Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


What to expect from Ontario beer in 2018

Because it’s that time of year, here are the things that I think are going to shape the conversation as it relates to beer, especially in Ontario, in 2018.

When it comes to the craft beer industry, it seems kind of crazy to me how little attention is being paid to the legalization of marijuana in Canada. To my mind it is impossible to suggest that the destiny of any meaningful changes to our beverage alcohol sector won’t now be intrinsically tied to all things pot.

Government resources are right now being dedicated to drafting new legislation, debating policies, and creating laws that will govern how each province will handle the prospect of legal weed. And if you’re a pot fan or a policy wonk, these are exciting times, but if you had any hope that you might see meaningful changes to your respective province’s liquor laws anytime soon, I’ve got some bad news for you: Much of the resources and political capital that would be needed for progress in the world of beer are going to be focused squarely on sticky-icky for a while. Continue reading

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The Friday Four 12/15/2017

The Friday Four is a weekly feature where I mention some beers I either drank this week, am currently drinking, or am looking forward to drinking.

Kensington Brewing Co. 
Mango Low Boy, Neu Rodes, and Temper Temper

My craft beer journey actually started with Kensington Brewing Company.

It was 2011 and Toronto’ foremost digital journal of record, blogTO, had put out a call for a beer writer. I was a writer who liked beer so I threw my hat in the ring and submitted an application.

Then,  I had a lot to learn about beer.

Thankfully, as anyone with experience in craft beer will know, most of the folks working in or enjoying craft beer are happy to chat so I quickly found people eager to school me and share some insight. One of the very first people to do so was Brock Shepherd, who, at the time, was the founder and sole employee of the eight month-old Kensington Brewing Company. He was also the owner and operator of Burger Bar, which even as late as 2011 was something of a rarity in that it was a restaurant where the beer on tap was entirely local craft beer and there was even a cask engine. There were also occasional health code violations, but I considered that all part of the charm.

I met Brock under the guise of digging for a story–and eventually wrote this one, about how Augusta Ale was soon to arrive in bottles (even though I’m not entirely sure it ever actually did)–and I ended up sitting and chatting (and drinking) with Brock for at least a few hours.

Brock was one of my first interactions with someone who had that certain passion for craft beer–the kind where some annoying wannabe writer shows up when you’re trying to run a business but you end up chatting with him for hours just because you dig craft beer. At that time, Brock was getting some media buzz for attempting to grow usable hops around Kensington Market and was planning to open a nano-brewery in the back of Burger Bar while continuing to contract brew his production beer under the watchful tutelage of Paul Dickey (at the time, this was still a novel idea and not a marketing plan they teach you at Niagara Brewing College. I kid, I kid). Continue reading


30 years of Great Lakes Brewery

At this point, Great Lakes Brewery has largely cemented their status as a great Canadian brewery and has earned their place in most Canadian beer fans’ hearts.

I’d wager that, right now, almost everyone reading these words has at least one GLB beer in their fridge. And why not? They make great fucking beer.

But it wasn’t always like that. In fact, the killer version of Great Lakes that most of us know and love is a fairly recent innovation considering that the company has actually been around for 30 years. Purchased by Peter Bulut Sr. in 1991, Great Lakes was, at the time, a small brewery in Brampton with an 18 hectolitre system that made their beer using syrupy malt extract brewed on an electric kettle. And so, roughly the same time they bought the business, they bought a mill and a masher to make beer from proper malt, and immediately outgrew the brewery’s fermenters. Taking possession of the company in April, Bulut had to move his operation to a 30,000 square foot building in Etobicoke by August, and today that’s the building the brewery still inhabits.

Bulut quickly found success in the 1990s Toronto restaurant scene which was, at that time, largely dominated by Greek families. Having come from a Greek and Serbian background and having been raised in an Italian school, Bulut was a man of languages and would often adapt the dialect of whomever he was speaking with and tell restaurateurs he was actually from the same village as them. It proved to be an effective ruse and, as a result, he ended up selling a lot of beer.

Like, a lot. Next time you drink a Karma Citra, be thankful for the hardworking Greek people of Toronto and their patrons who drank a shit ton of Great Lakes Lager in the 1990s to make that IPA possible for you. Continue reading


The Friday Four 11/24/2017

The Friday Four is a weekly feature where I mention some beers I either drank this week, am currently drinking, or am looking forward to drinking. 

