January is so aptly named after the Roman deity Janus, god of new beginnings and transitions. He’s usually depicted with two faces — one looking forward, one looking back. The month of January is thus a Gregorian acknowledgement of the fact that at the change of the year, it is human nature to reflect on the past year while looking at the future. In keeping with this ideal, the annual craft beer awards column reviews the highlights of the local craft beer culture and industry in the past year, and also looks at trends that will shape the future of the local artisanal brewing community.
So much is happening so quickly in the local craft beer market, and so many praiseworthy brews and venues are emerging, that it has become difficult to assign merit and achievement awards to a limited few beers or brewers.
So here (in no particular order) are the beers that stood out in this market in 2012, that merit praise and recommendation as being fine examples of both style and the brewer’s art:
Garrison Spruce Beer — A wonderful revival of a long-neglected traditional Canadian favorite from Halifax’s premier craft brewer. Absolutely mind-blowing flavour amalgamation.
Cameron’s RyePA (Rye Pale Ale) — A well-crafted West Coast-style pale with the spicy dryness of rye complimenting the citrusy bite of Cascade hops. A well-deserving award winner.
Mikkeller Fresler Triple Bock — A big, rich, fat, black chocolate and fig Bockbier from Copenhagen Brewing artisan Mikkeller. Originally, monks brewed Bockbier for a strong and filling beer during Lent fasting. Don’t drink this beer instead of a meal, though, as it contains 11% alcohol (but you’d never know it).
Flying Monkeys’ Effinguud, Lil’ Red and Big Red — Three of the wonderful brews FMB created for the London Tap takeover — a rich double milk stout, an American Red Ale, and an Imperial Red Ale. We can only hope they release them again as draft or bottle offerings this year.
Cameron’s Deviator Doppelbock — Another fine offering from this Oakville brewer. This dark rich Doppelbock is as good as any German samples I’ve tasted — probably better because it’s local and always fresher.
Beau’s Night Marzen — On tap only once in 2011, this great, all-organic, unfiltered, hoppy Oktoberfest Marzen was released in bottled form to wider distribution in 2012. Good move, Beau’s.
Brooklyn Monster — Garrett Oliver’s astounding triple-mash bad-boy barley wine has rich complexity and is ready to drink with four months aging on it, but will gracefully cellar another few years.
Weihanstephaner Vitas (a wheat Hellerbock) — First release in Canada, I fell in love with this wonderful golden wheat bock. Rich with notes of honeydew and wheat cakes, yet dry and champagne-like.
Sawdust City Ol’ Woody Altbier — Perfect balance is the forte of this Dusseldorf-styled Alt. This murky copper-brown lagered ale has a perfect balance of toasty maltiness, walnut back tones and noble hop bite. Clean, flavourful and sessionable.
Nickel Brook Oak Aged Bolshevik Bastard — This Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels saw limited release last year. Satiny mouth feel, complexity and richness. Their regular tank-aged Bolshevik Bastard is pretty good too, especially on tap.
Schneider Tap X, Mein Nelson Sauvin — An experimental bottle-fermented weizenbock dosed with the vinaceous Nelson Sauvin hop made this the star of the 2012 imports. Lightly spritzy and champagne-like in character, with a demure exotic fruitiness accented with notes of white grape skin and a dry biscuity finish.
Samuel Adams Alpine Spring Lager — Another quality import from a well-established stateside craft brewer gave the region its first Zwickelbier (an unfiltered more effervescent form of Kellerbier) — hazy pale gold with a massive puffy white cap, sturdy malt backbone and wonderful Tettnanger hop bite — refreshing to the max!
Black Creek Dray Horse Ale — An unfiltered brown ale done colonial-style by a historical crafter. It may seem to pale in comparison to all the innovative new brews on the craft market, but its simple dignity, quality brewing, quaffable flavour, and adhesion to the authentic pioneer style colonial ales made this one stand out for me.
Creemore Springs 25th Anniversary Collaboration Altbier — Collaboration between Creemore’s brewmaster and Dusseldorf’s Premier Altbier brewer (Zum Schlüssel) produced this remarkable copper-red ale for local consumption. I hope they brew it again in 2013.
Niagara Oast House Brewey Saison — New kids on the block with lots of skill and experience have made their first offering — a world-class, spicy, cidery Wallonian farmhouse ale reminiscent of La Chouffe.
Silversmith Black Lager — Another Niagara start-up brewer comes out of the gate with a sessionable Schwarzbier (Thüringer black beer). Boilerplate dark lager exactingly made in the Franconian tradition with New-World flair.
Great Lakes Brewing Ezra (cider barrel saison), and Milktits (Imperial milk stout) — Two of the excellent one-off cask ales served at the GLB London tap invasion at Milos’s Craft Beer Emporium. We can only hope they go to production with one or both of these this year.
Church Key Brewing Holy Cow Chocolate Milk Stout — I like milk stout, and this is one of the best. It has the added dimension of an all-natural rich creamy demeanor and a roast cocoa flavour. Unlike the big US flavored stouts, this one hasn’t any in-your-face synthetic tastes, just ample natural satisfying flavour.
Nogne Porter — From the famed Norwegian Crafter Nogne LCBO release — This is porter on steroids. Deep black, bittersweet chocolate, roast coffee, rich dark fruits, soft dry finish. Complex, huge and very approachable.
