Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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The definition of craft beer

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There is seemingly no craft beer debate more constant–and arguably more annoying–than the ongoing debate over the meaning of the word “craft.”

Every few months or so since 2005, when the board of the Brewers Association first voted to draft a definition of what a “craft brewer” is, it seems like the debate again rears its ugly head on twitter or on the blogosphere and we are treated to a now-familiar littany of opinions from beer writers, websites, advocates, brewers, and bar stool pontificators on what exactly “craft beer” means and whether or not we even need such a term.

Local beer blogging’s resident grumpy old man, Alan McLeod, got me thinking about this frustrating debate again earlier this week when he brought the topic up in a post about the similarly elusive quest to define craft beer’s looming (or is it?) “bubble.”

In his quick revisit of the “craft” debate that has enjoyed renewed vigor since the BA began arbirtrarily changing its definition so that Samuel Adams continues to meet the terms, McLeod ultimatley reasons that “[The word]” now includes so much meaning – so many meanings – that it no longer has little specific meaning.”

McLeod also touched on the thoughts of famed spirits writer Lew Bryson, who in a recent interview pleaded “Just call it beer. It’s beer,” and McLeod likewise revisits a 2014 Toronto Sun piece by his occasional co-author, the esteemed Jordan St. John Esq., who landed on a similar conclusion when he opined that ““Craft beer” has served its purpose as an idea and we need to move past it.”

And so it is not without due respect to these and the many other beer experts who have asked rhetorically “who can define craft beer” that I say to them today: Well, I can. Continue reading


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Why is craft beer so white?

Be forewarned: This is a super long post. Like annoyingly long. Like “Really, Ben? Ever heard of editing?” long. But this is a topic with a lot of angles to be covered and a it’s one which I felt required fulsome exploration. Also, it’s my blog and you’ve been reading my shit for free for five years so I can do whatever I want. K, thanks. 

Canada’s craft beer industry is a friendly and welcoming scene.

Spend any amount of time in the company of the people who are making and drinking craft beer in this country and you’ll quickly be drawn in by the engaging events and the comradery that exists even among so-called competitors. Craft beer is fun and this inclusionary atmosphere (along with the interesting beer) is likely a big part of the reason more people are discovering craft beer and why estimates put small breweries’ share of Canada’s beer market at around 10%.

So why then, in an industry that seems implicitly welcoming and inclusive, are almost all those friendly faces white?

Scan a newspaper for news of a brewery opening in your town, check out local website coverage of the latest craft beer festival in your area–heck, just do a stock image search for “people drinking craft beer”–and you’ll see pretty quickly that Canada’s craft beer scene is whiter than a country club fundraiser for sustainable organic mayonnaise.

Toronto in particular, where Canada’s craft beer charge is arguably being led, is ranked among the most multicultural cities in the world, and is the most diverse city in the country with the last available census data stating 47.7% of the city’s population comprises “visible minorities.”

So why don’t any of these people of colour seem to be drinking, making, or selling beer? Continue reading


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Ontario’s independent grocers want to support craft beer

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Beer is coming to grocery stores.

No, really.

For a number of reasons, it’s been tough to believe that this development, first announced by the provincial government back in the spring of 2015, would ever actually come. Firstly, there’s the healthy dose of cynicism with which we’ve all learned to approach any news about alcohol reform in Ontario, and secondly, there’s the fact that, aside from those early announcements about 450 grocery stores that would eventually be allowed to sell beer, we haven’t actually heard a lot of details about how (or when) exactly this would all happen.

Until now.

In a Ben’s Beer Blog exclusive, I had an opportunity to chat recently with Tom Barlow, President and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers (CFIG).  This chat was exciting for a few reasons: Firstly, I’ve now got some details about what beer in grocery stores might actually look like, and secondly, the fact that independent grocers have been invited to take part in the conversation with Ed Clark and the panel overseeing the reform of beer sales bodes well for Ontario’s craft beer, in my opinion. Continue reading


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Changes to Ontario’s beer: The good, the bad, and the WTF

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In case you are unaware–or you’re like me and were drinking copious amounts of great American craft beer at the annual Craft Brewers Conference in Portland when it happened–last week the province announced some proposed changes to the way beer is sold in Ontario.

