Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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Joel Manning, professional brewer


It would be difficult to overstate Joel Manning’s impact on craft beer in Ontario and, indeed, Canada. Manning was the Brewmaster for Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery from 2005 to 2018 and he passed away yesterday after suffering a heart attack.

My own memories of Manning are tied to the Brewmaster’s Dinners he hosted; specifically, those he hosted for Robbie Burns Day.

For a few years in a row, I attended Mill Street’s annual Robbie Burns’ Supper, which Manning always hosted. In 2013 I was lucky enough to actually get seated next to Manning. He hosted the evening as he had in previous years, with a sort of determined reluctance. It is difficult to describe exactly, but in my interactions with him he always seemed infinitely more comfortable brewing beer or talking about brewing beer than he did hosting these sorts of events, yet it was also always abundantly clear to me that he was fully committed to the importance of hosting these things properly. Continue reading


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It’s time for better beer: An open letter to Blue Jays CEO Mark Shapiro

Dear Mr. Shapiro,

Your promise of discount beer at the Rogers Centre today was a nice gesture, but it is not going to cut it. It is time to offer Toronto Blue Jays fans locally-made, independently-owned beer at the Rogers Centre.

Today you offered up the idea of $5 beer at the Rogers Centre and, while that sounds great, and is already grabbing you the headlines you probably hoped it would, you don’t need to be a cynical basement-dwelling, impossibly handsome beer blogger to see what this transparent ploy really is. You have in the past given lip service “improving the fan experience” at Jays games and you even seemed to publicly flirt with the idea of bringing in craft beer, as they did in Cleveland when you were there. I fear that you will now use $5 dollar beer to show that “you listened” and will claim the beer has improved. Reports are that the $5 beer will include 355ml cans of Bud and Bud Light so I wanted to clarify to you that selling the same shit at a lower price point in a smaller format is not actually an improvement. Indeed, it seems to me this might be the solution that Rogers and AB InBev came up with together to “improve” the beer situation at games in hopes that the conversation would go away:

FANS: “We want better beer!”
BLUE JAYS: “This small beer is now only five dollars! Isn’t that better?”
FANS: “It’s the same be–”
BLUE JAYS: “FIVE DOLLARS!”

I want to let you know that this conversation isn’t going to go away. (For the record though, I’m loving the dollar hot dog days. Definitely do that shit, please).

And it isn’t just me that wants this, I assure you.

Actual craft beer at Jays’ game would go a long way toward improving the fan experience to a level that is currently experienced literally everywhere else in baseball: The Toronto Blue Jays are the only team in major league baseball who have yet to offer fans a significant, readily available craft beer experience.

When it comes to this part of the overall product for which you are ultimately responsible for, you are literally losing to all 29 of your competitors—but not to worry. This part is an easy fix. Forget for a second the unceasing competition to find the right mix of players on the field, coaches in the clubhouse, salary caps, your pitching woes, scouting, etc. Here is a thing you can do better, right now, that will improve the Blue Jays “product.” Give us better fucking beer. Continue reading


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The 15 most important Ontario beers ever

Ontario’s beer scene is still very much in its infancy.

Accordingly, it’s a little tough to identify the beers that have been “game changers” here just yet.  The game, that is, is still very much changing.

That said, in our still-short evolution toward better beer, there have been a handful of beers that most certainly helped Ontario’s craft beer scene get to where it is today.

Here are my picks for what those beers are. These aren’t the best beers, nor are they my favourites, rather they are the beers that have helped transform Ontario’s getting-closer-to-world-class-every-day beer culture thus far.

Upper Canada Brewing Company’s Rebellion
I’m not sure this two-row pale ale made with Cascade and Cluster hops (when the fuck is the last time you heard of someone using cluster hops??) would float anyone’s boat these days, but back in tha day, this was the only Canadian Pale Ale listed in the 1998 World Beer Championships and it scored an 85. So it wasn’t something to sneeze at.

More importantly though, this is THE gateway beer. This beer actually opened the doors for craft beer in the province. For a generation, it was like, oh shit, there’s another kind of beer?

Jason Fisher is the owner of Toronto’s Indie Alehouse and he points to this beer as a gamechanger. “Upper Canada Rebellion (and even their Lager) was the first beer in Ontario made with an eye toward flavour as opposed to filling a place in the market,” he says. “They didn’t give a fuck what any marketing people said. They brewed what they wanted to and, for a time, it was great. They brought in fresh German hops to make beer with which, at the time, was unheard of in Ontario.”

