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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How fresh is your beer?

Beer is typically best enjoyed as fresh as possible.

It’s not something most people think about when they roll up to the Beer Store to buy a case of their favourite lager and it’s definitely not something bar-goers scrutinize when a busy bartender snaps the cap off a bottle she just fished out of the fridge behind the bar, but it really should be.

Conscientious shoppers will happily scrutinize the freshness of the almond milk in the fridge at their grocery store and many people will toss meat and half loaves of bread that have passed the seemingly arbitrary “best before” date slapped on their respective labels; yet these same consumers, blissfully unaware, will happily neck a four month old Budweiser from their local.

And that’s a shame, really, because perhaps even more so than your almond milk, hot dogs, or wonder bread, beer really does taste a lot better when it is consumed as close as possible to the day it was put in the bottle or can.

There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule and a handful of beer styles might actually get better with a little aging – an experiment that I caution you to pursue at your own risk – but for the most part, fresh is best. Ask someone who has had Pilsner Urquell in Plzeň what he or she thinks comparing it to the can procured at the local LCBO. Ask someone who’s bartered for a month-old Heady Topper to try one brewed a couple days ago. Drink a pale ale directly from your local brewery then find a three-month old version at your liquor store. The difference is clear. Continue reading


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Toronto Beer Week and AB InBev

infiltration
[in-fil-trey-shuh n]
noun
a method of attack in which small bodies of soldiers or individual soldiers penetrate the enemy’s line at weak or unguarded points in order to assemble behind the enemy position and attack it from the rear, harass enemy rear-area installations, etc.

Toronto Beer Week, which was created in 2010 by a group of like-minded publicans, beer writers, cask ale supporters, homebrewers, and craft beer enthusiasts, launches today.

The week-long celebration of local beer was originally launched with no sponsor investment and a stated purpose of helping promote the city’s burgeoning craft beer movement.

This year, it seems like that’s definitely changed.

Each consecutive year has seen TBW grow even larger in scale and, in the opinion of some grumbling beer nerds, become more and more marketing-focused in its attempts to attract evermore new participating bars and breweries.

In May of this year, Toronto Beer Week was acquired by St Joseph Media, the company that produces Toronto Life and Fashion magazine, and many of these same beer nerds wondered what this would mean in terms of the tone and direction of the nine day series of once craft-beer-focused events.

As the event week begins its ninth year today, it seems to me that we might have a clear indication that TBW has officially jumped the shark given that it now includes Goose Island Brew Pub among the list of participating breweries. 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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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


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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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Never mind Oktoberfest, here’s Craftoberfest

When I was in university, I travelled to Kitchener to attend the annual Oktoberfest event there, and it was nothing short of terrible.

The pilgrimage to the K-W included sleeping on the floor of a frat boy friend of a friend and it coincided with a lamentable period of my youth that all men seem to go through where we find it humourous to hit each other as hard as possible in the balls. While my group of friends always had a gentleman’s rule that these shots were permissible only when administered open-handed, the agreement was not enough to prevent my two best friends from nearly fighting each other in the middle of a polka-filled hall of dirndl- and lederhosen-bedecked revellers that evening.

Accordingly, I will likely forever associate my experience at Oktoberfest with a terrible night of drinking and the anxiety of perpetually fearing blunt force trauma to my penis and testicles. And while the organizers aren’t responsible for me associating Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest with being hit in the balls, it seems to me an apt metaphor for the annual event. Continue reading