If it seems like Ontario Craft Beer is on the verge of a growth spurt, you are only partially right. The truth is that this seemingly sudden surge in the abundance of Craft Breweries has been evolving for at least 5 years thanks to the craftsmanship and dedication of some of Ontario’s well established craft brewers like Amsterdam, Beaus, Great Lakes, Flying Monkeys, and Muskoka, and the passionate folks behind them. But the new wave of breweries really hit the road hard around 2010; since, there have been over 20 new breweries that have sold beer to the public. It should also come as no surprise, really – for a long time now Ontario has been hungry for artisan quality flavour, locally sourced ingredients, and exciting and unique experiences. This is exactly what craft beer has to offer. And it has it in spades.
I’ve heard the same thing countless times in the past few years from both friends deeply ingrained in Ontario’s beer community and the every day beer drinker – that all of this growth is beginning to crowd Ontario’s beer market, and that it is growing too fast for its own good. If you are paying attention to what happening here it is easy to make this assumption – especially given the 20 some odd opening in just 2 years, and many more in planning. But is that assumption warranted? Toronto is certainly the epicenter for beer right now in Ontario, and has seen the likes of Kensington, Bellwoods, House Ales, Indie Ale House, Beer Academy, Hogtown, Junction, Snowman, Get Well and others begin to produce beers within the last few years – either by contract brewing or by actually opening their own space. That’s 9 plus some new breweries for a metropolis under 3 million people.
But it doesn’t end there. Niagara, a region that should legitimately be rich in brewing culture, has three new brewers producing beer now; Oast House, Silversmith, and Niagara College all have beer available for sale somewhere in Ontario. Up in Ottawa Big Rig, Beyond the Pale and Broadhead are all now brewing beer for sale to the public. Way over to Thunder Bay Sleeping Giant recently opened its doors and is producing beer. Finally, smaller Ontario towns are opening local craft breweries too like Cassel in Casselman, Bayside in Erieu, Sawdust City in Gravenhurst, Ramblin Road in Le Salette, Kilannan in Owen Sound, Lake of Bays in Baysville, Double Trouble in Guelph, and many more in planning. Overall all it looks like Ontario has seen about 23 new breweries in the last 2 years totaling just over 80 Craft Breweries in all of Ontario, from small brewpubs to well known breweries.
If you are one of those people who think that this is too many breweries, and I’ve just proven you right, well, let me correct you again. While this does seem like a lot, our neighbors to the south have proven that flavour loving people can support craft beer, and can even help it thrive. Beyond all the numbers showing the expansive growth of Craft Beer in both the US and Canada over the past 5 to 10 years, the Brewers Association just announced that there were 21 new brewery openings in California between August 9th and November 28th of 2012 (via BeerPulse.com). 21 new breweries in 4 months! Yes, it’s California, but here are the numbers against Ontario’s.
California has recently added 5.25 new breweries per month, while Ontario has added 0.96. Yes, the two regions have very different populations, but when you take that into account California adds 0.14 breweries per month per million (37.6 million approximate population), and Ontario has added just 0.06 new breweries per month per million (15.8 million approximate population). California’s rate of new brewery additions per capita is more than twice Ontario’s. Also, regardless of rate, California currently stands at approximately 9.3 breweries per million people (350 breweries in operation estimated) while Ontario is at 5.1 breweries per million people.
Some people may look at this and argue that California is probably the most advanced beer climate in the entire world right now, and not the best comparison to Ontario. They are probably right. So, let’s look at our more similarly sized and situated neighbors, Michigan. Michigan, with an approximated population of 9.8 million currently has 145 craft breweries. This means Michigan beats out both Ontario (5.1) and California (9.3) with a whopping 14.8 breweries per million people!
There has been an unprecedented growth in Ontario Craft Beer recently, and there are more breweries now then ever before. But think of the hordes of people that still have no idea; all the people that still say “oh, beer can have flavour?”; all the people that think beer tastes like “beer”; all the people that still scoff at beer and food pairings… Think about all of the bars that still serve 10 different versions of the same beer! I don’t claim to be a statistician, so I can only stand by the aforementioned numbers to a certain extent. What I will argue though is that Ontario is not done building Craft Breweries, and nor should it be. While growth may also mean that some breweries that are here now may not be later, we still do have room to grow, improve, innovate, and show people all the wonderful experiences that craft beer can offer. And I know that the growing group of young and old brewers knocking at the door are coming soon to prove me right.