The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, Second Edition: a review

Recently, beer writers Robin LeBlanc and Jordan St. John released the second volume of their guide to the breweries currently making beer across Ontario.

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the aptly named Ontario Craft Beer Guide, Second Edition, and so, as I imagine the authors and Dundurn Press had hoped I would, I have undertaken the task of reviewing the book; and, as it seemed appropriate, I did so in a manner befitting the book’s subject matter.

Mostly a pale gold in colour, the book features spots of blue with white font and a sturdy, purple binding with about two fingers of head depicted along the top of the cover that has not dissipated in the twelve hours since I received this review copy. Including the comprehensive list of recommended pubs across the province, the book is a whopping 640 pages and is thus entirely opaque. Literally no light shines through it at all.

The aroma is a sort of new stationery, pleasant paper with no discernible hint of must or rot that you might get from older, more traditional beer books. As the book warms up there is also a very subtle chemical scent that might be attributed to the ink used in the three short sections of full-colour images taken by co-author and photographer LeBlanc and interspersed throughout.

For me, this book’s main downside is the taste. It is an attractive and welcoming tome, but, frankly, it tastes terrible. Up front it is intensely bitter and the front and rear covers are impossibly thick and chewy—to the point of being almost unpalatable. One would hope that the authors, having visited around 256 Ontario breweries to meticulously sample and rate their beers, would have learned something about creating something pleasing to the taste, however, that is not the case. The lingering finish is that of a sort of salty, bitter, inky taste that I’d wager is almost certainly actually ink and I’d hazard a guess that this book is unhealthy to consume in large doses. After digesting just 11 pages I started to feel nauseous and dizzy. There was clearly a lot of effort put into crafting a well-researched book, but it’s disappointingly evident that almost no effort was put into the volume’s flavour. I couldn’t even finish it in one sitting.

The book’s mouthfeel is incredibly unpleasant. While the writing is at times lively and bubbly, the book itself has zero discernible carbonation. The hard edges of the pages are also as sharp as the insight provided in the authors’ reviews and the effect is to have cut and mangled my tongue to the point where the mustard on the hot dog I had hoped to pair with the book stung my mouth. Before I could even get through finishing the comprehensive glossary of beer terms, I was spitting blood.

Overall, this book is a terrible beer.

Thankfully, it’s not a beer, it’s a fucking book.

And just as when Jordan and Robin released volume one, I can’t recommend this book highly enough to anyone who wants a comprehensive guide to this province’s growing craft beer scene.

This new and improved volume will act as a guide to myriad beer nerds’ self-led beer road trips, will be become as dog-eared and worn as volume one did on the desk of any number of unnamed beer writers who used it as a reference, and will act as an invaluable introduction to any beer drinker looking to have his or her horizons expanded by the plethora of great beer being brewed in Ontario.

My only qualm is that, with nearly 100 new breweries added to this second edition, it really seems like a missed opportunity not to have called this The Imperial Ontario Craft Beer Guide.

Ah well. Maybe for volume three.

5 thoughts on “The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, Second Edition: a review

  1. I find if you pair the book with something spicy – say shawarma or maybe jalapeno pepper seeds – it goes down much easier. Or wash it down with a good Ontario IPA. Everything is better with an IPA.

  2. If you read it while DRINKING an IPA (third or fourth) it definitely becomes smoother and easier to swallow.

  3. Thought I’d break my trend of merely lurking to ask a question: why are there so few options for stouts and porters among Ontario craft brewers? Don’t get me wrong, there are great stouts made in this province, but most of them are limited to a few winter months. Moreover, I can get all the sours, pale ales, and IPAs that I want in Toronto, but finding something rich, dark, and malty is far too rare. Heck, I can go down to the States and get stouts — from Irish to imperial — any time of year, Is Ontario’s beer culture just not that into dark beers?

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