Cowbell Brewery
Shindig Huron County Lager

Somehow, during all the hullabaloo about the opening of the Disneyworld of Beer, aka Cowbell in Blyth, I missed the news that they created a lager and launched it on their opening weekend, dedicating it to “the hard working men and women who built the Blyth brewing facility.” Shindig Huron County Lager has apparently been available on tap at the brewery ever since and, a press release I received Wednesday tells me, has been so popular, the company has decided to make it their fourth canned beer.

Shindig is described as a “remarkably crisp, clean and refreshing beer” and will be available in 355ml cans at The Cowbell General Store and The Beer Store. Maybe it’s all the dark and boozy winter-appropriate offerings I’ve been into as of late, but a new lager in small cans (from a company that has thus far produced some solid offerings) sounds right up my alley this week. And just think of the extra sales they’ll see by confused consumers who think it’s a new Bellwoods beer.

Oud Beersel
Oude Geuze Vielle

I became aware this was available here in Ontario because I follow Keep 6 Imports on instagram and did an LCBO online order (apparently these aren’t that hard to find if you live in TO, but, as people tend to forget, some folks actually don’t live in Toronto).

As it’s an Oude Geuze, this is a blend of one, two, and three year-old lambics, and is an effervescent, slightly fruity, subtly funky, tart lil’ beauty. There’s a touch of wood and some earthiness that grows as it warms. Is there such a thing as a “go-to” lambic? If  so, this would be a candidate. I bought ten of these. I wish I bought more. I’m drinking one right now. Continue reading


Let’s talk about Untappd

Untappd irritates me.

Sure, there was a time in my life, as there is in most budding beer nerds’ lives, when I wholly embraced all that Untappd had to offer. A crowdsourced collection of tasting notes at my finger tips, a way to track beers that I tried, and even a built in humble-brag system that lets me not only tell people what cool beer I was drinking in a cool bar but also alert all my social media followers that I’ve just earned a badge for surpassing a benchmark like 25 IPAs consumed in one month. It was fun. It was engaging. It was well designed.

But now I think it might be one of the worst things to happen to beer drinking since Adolphus Busch decided he wanted to shag Lilly Anheuser.

Here’s how I came to this conclusion. First, on crowdsourcing tasting notes: I’ve realized I don’t actually care what most people think about a given beer. On the one hand, Untappd is great in that it democratically allows everyone to provide feedback about a beer, and yeah! power to the people.  But on the other hand, who cares about people? Untappd makes every neckbeard with a smartphone think he or she is Michael fucking Jackson. Do I really give a shit that “Jeff T.” thinks Bellwoods Brewery’s Farmhouse Classic “has a weird tangyness” or that “Kyle M.” thinks Instigator IPA from Indie Alehouse is “Really good”? No. No I do not. Untappd is the Yelp of beer, but lazier. If I’m looking for a good restaurant, I don’t want to know that John from Schenectedy gave it one star because he was seated under a drafty vent, I want to know what an actual fucking restaurant critic has to say.

Beer is the same way, and I’m sorry for being snobby here, but most people don’t know a cream ale from a California common, so why the fuck would we want an app that lets all of the people drinking beer (all of them!) share their opinions directly with the world? Continue reading

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The Friday Four 11/17/2017

The Friday Four is a (new) weekly feature where I mention some beers I either drank this week, am currently drinking, or am looking forward to drinking. 

Brasseurs du Monde
Célébrante 375

Included in a handful of beers my brother brought me from the dep near his house in Montreal last time he visited, this beer is a “mellow blonde beer with champagne yeast.” The label listed tasting notes that suggested I could expect “low bitterness” and noted “it delivers honey, pear, orange and lemon flavours.” I didn’t catch most of these notes and instead this came off as a sort of overly-boozy blonde with an almost overbearing rounded pear note. I didn’t actually finish it. Sorry, brother. I include it here though to note what might be the first instance of  casual colonialism I’ve ever seen on a beer label. Brewed to commemorate the 375th anniversary of the founding of Montreal, the label includes this gem: “With courage and preserverance, Maisonneauve and his settlers founded Montreal on the site of an Iriquois village called Hochlega 375 years ago.” Right on the site of an existing village. What courage!

