Ontario is the epicentre of beer production in Canada. It's one of the leading exporters of grain in the world and boasts the largest number of licensed breweries in the country, not to mention a thriving drinking culture. The early 1980s spawned a renaissance in artisan styles, moving away from the mass-produced "dad" beers dominating the market to garage-scale craft brews. We drank our way from north to south and rounded up our favourites in the province. Word of warning, you may experience a sudden urge to crack a cold one.
Creemore Springs Batch Cream Ale Small-town charm and a well-worn copper kettle may well be Creemore Springs' secrets to aging gracefully-the brewery turns 30 next year. Or maybe there's something in the water they source from a nearby spring. In March, they opened Batch (batchtoronto.com), a gastro-brewery in downtown Toronto honing a new line of house-brewed suds alongside the flagship label. "It was an opportunity for us to let our hair down," says brand manager Stephanie McLarty, "Our brewmaster Andrew Bartle has the freedom at Batch to explore and create, say a milkweed stout or something with apples." Off the spread, skip straight to a big frosted pint of Cream Ale, a surprisingly light brew with refined grassy notes and a fruity aroma. creemoresprings.com
Country Road Brewing Co Farmhouse Saison Hinterland Wine Company (hinterlandwine.com) made the gutsy decision to expand its small-scale sparkling wine operation into a 15-barrel brewery earlier this year, and its first batch of brews quickly sparked the attention of neighbouring Prince Edward County vintners and beyond. "We're in our first year and we're learning who we are," says co-owner Jonas Newman, "next year we'll start polishing our identity." The saisons are a standout, from the farmhouse blend of cloves and dried fruit to a winning mix of lemongrass and lime leaf if you're lucky to get it on tap. "Saison is traditionally a kitchen sink beer," says Newman, "ours is dry with a little more carbonation, fresh but still rich." countyrdbeer.com
Kitchesippi Heller Highwater Lager Here's your jeans and t-shirt lager from a brewery that's nailed the rebellion against mass-market, watery ales with thoughtful restraint. Kitchesippi - a name derived from the indigenous Algonquin term for "the Great River" - is Ottawa's longest-running craft brewery and it's one of the only places in town that brews a lager year-round. Brewmaster Don Harms' recipe for Germany's cellar beer is a combination of noble hops, Munich yeast and a lengthy six-week fermentation and the result is a flavourful Bavarian-style lager ready for backyard barbecues and après-ski smokies. kbeer.ca
Beyond the Pale Stick 'em Up Imperial IPA Beyond the Pale's Stick 'em Up is the boozy narration of a stolen car, a crook on the lamb, a cop encounter and the catchphrase, "stick 'em up". The upshot of this series of events, which in short led co-owner and brewer Shane Clark to being mistaken for a car thief, spurred the right attitude to craft a bitter imperial IPA. Like all the beers on tap at the Ottawa brewery, it's a spirited take on the style, with a welcome touch of Simcoe and Citra hops for a lingering finish. beyondthepale.ca
Nickel Brook Brewery Maple Syrup Porter It's rare to find a beer that encapsulates Canada better than Nickel Brook's porter made with pure Canadian maple syrup. Espresso in colour, creamy in texture and smoked mocha on the palate - grab this burgeoning Northern classic freshly tapped. nickelbrook.com
Presented by Destination Canada.