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Canadian brewers from traditionalists to innovators


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From its early days as one of Canada’s original brewpubs, Victoria’s Spinnakers evolved into a gourmet destination, production brewery, elegant if rustic B&B and even a beer and spirits merchant.

By: Stephen Beaumont


Canadians have always thought themselves beer drinkers, to the point that, even as their per capita beer consumption levels dipped below those of the United States and American beer brands brewed under license in Canada became top sellers, they still believed they drank more – and better! – beer than did their neighbours to the south.


The fact is that Canadians have not for many a year consumed appreciably more beer per capita than have their neighbours to the south, and the era when Canadian mainstream brands were fuller bodied and richer tasting than their American counterparts is long since past. In fact, as one national brewery after another was either bought outright or merged into an American company, long-standing and iconic Canadian brands have been apparently all-but-abandoned by their owners, left to languish on the shelves as new US or US-influenced brands fly off the shelves.

Except where craft beer is concerned.


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Although well rooted in British brewing traditions, eastern Canadian craft breweries are now embracing more unusual styles, such as this Nova Scotia collaborative beer brewed with fresh, or “wet,” unkilned hops.

Craft brewing in Canada was born on the West Coast. The first brewpub in North America was the now-defunct Horseshoe Bay Brewing Company in British Columbia, while the first production craft brewery in the country was Granville Island Brewing in Vancouver, now owned by MolsonCoors. It is in Québec that innovative and exciting craft brewing has thrived, however, even as it has slowly though methodically developed the country’s most populated province of Ontario.

Generalizations are by definition flawed, but if you wanted to categorize Canadian brewing by region, you might propose that British traditions hold sway in Atlantic Canada, Belgian- and, more recently, U.S.-inspired creativity and experimentation are most prevalent in Québec, solidly traditional beer styles dominate Ontario brewing, splashes of creativity dot the mostly moribund Prairie provinces, and increasing U.S. brewing influence is helping British Columbia evolve into a lively beer culture.

The hottest of brewing hotbeds are urban centres like Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia, Calgary in Alberta, Toronto in Ontario, Montréal and Québec City in Québec, and Halifax in Nova Scotia. Elsewhere smaller movements are gestating and springing to life, or set to graduate from small scale to the big time. Breweries are opening at a rate not seen for decades, if ever, and established craft beer operations are finding enthusiastic audiences for their products.

Which is to say that Canadians still are beer drinkers. They’re just becoming more selective.


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