Sawdust City
Long Dark Voyage to Uranus

Previous batches of LDV have been a weird and impressive balance of rich, bitter, and dry that somewhat manages to be far more dangerously smooth than its hefty 9.5% imperial ABV would suggest. Possibly one of the best imperial stouts in the province–and definitely the best beer I know of that involves butthole word play–LDV is slated to return to LCBO shelves November 23rd and appears to already be on tap at a couple bars.

Block Three Brewing Co.

On Monday, I undertook the overdue task of cleaning out my second beer fridge. Yes, there are two. I had a ton of beer that I knew I’d never drink (i.e. because it was terrible) or that appeared to be past its prime per its date stamps. It turns out I had a Frankenstout from November 2016 in the fridge and, given its lowish (5%) ABV I wasn’t sure how it might have held up. Turns out it was just fine. I took a whiff from the bottle and had to get a glass. Rich aromas, semi-dry finish, etc. and not over-bearing. A very nice accompaniment to pouring other beers into my laundry tub.
I forgot to take a picture so here’s Boris Karloff. 

Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co.
Tom Green Cherry Milk Stout

The folks at Beau’s sent me this variant of their popular Tom Green Beer milk stout about a month ago but I’ve been too much in denial to admit the winter months I associate with stouts are  here to dig in on the dark stuff–as you can see from the inaugural Friday Four, I’ve accepted that winter is around the corner and I’m diving into dark beers wholeheartedly. Tom Green Cherry Milk Stout is a black-brown with reddish highlights and it was doing that crazy growing head thing where I had to keep an eye on the glass to watch the ever-expanding off-white foam creeping higher. There are nice roasted malt and subtle chocolate flavours in this one and, while the tasting notes suggested sweet “dessert-like” cherry, I detected would I’d call a semi-sour smooch (a technical term) of sour black cherry. Very nice beer.


What are you drinking this weekend?


30 minutes with Scott Simmons, the new President of the Ontario Craft Brewers

Back in August, the Ontario Craft Brewers announced the appointment of a new association president.

The former CEO of Golf Canada, Scott Simmons was also Vice President, marketing and business development for The Beer Store, and he led that organization’s development of a long range strategic plan.

The OCB currently boasts 82 members and is the only organization representing the interests of small brewers in the province. Accordingly, the role of president is one that could conceivably be pivotal in shaping the future of craft beer in Ontario. I reached out to Simmons and managed to catch him during a free half hour when he was literally driving to Queen’s Park to chat beer with provincial politicians and we discussed what he’s been up to in his first 12 weeks on the job, what we can expect next for beer in Ontario, and, importantly, what a newly-craft-converted and self-described “blue collar” guy from Brantford (who went to high school with Gretzky no less) likes to drink. What follows is an edited transcript of the things Simmons was willing to go on the record about (also worth noting: I knew we only had 30 minutes, so I tried to cut to the chase).


Ben’s Beer Blog: “Ok, you probably saw this one coming, so lets start with it. Craft brewers in Ontario are still “the little guys,” and to my mind, there are a few big guys they have to do battle with and one of them is The Beer Store. You come from The Beer Store. How do you reconcile that? I’ve talked to some OCB members and, the consensus is generally “who better to help us in that system,” but there are also a lot of guys that want to blow up that system. In March 2015, I watched Darren Smith, the owner of Lake of Bays Brewery and the Vice Chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers, give an impassioned speech directly to provincial politicians, basically saying “Let us have our own stores.” I still think that’s the best possible scenario here: Let craft brewers open their own stores. But given your Beer Store background, does this signify that the OCB is content to work within that system, or are stores still a goal?”

Scott Simmons: “I think it’s still a goal for sure. But as you know from your work in the industry, every thing is political. Everything is a negotiation. I think that, my personal opinion, the craft brewers kind of lost the battle for their own stores—for the time being at least—when the grocery store plan got announced.”

BBB: “I agree.”

SS: “I think when they announced grocery, cross-selling and individual stores fell off the table for the time-being but it’s certainly something that I’m going to keep advocating for. And to your point about the little guys and the big competition with Molson and Labatt—for sure, but I try not to think of it as so contentious. They’re not evil and all this. You know, they’re good people.”  Continue reading