The Top 10 New Breweries in Ontario

The Top 10 New Breweries in Ontario

Posted on July 6 by Jordan St. John And Robin LeBlanc in Non-fiction
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It’s always difficult to get everything that you want into a book. In the case of the Second Edition of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, Robin and I trailed around all over the province in order to taste beer at well over 200 breweries. We revisited the majority of the brewers who were in their second year of operation because we wanted readers to understand that there is a sharp uptick in brewing quality year over year from the point when breweries open. We think that the book contains incredible depths of information about the nuanced improvement that takes place year to year and month to month and batch to batch.

That said, people always get most excited when that information is broken down into lists. The Top Ten breweries in Ontario is featured in the book, but we have also wanted to show off a couple of other things. On the Facebook page for The Ontario Craft Beer Guide we went through and listed the most improved breweries in the province over the course of the last year. You can see that by clicking here.

Oddly, we forgot an important detail when we were putting lists together for the book. There are breweries that don’t fall under “most improved” because they are brand spanking new. We believe in giving credit where it’s due and that means that we’re going to share with you the top ten new breweries in Ontario according to the The Ontario Craft Beer Guide.


10. The Exchange Brewery, Niagara-On-The-Lake

When we visited The Exchange in the late summer of 2016, they were in the middle of developing their barrel program. With brewer Sam Maxbauer (late of Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin) at the helm and Niagara College grad Christine Nagy ably assisting, the focus was always going to be on barrel-aged beers as elaborate as they are elegant. If we were writing the book today, their selection of products would be all the more representative of the brewery’s intent. At the time, they were largely producing simple ales to introduce themselves to the public while their specialties slept in oak in the cellar. The thread from simplicity to their current lineup is their Peppercorn Rye Saison.

The modish tap room in the heart of downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake is a must see if you’re in the area and a welcome change of pace after a day of wine tasting or bicycling. It bears saying that The Exchange is a brewery to keep an eye on and has already improved significantly in the nine months since we visited.

9. Anderson Craft Ales, London

Having opened in the summer of 2016, Anderson Craft Ales was a welcome addition to the city of London, with a strong flagship offering and a large space that lends itself well for expansion and events. Overseen by Gavin Anderson, who has an educational background in microbiology and previous brewing experience at New Brunswick’s Brasseurs du Petit Sault, the brewery is mostly run by the Anderson family, from parents to siblings and even cousins.

Another aspect of the brewery that stands out (besides their wonderful beer of course) is that it is packaged in an eye-catching 355 mL can, a stark departure from the many tallboys that dominate the Ontario beer scene.


8. Norse Brewing, Parry Sound

One of the most rewarding stories for us were the all-family team that had the talent and the love for each other that could handle working together. Norse Brewery, which opened in the winter of last year, is one such brewery. Owned and operated by the Rogozhkin family and inspired by the family’s travels to such places as Germany, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom, Norse has been a runaway hit for the surrounding Parry Sound area.

From conception to reality took only five years for the family, with recipes being honed and refined for over a year before they were ready to be presented to the public. Their debut beers, Norse Ale Unfiltered and Norse Ale Red, are worth visiting the small taproom and retail space for. For an even more fun experience and an added challenge for your beer, consider getting a bottle that comes held in a classic rope puzzle.


7. Brown Van Brewing, Ottawa

Part of making a successful contract brewed product is choosing the right brewery to partner with. In the case of husband and wife team Paul and Erica Braunovan, this meant Don Harms at Kichesippi. Brown Van only has a single product at this time, but quality counts for a lot. In a province with a number of lagered ales available through bars and the LCBO, Brown Van’s Kolsch style beer manages to stand out because of its simplicity and consistency. I have yet to try one that wasn’t on form.


6. Windmill Brewing, Johnstown

One of the most pleasant surprises during the writing of the book was Johnstown’s Windmill Brewing. Housed in the same building as King’s Lock Craft Distillery which produces a range of product including white rye, gin and, moonshine, Windmill is a pleasant addition to the St. Lawrence waterway and a throwback to the period when Prescott had enormous breweries in the 19th century.

Brewer Sean Lucey had significant experience as a homebrewer and has taken advantage of his brand new facility to provide ample conditioning space for his flagship Pilsner. The Czech style Pilsner features a single hop: Sterling. It is crisp and refreshing, with a light floral aroma and an assertive bitterness on the finish. It might be the best small brewery Pilsner in Ontario and definitely makes Johnstown worth a stop on your way to the USA.