*real talk: I was 17 when Sleeman took over Upper Canada, got rid of this beer, and fired three guys that would go on to build another brewery in Toronto, so I never actually drank this one. But I gotta show love to an OG craft beer. Continue reading


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Side Launch Brewing is discontinuing Mountain Lager, breaking my heart a little

I don’t usually take to the ol’ blog just to talk about a brewery discontinuing one of their beers, but sometimes a thing will just stick in my craw and I gotta get into it. Plus I’ve had a couple beers tonight. So come with me on a grumpy journey, won’t you friends?

I can now confirm some shitty news that I first heard rumblings about through social media: Collingwood’s Side Launch Brewing Company is discontinuing Mountain Lager, their near-perfect 4.9%, 27 IBU Helles lager.

This will no doubt come as disappointing news to many an Ontario beer fan because, quite simply, Mountain Lager is one this province’s best made lagers. It fairly quickly become a fan favourite after launching and is arguably the beer that ushered in this province’s current “crispy boi” (sorry) obsession. It is a staple in my home and if you too enjoy having a subtly-hopped, impeccably crisp beer in your fridge for in between hop bombs and puckering sours, it is likely a staple in your home, too.

I first heard that this great beer might be going away after posting an image of Side Launch’s new Northbound Light Lager to my Instagram feed, when someone suggested this was a beer that would replace (replace!) Mountain Lager. Shortly thereafter, some LCBO employees forwarded me emails they had received from Side Launch’s inside sales team confirming that yes, Northbound Light Lager will be replacing Mountain Lager and taking over its SKU in the LCBO. Continue reading


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Welcome to the bottom

When Doug Ford challenged Ontario brewers in August with a non-announcement that they could now sell beer for $1 a container, many beer commentators, myself chief among them, opined that no quality beer could be brewed at a profit for that price and that lowering the price floor on beer was nothing more than an invitation to big brewers to see how cheaply they might make beer to take advantage of a weird news cycle.

The announcement was, in essence, the firing of a starter pistol to mark the beginning of a new race in Ontario beer to find rock bottom.

The race has slowed in the interim and a few of the participants dropped out along the way, but it seems clear that the finish line is now clearly in sight because this morning, Loblaw Companies Limited announced the arrival of no name® branded beer.

My friends, welcome to rock bottom. Continue reading


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Why does the beer at London’s city owned golf courses have to suck?


For a few reasons, I’m not really a golfer. First and foremost, I’m not good at it. Secondly, I actually like spending time with my family and so the prospect of eating up multiple hours of a weekend being frustrated on a golf course is far less appealing to me than being with my wife and son on one of the two days a week I get to spend with them. Thirdly, there’s a nagging tree-hugging snowflake part of me that can’t help thinking there are better uses for picturesque wide open spaces than charging people in silly pants to chase a little ball around them.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, while I could probably occasionally overlook all of the above and go golfing simply to enjoy being outdoors with friends drinking good beer, it’s almost never the case that I get to do that. Because the beer at most golf courses, of course, sucks. It is almost always the usual gamut of industrial lagers and, frankly, it doesn’t much matter to many people who are out golfing because it’s hot out and it’s the weekend someone just drove a little car full of beer right up to me and my buddies so I’ll take two of whatever the heck you’ve got on ice.

I get it. Beer at golf courses sucks because it doesn’t really have to be good. The owners of golf courses, much like most bar and restaurant owners, are very likely to simply go with the brewing company that offers them the best deal and thus pour whatever lowest-common-denominator cold shit keeps the throngs of sweaty, sunburned linksmen happily whacking away at their balls.

But to my mind, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s 2019 and it should be a given that people in this province like golf. We have a whopping 811 golf courses in this province. It is also an increasingly obvious fact that Ontarians have developed a taste for locally-made craft beer. Depending on who you ask, the market share for craft beer is at about 8% and it is growing every day. Surely between theses two demographics there is some overlap. So who wouldn’t be able to see an obvious opportunity for appealing to both of those markets and supporting local business by opting to provide some craft beer to golfers?

Well, certainly not the City of London, Ontario. Continue reading


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The Utopias story

What follows is perhaps my most cringe-worthy personal beer story. I have told this story to a few people over the years and some have told me that it would make a great entry for my blog. For reasons that I’m sure will become clear when you read this, I have never written this down before.

Tonight I’ve decided that enough time has passed that I feel…not good…but perhaps…OK sharing it. You will almost certainly think of less me when you finish this. But you might laugh. So here goes. Continue reading