Ben's Beer Blog

A place for all things beer.


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Joel Manning, professional brewer


It would be difficult to overstate Joel Manning’s impact on craft beer in Ontario and, indeed, Canada. Manning was the Brewmaster for Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery from 2005 to 2018 and he passed away yesterday after suffering a heart attack.

My own memories of Manning are tied to the Brewmaster’s Dinners he hosted; specifically, those he hosted for Robbie Burns Day.

For a few years in a row, I attended Mill Street’s annual Robbie Burns’ Supper, which Manning always hosted. In 2013 I was lucky enough to actually get seated next to Manning. He hosted the evening as he had in previous years, with a sort of determined reluctance. It is difficult to describe exactly, but in my interactions with him he always seemed infinitely more comfortable brewing beer or talking about brewing beer than he did hosting these sorts of events, yet it was also always abundantly clear to me that he was fully committed to the importance of hosting these things properly. Continue reading


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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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The LCBO doesn’t have a definition for “craft beer” either

If you want to have an exhausting and irritating conversation with a bunch of beer nerds, bring up the subject of the definition of the word “craft.”

Opinions will quickly vary on whether or not it relates to production methods, some notion of “quality,” size, or ownership, and some folks think the word ought to be abandoned altogether. Personally, I’m of the opinion that the Brewers Association’s definition, while not perfect, provides a good place to start in order to create some working definition here in Canada–and I actually attempted to define the term in an August 2016 blog post.

My own efforts notwithstanding, the definition of “craft” seems to be something that we still struggle with here in Ontario. Even, it seems, at the LCBO.

First, let it be said that I do think the LCBO is making commendable efforts to support craft beer. Virtually every small brewer in Ontario that I’ve spoken to on the subject notes that the people working within the LCBO are very helpful and supportive when it comes to the local breweries who vie to hawk their wares on their store shelves. Aside from being overly bureaucratic and occasionally making some head-scratching decisions about beers that are and are not approved (NO LASER SHOW?!), I think the LCBO is a pretty darn decent place for craft beer.

That said, given that the government-run booze emporium is one of the few places we can legally buy beer to take home, too much of its advertising and merchandising seems to me to have a complicated relationship with the word craft. Continue reading


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The top 10 local beers to drink this winter in Toronto

20141215-winter-beer-toronto

It’s that time of year, when the neighbourhood-branded toques come out and we snuggle that slightly stinky stranger on the subway just a little closer to stay warm. It’s also a time when our taste in beer migrates toward the darker, boozier offerings to keep Jack Frost from nipping at our noses – among other extremities.

Here are my picks for local beers to drink this winter in Toronto.

Bellwoods Brewery’s Bring Out Your Dead
Bellwoods Brewery’s ridonkulous imperial stout, aged in cognac barrels for over a year, is rich, warming, and scarily smooth for its potent 12.2% alcohol content. Save this one for one of those days you drop your gloves in the slush and get splashed by the streetcar and need a magic elixir to turn things around. This is it. Available at the Bellwoods Brewery retail store in 650mL bottles.

Mill Street Brewery’s 100th Meridian
Who says winter beers need to be as dark as Frosty’s eyes and as strong as the smell of your hockey equipment? 100th Meridian is the newish organic lager from Mill Street and with just a slightly heartier malt profile than most lagers, is the perfect refresher for after-snowman building or post shinny. Available in 341mL six packs at the LCBO and Beer Store.

Indie Alehouse’s Zombie Apocalypse
Dark, boozy, and a little scary, Zombie Apocalypse is a lot like your twice-divorced uncle on Christmas Eve. For a getaway from family this season, shut the blinds, put on sweatpants, pretend the world no longer exists and enjoy the brief silence with this roasty 10% imperial stout. Until the undead/inlaws come knocking… Available in 750mL bottles at Indie Alehouse’s retail store.

Read the rest of this post over on blogTO…


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Mill Street Brewery’s Beer Hall: So how’s the bierschnaps?

Bierschnaps

On Wednesday I had occasion to finally get out to Mill Street’s new Beer Hall location (yes, secret revealed, I wrote a story about The Beer Hall for blogTO without ever having set foot in it. Sue me).

It’s a pretty spectacular place and despite what a handful of reviewers and snarky commenters have to say about the decor, I think most people will be impressed with the place–if only for its size. Pictures don’t really convey how bloody massive the place is and, given that Mill Street is embracing a “soft open” approach, the size of the place seems all the more cavernous given the sparse attendance (but expect that to change once word gets out about this place and once the absolutely massive patio opens later this month). Continue reading


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High Octane Local Beers to Fight the Mid-Autumn Chill

With this bloody cold nip in the air, but still a couple months before the official start of Winter, we’ve entered a nasty, windy, often wet part of the year frequently devoid of sunshine, but without any of the charms that snow can bring.

Accordingly, it’s a time of year that’s best suited to a certain kind of beer with a hearty dose of that most comforting autumn ingredient–and I’m not talking about pumpkin.

No. I’m talking about my old friend alcohol. It’s cold and rainy out and it’s a time for comforting oneself with strong drink. So in the spirit of this drab season, here are some potent local offerings that just might serve as a welcome port in the storm.

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Danforth Shmanforth: To the Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival!

Unless you live in a cave, you’re probably aware that this weekend is the annual tribute to most things Greek of the Danforth (think more souvlaki and Greek music, less economic collapse and political turmoil).

In fact, this weekend is the 19th annual Taste of The Danforth,  Canada’s largest street festival, which, according to their website, welcomes over 1.3 million visitors (I’m assuming that’s cumulative…).

And while I’m a big fan of gyros, the odd bottle of Mythos, and the Taste of The Danforth generally, this year I think I’ll skip it.

Instead, I’m heading to the first annual Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival, taking place, appropriately enough, at Roundhouse Park. Continue reading