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5 Ontario craft beers to quench your summer thirst

July 14, 2023

The number of craft breweries operating in Ontario is an impressive number that approaches a hoppy, malty and otherwise flavourful 300 businesses, both large and small. Whether you travel north, east, south or west, you will find selections of inventive and delicious beers crafted by dedicated brewers who will each assert that there’s absolute magic in the proper, loving treatment of hops, grain, yeast and water that makes some of the best beverages for summer sipping. Here are just a few of them:

Craft BeersLeisure IPA | Spark Beer
702 Somerset Street West | Ottawa, ON  K1R 6P6

British scientist Michael Faraday called a spark – the discharge of electricity seen and heard as a crackle and burst of bright light – a “beautiful flash.” It’s also the flash of inspiration for Chinatown Ottawa’s Spark Beer. “It has nothing to do with Sparks Street,” says co-founder Andrea Gormley. “Our brewing system is electric, which is unusual, so it captures our unique aspect.”

Having opened Spark with John Sproull in 2020, Gormley says the 10-employee brewery focusses on local ingredients including for their Leisure IPA (6%), a brew that flashes what Sproull calls the Spark brand of “hoppy, sour and all-around fun beers.”

Travels to world beer centres drove home to the co-founders the importance of local; inspired by Belgian tradition, they saw microorganisms at the heart of the process. “Those wild yeasts and aging methods produce flavours and aromas unique to the place the beer is brewed. They can be particular to an area or even one brewery,” says Gormley of the potential for the variety of flavours one brewery can create. “We’re into that,” she says of the art, craft and science of brewing distinctive beers.

Tasting notes
Spark draws on ingredients from Mississippi Malting in Pakenham, about 60 kilometres away, and Pontiac Hops in Quebec in the Ottawa Valley. A Vermont-style IPA, Leisure is 95% local (with some oats from western Canada) and a mainstay beer in the Spark catalogue. It has a full mouthfeel but not a thick one, with stone-fruit flavours, says Sproull. “The Cascade and Centennial hops make it shine. There’s a floral, white-flower and very light citrus quality and a grassy note.”

Food pairing
Last November, Spark installed a stone-hearth pizza oven and kitchen space for a 50-seat taproom, so some ‘zza is the go-to nosh. Its IPA character means Leisure can handle some spice, Gormley says: she picks their “The Number One Pizza in Heaven,” a pie with rich, fatty “cupping” pepperoni, St. Albert Mozzarella, pickled jalapeños, Korean chili flakes, Parmesan and a drizzle of honey.

Ontario Craft BeersOrange Creamsicle Ale | Point Brewing Company
705 Lite Street | Point Edward, ON  N7V 1A7

Beneath the Blue Water Bridge connecting Point Edward with Port Huron, Michigan, and near where the St. Clair River links Lakes Huron and Erie, the village stands independent: the tightly-knit Point Edwardians staunchly rebuffed then Premier Mike Harris when it came to amalgamation with Sarnia in the late 1990s – as evinced in the village motto, “progressively independent since 1878.”

Though it’s only been operating for about a year now, Point Brewing sports its own attitude of progressive independence in the eight beers it brews, says co-founder David Kruger. “We think that’s very microbrewery-like, he says. His two brothers-in-law, Scott Dunn and Claudio Palleschi, are co-founders. “We brew approachable beers but also get outside the box and get creative. Like a chef in a kitchen.” Local is key to the Point Edward approach: whenever possible, they strive for brewing ingredients within the 519-area code, such as Backroads Hops up the 402 in Parkhill.

Read Also: Barrel Heart Brewing & Blending: A boutique brewery experience

Brewed year-round, Point Brewing opened their doors with the Orange Creamsicle Ale (4.3%). It’s easy to see how it plays to childhood “ice-cream-in-the-summer” memories for beer aficionados – but it also represents some intense kitchen labour, says Kruger. “I zest by hand 600 oranges per 1,200-litre batch of beer. We get fresh oranges from our friends next door at Sarnia Produce. The zest means maximum aroma and flavour.”