Bellwoods Monogamy (Summit) — Another artisan-class brew from the region’s newest gastro-brew pub. This Pacific NW-styled American pale ale is a single-hop ale that showcases the Summit hop. Palate is dry and refreshing. Aroma is complex, fruity, and pungent. A world-class craft brew from a talented brewer.
Great Lakes Brewing Karma Citra Single Hop Ale — Another great single-hop Pacific NW APA, this time featuring the Citra hop — big, bright, floral, citrusy hop bite with rich body, ample malt presence, and a dry finish. Another example of how local brewers are outshining the styles they emulate.
Orkney Old Skull Splitter — From Scotland comes the filtered version of one of the world’s highly rated barley wines, and for good reason — shimmering red, vinous, warming, complex — smooth as satin to the palate, rich in tawny sherry-like character, dry in the finish, dangerously too easy to drink.
Exciting Trends & Innovations
One-off cask-conditioned specialty brews: brewers are installing small (under 10 barrel) pilot brew sets to produce limited release one-offs that are barrel-aged in cider, port/sherry, cognac and bourbon barrels. Flying Monkeys will be into this in a big way.
Style trends — single hop APAs, rye ale, big Pacific NW IPAs, milk stouts, saisons and farmhouse ales. Wet-hop and single-hop ales made with locally grown specialty hops are a major trend. Sourcing brewing grains and hops locally instead of importing is now common.
I have to say that 2012 saw an explosion of styles and innovative brews hit the craft market. The LCBO shone in its seasonal and special releases, but most of the world-class craft beers of note were made by local brewers. Our local market saw a big push to emulate, and upstage, the West Coast American crafters in the pale ale, double IPA, and Cascadian ale (black IPA) genres. Local crafters also seemed motivated to explore and innovate European saisons and farmhouse ales. We saw the appearance of the first locally made Berliner Weiss, Imperial Milk stouts, Wallonian farmhouse ales, cider-barreled saisons, and whiskey barrel strong ales and stouts. It has been a great year for brewer innovations.
New Craft Brewers
It’s also been a phenomenal year for new craft brewers coming onstream. Some noteworthy crafted beer breweries and brewing companies to keep an eye on include:
Silversmith Brewing Company (www.silversmithbrewing.com) — One of two new Niagara-on-the-Lake craft brew ops. Silversmith has an excellent Schwarzbier and Weizen as its initial flagship brews. There are rumours they have a great oyster stout in the tanks right now.
Niagara Oast House Brewing (www.oasthousebrewers.ca) — just down the road from Silversmith, this new brewery has plenty of talent and its first offerings (a aaison and a Bière de Garde) are world-class.
Sawdust City Brewery (sawdustcitybeer.blogspot.ca) A leading-edge craft brewer still building his brewery in Bracebridge, but producing fine ales out of Black Oak brewery.
Bellwoods (www.bellwoodsbrewery.com) — A new gastro-brewhouse in old Toronto that is winning universal praise with its well-hopped, all-natural, unfiltered Belgian, pale ales and specialty ales. Watch for tap handles to show up in your local pub — an indication the publican knows good beer.
Spearhead Brewing (www.spearheadbeer.com) They have their boundary-pushing Hawaiian Pale in bottles at the LCBO now and a new spiced brown ale (Moroccan Brown) on tap.
Cheshire Valley Brewing (www.cheshirevalleybrewing.com) — They continue to expand their line of authentic English-style ales — great sessioning ales for Brit pub-hounds.
Black Creek Historic Brewery (www.blackcreekbrewery.ca) — Producers of colonial pioneer-style stouts, porters, and specialty ales. Now contract-brewing their flagship beers, which are available at the LCBO.
Local Craft Beer Venues & Events
Local events last year indicate London’s craft beer culture is coming of age — Forest City Craft Beer Fest at APK Live was a great success and introduced local crafters to the public. Ontario Craft Beer Week, celebrated by local craft beer venues, was larger than ever this year. The list of craft beer exhibitors at the London Wine and Food Show keeps growing. Casks are more common at local pubs. Late summer saw the appearance of London’s first fully dedicated venue to showcase local brewing artisans — Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium. The Great Lakes Tap Invasion at Milos’ (formerly Gigs) was THE craft beer tasting event of the year, and brought praise from even the savvy Toronto bierophiles.
The Future Looks Bright
There’s talk of a new government breaking the province’s alcohol retail/control monopoly, which could see the artisan brewing industry flourish at a faster pace. Federal tax incentives for small start-up brewers are creating a diversity of local brewers and bringing crafted beer to many localities that haven’t seen fresh locally brewed beer available since EP Taylor consolidated the corporate brewing industry in the ’50s. Freer export laws across provincial borders have local and trans-provincial crafters tapping new domestic markets and expanding their operations. Another trend that will impact and broaden other industries is crafters using locally grown grains and hops. Hop and brewing grain farming is taking off in a big way. The future looks so bright that craft brewers and drinkers gotta wear shades.
Malt Monk’s Tap Handle Pick
Railway City Brewing Honey Elixir — This local (St. Thomas) brewer has scored big points with me on this brew. This is crazy fresh with a bright, floral, citrusy and pleasantly bitter taste, decent balance with the rich pale malts, and a clean, drying, bitter finish. Drinkable APAs don’t get much better than this. Try one when you see it on tap.
The Malt Monk is the alter ego of D.R. Hammond, a passionate supporter of craft beer culture. He invites readers to join in the dialogue at http://maltmonksbeerblog.wordpress.com/