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Eat & Drink

Ontario Beer Co. takes local brewing to the next level

Posted by Ben Johnson / October 28, 2013

Ontario Beet CompanyAs Ontarians' beer-drinking tastes grow increasingly locally oriented and our local options for beer keep growing, it seems something like the natural progression of the province's current beer trends that a brewer would eventually go the extra step and make a beer that is not only made here in Ontario, but is also made entirely from ingredients grown right here.

Well, one new brewing company has opted to do precisely that and, in doing so, The Ontario Beer Company has perhaps shown why no one else has done it thus far: it's really really difficult.

Founded by two people with some background in the province's beer-making scene, OBC is the result of a partnership between Duggan's brewery founder Mike Duggan and the guy responsible for the great beer coming out of the nano-brewery at Get Well, Brad Clifford.

The duo first met when Clifford, then a fledgling homebrewer, was a regular at Duggan's Brewery on Victoria (RIP). He started helping out around the brewhouse and actually took part in brewing an early ancestor for their beers to come when they used all Ontario malt and local hops to brew Duggan's #12, perhaps the first "all Ontario beer."

Sometime after Duggan's closed down, Clifford set up the nanobrewery at Get Well and the duo partnered up a few more times to brew an all Ontario pilsner, stout, and an ale. A commercially available all-Ontario beer was something they had discussed for a while but it took considerable planning to actually make it happen.

Most hops for Ontario beer, for example, come from the United States. Thus far, there simply isn't any one large-scale hops farmer that might reasonably produce enough of everyone's favourite member of the Cannabaceae flower family in order to brew large batches of beer. So when it came to their beer, Clifford and Duggan had to consolidate hops sources.

"The majority of the hops came from three Ontario farms," Clifford tells me. "Hugh Brown's, Heritage Hill Organics in Barrie, Daniel Sabourin's Nation Hops in St-Bernadin, and Hugo Desrochers' Tribal Hops in Iroquois." Supplying the remainder of the hops needed also required five other farms in Southwestern Ontario (all of whom are members of the growing Ontario Hop Growers Association. In total, they sourced 300 lbs of hops (dry weight) in order to brew their beer.

The next challenge came when it came time to not only harvest but to pelletize the hops. To get the hops from their flower form into the "pellets" used for brewing is a laborious process and, on a large scale, requires machinery that quite simply doesn't exist in Ontario yet.

Instead, farmer Daniel Sabourin has developed a mobile hop picker which he brought to each of the other farms to help in their harvest.

The hops were then dried and hammer milled (exactly what it sounds like) into a fine powder and vacuum sealed into bags to be used to brew.

Similarly, due to the scale of the ingredients required, most local breweries source their malted barley from Saskatchewan. Ontario grown and malted barley is available from Canada Malting Company, but when it's such a large quantity, it requires a special order and needs to be placed well in advance. (Are you starting to get why more people don't brew "all Ontario beers?")

For the sake of being thorough, I also asked Clifford to confirm that the water and yeast used were all-Ontario and, naturally, they were. The water is good ol' Lake Ontario and the yeast is from a strain that's been used in Ontario for many years.

The result is two new beers, the aptly named 100 Mile Lager, "a crisp, golden-hued, European-style lager, with a solid malt backbone and a firm, clean bitterness," and 100 Mile Ale, "a full-flavoured amber ale, with lightly toasted malt flavours, caramel and toffee notes, and a well-balanced bitterness derived from Ontario Chinook and Cascade hops."

Clifford says that the idea is to release the beer all over Ontario eventually but right now they're looking at releasing 100,000 cans of each of the Lager and Ale. You can find it in LCBOs around southwestern Ontario "ASAP"

And there are no plans for this to be a one-time release. "As hop acreage expands in later years," Clifford says, "we'll be able to produce more and make it more widely available."

"There will definitely be more," he assures me.

While the majority of the beer is being canned for the LCBOs, the Ontario Beer Company intends to have a handful of draught accounts to promote the beer and you can bet you'll find it on tap at Get Well in addition some other select Ontario Craft beer bars.

Ben Johnson also writes about beer over on Ben's Beer Blog. You can follow him on twitter @Ben_T_Johnson.



joe / October 28, 2013 at 09:26 am
Good post, and I'll try this stuff, but Ben knows that this isn't the first truly local beer:
Ben replying to a comment from joe / October 28, 2013 at 09:41 am
Good call, Joe. Thank you for keeping me honest.

I probably should have said the first all-Ontario beer available on such a large scale, or the first all-Ontario beer that will be made available on a regular basis, given that The Rifleman's Ration was available at the LCBO, but as one-time-only offering.
freddie79 / October 28, 2013 at 10:37 am
I don't understand why most Ontario craft beers have such terrible branding. These cans are atrocious looking, and I remember Duggan's own brand was probably the worst I've ever seen. I'm sure there are more than a large handful of designers that would jump at the chance to brand a micro brewery, and at a lowered budget, so why do it in house or have your moms, cousins, babysitters, dogs walker design the labels?
lister replying to a comment from freddie79 / October 28, 2013 at 10:49 am
I have a family member who is a (multiple) international award winning designer who is a beer enthusiast and is in the process of setting up shop in Canada and would have initially worked at a discount. He approached one particular Ontario brewery who has terrible labels (but great beer!) and was rebuffed several times. It simply is cost. They don't see the point of spending any money beyond a token amount for designs.
lister replying to a comment from freddie79 / October 28, 2013 at 10:51 am
Duggan's other problem is his weird fetish for small bottles.
Alphonse / October 28, 2013 at 11:43 am
It is great that Ontarians recognize and appreciate Ontario beer, but why do so many get perversely snobbish about drinking Ontario wine? I've seen people (who don't know what they are talking about) dismiss all Ontario wine as terrible, and then choose the cheapest glass of chemical laden plonk as long as it is imported. That is ridiculous.
nn / October 28, 2013 at 12:15 pm
Simple answer Alphonse, is wine drinkers are a different demographic than beer drinkers. Certainly is a snobbishness that goes hand in hand with wine. Not that beer drinkers are entirely devoid of that.

Anyway, Canada has some pretty good wine. I agree it's silly. I love that the Farmhouse Tavern serves only VQA wines. I hope some other restaurants follow suit and maybe some perspectives will change.
seanm / October 28, 2013 at 09:33 pm
I think Ontario wine is finally getting its dues, as evidenced by the growing amount of restaurants carrying a good VQA selection on their wine lists, and the fact that more and more are getting 90+ scores and international recognition.

Label art in Ontario is an interesting discussion. A lot of it really does look like design by committee or template artwork. Scanning the shelves of a good U.S. beer store is almost like being in a gallery with all the fantastic label art. There are some shining examples though, Flying Monkeys are fun as hell and Bellwoods has some great artwork. Great Lakes puts out some fantastic stuff on their one-offs and speciality brews as well. I say give it time. Like our brewing scene, all aspects are growing and getting better every year.
what / October 28, 2013 at 10:05 pm
What's with this 100 mile business -

Iroquois is about 400 km from Toronto

St. Bernadin is about 450 km from Toronto
Marketing Major / October 28, 2013 at 10:12 pm
Mountain Dew isn't dew and it isn't from a mountain.
Allan replying to a comment from what / October 29, 2013 at 01:39 am
Do your friends ever mention that maybe you take things a bit too literally sometimes?
Pat / October 29, 2013 at 12:56 pm
Great article, but too bad, you only mention that extra hop came from 5 farms in Southern Ontario, when in fact we live in St-Isidore and we supplied about 10% of the 300lbs dry.

Can't wait to taste it, in Eastern-Ontario...

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