Tasting notes
“Orange Creamsicle Ale came out of our home brewing when we wanted a lighter beer with an interesting take,” says Kruger. “We thought let’s do something summery, like a popsicle, and its reception has been overwhelming.”

Rather than hazy, it’s a clear beer with a light gold hue, a frothy white head and a cream-ale base. Open a can and there’s a pleasing aroma of vanilla and orange.  “It’s clean and refreshing with moderate carbonation,” Kruger says. “The first taste is bright orange and creamy softness of vanilla reminding you of the summer childhood treat. There’s some lactose, so you get the taste and mouthfeel of smooth creaminess.”

Food pairing
Local food trucks roll into the brewery to fill out the food side of Point’s food-and-beverage. And there are retro “roller dogs” on-site: the “Front Street Frank” is a hotdog with a Schinkel’s “Super Six Frank,” pickles, crispy onions and a mayo tinged with a local hot sauce. “It’s a quality hotdog,” Kruger says. “I order 600, and we go through them pretty quickly.” A dog and an orange creamsicle beer: what says summer any better?

Ontario Craft BeersOde’imin Strawberry Beer | Manitoulin Brewing Co.
43 Manitowaning Rd., Hwy #6 | Little Current, ON P0P 1K0

About 150 kilometres southwest of Sudbury, amid the gorgeous landscape of Manitoulin Island, high school buddies Nishin Meawaisge and Blair Hagman started brewing in Hagman’s garage as craft beer in Ontario was really taking off. Eight years later, as of June, Manitoulin Brewing Co. has grown to a 20-hectalitre system with a 16,000hl/month capacity. But the true measure of the brewery is what Hagman calls the “connection” between the brand and the focus on the Island and its communities.

“People get excited when they see our products in the LCBO across Ontario and identify they are from the Island. Culturally, people take pride in being from Manitoulin Island. Like P.E.I. or Newfoundland,” he says. The beer helps give Little Current a presence, and their brands highlight the heritage and landmarks of Manitoulin, the largest freshwater island in the world: the area’s Cup and Saucer trail, which climbs the Niagara Escarpment, and the S.S. Norisle Ferry, for instance. Their Haw Eaters’ Brew pays homage to the hawthorn that produces red-fruited hawberries; hence, people born on the Island are sometimes referred to as “haw eaters.”

Brewing between 10 and 14 brands, depending on the season, Manitoulin focuses on traditional beers, and that has garnered them podium finishes: Cup and Saucer English Ale won silver in the 2022 Canada Beer Awards – and it gets kudos from Brits for being true to an English ale, says Hagman. The Killarney Cream Ale, their top seller, has been LCBO’s second highest selling cream ale. In 2022, it won gold in the Standard American Beer category at the Ontario Brewery Awards.

Tasting notes
Ode’imin is the Ojibwe word for strawberry. Meawaisge developed the recipe and uses strawberries from Pike Lake Farms. “The strawberries work better in an ale than they would in a lager,” says Hagman. The ale is a rich amber with only mild fruitiness and subtle caramel sweetness. “Those strawberries are more present at the beginning of the taste, which has a more malty finish. It’s well balanced and the strawberries aren’t overpowering. That makes it an ideal fruited ale for consumers who shy away from the style,” he says.

Food pairing
Hagman suggests barbecued pulled pork, goat cheese with red pepper jelly and, of course, strawberry shortcake.

Ontario Craft BeersFarmhouse Blonde Ale | MacLean’s Ales
52 14th Avenue | Hanover, ON  N4N 3V9

Tucked into a Hanover industrial park since 2014, and 180 kilometres from Toronto, MacLean’s Ale is, indeed, on the map but off the radar, as its website proclaims. A craft-beer industry pioneer, Charles MacLean has been a brewer longer than many of his brewing colleagues have been alive. In the late 1970s, MacLean was part of the “Campaign for Real Ale,” a grassroots U.K. beer advocacy promoting real ale, cider and perry. In Ontario, MacLean joined the Canadian branch that pushed the Province to allow craft breweries to grow and thrive. Today, his view of the craft beer industry is from that long perspective. “Craft beer is still growing, but it has slowed down somewhat,” MacLean says.

