craft breweries toronto

It could soon be a lot easier to open a craft brewery in Toronto

Looking to sell artisanal suds with cool names and nifty labels in Toronto? Good luck.

Thanks to a confusing cluster of old, conflicting regulatory codes, the craft beer game has been difficult to enter (and profit from) thus far for small, independent brewers — but that's about to change.

The City of Toronto's Housing and Planning Committee voted on Wednesday to move forward with the amendment of several zoning bylaws that currently restrict where and how craft breweries can operate within city limits.

It's a plan that's been in the works since 2015, when councillor Mike Layton and his "Cask Force" of craft brewery representatives first proposed making Toronto "the craft beer capital of the world."

The group's continued efforts led City Council to ask staffers in 2017 for a report on how, exactly, by-laws could be amended to encourage growth within the sector. 

That report, entitled "Cask Force – Zoning By-law Amendments for Breweries and Related Uses" was presented at City Hall on Wednesday.

The report makes clear that current zoning by-laws are prohibitive on many fronts: Breweries are restricted to industrial areas, for instance, based on their definition under municipal laws, but industrial zones don't permit the operation of patios.

Tasting rooms and retail sales are also a no-go, in many circumstances, making it hard for brewers to participate in one of the industry's most profitable facets: the on-site drinking experience.

Roughly half of Toronto's 50 existing breweries have found workarounds by setting up in "mixed use commercial zones" or as part of restaurants (brew-pubs) but the laws remain weedy, inconsistently-enforced and hard to interpret.

"The increase in the number of local breweries in Toronto over the past 10-15 years has coincided with the significant growth the City has experienced over that time, as well as a shift in the business and consumer habits related to beer consumption," reads a Cask Force report dated June 10.

"Toronto's growing local brewery industry varies significantly in terms of size, function, and location across the City," the report continues.

"The increasingly diverse and new operating and business models of these local breweries has created issues of inconsistent interpretation in the various zoning by-laws with respect to breweries and their related uses."

To clear up uncertainty for industry and community members alike, the group recommends changing certain zoning rules "to better align by-law provisions with the variety of local breweries in the City."

Essentially, they want to make it possible for craft brewers to serve and sell their own product on site without needing to jump through hoops — essential if the city really wants to grow its craft beer industry.

Housing and Planning Committee members gave all of the recommendations (available to see here) the go-ahead during yesterday's meeting. Now it's up to City Council for a final thumbs up on July 16.

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez at Rorschach Brewing

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