Tag Archives: Ontario Craft Brewers

Lewis Kent needs your help

This guy needs an Ontario craft brewer to sponsor him.

A few months ago, while my wife was out of the country, I thought it would be a good idea to try my first Beer Mile. I wasn’t wrong.

My time wasn’t great, but I did have a great time. The best part though, was being in a field where one of the fastest Beer Miles ever was taking place.

Lewis Kent finishing his 3rd laps at the Toronto Spring Beer Mile. Photo: KORAY SALIH
Lewis Kent finishing his 3rd lap at the Toronto Spring Beer Mile. Photo: KORAY SALIH

The guy who did this is 21. In fact Lewis Kent still gets carded every time he buys the beer he needs to compete (sidenote: Andre De Grasse is still 20, and can’t legally purchase beer where he spends most of the year). Since October, Lewis has shaved more than a minute off his time, and continues to improve at a pace that could see him crowned World Champion as early as this year.

In a couple weeks he joins other members of Team Canada at the World Beer Mile Classic in San Francisco. You might already know Canadians invented the Beer Mile and claim a staggering number of the top times. This guy though… he’s something else.

Lewis Kent + Amsterdam Blonde... killing it.  Photo: KORAY SALIH
Lewis Kent + Amsterdam Blonde… killing it. Photo: KORAY SALIH

Right now Lewis is looking for a sponsor – a brewery that wants to have the beer-of-record when the world mark falls. And take note: beermile.com isn’t updating as frequently as it should be, but they do list the beer in the stats.

To be eligible, the beer needs to be in 355ml packaging — ideally bottles — and should be at least (definitely not much more than) 5.0% ABV.

To get a sense of just how remarkable the Mississauga runner is, here’s a video taken last month, where Lewis (in yellow) set the 3rd fastest time ever. The guy behind him — Phil Parrot Migas, also drinking Amsterdam Blonde — set the 9th best mark in history.

They may have both fallen one place, as Australian Josh Harris awaits verification of his recently completed 4:56.2. Lewis tells me though, he expects to be under 4:55 before 2016 rolls around.

Short of sponsoring Lewis, you can still help by purchasing a Team Canada Beer Mile t-shirt,

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Black Creek Märzen

May’s BrewBox just arrived, so last night I had clear more beer from the fridge. My life is the worst!

This was the surprisingly sweet and oddly timed Märzen beer from Black Creek Historic Brewery. It’s actually delicious, but like a very smooth Brown Ale with lots of caramel (which BJCP tells me is inappropriate).

Mmmmmm, tasty mistakes!

Black Creek Märzen
Black Creek Märzen

A New Source of Holy Water

Look who has a cover story!

Last month I made the trek to Ridgeway, to check out Brimstone Brewing (@brimstonebrewing) on behalf of Taps Magazine (@tapsmagazine). Theirs is an interesting story, starting out as a nanobrewery in a deconsecrated church basement and leaning heavily on Christian imagery. They’ve grown nicely, but prudish bureaucracy has stalled their plans to distribute through government-run liquor stores. Oh, Ontario.

Prior to my interview I spent a day across the border, in neighbouring Buffalo. Its craft beer scene is also featured in this issue of Taps. You should really pick up a copy.

This year’s Canadian Brewing Awards are in nearby Niagara Falls. If you’re looking for a great beer vacation, this region has plenty to offer!

Brimstone Brewing featured in Taps Magazine
Brimstone Brewing featured in Taps Magazine

Lake of Bays Terrible Ted Red Saison

New from the the Lake of Bays Signature Series is Terrible Ted Red Saison, an homage to Red Wings great, Ted Lindsay.

Born in Renfrew, Ontario (west of Ottawa), 17-year-old Robert Blake Theodore Lindsay actually spent a season in Kirkland Lake (north of humanity) in 1942.

#7 played 20 years in the NHL, almost entirely with Detroit, collecting one Art Ross Trophy and four Stanley Cup rings. He also coached in Motown — that didn’t go so well.

It’s only fitting “Terrible Ted” would get his own beer. The Hall of Famer spearheaded the movement to establish the NHLPA, whose corresponding alumni association has been a solid partner for Lake of Bays.

