Local brewers hop into craft beer industry by Chris Shanahan

headshotMarch 4, 2014

By Chris Shanahan

As someone who likes to sample a cold pint of frothy lager from time to time, I listened with interest when a fellow pub patron delivered the following hop-inspired philosophy one frozen winter afternoon: “Chris,” he said. “I always say I don’t eat the same food every day, so why should I drink the same beer every day?”

This comment got me thinking and it really makes sense, especially when considered within the context of the booming craft beer market here in Ontario and many other parts of our brew-loving nation. There’s never been more choice available for those who enjoy tasting the unique flavours of local, small-batch made products. Recent stats from the LCBO show sales of craft beer have outstripped even wines and spirits, posting annual sales growth of nearly 45 per cent. Consumers seemingly can’t get enough of these crafted gems with the colourful packaging and funky names like Flying Monkeys, Hops and Robbers, Boneshaker and Steam Whistle.

Several award-winning craft brewers are already well established right here in York Region. In Nobleton, King Brewery crafts a line of acclaimed European-style beers using one of Canada’s few authentic German-style brewhouses. Vaughan’s Magnotta Brewery is a past Canadian Brewer of the Year; while the more recently formed Stouffville Brewing Company has launched its flagship Red Falcon ale into many area bars and retails outlets.

What’s all the excitement about, you may ask? It’s seems that a lot of discriminating beer drinkers are looking for a more flavourful alternative to the mass-marketed suds cranked out by our commercial brewery giants. In microbrews, beer lovers are finding distinctive brands made in small batches with original recipes using natural ingredients and little or no additives or preservatives.

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to veteran brewmaster Phil DiFonzo at King Brewery. It was immediately apparent that this man has a true passion for all things craft brewed. Phil told me that he feels the province’s palate has grown up and today’s consumers are thirsty for real beer with real flavour. “I love the term craft brewing,” he explained to me. “What it means to me is that we small-batch brew. The brewer has an interpretation; he’s delivering a product with a taste profile and an audience. And with my King Pilsner and my King Dark Lager, we do that directly to those who are looking for European-style lagers.”

After our conversation, my curiosity was peaked and I headed directly for my local box store to purchase a few cans of Phil’s aforementioned King Pilsner. Needless to say, they didn’t last long in my fridge and this selection is a welcome addition to my rapidly growing list of craft favourites. I also highly recommend a visit to the Earl of Whitchurch pub, located just east of the railway tracks on Stouffville’s Main Street. This venerable watering hole’s plethora of taps dispenses some of Ontario’s finest craft products, including my personal favourite, Mill Street Organic.