Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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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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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.

Weed
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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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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For whom the bell tolls: Bellwoods Brewery v. Cowbell Brewing

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the ambitious opening of Cowbell Brewing in Blyth. For the most part, news of the 26,000 square foot destination brewery was met with enthusiasm and the responses to the brewery’s opening were almost entirely positive.

But, it would seem, not everyone is so enthusiastic about the coming proliferation of a “beer that rings true.”

Cowbell Brewing, I have learned, has actually been in a quiet legal battle with Toronto’s Bellwoods Brewery over Cowbell’s entitlement to register a bell-themed trademark in Canada.

Through the Government of Canada’s publicly available trademarks database, I have learned that Bellwoods Brewery indeed has a registered trademark for its bell design for use in association with beer, operation of a brewery, and a handful of merchandise items. This trademark application was filed  on January 2, 2013 and officially registered on May 27, 2014.

Cowbell Brewery filed an application for their logo on November 19, 2015 and the application includes similar stipulations (though notably includes the addition of “noisemakers, golf towels, golf balls, [and] golf umbrellas,” which those dummies at Bellwoods didn’t think of branding).

A little digging reveals that Bellwoods has formally opposed issuance of a trademark registration to Cowbell for this logo. The opposition is ongoing. Continue reading


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A conversation with Richard Sigesmund of Gleemer Imports

If you’re a fan of craft beer in Ontario and have spent any amount of time participating in the conversation about the scene online, it’s likely you’ve run into Richard Sigesmund.

A perennial critic of the province’s beer scene, Sigesmund generally isn’t afraid to tell anyone how he really feels about a certain beer, brewery, or trend and, on occasion, the conversation has been known to get a little heated. As of this post, for example, he has unfriended me on Facebook (though we still trade barbs on twitter and we chatted via email for this post).

To call him a fan of Belgian beer would likely be putting it lightly. Sigesmund travels to the region at least once a year and interned as a brewer there. He’s also an avid home brewer and has collaborated on a few brews with Toronto’s Muddy York brewing. And while he’s fairly quick to share his thoughts on the superior beer scene in other regions, unlike most Ontario beer-critiquing twitteratti or self-righteous beer bloggers (ahem), Sigesmund is poised to put his money where his mouth is later this year when he officially launchers Gleemer Imports, his very own Ontario beer agency “importing liquid happiness from Belgium and beyond.”

I chatted with the fledgling agency owner to see what we might be able to expect from Ontario’s newest beer importer. Continue reading


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Catching up with Bellwoods Brewery

bellwoods-brewery-exterior

The opening of a second Bellwoods Brewery location in Toronto has been something of a long saga, but on December 17th, the ability to buy their much sought-after beer in another locale became a reality when they opened the doors of a production-focused facility at 20 Hafis Road.

Toronto beer enthusiasts will recall that the beer-making darlings of the Ossington Strip first announced a proposed second location way back in August of 2014, but the proposed site number two was slated for 950 Dupont Street in the former Hamilton Gear and Machine building.

But then there was the pesky and annoying possibility that said second location would be unable to sell bottled beer thanks to a weird rule in the province’s liquor legislation.

That arbitrary 25,000 hectolitre rule was, thankfully, one of the few things changed as part of Ontario’s profoundly lacklustre “revamping” of our liquor laws that came into force on Canada Day of 2016, and so presumably the stage was set for Bellwoods to soon have two bottle shops.

And yet, the beer drinking public continued to wait. Continue reading


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The Ontario beer state of the union

Ontario Flag

On Thursday, at Beer Bistro in Toronto, awards were handed out to the fan favourites in a variety of categories for Ontario’s beer scene for the 2016 Golden Tap Awards.

The occasion, which likely skews a little too heavily toward Toronto beer bars and breweries, is probably about as good a way as any to take the pulse of the province’s current beer trends, and thus seemed to me like an appropriate time to reflect on the Ontario beer scene generally. Also, yes, I won one of these awards again last night and so I feel compelled to actually contribute something instead of resting on my laurels.

And so I had a few beers and thunk on it, and I’ve concluded that the craft beer scene in Ontatio is great.

But it’s time to get serious. Continue reading