Canada's most populous province, Ontario, has an active beer culture. While globalization of the brewing industry has resulted in the major players in Canada being acquired by or merged with foreign companies, craft brewing has boomed in the province. In 2019, there were 340 craft breweries in Ontario, only 40 of which had been open in 2010.

Much like the popularity of smaller, regional breweries, brewpubs have become increasingly popular in some cities throughout Ontario. These brew unique beers within the restaurant that supposedly reflect local tastes and match some of the dishes offered.

The three largest beer producers are Labatt (owned by the international conglomerate, Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV), Molson (merged with the Adolph Coors Company of the USA), and Sleeman (owned by Sapporo Brewery of Japan).

Carling and O'Keefe were once significant brands; Carling Red Cap was Ontario's best-selling beer in the 1960s. The two companies merged with each other in the 1930s, with Molson in the 1990s, and then into Molson-Coors. Today Carling Black Label is still sold across Canada, but is not remarkably popular; however it is the best-selling lager in the UK.

Canadian styles Edit

Canadian mass-market beers (Molson's, and Labatt's) are generally a pale gold lager, with an alcohol content of 4 to 6 per cent.

The mass-market beers are not very distinctive (although Americans will notice that some beers made by these companies are not sold in the States). However, Canadian beer drinkers do support local brewers.

Cream ale Edit

Although cream ale (referring to a creamy head) was an offshoot of North American light lager, this type is brewed as an ale, in accordance with individual brewers' preferences. Despite its name, a cream ale does not include lactose. Cream ale in North America is "somewhat of a hybrid... fermented like an ale at warm temperatures, but then stored at cold temperatures for a period of time, much as a lager would be. The resultant brew has the unchallenging crisp characteristics of a light pale lager, but is endowed with a hint of the aromatic complexities that ales provide. Pale in color, they are generally more heavily carbonated and more heavily hopped than light lagers." 

The most widely distributed brand is the Sleeman Cream Ale, which was first crafted in the late 1800s by George Sleeman and possibly the first genuine iteration of Canadian cream ale. Sleeman Breweries current product, crafted from the original Sleeman family recipe book, is described by the maker as "an authentic North American style [that] combines the easy drinking nature of a lager and the rich fruity character of an ale". Muskoka Brewery also markets a cream ale across Ontario (at LCBO and the Beer Store), as do some smaller brewers. Muskoka describes its product as "... with its rich amber colour and inviting floral tones... a Cascade hoppiness and fuller body of flavour...."

India Pale Ale Edit

India Pale Ale (IPA) originated in Britain around 1800, a heavily hopped brew for export to British India. Today it is produced in many places, unsurprisingly including India and the UK, but also many US breweries and some elsewhere. In Canada, Molson, Labatt and Sleeman each have an IPA among their range of beers.

By far the best-known Canadian IPA is Alexander Keith's. Keith was a Scottish immigrant who set up a brewery in Halifax in 1820; brewery tours are a tourist attraction today. The IPA was their first product, but now they make several other beers. They are now owned by Anheuser-Busch who market Keith's IPA in every Canadian province and in the US; they also produce it at several breweries in addition to the original one.

Ice beer Edit

Ice beer originated in Canada, although it is essentially based on the German Eisbock style of beer. Common ice beer brands have approximately 5.5 to 6 per cent alcohol content. There is a Labatt Maximum Ice with a 7.1 per cent alcohol content.

One generic process of icing beer involves lowering the temperature of a batch of beer until ice crystals form. Since alcohol has a much lower freezing point (-114 °C; -173.2 °F) than water and does not form crystals when the ice is filtered off, this creates a concoction with a higher volume ratio of alcohol to water and therefore creating a beer with a higher alcohol content by volume. The process is known as "fractional freezing" or "freeze distillation".

Sizes Edit

Draft beer (or draught beer) served at bars and restaurants in Canada is commonly sold in pints, defined as the imperial pint: 568 millilitres (20 imperial fluid ounces, which is 20% larger than a US pint). Depending on the bar, it might also be a half-litre, 500 mL.

Packaged beer is usually sold in 341-mL bottles, and in 355-mL or 473-mL cans.

