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Beer Reflections from Toronto

A couple weeks ago I spent a few days in Toronto (as I shared here). It was mostly for work but I was able to get some beer time in on the side. I have had a bit of time to reflect upon the beer I tried and consider the state of the Ontario craft beer scene.

There is no question the beer scene in Ontario is much bigger than out here on the prairies. From my database Ontario has 230 breweries and brewpubs with another 44 contract operations (I could be a few off as it is a moving target). During my five days in Toronto I was able to sample 45 different Ontario beer (to be clear, most were 4 oz. sample sizes and some were 1-2 oz. tasters, lest you worry about my consumption). And I stuck exclusively to Ontario beer I had not yet tried.

What is my overall impression? First, the range of styles and approaches is almost dizzying. With that many breweries there was no shortage of different styles to try. I tasted six different versions of a New England Pale Ale/IPA and had a handful of sour beer of various shapes and sizes. I tried everything from a classic pilsner to an Oud Bruin. Plus a couple casks along the way.

Second there is some great beer being made in Ontario. Some of my highlights included High Road Bronan IPA, Napanee Blacklist Schwarzbier, Left Field Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale, Bar Hop Tremolo II Saison and Sawdust City There’s No Way of Knowing Saison. Plus there were a dozen or so more that I found quite enjoyable. I also had a couple great casks at The Queen and Beaver Pub.

And while I am talking about great things, I need to give a shout out to Bar Hop and Bar Hop Brewco (sister places a few blocks apart – for the record I preferred the newer Brewco location) as well as C’est What and the previously discussed Hair of the Dog Pub for offering up a fantastic craft beer experience for a traveler.

Third, like all places not every brewery is created equal. I tasted a lot of so-called Meh! beer, including a couple that were clearly infected. I won’t name those breweries but the experience hardened in me the sense that as a beer scene grows a division of quality develops. Twenty years ago you had to make good beer to survive. It might be safe, but it had to be well-made. Today, the measures of success are different.

It means you can make “out-there” beer and attract the curious beer drinker. But you might be able to get away with something that is of lesser quality than consumers deserve. To be clear, the outright awful beer were restricted to a couple, but the so-so beer had a  higher number than I would have preferred.

There is a good lesson in that. Local beer fans who are versed in the beer scene know which breweries and beer to avoid. As an outsider I didn’t know so tried a wide range of breweries, 34 different ones in total. As a result I think I experienced a more representative range of what is on offer in the province than if one of my respected Ontario colleagues offered up suggestions for me.

In short there is a good selection of world-class beer on offer. But there is also some sub-standard beer that shouldn’t be sold and a whole bunch in the middle that are nice beer but not particularly noteworthy.

Toronto may be the centre of the universe but when it comes to beer it seems like their scene, while more mature than out here, offers up the same range of the great, the good and the ugly.

3 comments to Beer Reflections from Toronto

  • Andrew I

    We had a similar experience in Nova Scotia. There are a half dozen breweries producing really good beer. There are a half dozen producing beer that should poured into a drain instead of a glass. And way-more-than-expected swollen middle class of forgettable brew. Not bad, but lacking. I feel that as long as you have the leaders of the pack, the consumers will eventually sort things out & the best will thrive.

  • Nick

    Does Ontario or Toronto have a guide similar to AB Craft Beer Guide or the Growler? I find those invaluable for our western Canada scene and it could help when I head to Ontario.

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