Reverence Barrel Works: A Small Ontario Brewery with BIG IDEAS

By: Alyssa Andres

In the world of craft beer, trends abound. Styles of beer seem to become popular in waves – whether it’s fruity sours or ridiculously hoppy triple IPAs. When breweries catch on to a trend, they tend to ride with it. This results in a market saturated with similar offerings, while, somewhat ironically, it seems what many craft beer lovers are looking for is something new.

  While most breweries across North America are producing many of the same styles of beer and using similar brewing techniques, there is a small town brewery in Cambridge, Ontario, that is doing the opposite. Reverence Barrel Works has built itself on experimentation with the goal of producing small-batch craft beer full of personality.

  Reverence Barrel Works owners Brett Hunter and Matt Duimering always wanted to focus on two things: experimentation and quality. The two brewers started RBW in September 2019 after quitting their day jobs and quickly started playing around with different concepts for their beer. They’d both used traditional and non-traditional methods of brewing, incorporating slow-fermentation techniques, wild yeast strains and an array of different ingredients. They experimented with beer-wine hybrids, wild-foraged edibles and have even used gelatin in some of their beer. By playing with techniques and styles, RBW has managed to catch the attention of craft beer lovers across Ontario.

  The craft beer scene within Ontario is vast and spans across the entire province. There are microbreweries in some of the smallest towns in Ontario, and craft beer lovers will travel great distances to find the latest and greatest that breweries have to offer. Hunter and Duimering opened their brewery with this concept in mind. They knew if they had something on their roster that was a must-try, it would put their small brewery on the map for people touring the craft beer circuit.

  The release of Reverence Slrrp! Blue in December 2020 did just that. Hunter and Duimering created an 8% ABV, slightly soured blonde ale with the “natural flavor of blue” and the addition of gelatin, giving the beer a texture similar to unset jello. Although not something most people would care to drink every day, it was something that everyone wanted to try.

  “People drink with their eyes,” said Duimering. “When you’re scrolling through Instagram, you’re used to scrolling past a picture of beer, a picture of beer, and now there’s a picture of this blue beverage in front of you. You stop scrolling immediately.”

  Slrrp! Blue sold out quickly and was followed by Slrrp! Green and Slrrp! Red. The beers were something people felt they needed to try, and because they were produced in small batches, they sold out quickly after each release. Although successful, the Slrrp! series was more of a gimmick for Reverence to draw attention to the brewery. Their primary focus is on producing more traditional beers with a modern flair.

  Hunter and Duimering have experimented with a wide range of styles, from red wine barrel-aged sour red ales to maple barrel-aged pastry stouts. They use natural fermentation methods for their beer, so patience is a virtue when creating their products. Some beers take a few months to produce; others will stay in barrel for years. In the end, it’s all about quality and ingenuity.

  Since releasing their Slrrp! series, the brewers have gone on to partner with local wineries to create beer-wine hybrids using several grape varietals and brewing techniques. They chose to work with wineries that share their similar vision and values. They wanted to pair with like-minded people also focused on creating quality products that represent the region and reflect the unique terroir and climate of Ontario.

  Hunter and Duimering decided to source grapes from Traynor Family Vineyard in Prince Edward County, Ontario, for their beer-wine hybrid “Glou Glou Marquette.” The Traynor Vineyard is a small winery focused on sustainable permaculture, hand-harvesting their grapes and using natural, low intervention winemaking techniques. The brewers used Marquette grapes from the Traynor Vineyard and added them to a blend of golden sour ales. The beer spent five months in puncheons resting on the grapes, giving it a deep color and slight tannin. With rich flavors of red cherry and black raspberry, this hybrid beverage drinks more like a pét-nat wine than a traditional beer.