Festivals Edit

A keg of beer is tapped open during the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest in 2015
  • Toronto’s Festival of Beer, Bandshell Park, Exhibition Place, Toronto. Last weekend in July. Featuring local craft beer, international brews, food, live music, One-day ticket $80-175.
  • Kitchener–Waterloo Oktoberfest. An annual three-week festival held at several halls in the adjoining cities of Kitchener and Waterloo. It is billed as Canada's Greatest Bavarian Festival, and is the second-largest Oktoberfest in the world. It runs from late September to mid-October. The event celebrates the region's German heritage, and attracts roughly 700,000 visitors every year. It includes concerts, a parade, kids' events, food, and maybe a glass or two of beer.
  • Because Beer Craft Beer Festival, 64 Leander Drive, Hamilton. Two days in mid-July. Pier 4 Park hosts Hamilton and area’s craft breweries and cideries, with live music. $30 for one day, $40 for two days.
  • Beau’s Oktoberfest, Vankleek Hill, near Ottawa. Third Saturday in September. A single-day event, with music.
  • Prince Edward County Craft Beer Festival, 26-343, County Rd 22, Picton. Late September. 2023 marks the launch of this festival.
  • The Georgian Bay Craft Beer Brewing Festival, 9 Great North Road, Parry Sound. Two days in mid-May. A two-day festival of food, music, entertainment, and craft beer from the region.
  • The London Beer Fest, Covent Garden's Rotary Square and on Talbot Street between King Street and Market Lane, London (Ontario). Late June. Sample some of the best craft beer from Southwestern Ontario at the Covent Garden Market in downtown London. The festival will also feature diverse food and local music.
  • BrewHa! Craft Beer Festival, Sleeping Giant Parkway, Thunder Bay. Two days in mid-July. Held on the shores of Lake Superior in the Festival Area at Prince Arthur’s Landing. Food, entertainment and craft beer, including local Dawson Trail Craft Brewery and Sleeping Giant Brewing Company. $42 each day.

Retailers Edit

Until 2015, about 80 per cent of Ontario's consumer beer trade was handled by the Beer Store, a chain owned by the three large breweries — Molson, Labatt and Sleeman. It also sells craft brew from microbreweries and beers imported from other provinces. Older Ontarians may still call it "the Brewers Retail". The other 20 per cent was handled by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), a government corporation which is the only legal vendor of hard liquor in the province and also sells Canadian and imported beers.

Since 2015 beer is available in many Ontario supermarkets; as of 2023, the government is committed to permitting sales in convenience stores.

Despite wider availability in stores and the growth of independent local brewers, the variety of beer on retail shelves represents only a portion of Ontario's beer scene. Popular beers from smaller producers are often only available directly from a brewery's own bottle shop. Samples or tours are sometimes available, and staff are usually happy to talk about their beer and offer recommendations.

Quebec has long had more liberal laws about who can sell beer and it is fairly common for Ontario residents near the border (especially in Ottawa) to buy beer in a Quebec dépanneur (convenience store).

Imported beers Edit

The Beer Store sells mainly brands produced by the major breweries that own it, but those include some owned by Anheuser-Busch — Corona, Stella Artois and several other Belgian beers — some from Molson-Coors — Coors, Budweiser, Miller, Creemore (formerly an independent Ontario brewery), Rickard's Red (originally from an independent Vancouver brewery) and Fosters — and Sapporo's Japanese beers. They also carry well-established international brands like Heineken, Carlsberg and Guinness, and some from smaller regional brewers.

The Beer Store also has some beers from independent breweries in other provinces:

  • Moosehead is Canada's oldest independent brewer, established in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1867. Today most of their product is exported to the US, but some is also sold in many Canadian provinces and in Mexico.
  • Unibroue are a relative newcomer, established in Chambly, a suburb of Montreal, in 1991; they are now owned by Sapporo. They brought in a Belgian brewmaster and brew mainly in a Belgian style where the beer continues to ferment after bottling; in some the process leaves sediment in the bottom of the bottle so pouring the beer requires care. Their beers have won awards and are popular with beer aficionados, including many in Ontario. Most are quite potent, 8 to 11% alcohol.

The LCBO has more exotic choices, in particular a range of European beers.

Breweries Edit

Golden Horseshoe Edit

Steam Whistle Brewing in Downtown Toronto at the foot of the CN Tower offers tours and tastings

Eastern Ontario Edit

Southwestern Ontario Edit

Central Ontario Edit

Northern Ontario Edit

See also Edit

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