Ten years has made a world of difference in the local craft beer scene. Where once there was nothing, (or just early beer-loving entrepreneurs losing their shirts), there is now a flourishing small-batch brewing industry and legions of fans embracing flavour and variety in their beer selections.
The Forest City’s scene is still evolving compared to other parts of Ontario, but it’s no slouch. Here are 10 beers to know and love from London and area, in alphabetical order.
Absent Landlord, Cowbell Brewing Co., Blyth. The actual bricks-and-mortar brewery opened in August and the first of the Blyth-produced Absent Landlord Kolsch should be in stores this fall. Until now Cowbell’s maiden beer has been contract brewed, first in Hamilton, then in Toronto. Brewmaster Stephen Rich says water from the on-site drilled well in Blyth and the state-of-the-art brew house means the Blyth batches will be his “best ever”. Chances are, only the most trained and sophisticated palates will notice a difference with this caramel-flavoured regional favourite. Widely distributed, it’s best sampled at Cowbell’s new destination, barn-style brewery on Blyth’s south side where you can pair it with wood-fired pizza from the on-site restaurant.
Cream Ale, Anderson Craft Ales, London. I’ll bet this one-year-old brewery in the Old East Village would rather be known for its more complex and flavourful beers, but when you brew a “gateway” craft beer as good as Anderson Cream Ale, people notice. This 4.8 per cent alcohol straw-coloured beauty nabbed a silver medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards. That said, it’s a tough call between Anderson Cream Ale and the versatile Anderson Amber when selecting crowd-pleasing craft beers.
English Pale Ale, Black Swan Brewing Co., Stratford. The local teachers who own Black Swan on Downie Street in Stratford aced it with this EPA. It is immensely popular among fans of English-style beer. It’s malt-forward and a refuge for those weary of being assaulted by the bitterness of IPAs. It pairs well with a Shakespearean drama.
Capital Blonde Ale, Forked River Brewing Co., London. A gold medal winner at both the Canadian and North American brewing awards, Capital Blonde is the best-known beer from London’s “second wave” craft brewery. Its hop combination gives it a citrus flavour. Because it’s versatile, Capital Blonde is always in the fridges of many craft beer drinkers. Forked River recently, and wisely, made it available in tallboy cans featuring a sunglasses-wearing bearded hipster as artwork. The name is a nod to London almost being selected as the capital city of Upper Canada.
Dead Elephant, Railway City Brewing Co., St. Thomas. This is the granddaddy of London-area craft beers. One of Railway City’s first beers, first brewed in Railway City’s tiny original location, Dead Elephant is a not-too-bitter IPA with tastes of apricot and mango. Its name relates to the death of Jumbo the circus elephant, which coincidentally happened a few blocks away from the present-day brewery. Widely available, local LBCOs sell a ton of Dead Elephant tallboy cans, proving it’s a go-to IPA for many.
Local 117, London Brewing Co-op, London. They’ve been making batches of this uber-local beer in the Old East Village since 2014, making it a cornerstone brew for the relocated and expanded co-operative. Local 117 is an easy-drinking amber made with ingredients sourced from within 117 kilometres of the brewery, making it the most local of local beers.
Mr. Insurance Man, Toboggan Brewing Co., London. Richmond Row’s “brewery beneath the floor” is best know for this widely-distributed blonde with a distinctly London moniker. Mr. Insurance Man is a reference to the city’s insurance industry and the label features the historic London Life headquarters. The beer itself is mild, well crafted to provide maximum coverage with minimal risk when serving guests.
Short Pier Long Walk, Refined Fool Brewing Co., Sarnia. Downtown Sarnia’s popular craft brewery has a handful of beers on LCBO shelves, most notably Short Pier Long Walk Double IPA. Sure, double IPAs often need to be chased with a glass of water, but the taste adventure is a key part of your craft beer odyssey. Tackle this if you’re done with cream ales, ambers, and blondes.
Timber Beast Brown Ale, Upper Thames Brewing Co., Woodstock. English-style, craft brewed brown ales might be the up-and-coming thing as everyone maxes out on hoppy IPAs. Upper Thames has a great one with Timber Beast, brewed with local malt from Harvest Hop and Malt in Puslinch near Guelph. Pleasant to drink, it’s the antithesis of the plethora of hop-forward IPAs and as such serves duty as an ideal gateway beer for those just beginning to explore the craft world.
Yalla Yalla, Half Hours on Earth Brewery, Seaforth. The easiest places to try the highly-regarded beers from Half Hours on Earth are at craft-friendly pubs such as Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium in London, or Mercer Hall in Stratford. Otherwise, order them straight from the brewery. Yalla Yalla is the place to start. It’s a series of refreshing sour beers using single hops. Yalla Yalla Citra, with lemon flavour, is a highlight.
The field keeps growing, but here’s one Honourable Mention: Stone House Pilsner, Stone House Brewing Company, Varna. A Czech-style pilsner, Stone House Pilsner is crisp and clean, ideal for drinking after a day harvesting hay or at the cottage. Think of it as Huron County’s take on Steam Whistle. Available at the brewery.