The beverage itself is a bit surprising, in that it smells and tastes like it’s brewed with Rye. Alas, none is listed in the ingredients (is it Munich Malt?). This is a very nice, coppery saison; both crisp and farmy.

Lake of Bays "Terrible Ted Red Saison"
Lake of Bays “Terrible Ted Red Saison”

At $11.95 / 750ml bottle (6.0% ABV, 25 IBUs), it’s a bit pricey, but would pair nicely with YamChops‘ smoked apple sausage, veggie souvlaki or a really rich, tart cheesecake.

Ontario Cider Week

 

Ontario Cider Week
Ontario Cider Week

As we embark upon the inaugural Ontario Cider Week, the fledgling industry behind it would like you to know that it’s capable of making a massive contribution to the province’s economy… but a “level playing field” would sure help.

Starting tonight, six of the city’s better craft beer bars are turning taps over to apples, creating unique events in support of homegrown cider.

In recent years drunken tree fruit has emerged as the fastest growing segment at the LCBO, partly due to its gluten-free nature, but also because this province’s growers are going apples-out to build a local scene. “The reality is we have a real opportunity to capture everything Ontario needs,” says Nick Sutcliffe, Chair of the Ontario Craft Cider Association. “We have the apple, so there’s the agricultural component. We have manufacturing. We have tourism.” Comparing orchards to vineyards, the U.K. transplant boasts of sprawling, welcoming tree farms. “If you visit a grower, especially in the fall when the apples are ready to harvest, it’s the most beautiful sight and it’s like that all over the province. Ours is the same kind of model as the wineries, where people can visit.”

Five years ago there were a only few commercial cider manufacturers in the whole of Ontario. Today the OCCA counts 16 signatories, including Sutcliffe’s own label, Pommies. More, he says, are on the way. “We get calls all the time. It’s definitely booming, from hobbyists to people with industry experience.”

Membership is limited to producers using 100% Ontario apples or pears, but the association’s chair says this region’s yields are its advantage. Upper Canada, claims the OCCA, produces the best pomaceous fruit in the world. The naturally colder climate gives apples more acidity, crucial to developing a crisper, more refined cider. “Nature is on our side,” Sutcliffe insists. “We’re not fighting it.”

In fact, the association – still just a year old – is exploring its partnership with the environment, initiating a research project that involves planting Heritage varieties of cider apples all over the province.

While that matures, the OCCA has other obstacles it has to overcome, like how to get the same respect as Ontario’s beer and wine industries. Why, for instance, can Ontario wine be sold at farmer’s markets, but not cider? How come a brewer can sell a keg to a bar without the LCBO taking a cut, but cideries remit a whopping 40%, even though the government liquor store has no involvement in the transaction? Why does the province offer a support program – rebates of up to 30% – to VQA members, but not OCCA? And how is it fair that the Ontario Microbrewery Strategy passes along $1.2-million annually to Ontario Craft Brewers, but no similar program exists for an industry that uses only homegrown ingredients.

A hundred years ago cider was much more common in Ontario. Prior to prohibition, in a much more rural landscape, most farms had at least one apple tree. While ground water wasn’t always a safe option, fermented apple juice was a reliable way to keep a family hydrated. As the OCCA website tells it, “… most apple orchards were planted specifically for making cider and were not for apple consumption as we know it today.” By the time Ontario’s experiment with outlawed liquor had ended, most of the unwanted trees had been torn down and drinkers converted to beer, which could be produced much more quickly.

With today’s consumer increasingly expecting flavour with their fizz and a growing population of gluten-dismissive types, Ontario cider is primed for a huge resurgence. At March’s Glintcap (the Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition, billed as North America’s largest), Twin Pines Orchards, from Thedford (60 kilometres northeast of Sarnia), won Best in Show. Its Hammer Bent Red beat out 326 other entries from regions as far off as Australia, Northern Ireland, Spain and Oregon.

