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No one could have predicted 20 years ago that we’d be making ‘eggs’ out of chia seeds and ‘cheese’ from cashews, but here we are! The gradual sophistication and globalization of culinary tastes has been key to driving an appetite for new flavours and product innovation. The same can be seen in alcohol, where small craft breweries are pushing the envelope and offering up increasingly daring draughts.
What used to be a quick grab and go in the goosebump-inducing cold room of the LCBO to snap up a 2-4 of your preferred mainstream mega-brew is now more likely a careful deliberation about which small-scale crafted delight your pals want to sample while your (plant-based) burgers sizzle on the grill.
The ability to make a nimble shift and capture trends quickly is a strength of small craft breweries, shifting their production lines more easily than the major players. Diversions such as cider, shandy, and radlers were eventually adopted and made prolific by the Molson’s and Labatt’s of the country, but they weren’t perceived as the front-runners in bringing them to market.
In humble foodie kitchens and fine restaurants alike, there’s a certain cache for being the first to spotlight something new. Ontario breweries are jumping on board and see the clear connection between food lovers and craft beer and are seizing the opportunity to heavily promote beer with notes of fruits, florals and spices. After all, if your target market is willing to open their wallets for artisanal chocolate sourced from single-origin cacao beans, surely they’d appreciate a vanilla porter dark ale made with pure vanilla extract as well.
We’ve assembled a carefully curated list of our favourite local Ontario breweries for foodies and their takes on flavour bursting sips. Let’s take a tour and discover what’s happening in our own backyard:
#1 Pomegranate Honeysuckle Fruit Sour
Cowbell Brewery - Blyth, ON
Situated on 120 acres south of Blyth village, Cowbell Brewery is a hidden gem that shouldn’t be overlooked. With a general store hawking their IPA-infused strawberry jam among other local goodies and a restaurant serving up wood-fired pizzas and farm-made nachos topped with a beer cheese sauce, it’s a day tripper’s dream come true. Priding themselves on forward-thinking innovation, they are the world’s first closed-loop brewery, and North America’s first carbon neutral brewhouse. Their Pomegranate Honeysuckle Fruit Sour featured in the 2020 seasonal series is a fresh take on the sours emerging as of late, with sweet notes of elderberries and cassis rubbing shoulders with a tart finish from pomegranate. The use of Hallertau Blanc hops from Germany emphasize the punchy aromas of ripe citrus and warm honeysuckle, creating the ideal summer sipper. With 5 cents from every can going directly to hospital foundations throughout the province, you can feel extra good about chugging this one on a hot summer day.
#2 Pilsner Lemon Shandy
Steamwhistle Brewery - Toronto, ON
Curving back eastbound, we ride the rails into the Roundhouse, home to Steamwhistle Brewery since 2000, when they took over the locomotive building from Canadian Pacific Railway. Best known for its tasty premium pilsner packaged in the distinctive lucky-charm green and bold blue can, it’s one of Canada’s largest independent breweries today, hosting indie music concerts, art shows and private events all through the year. Now we’re puckering up for their newly released Pilsner Lemon Shandy, which is a blend of their signature pilsner and lemonade. Staying true to their roots as “Good Beer Folks”, the pared down ingredients make for a refreshing balance of bright lemon tartness matched with the fresh hop aromas and subtle grainy malt from the pilsner we’ve become so familiar with.
#3 Vanilla Porter
Mill Street Brewery - Toronto, ON
Continuing our sojourn in the big city, we head to Mill Street Brewery in the iconic Distillery District. An award-winning brewery known for being the first in Ontario to offer organic certified beer, they continue to expand their portfolio which now includes bierschnaps, whisky and gin. Their Vanilla Porter is a comforting offering for cool summer nights around the campfire. With notes of intense vanilla (carefully cold-pressed from vanilla orchid bean pods to evoke 250 unique flavour notes), a rich mahogany colour and slight hints of smoke on the nose, there’s no better accompaniment to your toasted s’mores. Using nugget hops from Washington State and nitro-charging to enable a smooth, tight head; this is the well-rounded, complex porter you’ve been seeking.
#4 Barnraiser Country Ale
Niagara Oast House Brewery - Niagara On The Lake, ON
For a region known throughout the province as the quaint grounds for grape-stomping, Niagara on the Lake is now emerging as a multi-faceted purveyor of alcoholic libations. Niagara Oast House Brewery resides in a self-described ‘big red barn’ erected in the 1800’s, where fruit baskets were constructed to cradle the region’s stonefruit bounty each summer. By using barrels from neighbouring wineries, planting and using local hops, and utilizing native yeast from the land, this small-batch brewery maintains its razor-sharp focus to partner with the rich Niagara terroir that surrounds them. With a welcoming patio constructed from shipping containers and an on-site partnership with Brushfire Smoke BBQ serving up tender 14-hour smoked brisket and house-made beignets drizzled with chocolate porter sauce, it’s easy to see why this brewery is a mainstay in the community. Pairing their popular Barnraiser Country Ale with finger-lickin’ BBQ is a no brainer. Grapefruit, tangerine and peach on the nose and a clean crisp character balanced with a hint of caramel malt, this delicious brew looks and tastes like liquid gold.
#5 Orchard Cherry Lager
Bayside Brewing Company - Erieau, ON
Heading southwest to the shores of Lake Erie, you’ll be keenly aware you’ve reached a respite from the hum-drum of city life. Nestled along the shoreline in a 1900’s era building originally run as a lakeside resort which served as a social centre for the village, Bayside Brewing Company retains its pride in being a friendly gathering spot for the community. Hosting “Sticks & Steins” crochet nights, happy hours and being ever-present at countless art crawls, food festivals and charity benefits in their neighbourhood, they are the epitome of a small-batch brewery with big-heart values. A full kitchen serves up wood-fired pizza, generous burgers and crispy wings on a lakefront patio, making Erieau your new favourite road-trip stop. A sip of their Orchard Cherry Lager is like taking a generous bite of a fresh cherry tart- citrusy hops reminiscent of a flaky lemon-scented crust, closely followed by an intense hit of tart juicy cherry flavours on the nose and lips. Their collaboration with local orchards to carefully craft this sweet malt brew make it a home-grown sensation from start to finish.
#6 Chocolate Milk Stout
Wellington Brewery - Guelph, ON
It would only be appropriate for our last stop on this grand adventure to land at Canada’s oldest independently owned microbrewery. Wellington Brewery has had a clear philosophy since its inception back in 1985. They bring traditional English style ales to the Canadian consumer, while shifting with the modern palate’s demands for the new and bold. Easily spotted in the beer aisle with its signature Wellington boot logo and whimsical, vibrant cans conceptualized by talented Guelph designer, Gordon James Lachlan Auld, this brewhouse remains relevant and of-the-moment in the Ontario brewery landscape. With creative collaborative brews, partnerships with local hop farmers, beer soap workshops, and sponsoring Queen of Craft initiatives, it’s clear they’ve established themselves as a dynamic establishment dedicated to innovative growth both internally and in the community they serve. Chocolate Milk Stout is their answer to those looking for a decadent drink rich with dark chocolate aromas, and a silky smooth body. The stout is brewed using cocoa, roasted malts and flaked oats, giving it a full-bodied kick partnered with unfiltered malt that creates a soft, surprisingly delicate finish.