Historically, a brewer of ales, MacLean says the Farmhouse Blonde Ale, crisp and refreshing, is an original that started out when he was co-founder of Wellington and F&M breweries in Guelph. The ale comes by its name honestly, you could say. “It started in my small brewery on my farm. I grew some of the hops and some barley that I had malted to make it. We still use those same hop varieties for the Blonde Ale today.” The crisp and refreshing beer – “it’s two-row malted barley with a small amount of fortified wheat,” he says – is their top seller.

Tasting notes
“It’s a light, refreshing beer at 4.8% alcohol and 18 bitterness units. So, it’s very easy drinking,” he says. And it is, indeed. And with more complexity than a mere “lawnmower beer,” he adds. From a frothy head upon pouring, I picked up some bready, toasty notes along with a slight yeasty aroma. There’s gentle fizz to the beer, and it has just a slight sweetness but finishes dry and refreshing.

Food pairing
MacLean says the Blonde Ale is one of his go-to beers in the warmer weather. As far as food goes, he would be looking at chicken, some fish and lighter cheeses.

Ontario Craft BeersThe Hydrocut Trails Session IPA | TWB: Together We’re Bitter Cooperative Brewing
#1-300 Mill Street | Kitchener, ON N2M 3R8

Peter Collins, head brewer and one of the worker-owners at this co-operative brewery that opened in 2016, says the co-op permits a “democratic” approach to the beer business. “I like it. We’ve all got a stake in the business, and we’ve all got a say in the business as well.” The catalogue of beers generally follows classic styles with moments here and there when they brew a beer that tries something that’s new or on trend. Escarpment Labs yeast does regular duty in the lineup as do hops from nearby.

From a core of a dozen beers that has grown over the years and run the gamut of colour, bitterness and ABV across the eight taps in the taproom, TWB’s Hydrocut appears each summer – and as a 3.8% session IPA, it’s a refreshing summer sipper with no little complexity. Some proceeds from sales go to the upkeep the “hydrocut trails”, a network of mountain bike trails in northwest Waterloo. “As a beer, the Hydrocut is a Kveik yeast session IPA. It ferments very cleanly. It’s fast to start and fast to finish with Mosaic and Vic Secret hops and with a bit of Columbus for bittering,” Collins says.

Tasting notes
The hop combination brings a lot of aroma and smooth flavour to the beer but not a lot of upfront bitterness. Slight haziness comes off the pour and some melon and peach aroma right up front. “There’s a reasonable amount of head formation and retention,” says Collins, “and a good amount of laciness as you drink. There’s a gentle fruitiness and some biscuit from the malt.” I didn’t detect much citrus but a subtle note of grapefruit along with marked hop flavour. “Despite being 3.8%, there’s and good body to support the hops,” Collins says. “It doesn’t finish thin or dry.”

Food pairing
Food trucks and pizza and taco pop-ups appear with regularity at TWB, and Collins suggests pizza as an appropriate food pairing. “Something like a Margherita pizza would be good and would have nice balance. Or perhaps vegetarian tacos. Nothing too spicy that overpowers the Hydrocut.”


Andrew CoppolinoRestaurant reviewer, book author and food columnist, Andrew Coppolino’s work has published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the United States and England. In 2022, he was the “Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence” at the Stratford Chefs School – a place where he has also taught at in addition to teaching at Conestoga College School of Culinary Arts. His writing has been dedicated to telling the stories and narratives of food and promoting and nurturing culinary businesses at the same time advocating for local chefs, restaurants and food businesses.


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