Mostly contained in an announcement wherein Premier Kathleen Wynne confirmed that we’d be seeing beer sold in grocery stores (if the Liberal budget is passed, which it will since they have a majority), the full details of the proposed changes were outlined in the report Striking the Right Balance: Modernizing Beer Retailing and Distribution in Ontario

Given my Portland sojourn, I’m admittedly a little late to the party analyzing the impact of these possible changes, but better late than never.

If you’re interested, Canadian Beer News has a great round up of the various reactions to the report in the major dailies and some blogs.  I recommend Dan Grant‘s post for NOW Magazine for some reaction from brewers and Jordan St. John published an interesting post in which he takes a look at how we got here (and gets a terrific visit from a trolling Beer Store employee in the comments section for his efforts!)

In considering the report and its impact, I opted to approach the issue as I do most other things: I cracked a beer and first read what every one else was saying–but then I decided to take a critical look at each of the proposed major changes individually.

Here’s why I think the proposed changes are good, why they might be bad, and why they have me asking “wtf?” Continue reading


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London is Getting a Microbrewery

Forked River

I resisted the urge to add an exclamation point to the title of this post; however, I can’t help but hum the tune to “Hallelujah” when I type the words.

You see, I’m from London and lived there for roughly 85% of my life and while London has always had a lot to offer, craft beer has not been one of those things.

Now, with the arrival of Forked River Brewing Company, that will change.

The recently announced craft brewery is the brainchild of David Reed, Andrew Peters, and Steve Nazarian–all London residents and University of Western Ontario graduates (Go Mustangs!). Reed is an engineer who worked a few years running an engineering department at a beverage R&D firm and has been brewing for ten years; Nazarian worked in the biotechnology sector, working in pharmaceutical manufacturing, drug safety testing, and quality control before getting the homebrewing bug in 2004; and Peters is also a microbiologist who got involved with homebrewing clubs in Ottawa and Toronto. Continue reading


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Beer and Star Wars: A Pairing Guide

Sadly, this doesn't actually exist.

Sadly, this doesn’t actually exist.

There’s always a temptation, when you love two things, to attempt to bring those two things together. Most of the time, as with wine and cheese, peanut butter and banana, or drinking gin and attending yard sales, the pairings complement each other; improving your experience of both things.

But if you’re not careful, as with my unfortunate attempt to combine roast beef sandwiches and hot tubs, things can go hideously wrong and end up permanently ruining your enjoyment of both things.

And so, when I recently finally acquired copies of the theatrical version of the original Star Wars trilogy, it was with trepidation that I attempted to find the right tasty, Canadian beer to enjoy while watching each of the films. I considered my choices carefully, and I think I came up with some successful combinations, and so I pass that wisdom on to you. Continue reading


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Drifting into the argument like wild yeast…

Opinions in Ontario brewing are a lot like assholes and IPAs: These days, everyone has one.

There seems to be a lot of beer writing occurring as of late on the subject of beer writing itself—so I thought I too would jump on the masturbatory, navel-gazing bandwagon and offer my two cents and pretend that this little space I’ve carved out on the internets has any sort of influence at all.

The “conversation” largely began on the prolific and insightful “A Good Beer Blog.” Author Alan McLeod had offered up his opinion (as beer writers are wont to do) on an interesting little project being conducted by a co-operative of Ontario brewers who, in a nutshell, are attempting to brew beer adhering to ancient Belgian techniques that will, hopefully, see the beer fermented by wild indigenous yeasts the Brewers are hoping will drift into the open brewing vessels.

This is a broadly simplified explanation, and many other media outlets have done a much more detailed job, so feel free to seek them out if you want more information on the project (though be forewarned, none of them seem to answer my first question about the whole process, namely, won’t birds poop in the beer?!). Continue reading