America is better at beer than Canada.
It feels dirty to write it and I’m half expecting the RCMP to kick in my apartment door for even uttering such a treasonous notion, but it’s true.
I don’t mean to say that Canadians don’t make great beer–because god damn it we do–I drank a shit ton of great beer just last night and most of it was brewed within 100 kilometres of Toronto. There are amazing brewers in Ontario making amazing beer and there are more new ones every day.
But we barely scratch the surface when compared to our big dumb cousins to the south.
It’s kind of a well-known secret among beer nerds that, despite what flag-waving, jingoistic, mountain-and-stream-filled commercials from big brewers would have us believe, Canada might not dominate the beer world in the way we’d all like to believe it does.
The rules and regulations that exist here actually make it pretty difficult to be a successful craft brewer. As I noted in an earlier rant, brewers are limited in their opportunities to peddle their wares, relegated to selling from their own brewery, jumping through the considerable hoops necessary to get in the LCBO (here in Ontario, at least), or paying to get their beer in The Beer Store.
In the US, the looser regulations mean that it’s much easier to get your beer out there and, as a result, Americans have a ridiculously broad selection when it comes to their beer drinking. And it’s getting even better.
According to the Brewer’s Association, as of March 26, 2012, there were at least 250 brewery openings in the US in 2011. That’s 250 new breweries in just one year.
They estimate that 1,989 total breweries operated in the United States for some or all of 2011, which was the highest total since the 1880s. (Man, the 1880s must have been a good time, eh?)
It’s difficult to compare these numbers to Canadian ones because, owing largely to the patchwork of organizations and regulations that oversee beer production from province to province, there aren’t really any national craft beer stats available – but I can tell you unscientifically, we don’t have anywhere near 2000 craft brewers operating here.
You can argue (and some do) that stiffer regulations in this country, and in Ontario particularly, mean that there is a better guarantee that the product you’re buying is of good quality. With standards in place, the argument goes, it’s a lot harder to fill shelves with shitty, unregulated products. This argument likens the US to a sort of wild west, anything goes beer market where beer fans need to wallow through myriad trashy brews to find the gems.
And while there’s much to be said for that, I’d still argue that they’ve got it better. Much like with television channels, lunch meats, and internet pornography, variety is never a bad thing. American brewers needn’t spend time worrying about adhering to government regulations and instead are free to focus on what it is they love doing: brewing beer. As a result, American brewers are crafting beer in virtually every style imaginable and a lot of them are doing it extremely well. One could easily argue that the US is producing some of the best beers in the world right now.
As for Canada, we’re definitely growing as a country in terms of the sophistication of our beer tastes and as a result our options are growing, too, but we’ve got a lot of catching up to before we can offer the depth of choices Americans currently enjoy.
I’m not trying to advocate that anything about America is better than Canada. Clearly we’re just better overall (see: International Hockey, Health Care, Poutine), but the next time you’re tempted to start bragging about how much better Canadian beer is than American beer, you should probably just stay quiet.
What can you do?
Well, I could tell you to write your MPP and detail your concerns with your province’s liquor laws and the way they make things difficult for entrepreneurial craft brewers, but you’re not going to do that, are you?
Instead, why not act locally and support your local craft brewers? It’s quickly becoming a market that the big guys are finding it hard to ignore as craft sales chip away at big brewer’s sales and the more support they have the sooner politicians will notice that there needs to be some changes.
If you live in Toronto and you’re looking to support some local craft brewers and OK, maybe even sneak an American craft import or two, you can check out this recently compiled list of the bars with The Best Beer Selection in Toronto and, while you’re at it, why not check out my updated review of the number one choice, barVolo?
I know, I’m shameless.