The Continuing Evolution of Breweries in Toronto

Last year I wrote about the Evolution of Breweries in Toronto and how a handful of new brewers had popped up like Indie Alehouse and Bellwoods (named the 3rd best New Brewer in the World for 2012 by ratebeer.com). Those guys are all still doing great things, but the friendly competition has gotten even tougher since then.

It’s safe to say that the craft beer scene has been amped up big time, thanks to more new breweries and a huge influx of contract brewers. The established guys are, in some cases, now brewing so many contract beers that they’re running three shifts, brewing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Since the evolution began a couple of years ago, a few new twists have recently started to happen, which are making the Toronto beer scene even more exciting.

Maverick & Gose Beer

Maverick & Gose by Amsterdam & Great Lakes Breweries

Existing Toronto Breweries have Stepped up their Game

The biggest names here are Amsterdam Brewery and Great Lakes Brewery, which was recently named the best brewery in Ontario by ratebeer.com and 2013 Canadian Brewery of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards. They’re both pumping out one-off beers and limited edition beers on what seems a near-weekly pace. From Wheat Wines to Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stouts, it’s actually become impossible to keep up as a consumer – which is great! Amsterdam Brewery moved operations in the past year, and they have some big plans, including opening a new brewpub on the waterfront. Not to be outdone by these two brewers, Mill Street Brewery has also recently done an expansion in the Distillery District of Toronto, opening a Beer Hall and serving up Bierschnaps!

Invisible Contract Brews are more Common than Ever

With little risk and no overhead, utilizing the downtime at local breweries is a no-brainer for everyone in Toronto. I say invisible contract brews here, because I’m talking about beers with no store front, bar, distributed kegs or sales force. If you blink, you’ll miss their beer.

As long as a brewery has the capacity and staff on hand, they’re getting money to fund their own operations and growth plans from these invisible guys; while these little one-off contract brewers can focus on creating a unique beer with top quality ingredients for us – the consumers – to enjoy. It’s a win-win-win relationship! The best example of this is Radical Road and their Canny Man, a Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale. Radical Road doesn’t really exist anywhere except in the form of their bottles of beer. They’re a nano-brewery that got a product on the shelves of our provincially controlled liquor stores, the LCBO. That’s a pretty sweet feat!

Passion and Pride in Brewing

Something that has become apparent over the past year is that the Toronto beer scene is a tight one. The growing number of bars supporting craft beer, and brewers themselves, are all supporting each other. We’re even seeing the transformation of some stagnant sports bars into thriving, new havens for craft beer. People are literally excited to know what the ‘other’ guy is doing, as new ideas are sparking more interesting beers to show up in the marketplace. This passion has always been there, it’s just becoming more and more apparent to consumers now who are benefiting from more tap takeovers, tastings, beer events and overall access to craft beer around the city.

On the consumer side the most exciting change I’ve noticed over the past year is that people are talking about, and looking forward to, new local beers. A couple of years ago every craft beer drinker in Toronto would be lamenting about our lack of selection and how so many other cities in the US had it better than us. Not so much any more.

Left Field Brewery

Left Field Brewery of Toronto, launched in 2013.

I know from experience that if you’re a day or two behind checking your Tweets or Facebook posts, you’re quite possibly going to miss out on the best, new Toronto beer as small batch brews are selling out the day they hit the shelves at local breweries. Fun times indeed.

More Collaboration Beers

An offshoot of the pride and passion is that brewers and breweries are teaming up more and more, to create unique collaboration beers. Amsterdam and Great Lakes recently came together to produce a gose beer, dubbed Maverick & Gose, a la Top Gun movie. A visit to beer bars around town and you’ll often see something from locals like Black Oak or House Ales that are mixing it up with brewers from outside Toronto or even beyond our borders, outside Ontario.

The fact that brewers from beyond are excited to work with the beer people in Toronto just goes to show how much excitement is coming out of the local beer scene.

The Quasi-Craft Movement

It was inevitable, as the craft beer scene has grown so fast around Toronto. The big guys want their piece of the action. To some, it’s sacrilege to drink anything from the big macro breweries, but I say try them all. Six Pints falls under this category and if the big guys have to set up new ‘craft beer’ companies to re-capture some of their sales, it’s fine by me – I’ll drink good beer from any brewery.

So Who are the Newest Breweries in Toronto?

Since last summer, the following breweries have come into existence. Some of them tiny operations that haven’t yet produced anything. Others are up and running with solid lineups of beers already on the market! Be sure to check them out…

Radical Road Brewing – mentioned earlier, this is a nano-brewery that has so far put out one stellar beer. Let’s just say if you like scotch, you’ll love their first beer.

Get Well Nano-Brewery – this Toronto bar started on the craft beer wagon and kept on rolling straight into their own nano-brewery! In similar fashion, The Only Cafe recently announced they’ll start up their own nano-brewing operation soon too.

Left Field Brewery – a smartly marketed baseball themed line-up of beers, which are tasty too. The high hopes of Blue Jays baseball in Toronto could help these guys soar to success.

Liberty Village Brewery – I got turned on to these guys when I saw they were experimenting with a Gummy Beer. Yes, a beer brewed with gummy bears! How cool is that? Sadly, no they did not decide to go with this beer at their official launch party.

Shacklands Brewing – These guys kind of caught me by surprise. They contract brew at Junction Craft and have gotten their initial beers into a few good bars around town like Bar Volo and Bryden’s.

The Only Cafe Nano-Brewery – what, another nano-brewery? yes! One of the finest beer bars in Toronto is also getting into the brew scene. They’ve grown and are taking beer even more seriously, with an ageing cellar and expanded tap list. Once just a dive bar with good beer, this is a now a true craft beer destination. No in-house beers yet, but coming soon.

Six Pints Beer Academy – this is the new craft beer arm of Molson Coors. Don’t let that scare you though, it’s a cool place that is brewing some tasty beers. Perhaps not as adventurous as many others, but they are worth keeping an eye on.

Look for beers from these new guys, as they’ll be showing up at more and more bars, or on the LCBO shelves, in coming months and don’t forget about the six other new brewers in Toronto that I wrote about last year!

About Red Hunt

A former journalist and business analyst that now works in the world of travel marketing. Based in Toronto, Red Hunt has travelled to more than 40 countries over the past 10 years. You can follow Red on Twitter @redhunttravel.