  Duimering said he loves working in this hybrid style that expresses the terroir and uses natural fermentation. “We don’t want to be pitching just wine yeast strains into our beer because I can go buy those commercial strains,” he said. “We want to work with people who are asking what is the native microflora? What is the flavor of Ontario? So whatever [yeast] is on the grapes, that’s what ferments them. We put that in our beer, and you get that terroir carrying over.”

  By incorporating wine into their beer, Reverence is appealing to a whole new demographic of drinkers. Being located close to wine country, it makes sense to utilize these ingredients and draw in wine lovers who are touring the area. Reverence has released several of these wine-beer hybrids, including a Chardonnay barrel-aged brett Saison aged on orange wine skins and a Flemish red ale aged for two months on Cabernet Franc skins. These beers are alive with personality and flavor, bringing the taste of the region to life.

  Located an hour west of Toronto, Reverence Barrel Works is not only surrounded by wine country but also by expansive farmland and sprawling forests. Naturally, Hunter and Duimering also gravitate to incorporating some of the region’s other fruit and flora into their beer. They’ve utilized wild foraged sumac to create their “Patience & Fruition Sumac,” a tequila barrel-aged golden sour with notes of lemon and raspberry. They are now awaiting warmer weather to incorporate other wild edibles into their recipes, including dandelion, for a natural bitterness.

  As a young brewery, the two brewers are continuing to experiment and expand. Many of their beers are extremely small batch and don’t make it onto their website or bottle shop. As a result, Reverence Barrel Works has started a “Barrel Club,” offering its members exclusive access to these limited edition beers. Each member receives 12 different beers a year not available to the public. Other benefits include access to pre-order unreleased beers and double bottle limits on limited edition beers. The Barrel Club allows RBW to showcase their most experimental beers as well as brews that would never be feasible to produce on a large scale due to cost and labor. They can also test their products this way and get a sense of what people like before producing large quantities. The club has been a great success for the brewery, with all 75 spots in the club selling out last year.

  Another reason RBW has been successful, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is the support from bottle shops that have opened across the province. Before the pandemic, restaurants in Ontario were not legally able to sell takeout alcohol at all. Since restaurants were forced to close for most of 2020 and now into 2021, the government amended that law, enabling restaurants to offer takeout beer, wine and even cocktails in sealed containers. Many restaurants have transformed their operation into full-fledged bottle shops, offering an array of craft beer from across Ontario made by small producers that are not available in regular liquor stores. These shops have helped get RBW’s beer into the hands of a community that would otherwise never get to try their products.

  In their own bottle shop, RBW does not offer tasting flights. Their beer is sold only by the can or bottle in order to encourage their customers to experience the full product. “I’m not a fan of speed dating,” Duimering said, “and I often find when people do flights, they’ll get a heavy stout and a light lager and a fruited sour and then some hoppy IPA, and it just wipes your palate. We want people to really get to know the beer and enjoy it more.”

  The bottom line for Reverence Barrel Works is quality. Duimering and Hunter want to do things right and ensure that when people taste their beer, it’s the best it can be. Whether it takes a few months or a couple of years to produce, they’re turning out unique products made with love and passion, and that is something craft beer lovers want.

  Consumers are starting to move away from what is trendy and looking for something different – something unique that tells a story and represents a person or a place. By going back to more traditional methods of production, using local ingredients and taking their time to create quality, small-batch beer, Reverence Barrel Works is able to capture the attention of their target audience and make a name for themselves in an otherwise extremely saturated market. They are definitely a brewery to take note of while exploring the flavors that Ontario craft beer has to offer.

From Brewery to Brand

Canadian Breweries Are Crafting More Than Just Beer

By: Alyssa Andres

These days, it’s not enough for Canadian breweries to just produce great beer. Canada’s craft beer industry is growing rapidly, with over 1000 craft breweries nationwide and more opening their doors each month. It is crucial that each of these breweries attempt to set themselves apart from the competition in order to establish a following and draw customers into their tasting rooms. From logos, slogans, packaging and merchandising to marketing, advertising and social media, each decision a brewery makes impacts how the public identifies with their business. Some of Canada’s most successful breweries have taken this notion and created their own personalized brands that extend way beyond beer and allow them to garner more interest in their businesses.

