Article written by Jim Byers and originally published in the December-April 2017-2018 edition of the Atmosphere magazine. Read the latest edition here.
Canadian craft beer is growing by leaps and hops, with microbreweries popping up in small towns and big cities from coast to coast. They’re almost all run by independent, stubborn beer lovers who are intent on transforming the way Canadians drink beer by stressing local and sometimes even quirky tastes versus generic, mass-produced suds.
Here’s a look at several cool craft beer places around the country.
REBELLION BREWING: Regina, SK
These guys put their mantra right in their name. “Saskatchewan might be the last holdout for the big national beer brands, so we call ourselves Rebellion,” sales guy Paul Chicoine tells me on a summer visit. “We’re rebelling against industrial beer.” They’re doing it with a series of tasty products, including one beer made with local lentils. In late spring, they did a nice, lighter beer with strawberries. “Saskatchewan grows the best malt in the world, so we’re lucky,” says Chicoine.
Rebellion is a very relaxed kind of place, where workers on sales calls often wear shorts and flip-flops instead of suits and ties and where the music in the tasting room often features the likes of Johnny Cash. They also do trivia nights to help raise money for the local roller derby team.
CRAFT HEADS BREWING COMPANY: Windsor, ON
This is both a coffee spot and microbrewery in downtown Windsor, which has seen better days but is slowly making a comeback. They make a lovely coffee stout (not surprising, given the coffee biz they own) and even something called a Turbulent Peanut Butter Chocolate Porter.
I quite enjoyed their Feather Hat Guy.P.A, named for a colorful local character often seen parading around downtown. It’s got a nice, hoppy edge to it, but the brewers wisely took their foot off the accelerator before it got too bitter.
Co-owner Bryan Datoc says it hasn’t been easy to wean conservative beer drinkers off the mass-produced stuff they’re used to but locals are beginning to embrace the craft beer scene and welcoming local products.
BLIND ENTHUSIASM BREWING COMPANY: Edmonton, AB
Greg Zeschuk says he got the name for his brewery because he didn’t know much about the beer-making business prior to jumping in with both feet. He previously worked as a medical doctor and in video games, which admittedly isn’t the average background for a brewmaster.
He could’ve built the brewery downtown, where most folks might expect it, but instead he focused his efforts on the Ritchie neighborhood of south Edmonton, an area he’s helping transform into a cool region of the city. Blind Enthusiasm shares the Ritchie Market with a great coffee shop called Transcend, as well as a bike shop and an established, well-regarded butcher shop. Zeschuk also operates a fine restaurant in the building called Biera. His brewers have experience in Belgium and are aiming for more of a Euro-style brew, with sours, a German-style lager and other beers. “We’re not trying to build the next giant IPA,” he says.
GOOD ROBOT BREWING COMPANY: Halifax, NS
Folks wanting to see what’s new outside of downtown should check out this fun brewery on Robie Street in the north end. “We make beer for misfits because we don’t wanna grow up,” a statement on their website reads. Among their beers is a Kentucky-style ale that they claim
goes well with horses, bluegrass and hangovers.
LABROSSE BREWERY: Montreal, QC
Montreal has been hip to cool hops for years, for Labrosse Brewery was the first craft microbrewery to open in the West Island when they made their debut earlier this year. Head honcho Troy Olynyk used to work as a software engineer but was playing golf one day a few years ago and decided to try something new. The brewery is located in an industrial area of Pointe-Claire and offers everything from Honey Porter to (naturally) a French Saison.
STORM BREWING: Vancouver, BC
This small spot on the industrial east side of town bills itself as the longest-running craft brewery in the city. It’s a funky spot that makes a wide variety of quirky beers, everything from a Vanilla Whiskey Stout to an Orange Creamsicle Ale. You’ll definitely run into some characters if you visit.
JUNCTION CRAFT BREWING: Toronto, ON
The Junction was an industrial area of the city that was neglected for years, even shunned by many. But things have picked up nicely, and it’s now one of the trendiest parts of town, with cool restaurants and buzzing shops. Try the Brakeman’s Session Ale, named for the railway lines that criss-cross the area.
Photo cover: Danielle Griscti