Beaumont’s recently co-authored book to come out this fall, The World Atlas of Beer, is an ambitious attempt to catalogue craft beers all over the world. “What I discovered at the end of the book was that craft brewing around the world is a whole lot bigger than I thought. It is massive. And it’s only going to get bigger,” said Beaumont.
The 20th century saw a homogenization of large beer companies in Canada, such as Molson and Labatt, while “craft brewing was in crisis,” according to Beaumont. However, in the early 1980s, the success of independent breweries such as Upper Canada and Brick Brewing Company marked the beginning of the Canadian craft beer movement. Beaumont explained that big brewers are currently looking elsewhere. Last year, Budweiser fell from the second to third best selling beer in the States, and Anheuser-Busch barely batted an eye. “Big brewers have basically given up on the Americas and Western Europe.”
The growth of craft brewing in Ontario is due in part to the changing drinking patterns on this side of the globe, explained Beaumont, and people’s desire to diversify their palettes. Currently, Ontario beer drinkers have over 150 local brews at their disposal to satisfy such curiosity.
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario is partly responsible for the boom in craft beers available to Ontario consumers. For the first time in Ontario history, the LCBO will attend this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in San Francisco. “The LCBO recognizes where growth is. They have the most up to date numbers because they sell every bottle of alcohol in the province,” said Beaumont.
While the LCBO is more receptive than in previous years, the government corporation still poses barriers to some craft breweries. Flying Monkeys Smashbomb Atomic I.P.A. was banned from LCBO shelves in March, according to the Torontoist, because the brand’s potentially provocative packaging risked violation of the government’s mandate to promote a certain image of alcoholic beverages.
Craft brewing in Canada varies among provinces, explained Beaumont, verbally mapping out the various characteristics of beer across the country. “Ontario has always done straight ahead beer styles very well,” said Beaumont, citing German lagers and English ales as Ontario’s staple beers.
“But Montreal is the heartland of experimentation,” said Beaumont, who attributes the experimental approach in Quebecois craft brewing to a strong Belgian influence in the province. If you ask a Belgian brewer what style of beer they brew, they will tell you, “it’s my style,” said Beaumont who looks forward to his frequent trips to the country famous for its craft brewing, and hopes to see more of its influence on this side of the Atlantic. “They don’t tend to fall neatly into categorization.”
Currently, many Ontario craft brewers produce beer with strong hop flavours, but original styles continue to emerge, such as Muskoka’s Spring Oddity, which uses Belgian yeast, juniper berries and orange peel to give the beer its distinctive flavour. “Just now, we’re starting to do more experimental things. Sour beers, barrel aged beers, with different yeasts and bacteria in them.”
Toronto bars and restaurants have a stake in people’s current interest in craft beer. Beaumont cited bars on Ossington Street and College Street’s Smokeless Joe’s as providing a number of craft beers on tap. “There’s now an understanding that when you open a place you really have to pay some attention. You’re not going to open with Canadian and Blue.”