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 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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Cam Heaps, Steam Whistle co-founder, announces retirement

Earlier today I caught wind of the fact that Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewery had called an all-staff town hall meeting for some kind of announcement.

As is occasionally my wont, without any intel available I lazily stipulated on Twitter that I thought the announcement might be about either a sale of the company to a bigger brewery or some kind of venture related to legalized cannabis. As it turns out, the announcement was actually that Cam Heaps, Steam Whistle’s lone remaining co-founder, had announced his retirement from the company. Continue reading


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Column: The top five places for (good) beer in London

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In addition to the ol’ blog, some of you might be aware that I write a bi-weekly column for the local publication Our London. About a month ago, I wrote a column detailing the scant places you might find a good beer in town. I thought I’d repurpose it here as it might be helpful to any thirsty blog readers who might be headed to The Forest City soon.

1. Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium

Anyone who drinks good beer in London won’t be surprised to see Pub Milos atop this list. With an owner who goes out of his way to bring unique Ontario beers to his Talbot Street locale, Pub Milos’ 27-tap draught menu is unparalleled in London and is arguably among Ontario’s best. The food is very good, the staff are all either certified cicerones or working to become certified, and it’s right downtown. The place does beer the way I wish all bars would. ‘Nuff said.

2. The Morrissey House

In 2014, owner Mark Serre stopped buying draught from The Beer Store and now deals directly with local brewers. The result is 18 draught options that feature options you can’t find elsewhere in the Forest City, including offerings from London’s breweries and beer from Windsor to cottage country, including regular options from the excellent Great Lakes Brewery in Etobicoke. There’s an increasingly decent selection of 35 craft bottles and cans and a decent menu. Occupying a converted “London Brick” mansion, “The Mo” offers a somewhat dated ambiance, but is suitably cozy and offers a great patio.

3. Bungalow

Frequently packed thanks to being the only pub in convenient walking distance for those who live in Old North, the seriously-good burgers and respectable draught lineup are certainly as much to blame for its popularity as its convenience. A welcoming watering hole, Bungalow offers a draught lineup that skews toward craft but won’t frighten the uninitiated. Approachable craft beers like Steam Whistle and Samuel Adams Lager abound with occasionally experimental offerings like Muskoka Brewery’s rotating Moonlight Kettle series or a Beau’s All Natural one-off. The place promises a “neighbourhood hub” and it delivers.

Read the rest of my column over on the Our London site here.


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Muskoka Brewery celebrates 20 years

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Muskoka Brewery was probably part of your discovery of Ontario craft beer, even if you don’t think they were.

Since they opened the doors in 1996 with a cream ale and steadily became more adventurous as Ontario beer drinkers’ palates evolved, their growth as a company has essentially mirrored the growth of Ontario’s craft beer scene. It’s almost certain that they’re responsible for bringing people on board with the idea that supporting local beer is rewarding and then, by degrees, that beer can be a little more adventurous than the shit people typically buy at The Beer Store.

This year Muskoka Brewery is celebrating their 20th anniversary and, to mark the occasion, they have a handful of cool things going on. Continue reading


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Cans vs. bottles: Further perspective from Steam Whistle Brewing

steam whistle

On Thursday, in a post I wrote about Nickel Brook’s Naughty Neighbour coming to can format, I offered up a bit of my own opinion along with the news.

In addition to a tangent about unions and my excitement that a great session ale was coming to a larger format, I offered up my two cents on why I prefer beer in cans over bottles. Among the insightful, humorous, and signature delightfully entertaining points I made in that post were my observations that cans offer the best protection against both light and oxygen and therefore offer the freshest possible means to enjoy a beer. 

Today, in response to my points, I received an email from Sybil Taylor, who is the Communications Director of Steam Whistle Brewing. Incidentally, she’s also married to one of the guys listed as a co-founder and she was the brewery’s first official employee. Sybil took some issue with my assertion that bottles can’t offer as fresh a beer, notably given Steam Whistle’s particular attention to detail in this area. In order to present both sides of this argument, with Sybil’s permission, I’ve opted publish the email she sent me. 

I wanted to write to set the record straight on this fact – at least as far as Steam Whistle is concerned. I’m not certain if what I’ll explain is the same for other brewers but in our case, our bottles do probably offer the best form of beer packaging out there. Our cans would run a very tight second. Continue reading


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Contest: Win two tickets to the Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival

Roundhouse

UPDATE: Contest closed. Thanks everyone for your interest in this contest, but I’ve chosen a winning entry. Congratulations to Vanessa Neshevich for the following  winning beer and food pairing suggestion. She lost points for excessive exclamation marks, but made up for it by quoting Homer Simpson:

Tallboy’s Koreatown burger (kimchee, bacon, cucumber and green onion mayo AUGH!!!!!!!!) paired with a King Vienna Lager to go with the creamy mayo and delicious kimchee flavours!

“I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer.”
-Homer Simpson-“

In case you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival.

Now in its third year, the Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival is organized by Steam Whistle and its laid back vibe, grassy setting, and the ability to attend both days for the cost of one ticket has had at least one local beer writer speculating publicly that it might be one of Toronto’s best craft beer festivals.

As is sometimes the case, beer festivals can become less and less appealing as they get older and grow increasingly corporate-minded, but it looks to me that this one, with its focus on Ontario craft beers and local food trucks, is determined to remain true to what makes a good beer festival, in my opinion.

That’s why I’m happy to offer up two free tickets to the festival to one lucky reader of Ben’s Beer Blog.

In keeping with my theme this month of celebrating the relationship between food and beer, I want you to tell me what food and beer pairing available at the festival you’re most looking forward to and why. Pick a beer that’s being poured and a dish that’s being served and tell me in the comments below why you just can’t wait to cram them both in your suckhole.

On Monday July 28th the contest closes and I’ll pick the best/most entertaining entry to receive two free tickets. Preference may or may not be given to people who spread word of this contest via twitter.

Photo credit: Jesse Milns