What’s in store for Ontario beer next year?


Last week I rounded up some of the biggest developments in beer in 2015 and it got me to thinking about the year ahead. Here are some of things I predict what we might see in beer in Ontario for 2016.

Small scale innovation

Grocery store sales are not going to be the tipping point for Ontario beer.  As I noted in last week’s post, that development doesn’t seem all that ground-breaking for me. I think it’s possible that, as the grocery store program rolls out over the next couple years, there might be some outlier chains and independent grocers who opt to support local and craft beer exclusively; however, given that Farm Boy, who were rumoured to be aiming at 100% craft beer on shelves, has opted to stock big beer on store shelves, I think it’s more likely that grocery stores will simply bring us more of the same beer we already have access to through the Beer Store and LCBO.

Instead, I think 2016 will continue to bring interesting and innovative solutions to Ontario’s unique legislative problems by way of small businesses and entrepreneurs. I predict a rise in home-delivery services that bring unique craft offerings to people in areas where distribution is difficult and I predict the coming of increased numbers of niche-market bars and restaurants that can offer rare imported beers given how hard it can be to bring in beers from other markets.  The forthcoming new bar from the family behind Bar Volo that will focus on barrel-aged and sour imports, to my mind, could be the first of many.

More buyouts

I predict that there will be at least one more big brewery purchase of an Ontario craft brewery in 2016. Molson purchasing Amsterdam in response to the Mill Street buyout seems almost too obvious a choice, so I’m NOT going to predict that, but it would silly to think that the Labatt/AB InBev purchase of Toronto’s Mill Street brewery will be the last. When it comes to the developing craft beer industry in Ontario, you can usually look to the US and their more robust scene for hints about what might be coming for us (though usually it’s 5-10 years ahead) and AB InBev has certainly adopted a “takeover” approach to their craft beer market share loss south of the border. It’s only logical to think Canada and Ontario can’t be (too) far behind. In other words, it’s not so much an “if” as it is a “when.” The interesting part will be seeing just who will be the next to “sell out.”

A new approach

I think, and hope, that 2016 will be a year we see better and more vocal representation on behalf of Ontario craft brewers. The Ontario Craft Brewers organization most certainly deserves credit for where we are today and for helping get beer into grocery stores and has clearly been involved in the consultations with Ed Clark and his advisory panel. But there has been no earth shattering change here and the way the OCB’s pleas for their own stores went ignored in favour of changes that not only still favour The Beer Store but also brought in another group of moneyed lobbyists says to me that craft brewers’ approach to lobbying government needs to change. The government has made a good some show of helping the OCB, but it’s clear that no party involves is willing to rock the monopoly boat too much.

We still need real change and, to my mind, that will come with better advocacy. When the voices that radio stations and news outlets reach out to when news breaks are those of ranty beer bloggers and a few outspoken brewers, there’s a problem.

Dad beers are coming

It would seem to me that the last few years have seen Ontario’s beer tastes mellow slightly. When the craft beer scene here was a little younger, we were all pretty big on enamel-stripping IBUs (and certainly we still are from time to time). But the recent rise of the “session IPA” has us trending toward a new appreciation for subtlety and I think that trend will continue. Ontario now has more than a few good hopped pilsners, and I think 2016 will see even more of a return to subtle styles. Crazy beer was a great way to get noticed in craft beer when the scene was in its infancy, but now that we’re approaching….adolescence maybe?…there will be more onus placed (rightly) on the ability to make “simple” styles and to do them with consistency. I expect more pilsners and, from the breweries that can afford the time and space required, maybe even in a new era for the craft lager.

Breweries with multiple locations

It was a fairly small tidbit given the news about all things growler and grocery store when we all read the in the report Striking the Right Balance: Modernizing Beer Retailing and Distribution in Ontario (You all read it in its entirety, too, right? It couldn’t have just been me and Jordan), but early last year, the province changed the rules about on-site retail stores for brewers with more than one facility. Specifically,

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) will allow brewers with two production facilities to have an on-site retail store at each facility for the sale of their products only, regardless of the production size of their facilities.

This was a departure from a fairly silly and archaic rule that stipulated a minimum number of hectolitres required to open a second store and one that threatened the existence of a bottle shop at the-still-in-devlopment second Bellwoods Brewery location as well as the possibility of retail sales at a second brewery for Ottawa’s Beyond The Pale. Now that the rule has been erased, I predict you’re going to see a few more successful Ontario brewers announcing second (and maybe even third?) locations in 2016. (To be fair, I am cheating a little on this ‘prediction.’ I already know of at least one Ontario brewery that is actively scouting for a second location).

Closing doors

On the flipside of the “Hooray more breweries and more brewery locations” coin, I think 2016 will Ontario deal craft beer fans a little harsh reality. That is, with over 300 breweries open or in progress in Ontario, we seem almost overdue for a high profile closure. Beer is a tough market in Ontario and so with so many breweries opening, expanding, and generally hoping to make a go of it in 2016, it seems only natural that one or two just won’t make the cut this year. I don’t know who, but I predict a brewery we all thought was doing just fine will close shop by 2017.


What do you think is going to happen in 2016? 


5 thoughts on “What’s in store for Ontario beer next year?

  1. “Jordan and I” please. You’re normally such an erudite young man! On the money as usual though as far as I am concerned and I look forward to your future 2016 posts.
    “Old Farts” some of us may be referred to at times, but more “session” beers brewed with consistency would be most welcome.

    1. Ben has used “me” correctly. He wouldn’t say “it couldn’t have just been I,” so he would not say “Jordan and I.” He would say “it couldn’t have just been me” so he would say “me and Jordan,” or preferably “Jordan and me.”

      1. Thank you for your grammatical correction. Subjects and objects in sentences. It just didn’t sound pleasing to my ear.

  2. I tend to think of Amsterdam as the next logical target as well, even though I have no idea why. Flying Monkeys seems like a good second guess. Let’s see what happens.

  3. When I’m travelling in the US, I’m consistently blown away by the craft beer selection in grocery stores (the Minneapolis market is a great example). I think we’re very far away from that, but getting into the grocery stores is an essential first step towards freedom from the restrictions of the LCBO. I look forward to the day when I can head down to my local Loblaw for a rare and exciting bottle.

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