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

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


Until very recently, Ontario’s craft beer scene was a fairly manageable affair. The explosion of small breweries that has taken place since 2007 means that it has become very difficult (even for beer writers covering the province) to keep track of what exists, let alone how everything fits together. While it is excellent to have an up-to-date list of breweries from across the province, it became apparent to us in mid-2014 that additional context and information was required if anyone was going to be able to navigate the huge amount of choice that currently exists in the marketplace.

So, in a climate where new breweries are popping up at the rate of one a week, the most frequent question we were asked when writing this book was, “How did you know when to stop?” We chose to make the cut-off point for inclusion two weeks before we had to hand in the manuscript of this book: approximately November 15, 2015.

The second-most-frequent question, and perhaps one of the more loaded ones, was, “How are you defining what makes a craft brewery?”

As you may know, there are a lot of definitions out there, from making small amounts of beer to being independently owned to being community focused. In this book we have included just about any brewery that might be considered “craft,” which means breweries, brewpubs, and contract breweries. In all cases, we have denoted the difference in type of business for the sake of clarity. Because contracting is sometimes used as a first step by a brewery before moving into its own facility, some are listed as transitional.

In cases where a brewery has been purchased at some point in the past by a large multinational company, we have included it but made a note of the ownership. Breweries like Creemore and Mill Street have not transitioned yet to become national brands. They are still brewed locally and the historic context they’ve provided for the craft beer scene in Ontario cannot be ignored.

The purpose of this guide is to assist you in navigating Ontario’s craft beer market and finding something that you might like to drink. Each brewery’s entry is composed of its contact information and co-ordinates, a brief biography to help give a sense of the brewery’s identity, and a series of tasting notes and ratings for the beers that it has on offer.

In producing tasting notes and ratings, we have strived for fairness. That being said, we have offered brewers every opportunity to put their best foot forward by directly consulting with them to see which beers (usually capped at eight examples) they feel best celebrate who they are. In the majority of the entries, we’ve used samples directly from the brewery itself, avoiding any potential problems that might arise from tasting the beer, from dirty tap lines in a bar or pub or from bottles or cans that have gone stale as a result of languishing too long on the shelves of a retail establishment.

A Word About the Rating System

In producing ratings, we have been mostly interested in three things: whether the beer has objective flaws; how well the flavour profile works; and how well the beer accomplishes what it sets out to do, i.e., the extent to which it is what the brewer claims it to be.

Beer preference is subjective. You may like a certain style of beer more than another for just about any reason, and you’re not wrong to feel that way. Brewing quality is not subjective. Beer frequently has technical flaws or undesirable qualities that can leave an unpleasant impression. In the case of flavour defects, these might include the presence of diacetyl (which smells like buttered popcorn, leaves a slick, butterscotchy mouthfeel, and causes hangovers), dimethyl sulphide (an aroma of creamed corn, canned vegetables, or tomato sauce), acetaldehyde (overwhelming green apple), butyric character (blue cheese or baby vomit), inappropriate phenolic character (smoke, burnt plastic, or Band-Aid), or just a lack of conditioning resulting in a rough, unpleasant mouthfeel. The beer may be inappropriately carbonated or under attenuated (containing residual sugars that ought to have been fermented).

We have taken into account stylistic convention. The Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines are a helpful tool in doing exactly that and, combined with context, experience, and the knowledge that it is possible to push the envelope a little, they have helped form the backbone of our rating system.

We have been pleased to reward brewers for balance of flavours. A frequent criticism of websites for beer geeks is that they tend to reward the extreme, favouring beers with higher alcohol and in-your-face flavours. We’ve tried to eliminate this bias from our thinking, focusing on how balanced a beer is, its progression of flavours, and the overall impression that it leaves. Whether considering a beer in a simple style done well or a complex behemoth that somehow manages to attain balance, we’ve done our best to treat them similarly.

Finally, writing this book has given us an appreciation for how much the art of brewing has to do with expectation management. When deciding how to market a beer, brewers must decide exactly what that beer is in order to communicate its qualities effectively. If a brewer refers to something as a blonde ale and it has pronounced notes of chocolate and mint, something is seriously wrong. If a brewer has referred to something as “Belgian-style” and it shows no trace of Belgian influence, that’s a real problem. If a “kölsch” is more like a blonde ale or a “cream ale” is more like a pale ale, we’ve taken that into account.

That said, there are always new styles of beer emerging. We have taken seriously the description of the beer provided. To give an example, the term breakfast stout may not be widely known enough to connote an actual style of beer, but it conveys the impression that it will taste like oats, coffee, and chocolate. It lets you know what you’re getting, which is of ultimate importance to the consumer.

The rating system is a simple five-point system that includes half stars for emphasis and versatility. The ratings describe the following properties:

1 — Poor

A deeply flawed beer. Likely contains off flavours or does not seem to be well-made from a technical perspective. May be off-style or poorly conceived. Not recommended.

2 — Fair

Beer may contain noticeable flaws in terms of flavour or technical elements. Beer approaches stylistic guidelines. Beer may not quite work from a conceptual standpoint.

3 — Good

Stylistically accurate. Beer does not contain off flavours. Beer may have issues with balance in its flavour profile. Technical proficiency is not an issue.

4 — Very Good

A memorable example of the style. Very much in balance. Flavours are appropriate and the beer has managed a distinct character that sets it apart from other examples.

5 — Excellent

A beer of quality such that it would hold its own against the best examples of its style in the world.

In some cases we’ve been unable to taste a particular beer. In these cases, we have not provided ratings, but rather a simple description of the beer followed by “NR” for “no rating.”


In each brewery entry the contact information uses these symbols: