Foreword - The Ontario Craft Beer Guide - Robin LeBlanc, Jordan St. John

The Ontario Craft Beer Guide - Robin LeBlanc, Jordan St. John (2016)


Twenty-odd years ago, what you are holding in your hands would have been little more than a pamphlet. When I published the first edition of my Great Canadian Beer Guide in 1994, Ontario boasted a mere thirteen “microbreweries” and twenty more brewpubs, the latter group being then licensed to sell their beer only on their premises.

That situation scarcely improved over the balance of the decade, with many breweries closing, selling, or otherwise changing course, and the total number of brewpubs actually declining by the time the second edition of the Guide hit, in 2001. What’s more, while there were some very good beers on the market, the range of styles they represented was limited for the most part to pilsners and pale ales, “dark ales” and “golden lagers.” As unlikely as it might seem today, the sighting of an actual IPA was then considered a rare and exciting thing.

Brewery tasting rooms, growler fills, brewpub bottle shops, and the Ontario Craft Brewers association? Double IPAs, barrel-aged imperial stouts, doppelbocks, and saisons? All but dreams, still years away from realization.

However, sometime well after the dawn of the new millennium there occurred a seismic shift in Ontario craft beer and the shock waves were many and far reaching. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, beer drinkers were spoiled for choice, with local brewers cranking out beers in any number of styles and strengths, from nuanced takes on the German kölsch style to generously hopped IPAs and unapologetically powerful barley wines. And just when we thought we had seen it all, those same brewers discovered yeasts and bacteria that could deliver bold, tart, and fruity flavours, and the excitement started all over again.

Today, of course, we live in the promised land of beer, or at least some sort of government-regulated, made-in-Ontario version of it. While we do remain saddled with the beer-retailing behemoth known as the Beer Store, we have also, thanks to the recent explosion of small breweries and the government’s tentative steps into grocery-store beer sales, more brands in more styles than perhaps this province has ever before seen, and more venues from which to buy them.

Simply, it is a good, if occasionally confusing, time for beer drinkers in Ontario.

It is that second part, the confusing side, which makes this book so valuable. With such a plethora of breweries at hand and still more in development all the time, it is a challenge for even a full-time beer specialist to stay on top of things. Add in an endless stream of seasonal brews, special one-off editions, and inter-brewery collaborations, and you have a state of affairs that is as maddening to track as it is rewarding to sample.

What you hold in your hands is a snapshot of the Ontario beer landscape at the start of 2016, written by two of the most knowledgeable and keen observers of that scene. It is not the first word on Ontario beer and neither will it be the last, but it is an excellent jumping-off point for a richly satisfying journey of beer discovery. Your guides are ready, and the beer awaits, so grab your glass and get started!


Stephen Beaumont, Toronto, 2016

Author of The Beer & Food Companion and co-author with Tim Webb of The World Atlas of Beer