Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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From Graft to Glass

This piece originally appeared in print and online for in the December 2018 edition of The Growler, Ontario’s Beer Guide.

As a paying customer in a bar, you might think that the beer on tap is chosen to suit your tastes. It feels like a safe assumption that not only the food but also the beer pouring from the gleaming row of taps is selected to appease you, in order to make you spend money, return, and maybe even invite friends along.

But it usually isn’t. Those beers are there for different reasons and that bar isn’t actually a really big fan of the 12 very similar lagers that Labatt offers.

The truth is, most bar and restaurant owners treat their draught taps, and often their fridges of bottles and cans too, as not much more than prime real estate, available to the highest bidder. Brewery sales reps come into bars with an arsenal of free shit in order to “influence” their way onto these tap lines. They’re flush with “swag” like t-shirts, patio umbrellas, bar mats and chalkboards. They have budgets to offer keg deals, buy five get one free, for example; and they often simply hand over cash or offer to pay for a bar to install draught lines so that the brewery can make sure their beer is always in that line. There is no loyalty in the hospitality business. A bar manager’s love for a brewery is really only as good as the last rep who walked in the door with free tickets to a Ti-Cats game and a fucking snapback hat. Continue reading


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What to expect from Ontario beer in 2019

Because it is again that time of year where we do this sort of thing, here are the topics that I think will shape the conversation as it relates to beer, especially in Ontario, in 2019.

The failure of DME Brewing Solutions
In late November, I wrote here about the receivership status of Diversified Metal Engineering (DME), one of North America’s biggest manufacturers of brewing equipment. In that post, I suggested that there would be many breweries–Canadian and otherwise–effected by this closure. Shortly after I wrote about the issue, Josh Rubin of the Toronto Star wrote about the closure of DME and how it will effect local breweries, specifically the Indie Alehouse, whose owner Jason Fisher told the Star he was waiting for about $800,000 worth of brewing equipment to expand his brewery that he was now unlikely to ever see. Shortly thereafter, Good Beer Hunting picked up the story, expanding on it and chatting with a handful of Canadian brewers. In that story, GBH noted that DME owes “at least $20 million to 370 businesses and banks, and an unknown amount to another 382 individuals and companies.” 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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Five more points about contract brewing

Last week, I wrote a piece for  the Globe and Mail about contract brewing, the practice wherein brewing companies or virtual breweries rent space from larger facilities to make their beer.

Given the constraints of the 800 words I was alotted, there was much I did not have time to dig in on and so the final piece was something of an overview of the practice, with some brief discussion of why it might be growing in popularity–especially in Ontario–with some insight from a business owner, Shehan De Silva of Lost Craft Beer, who has had success with this model, and from a bricks and mortar brewery owner, Jason Fisher of the Indie Ale House, who is generally opposed to this model for what he feels it brings (or doesn’t) to the industry as a whole.

The article was intentionally targeted at the Globe and Mail’s “general audience” and so much of the beer geekery I might have dug in on was omitted. Accordingly the responses from beer industry folks on twitter, Facebook, and my email were passionate and varied. Interestingly, the article seemed to simply confirm everyone’s beliefs no matter which side of the argument you might be on. Both virtual brewers and bricks and mortar brewers have reached out to me in the interim to say I had represented their side well (Not to toot my own horn, but beep fucking beep).

Also of interest, one owner of a contract brewing facility says he was subsequently inundated with calls from interested new brewing companies. Er, sorry / you’re welcome, Ontario?

Anyway, here are some mostly random tidbits I had hoped to include but couldn’t. Continue reading


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A Canadian-made Sierra Nevada beer comes to Ontario today

sierra-nevada-nc

In August, 14 beer-loving Canadians traveled to the Mills River, North Carolina brewing facility of famed pioneer craft brewery Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. for a collaboration.

The result of that collab, the unfortunately named “The Eh! Team” beer, is a peppercorn-spiced farmhouse saison that has just hit the draught lineups of a handful of great Ontario beer bars, all of whom were on hand for the beer’s creation.

The beer was made as part of Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp collaboration series that welcomed Ontario beer writer Crystal Luxmore and the owners of Picton’s County Canteen, Kingston’s two Red House pubs, Toronto’s beerbistro, Birreria Volo, Bar Hop, and the Indie Ale House. Continue reading


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10 totally true facts about Toronto Beer Week

tbw

In a few hours, Toronto Beer Week will kick off with a launch party at the Summerhill LCBO.

The next week will feature a slew of events in and around the city and even an official beer, Interloper, a barrel-aged, blended farmhouse beer made by Indie Alehouse and available at the LCBO, participating TBW bars and at Indie’s bottleshop.

That much you probably already knew.

But to help you make the most of your Toronto Beer Week and give you the inside scoop, I’ve put together this list of 10 totally true facts about Toronto Beer Week.

Everything written here is totally 100% true. Obviously. Continue reading


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Top five Ontario beers for numbing the unceasing pain of your existence

Suicide pact!

There are many great reasons to drink Ontario craft beer these days!

With no shortage of new and exciting beer being produced by the province’s ever-growing number of small breweries, there truly is a style of beer for virtually all tastes. Working your way through the many varieties available–from a dark, chocolaty coffee stout to a tart and fruity barrel-aged sour beer–can be a fun adventure and a way to experience new things.

And it feels good to support local companies. Buying beer from your local craft brewer means you are supporting a small business that is creating jobs in your backyard. Often, buying craft beer means getting an opportunity to meet the very people who made your beer and learn all about the businesses and the people you are supporting with your purchase. Buying Ontario craft beer isn’t just fun, it can also be rewarding!

Of course craft beer, like all beer, contains alcohol; and so consuming these exciting and interesting beers that you’ve purchased directly from your local craft brewery is also an excellent way to try to quiet, even momentarily, your constant and unrelenting thoughts about the fact that we are all ultimately totally alone and that life is essentially meaningless. Continue reading