It was the 1980’s: the three giant breweries that ruled Canada and staunch unions faced off more than a few times to stop the flow of suds to the masses, but the biggest I recall was in 1985. Many months went by, pubs and liquor stores brought in American brews, the usual mass-market stuff, but even some of the early US craft brews. More available seemed to be great brews from Britain and Europe. Wow! What wonderful beers, full of taste and tradition! Dark beers, light beers, varying degrees of carbonation, some more fully favourful at less than ‘ice’ temperatures, Subtle and complex, beer started to dawn on me. Amid such a variety of quality products from around the world, there was no turning back now to the bland beerscape we were all weaned on.
At this same time, three big micro-brewers hit the market in Ontario, Alberta and BC – Upper Canada in Toronto, Big Rock in Calgary and Granville Island in Vancouver. Good timing. At last fresh local beers were available, in a variety of styles. It was what people wanted, it caught on.
Also around this time, a good friend of mine returned form a tour of the UK, with tales of British ales and a can of Dogbolter extract under his arm. He wanted to make beer like he tasted in England and so he began home brewing, as did I. We brewed bitter, brown ale, pale ale, stout, IPA, Scottish ale, porter and even barley wine. Soon it was all grain mashing, specialty hops and yeast. Then we discovered Belgian ales! We joined the Canadian Amateur Brewing Association and started our own club: the Toronto Regional Association of Specialty Homebrewers (or T.R.A.S.H. for short). Beer took on a life of its own.
Of course, many other craft breweries and brewpubs opened around this time too. Horseshoe Bay Brewing was one of the first on the west coast, the Amsterdam in Toronto, the Granite in Halifax, and so many more in between. Some came, made great beer for a short time, then disappeared. Others grew and adapted to the times and through craftsmanship and bold marketing are thriving to this day. On-Premise Brewing made its debut in BC and Ontario during this same era too, allowing beer enthusiasts to brew larger batches in a more commercial environment.
So, it is from this dawning and the growth of craft beer in Canada that I draw inspiration. From a fad to a trend to an industry, Canadians make really great beer. We have dug deep into our past, from a time when our immigrant great-grandfathers built hundreds of breweries across this land. And we look to the future, and all around us, to make new and innovative brews, classic beers steeped in tradition, made with pure, local ingredients. So all you imbibers, tipsters, tasters and full on beer geeks, join me on this journey of discovery, let’s talk to the beer makers, the industry shakers and all those whose love of this fermented ambrosia has brought on this renaissance of beer culture. Now is a good time for BEER!