5. Bar Hop Brewco, Toronto

Bar Hop has become an institution in the Ontario beer scene over the last five years and its second location had always had plans to become a brewpub. The man in charge of both the brewing program and the beer cellar is Matt Bod, and a not insignificant part of the success of both locations hinges on his taste and ability. The challenge for Bar Hop is to come up with beer that fills in the gaps of what already exists in Ontario. In this case, their most successful offering is Miracle Cure, a crushable patio Saison with a gentle spiciness and bone dry finish that goes great with cheese, charcuterie or… Oh, hell, let’s be honest. Forget about pairings and just order the Scotch Olives. They are incredible. We always order them regardless of what we’re drinking.

The barrel program behind the bar at Bar Hop Brewco is developing and should maintain or improve in quality over the coming years. Of note so far has been Purple Jesus, a Saison flavoured with blueberries which actually managed to taste of blueberry. That’s a significant feat and one of which to be proud.


4. Bench Brewing, Beamsville

Owned by Matt Giffen, a veteran of vineyards in the Twenty Valley area of the Golden Horseshoe, Bench has made a significant impact into the Ontario market in a very short space of time. Beginning as a contract brewer (out of Hamilton’s Arts and Science facility) the decision to field a mixture of popular and challenging styles prior to the construction of their own facility in a disused school was a courageous one. Brewers Mark Horsley (Niagara College, Nickel Brook) and Joe Wells (California’s Hangar 24) have managed to produce not only one of the province’s best Session IPAs in the form of Balls Falls but also one of the first frequently available Kettle Sours to hit the LCBO in their Citra Grove. The real direction of the brewery is best expressed by their Clean Slate Brett Saison, which is more representative of what they’ll be able to do with the 1300 HL of foeders they have purchased for aging sour and funky beers. The onsite hop yard will lend their beers a touch of local terroir and the results should be unlike anything in the world.

Bench will do some extraordinarily interesting things over the next few years, and will help to make the Niagara region famous for more than just its wines.


3. Brasserie Étienne Brûlé, Embrun

A 40-minute drive away from the city of Ottawa, the small community of Embrun holds Brasserie Étienne Brûlé, one of the two breweries in the area. The incredibly spacious brewpub, formally a firehouse, works towards providing some truly mouthwatering, locally-sourced shareable platters and a number of beers that both appeal to hardcore beer lovers and newcomers alike.

Their first Brewmaster Dan Beaudoin, formally of Halliburton&;s Boshkung Brewing and Toronto’s House Ales, has designed a number of beers that make up the core lineup for Etienne Brule, including a Czech Pilsner and an IPA that manages to showcase the wonderful flavours imparted from the hops without being overly bitter.


2. Barncat Artisan Ales, Cambridge

As Cambridge’s second brewery, one may not think that Barncat Artisan Ales, only open seven hours a week, would be producing some of the finest beers in Ontario. But that is just what they’re doing.

The masterminds behind the brewery, Matt Macdonald and Jeremey Skorchid, have some serious pedigree as award-winning home brewers, and their switch to professional brewer was not before time for the community who has long since loved their beers. Named after Skorchid’s series of homebrews that gained him infamy, Barncat Artisan Ales produces a number of special release offerings, which have included their Eminence IPA and Cat Reactivator Coffee Barley Wine, all in a beautifully designed bottle.


1. Half Hours On Earth, Seaforth

This comes as no great surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. The brewer at HHOE is Kyle Teichert, who was a homebrewer in Toronto for quite a while before he moved to the country to start his own brewery. I remember one year around 2012 when we were judging the Toronto Beer Week homebrewing competition, Kyle gave us trouble because it would have been unseemly for one brewer to end up with so many awards. The fact is that he’s just that good.

If you’re a brand new brewer and your beer is on the bottle list at Bellwoods, that says something about the quality of product that you’re turning out. HHOE managed two five star ratings (Yalla Yalla Citra and Totally) in their first year of existence and that’s something very few brewers ever accomplish over a career. Not only are the mixed fermentation beers leading a trend in the province, the way that they are being sold is equally impressive. It takes some kind of crazy genius to make an end run around the LCBO through Canada Post and that is exactly what is happening at Half Hours on Earth. It may turn out to be industry changing.


Jordan St. John

Posted by Dundurn Guest on October 30, 2014
Jordan St. John photo

Jordan St. John

Jordan St. John was National Beer Columnist for Sun Media from 2011 to 2015 and writes under his own banner at He is the author of three books, including the award-nominated Lost Breweries of Toronto. A Certified Cicerone, Jordan collaborates with brewers across Ontario. He lives in Toronto.

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.