Remember the Smash Mouth song All Star from the Shrek soundtrack? It’s an earworm right now as I think about my votes for the NHL all-star team and, since hockey and beer go hand-in-hand, has me wondering. If there were an all-star team of Southwestern Ontario craft beers, what would it look like?
I know where my 12-pack of votes would land. Here goes.
Anderson Winter. An amber ale spiced with cinnamon, orange, honey and ginger, Anderson Winter makes a beer drinker thankful for the cold weather when this seasonal from London’s Old East Village brewer reappears. True, Anderson is better known for its IPA and cream ale, but Winter holds special appeal. A fireside classic, even if the recipe is only two years old.
Black Swan English Pale Ale. The Stratford brewery rebooted itself with a renovation and expansion last fall, and a commitment to creative new one-offs and seasonals. But no amount of recipe wizardry is likely to unseat this EPA as one of the biggest joys of the Southwestern Ontario craft beer galaxy if, like me, you like your beer malt-forward with a hint of hops.
Cowbell Shindig. Sure, before opening their own barn-shaped brewery in Blyth they started by contract brewing Absent Landlord, a kolsch, and that’s likely the Cowbell beer most people know from the LCBO. But opening their own brewery has meant a dizzy whirl of new beer introductions and while many are more flavourful and exotic, none hit the mark like Shindig Lager, a sessionable beer for all occasions and the biggest seller at the brewery.
Elora Borealis. This grapefruity pale ale won a gold medal at the 2018 Ontario Brewing Awards and, while it’s available at the LCBO, it’s best enjoyed fresh at the brewpub in the pretty Wellington County village of Elora. Maybe pair it with the pub’s warm pretzel and wild boar summer sausage platter before taking a stroll to the gorge or a short drive to the unique Wellington County Museum, located in the oldest standing poorhouse in Canada. The joy of craft beer is in the journey of discovery.
Forked River Golden Boy. Released last fall in specially labelled cans as a tribute to London Olympic gold medal bobsledder Alex Kopacz, Golden Boy is a super easy drinking Belgian-style ale. The aroma is stone fruit, the wee spicy kick is from the yeast. This one’s podium-worthy and available at the brewery or its online store.
Innocente Charcoal Porter. Is there something about Kitchener-Waterloo and dark beers? Innocente’s Charcoal Porter, a collaboration with Beertown restaurants, won a gold medal at the 2015 Canadian Brewing Awards, and deservedly so. Think roasted barley and you get the idea behind this lighter-than-usual porter.
Railway City Witty Traveller. There’s the famous Dead Elephant IPA and the summertime classic Orange Creamsic Ale. But I like to show a little love for Witty Traveller, a Belgian-style wit that’s light (4.2 per cent alcohol) and flavourful.
Sons of Kent 8 Track XPA. A West Coast IPA, 8 Track cranks up the volume with flavour coming out of all speakers. Named in honour of a music format that’s never coming back, 8 Track is big on citrus. Is that mango? And grapefruit? Yes and yes, just as you’d expect from the style. Skilled Sons of Kent brewers use three types of hops — Cascade, Citra and Centennial — to brew 8 Track. Pairs well with Horse With No Name playing in the background.
Stone House Pilsner. A little brewery with a big beer, Stone House takes a page from Toronto’s famous Steam Whistle by concentrating on brewing a Czech-style pilsner. It’s brewed with aromatic Saaz hops, the same type used in international beers such as Stella Artois. Getting a taste means a journey to Varna in Huron County.
Upper Thames Timber Beast Brown Ale. Sure, the workers from around the corner at the Woodstock Toyota assembly plant might prefer to end their shifts with an Upper Thames Backpaddle Blonde or Portage IPA. But it’s the brown ale from Upper Thames that makes my all-star list. Little bit toffee, little bit coffee, and a whole lot of interesting. Enjoy it at the original brewery taphouse at 225 Bysham Park Rd. or at its sister Brickhouse Brew Pub at 190 Fairway Road.
Waterloo Dark. I’m so torn. Do I vote a rookie beer, Waterloo Salted Caramel Porter, as an all-star or stick with a familiar favourite, Waterloo Dark. On one hand, Waterloo Dark has been my go-to from their roster for years and it’s easy to understand why the Kitchener brewery bills it as Ontario’s favourite dark lager. But Salted Caramel Porter speaks to their spirit of taste adventures, despite how big they’ve become (Waterloo Brewing announced a $9.6-million expansion last fall). Dark’s here for the long term, but Salted Caramel is a seasonal available at the Beer Store and the brewery. Your call.
Wellington County Imperial Russian Stout. If you’re still thinking craft beer is a phenomenon invented by millennials, think again. Wellington Brewery in Guelph has been brewing great craft beer in the shadow of Sleeman since 1985. While some will point to Upside IPA as its best beer, I’ll put its bear-like eight-per-cent-alcohol stout on my all-star team any time.