Explore and Discover: Twelve Must-Try Craft Beers

Written by George Macke

Craft beer exploration is a 12-pack of delights in London and area, where the microbrewing scene is finally coming of age in terms of quality, quirkiness, and neighbourhood legends.

Here are 12 places true beer fans must visit in person, to take home fresh tallboy cans or to pull up a chair and wax poetic about hops and malts with fellow fans. We’ve included the one beer from each that you must try.

Anderson Craft Ales, 1030 Elias St., London. Okay, no tall boy cans here. Anderson keeps it short with 355 ml cans of the brands that have created a buzz, such as Anderson Cream Ale and big boy Anderson IPA with its 6.5 per cent ABV and 60 IBU. But for those on a treasure hunt, it’s the new Anderson Brewer’s Reserve monthly series of innovative beers aged in barrels. Anderson is known for flexing its fitness cred, from running and cycling clubs to beer yoga, and combining all of that with flavourful beers consumed in moderation with friends for a healthy, happy lifestyle.

Must try: Anderson Brewer’s Reserve monthly release.

Beerlab! London, 420 Talbot St., London. The newest entry on the London microbrewery scene is the result of hard work by two buddies who started brewing in a Kensal Park garage. This boutique brewery, next door to Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium and a stone’s throw from Budweiser Gardens, is only open a few hours a week (on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday mid-afternoons and evenings, and Sunday afternoons). Beerlab’s takeaways are eye-popping 32-ounce crowlers.

Must try: Obi Porter.

Black Swan, 144 Downie St., Stratford. Established by a pair of local teachers, Black Swan provides an education in really, really nice beers. A recent renewal of the brewhouse means things will sometimes get a little out there, as the creative licence has been issued. The backbone of the brewery is the excellent English Pale Ale, which in addition to being available at the brewery is served at many of Stratford’s fine eateries.

Must try: Holy Mole Stout with Chilis and Chocolate.

Cowbell Brewing, 40035 Blyth Rd., Blyth. This is rural Ontario’s most special brewery, and it’s not just because of the massive, barn-like architecture. It’s also about the beer. What you’ve seen from Cowbell at the LCBO — brands such as Absent Landlord kolsch — are just the tip of the iceberg. A self-guided tour takes you above the brewhouse floor, and the in-house restaurant features wood-fired pizza and farm-to-fork menu items aching to be properly paired with Cowbell beers.

Must try: Blended Almanac 2018 Barley Wine and Almanac 2019 Imperial Stout. These beers, originally released in August 2018 and August 2019 to mark Cowbell’s first and second anniversaries, have been blended in a special black tank near the bar. A limited quantity of the rested result will be poured in November at the brewery.

Curley Brewing Company, 1634 Hyde Park Rd., London. Paired with a vegan cafe (grilled cheese with cashew mozza, anyone?), Curley Brewing Company has four beer recipes. Due to current licensing, they are for in-house consumption only. All beers brewed here are vegan, which isn’t hard to do in the beer world once you eliminate honey browns and milk stouts (which have lactose sugar as a sweetener). Curley Brewing’s owners got off to a choppy start, stymied by zoning in an attempt to first open in East London. Then after fixing up an old building in Hyde Park they had to pack up, take a break, and move a short distance away. Now they’re on a roll and deserving of lots of West London love. 

Must try: Kettle Bird, a lightly soured dry-hopped ale.

Dundas and Sons Brewing, 400 Adelaide St. North, London. Home to the one of the world’s nicest brewery owners, whose sons are actually too young to help the business, Dundas and Sons is a tiny place, across the street from London Police Headquarters. The impressively bearded barkeep’s acts of kindness include collecting hot weather gear and making water available for Old East Village folks. And Rob Dundas can brew. He has a rotating array of four of his own recipes, and taps of friends such as Sons of Kent, Anderson, Forked River, and London Brewing.

Must try: The Way She Gose.

Forked River, 45 Pacific Court, London. Tucked away in two units of a London industrial park off Clarke Road, Forked River makes up for being hard to find by brewing delicious beer. LCBO patrons will know it by Capital Blonde and Riptide Pale Ale, two safe recipes that keep the cash flowing. But the real magic is at the brewery’s own bottle shop, where creations such as Full City Coffee Porter (made with Patrick’s Beans) and a rotation of one-offs and seasonals use tricks such as red wine barrel ageing.

Must try: Summers in Rangoon, a sessionable IPA brewed with mangoes.

Herald Haus Brewing, 21 Marketplace, Stratford. Remember print journalism? The folks at Herald Haus sure do. They’ve repurposed an 1890s newspaper office and print shop into a go-to craft brewery. The building once housed the Stratford Herald, which carries on today as the Stratford Beacon-Herald. Only one beer pays homage to newspapers — Dingman Dark is a nod to the original owner. They have a steady core, featuring a golden ale and a hop-forward American pale ale, but have not piled on the IPA bandwagon.

Must try: Perth County Conspiracy APA

London Brewing, 521 Burbrook Place, London. The region’s only microbrewery set up as a worker-owned co-operative, London Brewing makes bold statements about local ingredients, fair workplaces, and fine beer. Many miss the quirky, smoky Ode to the ‘Wick, but beer fans can console themselves with the likes of London Natural Lager and Southwest Wheat. Frequent visits are required to take in the seasonals, highlighted by Neighbour Tart. It’s brewed with local donated rhubarb each June.

Must try: Resolution Kettle Sour Series beers 

Powerhouse Brewing, 100 Kellogg Lane, London. Located in the former generating station of an abandoned cereal factory, family-owned Powerhouse Brewing is a key part of the Old East Village resurgence. Sure, we’re still waiting for a Special K or Rice Krispies beer, but the cereal company has no sense of humour about such creativity. We’re pleased to be served the likes of Homecoming IPA, the brewery’s original beer, in the coolest brewery building in London. For those who like to pair beer and architecture, note that this space was designed by Albert Kahn, aka “the architect of Detroit.”

Must try: Buckley’s Irish Red 

Shakespeare Brewing, 2178 Line 34 (aka Highway 8), Shakespeare. Used to be you’d head to this tiny hamlet 10 minutes east of Stratford for its antique stores and all-things-British shop. Now Shakespeare has upped its game. Run by a mom-and-pop team in a former school bus garage, Shakespeare Brewing has a compact bottle shop and beverage room decor that mimics your favourite uncle’s living room. A rotating number of beers are available in bottles, with clever names inspired by local lore and label artwork inspired by the Bard. This truly local brewery uses exclusively Ontario-grown hops and barley to make its beer. The online shop ships via Canada Post and they also do growler fills at the brewery.

Must try: Fryfogal Fox Lager. Named for a local stagecoach stop, 4.5% ABV and 18 IBUs. 

Toboggan Brewing, 585 Richmond St., London. The yin to the yang of Forked River in terms of actually finding the place, Toboggan has a high profile spot along heavily-travelled Richmond Street. It’s a brewpub with a brewery in the basement, literally below the feet of diners, and extra capacity offsite to feed cans of Lunatic Fridge IPA into retailers. A cute Beer and Gear shop makes take home beer (and branded wearables) a breeze post-dinner.

Must try: Blackfriars Bridge Vanilla Stout.   

About the author

George Macke

George Macke is a Southwestern Ontario craft beer explorer who spends too much time at the LCBO.