  Many of these breweries use original artwork to create more exciting brands and produce merchandise that sells out just as quickly as their beer. Some breweries use their brand identity to create a voice and speak to an important cause or issue. Others organize festivals, concerts or charitable events. Many incorporate local ingredients or use their unique location as inspiration for their brands.

The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company

  The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company in Canmore, Alberta, uses its unique Rocky Mountain location to create a diverse brand that appeals to locals and tourists alike. Established in 1996, Grizzly Paw has grown from a brewing company to a brand that extends from sodas and hot sauces to clothing, housewares and even soap. The brewery recognized the potential for a successful retail business early on, especially being a tourist destination, and started creating an array of branded merchandise to sell in their taproom.

  After launching The Grizzly Paw retail store, the brewery continued to expand its offerings. They added a line of handcrafted sodas to their repertoire in 2006, made with fresh water from the streams of the Canmore reservoir. This move allowed the brewery to expand its brand to include children’s clothing and goods. Sales and Marketing Manager, Kristina Cardinale, said the brewery developed a second logo to use for the sodas and used that logo to establish their children’s brand.

  “When it comes to the kid’s side, we’re not promoting kids wearing beer brands,” she said. “We always put the soda logo on the kid’s merchandise, so now we can hit all the demographics and age groups.”

  The brewery finds that many of its visitors want to take memorabilia and souvenirs home as a memory of their time in the mountains and aren’t necessarily just looking for a beer tasting when they visit The Grizzly Paw Brew House.

  The Grizzly Paw retail shop releases a new line of merchandise seasonally that includes lots of plaids, branded toques, hockey jerseys and even collector’s items like their Grizzly Paw “Thumberjack Throw,” a fleece-lined, red and black sherpa throw that retails at $75.00 CAD. Cardinale said they are looking to add floaties to the list of Grizzly Paw merchandise this summer. While brewing great beer remains their focus, their retail shop continues to be an important part of their business.

Blood Brothers Brewing

  Many Canadian breweries choose to expand their brands to include more retail offerings as the interest in craft beer continues to grow across the country. True beer drinkers love to sport their favorite beer brands, and they’re not just pulling these T-shirts out of a case of beer anymore. Consumers are willing to pay good money to showcase their favorite breweries, which creates a real opportunity for brewers to allow their following to promote their brand for them.

  Blood Brothers Brewing in downtown Toronto is an example of a brewery that has taken its business and developed a recognizable brand of street-style that can be seen all over the city. Owners and real-life brothers, Dustin and Brayden Jones, started with a simple logo designed by artist and close friend Meghan Kramer. They then started commissioning Kramer to illustrate all of their beer labels, using her unique style of artwork that is now easily recognizable as the Blood Brothers brand. The Jones come up with the name for the beer and share the backstory behind why they chose it, and from there, Kramer has complete creative freedom to interpret. These labels are then transformed into T-shirts, hoodies, posters and other merchandise to sell in the brewery taproom.

  The Jones brothers had no idea what the demand for merchandise would become. The glassware sales initially tipped them off to the importance of having a retail shop when they opened their taproom in 2016. Today, this paraphernalia is so highly sought after that it’s hard to get your hands on.

  Blood Brothers continues to expand its offerings, and today, their shop includes not only clothing and glassware but also pins, patches and playing cards. There’s even a bottle opener resembling a folding butterfly knife that the brewery can’t keep on the shelves. The brand appeals to a specific sort of hipster beer-lover and has become a signature look amongst Torontonians. Each new beer is an opportunity for a new piece of art and more merchandise in the Blood Brothers retail shop.

