in terms of selection and quality, the progress Ontario has made in just a small time has been staggering. Don't believe me? Take a look at the wheel of beer flavours below. Whatever flavour you favour, chances are there is an Ontario craft beer for you.

I’ve also learned just how strongly the community aspect factors into the province’s beer scene. On the industry side of things, you have brewers seeing one another not as competitors, but comrades. It’s not uncommon for a starting brewery to get a little help from another brewery across town. Nor is it uncommon to see brewers at places such as Bar Volo or Bar Hop, buying each other rounds, sharing stories, and brainstorming ideas for collaboration beers.

"you have brewers seeing one another not as competitors, but comrades."

In the public eye, I really learned just how important “local” good beer means. Living in a city, it’s easy to see the word “local” as a buzzword that restaurants use and as part of a description in a venue’s Twitter account. It implies a location of a business, but offers little insight into the people behind it. While you can see some prime examples of how local beer affects people in Toronto, it’s when you get out to the smaller communities in our province where you really start to see the value in “local.”

More breweries have been popping up in small towns and, much to the amazement of the city folk, they’re doing well, acting as community hubs and giving back to the town that they call home by sponsoring local teams, providing a concert space for homegrown bands, and taking part in charitable events. Indeed, many of these breweries, places like Sawdust City in Gravenhurst, New Ontario Brewing in North Bay, Stack Brewing in Sudbury, and Sleeping Giant in Thunder Bay, have become the local watering hole, where everyone knows each other and folks young and old stop by to refill their growlers.

In smaller communities you get to see just how much the local food and drink movement matters; it’s so much more than a buzzword to put on a menu. It’s people. It’s a community. It’s something to be proud of. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that if it’s local it’ll be good, I will say that the local option always, always, deserves to be given a chance. You just might find yourself with a new favourite beer and you may learn a story or two from the locals drinking it beside you.

"The local option always, always deserves to be given a chance."

Ontario beer has gotten really exciting in the past few years and it stands to get more exciting as time goes by. Like all great crafts, time will further hone the abilities of the artists, and more and more we’ll be seeing beers both complex in their simplicity and deliciously outlandish, captivating our imaginations as well as our taste buds.

So I hope you will join me in raising a glass to Ontario beer. What was, what is, and what will soon be.


Robin and Jordan took time to chat with David Ort from Food Bloggers of Canada about the Ontario Craft Beer Guide.

Robin LeBlanc

Posted by Dundurn Guest on October 27, 2015
Robin LeBlanc photo

Robin LeBlanc

Robin LeBlanc is a writer and photographer, the owner of the award-winning craft beer site The Thirsty Wench, and the author of Metroland North Media’s syndicated column “On Tap.” She has appeared on TV, radio, and newspapers preaching the gospel of good beer. Robin lives in Toronto.