At home, where cider is the fastest growing LCBO product segment, Ontario craft has gone absolutely hypersonic. The ubiquitous import brands (Strongbow, Somersby, Blackthorn, etc.) – grew 250%, from $11.3-million in 2008/09 to $28.6-million in 2012/13. In the same period, homespun cider jumped from $173,000 to $1.1-million; a 635% leap, despite limited shelf space and promotion.

Sutcliffe, despite the fact he’s not getting much support from the province at this point, remains optimistic. “We are looking forward to working with the government in the future to improve the availability of craft cider,” he proclaims, with innate British diplomacy. “We are 100% Ontario.”

In Praise of (Other) Beer Writers

Writing about beer can be tough. When I first posted on this site five years ago I heaped praise on a certain craft beer, at a certain chain restaurant, for its ice cold goodness. Over time I learned beer is better when you can actually taste it. Then, later, I came to accept that not all craft beer is good, and maybe that particular pint really was at its best nearly frozen. On the day I drank it I really enjoyed that mug of beer – and shouldn’t that be what matters? Maybe? Probably not.

Posting publicly should involve a degree of self-doubt. I’ve been publishing facts and opinions for more than a decade, mostly in a field where I was the acknowledged expert. In the beer industry there are people that know more than I, but even the ones that have been doing this much longer are limited in what they can share with any certainty.

And that shouldn’t be a shocker.

First of all, beer’s history – which long predates Christianity – is still being revealed. In London, for instance, most of the early commercial brewers were Dutch speakers whose paper trails didn’t survive to see translation. So though it’s widely believed porter was first brewed in 18th Century England, in The Netherlands there are records of poorter or poorterbier that date back as far as the 14th Century. Poorter was a term for an inhabitant of a city, or “a citizen” (“poort” means “gate,” so a poorter was one that lived inside the city gates). Is poorter the origin of what we now call porter? No one knows, since no one seems to have unearthed a recipe for the old stuff yet. Despite the heavy Dutch influence on English brewing history, it really could just be a coincidence.

Then there’s the taxonomy. Here in Ontario there are several definitions of “microbrewery” and “craft brewery.” The Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment considers those terms interchangeable, but reserved for producers of less than 300,000 hL per year (the Ministry hasn’t updated its definition since the Ontario Craft Brewers Opportunity Fund expired 12 months ago). Ontario Craft Brewers – which receives funding from MEDTE through the Ontario Microbrewery Strategy – list their ceiling at 400,000 hL. The Ministry of Finance sets the same cap at 50,000 hL for taxation and markup purposes, but the LCBO (an agency of Finance) supports the OCB definition in their marketing considerations. Brewers Association (United States) defines a craft brewer as one that produces no more than 6,000,000 barrels per year. Translated, that’s more than 7,000,000 hL, or nearly 18 times the OCB’s allowance. Confusing, right?

Further complicating matters for beer writers is the incredible pace of modern development. Not only are breweries springing up like grade nine boys during slow dances, but technological innovations and gimmicks, experimentation with new styles and changing attitudes make it nearly impossible to stay on top of things. Add to that the marketing budgets of self-interested beer companies and it’s difficult to get to bare facts.

Despite all these challenges, in a world of declining opportunities for paid journalists a dizzying number beer articles get published. My rss feed is littered with previews of beer weeks, summaries of beer fests, announcements for distant beer releases and reviews of beer clubs I’ll never be able to join. Stumbling upon a truly thought-provoking piece is as rare and enjoyable as finding an oud bruin in Ontario.

Though I love to share my own thoughts, I won’t be looking to join the legion of professional beer writers any time soon. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I was grateful for the opportunity to write for the Toronto Standard, even though it was unpaid. Now it seems the largest craft brewer in America is paying someone else to place their content in the same space I used to contribute researched articles.

I do have much more to say, but I’ll keep most of it here, where I can monitor the feedback and revise the content. My earliest posts were almost as embarrassing as my junior high slow dances, so they’re long gone. Over time I might wipe out a few more. That’s the beauty of blogging.

To the other writers that love the beer and continue to publish the stories that go with it, opening themselves to criticism and rebuttal, I raise my glass to you. I know it ain’t easy. It is appreciated.