Canadian Craft Beer – Are we keeping UP?

Posted on July 22, 2010


Canadians as a whole are very educated, understanding and accepting people. Having lived in Canada for the last 6 years in my life I have come to understand Canada a fair bit, and the bureaucratic ways things happen in this country. The one thing that I do not accept is ‘Fence Sitting’ and that is Canada’s biggest fault other than the obvious ‘Arse ****ing’ that occurs to our neighbors south of the border.

Before anyone screams and shouts I am about to become a Duel-Citizen of Canada. So it can’t be that bad right? Well some of the beer is pretty shit and that is what this post is about. We all read, write and taste beers we find interesting whether they be Belgian, German, American or Canadian so lets call things as we see them.

A beer blogger (Troy) from Toronto wrote an interesting retort to a beer reviewer bagging out Ontario Craft brewers in a video.  The comments after Blog entries are sometimes more interesting than the actual article. Look with most blogs its the comments from randoms that are cool, or interesting obviously trying to get a reaction from a certain segment of people. Whether you comment on Ratebeer, or Beer Advocate I not care but don’t degrade someone because they have an opinion. This is my opinion on Canadian Beer overall!

Are all beers in Canada crap? the simple and best answer is NO. Is the majority of craft beer in CA NA DA Crap? Yes.

Canada suffers from the same issues faced in England that Pete Brown wrote about in this article in which he discusses the ‘corporate’ branding of beer is from brand managers making an impact. Molson Canadian and Labatts Blue are the two most famous beers in Canada and owned by Molson-Coors and ABInbev respectively and thus have the most marketing, and tap handles. They control the majority while craft brewers fight over which tap handles are theres in Beer Bars.

Where does craft beer fit into the fold in Canada?

Due to the size and scope of Canada beer is made out of necessity from Vancouver Island in the West through to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in the East. Beer not only seems to get stuck at the US border but also across neighboring provinces. A trip to Alberta last year I was able to find Alley Kat and Wild Rose, but not much else that was drinkable. Ontario has many craft breweries, but runs into the same issue facing breweries across Canada they predominantly brew mild, safe, fence sitting beer. It is also hard to find beer bars in Canada that serve predominantly craft beer instead of 30 taps of crap.

Unlike the US who seem to have amazing beers at Pizza Hut restaurants, and gas stations Canada has not taken to the Craft Beer phenom like they should have by now. Breweries still pump out a ‘strawberry blonde’ or ‘honey amber’. Just today an email from Granville Island brewery in Vancouver to let me know they

are releasing a Raspberry Wheat Ale, but this shouldn’t be confused with the Phillips Raspberry Wheat Ale, or the Central City one. Like any time of year it is summer right now and everyone is on the patios across Canada wanting to drink beer, but why the overload of Raspberry beer by what seems like every brewery in BC?

Canadian breweries such as Dieu du Ciel, Unibroue, McAuslen-St Ambroise in Quebec or likely the leading brewers with whom can compete with the quality of craft brewing in the United States. I’m a fan of Black Oak in Ontario and Central City in BC, but both do not have a stellar line up that you’d choose to drink  over a Southern Tier or Stone. Phillips Brewery in Victoria BC  is always putting out ‘seasonal’ releases which don’t always work, but are highly regarded for their effort.

While the US breweries are producing Imperial Stouts and Imperial IPA’s Canadian breweries are still putting out ‘soft’ ‘fruit’ driven delicate lager/pilsners. Yes I’m sure Peach and Huckleberry is quite a delicate drink, but if given the choice I would pick up an Imperial IPA. Black Oak released their ‘Ten Bitter Years’ and through huge response and feedback are re-doing it.St Ambroise produced an Imperial Stout that was phenomenal. Howe Sound in BC released not only an Imperial Stout, but an Imperial Hefeweizen, both with huge acclaim. So why can’t more breweries in Canada start doing the same?

**(Note I exchange beers with friends in Toronto, these beers from Ontario are not in BC Liquor stores)**

Canadians are still on the whole accepting of mediocre beer, and the brewpubs and breweries keep producing what sells. Before Dix Brewpub closed its doors in Vancouver the brewer used to say ‘game-day’ Lager is what pays the rent. Well maybe that’s a bad example as Dix is now shut.

Whenever I’m in the US I’m always asking people what do you think of Canadian beer? Most can’t name any other than the obvious Big Name beers. This is not a go at how dumb we may think they are, but DDC in Quebec is usually the only name they can pull out of their head. People in BC love Central City IPA and I agree its a great beer, but none of their other beers are that crash hot aside from the ESB. Black Oak is a crowd favorite in Toronto and I’m a fan of Paddock Wood in Saskatchewan. But the beers I mostly drink are from my cross-border shopping forays. Where a 7/11 Supermarket in Bellingham has better beers than can be purchased in BC.

We can blame the governments, the LCBO, BC Liquor, blame high taxes, but its about time everyone asks why can’t we see more names producing better beer? Not just the odd seasonal release!  I love Belgian beer, and I love Seasonal Belgians that many BC brewers do, but it would be great to see some more oomph put into the beers.