For all of you out there who have not yet had the opportunity to fall in love with Ontario craft beer, we know the one question you’re asking: what’s so special about it? Surely one brew can’t be all that different from another, you may say. Or perhaps you’re thinking you’ve tried the big-name brands and you’re just not a fan of beer. Period.
We know we can’t possibly answer such a huge question in one short blog post. Our craft beers in Ontario are as individual and limitless as the makers themselves. But we do want to change your mind and pique your interest, so what we’ve done instead is ask three of our YDH makers to weigh in on what makes Ontario craft beer so wonderful. While they each had lots to say, we did notice common themes. In no particular order, here are three reasons from our expert craftspeople why Ontario craft beer is so unique.
1. Local Flavours
If you’re drinking craft beer from Ontario, there is a good chance you’re getting our province’s true local flavours. At GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Company in Alton, for instance, groundwater from the Headwaters region is used to produce its brews. “The result is that the consumer gets a unique and local flavour, while money is kept within Ontario,” says farmer Phil Winters. “This imparts a specific and unique flavour profile to our beer.”
GoodLot, which is a working hops farm as well as a brewery, uses only 100% Ontario-grown hops. This practice not only results in a truly local flavour, but supports four other small Ontario hops farms, too. GoodLot also forages in the surrounding countryside for ingredients. Its three sap beers were a big hit this year. You can’t get more local than what grows in your own backyard!
Here’s the thing about craft beer in Ontario: it’s brewed by some of the most passionate people you will ever come across. And here’s the thing about our passionate brewers: they are not in the industry for only themselves. Their craft is not about competition, it’s about collaboration. “The camaraderie between breweries within Ontario is unprecedented compared to other brewing regions in North America,” states Kyra Dietsch, Marketing and Communications Manager for Old Flame Brewing Company in Port Perry. “The passion of people in the craft beer industry within this province is astounding. People are really willing to dive in head-first, take risks, and get their hands dirty—all of which is needed to run a successful craft brewery.”
For craft beer here in Ontario—and especially in York Durham Headwaters—you will find a collaborative approach that is nothing short of inspiring. Micro breweries work together to create new flavours, like Portage on Main, a popular co-effort between Whitby’s Five Paddles Brewing Company and Uxbridge’s The Second Wedge Brewing Company. But collaboration doesn’t extend only to the product. Many of our brewers establish partnerships with their local businesses as well.
Take, for example, Market Brewing Company in Newmarket. They work with Cooper’s Farm, a local operation in Uxbridge, to keep their spent grain out of landfills and put it to work as farm feed. “We have no use for it once it’s done, but its great for cattle and pigs and other livestock,” says Piers Simpkin, Marketing and Outside Events Manager. “It doesn’t cost anything for them other than their time to come pick it up. And because of our contribution, they’ve been able to add head to their livestock count.”
Let’s be honest: there wouldn’t be such a passionate brewing industry here in Ontario if our brewers had never learned how to brew in the first place. Did you know that Niagara College actually has a Brewmaster program to help our community of craft beer lovers grow and thrive? “Many of our craft brewers have come out of Niagara College brewing school,” Phil Winters from GoodLot says. “Having great training programs right here in Ontario drives up the overall quality of the beer.”
Many of our craft breweries go above and beyond to give back to their communities as well, using their success and their loyal customers to support local and even national initiatives. In June of 2017, Market Brewing Company opened its taproom with the mindset of creating a community hub. Today, the brewery has been able to use this hub to host fundraisers for well-known and deserving organizations like the Make A Wish Foundation and the Newmarket Food Pantry. “For us, it’s always about trying to connect with the community the best way we can,” says Piers Simpkin.
What’s next for Ontario craft beer?
There’s no doubt about it: Ontario craft beer has made great strides since its early years, and is here to stay. But what does the future hold for the industry?
According to Phil Winters of GoodLot, if you want to know where craft beer in Ontario is going, just look south of the border to the United states. “Ontario and the rest of Canada tend to track a few years behind the US,” he says. He also suggests that farm-based breweries will continue to grow and develop across the province, and that flavour profiles will continue to be all over the place. “There is so much experimentation going on and so many unique flavours,” he says. “I do believe that drinkable, lower-alcohol beers will become quite popular again, in part as a reaction to the increasing ‘big flavour bombs’ we see coming out these days.”
Kyra Dietsch of Old Flame, has noticed as well that there is a growing trend towards low-alcohol and low sugar beverages. “We created our No Regrets Premium Super Light Lager in response to this movement,” she says. “The feedback has been overwhelming.”
Of course, these are just three of our many wonderful craft breweries here in York Durham Headwaters. But there are so many more to explore locally and in Ontario. So here’s our challenge to you: Get out there and discover our local flavours, then come back and tell us what you think makes our Ontario craft beer unique!
18825 Shaws Creek Rd., Alton, (519) 927-5881
135 Perry St., Port Perry, (289) 485-2739
17775 Leslie St., Unit #4, Newmarket, (905) 906-2337
Story by Katherine Ryalen