Collective Arts Brewing

  The idea of original artwork is pushed one step further by Collective Arts Brewing in Hamilton, Ontario. This one-of-a-kind brewery “fuses the creativity of craft beverages with the inspired talents of artists from around the world,” using a different artist for each piece of art that goes on their cans. Today, the brewery has commissioned over 1000 artists, showcasing each of them in their taproom in a gallery-style display of tall cans.

  Collective Arts also promotes musicians, not only on their cans but through live festivals and events. In 2019, Collective Arts released their first Audio/Visual Lager: a music-inspired beer featuring a record label, four bands and one visual artist on each can. The brewery threw a week of free concerts in Toronto to celebrate the launch. They also organize the annual “Liquid Arts Festival” to celebrate beer, art and music, featuring bands, live art installations, food and, of course, Collective Arts beverages.

  Recently, Collective Arts expanded its platform and now uses its brand to promote larger issues, such as tolerance and equality. They released their “Amplified Voices” series in 2020, using limited-edition artwork aimed at “provoking challenging topics and creating space for groups that are too often left in the margins.” The brewery raises money for various causes through their Collective More. charitable initiative, aimed at supporting community, creativity and equality. Their goal is to financially assist charities that do work “to bring more equality and better the well-being of people in their communities.” The Collective More. initiative continues to sell merchandise, screen prints and limited-release beers, with proceeds funneling back into their charitable initiative.

  For International Women’s Day, they celebrated by teaming up with the Pink Boots Society, an organization created to assist, inspire and encourage women in the beer industry, to create a grapefruit-elderflower IPA.

  Collective Arts believes that making beer is a platform, and they take it upon themselves to speak out about issues that matter.

Beyond the Beer

  These days, people are paying attention. Social media and the internet have changed the way that consumers interact with brands. Beer companies have a real opportunity to make a statement and engage with their audiences. They can speak directly to their consumers, something that wasn’t possible even a decade ago. Every new post is an opportunity to share a message, draw attention to their company and build anticipation for upcoming products and release dates.

  Craft beer is a thriving online community, and new breweries are joining daily. Brewing companies must not only consider the beer they are producing but also their overall brand and demographic. The most successful beer brands in Canada have a recognizable aesthetic that appeals to a specific demographic. Many have eye-catching logos and beer cans that border on fine art. These breweries bridge the gap between beer and brand by developing merchandise and apparel, funding live and online events and using their platform to deliver a message beyond “let’s party.”

  As social media and online communities continue to grow, breweries must understand the power of their brand and the voice that comes along with it. Beyond the beer, clothing and accessories, breweries have the opportunity to share a message, often to a large audience. It’s important to take this opportunity and use it to create positive change.

  As the world continues to evolve through a global pandemic, enormous human rights movements and an onslaught of technological advances, it is more important than ever to create brands that inspire good. Whether they source local ingredients, support struggling artists, collaborate with other small businesses or donate to charitable causes, giving back is an integral part of creating a successful brand, and as consumers, it is a crucial thing to consider when choosing which brands to support.

Ontario’s Strict Liquor Laws

By: Alyssa Andres

In Canada, each province is governed under its own liquor laws. In the province of Ontario, there is a multitude of guidelines, fees and licenses required to successfully become a producer or supplier, many of which are not found in other provinces across the country. The restrictions, guidelines, and costs associated with the production, importation and sale of alcohol in the province impact the market for producers and consumers alike. By enforcing such strict laws, the Ontario government limits the province’s ability to showcase its top quality products and dissuades international suppliers and manufacturers from importing their goods from other regions. 

  Manufacturers in Ontario must prepare for substantial start-up costs and to spend a lot of time in the initial phases of business planning before starting production. Separate licenses are required before producing, selling and storing alcoholic beverages, and packaging guidelines, as well as chemical analysis of each product, are required once these licenses are obtained. For suppliers, it means facing mark-ups of well over 100% and tight restrictions on the import, distribution and sale of products. For consumers, it means selections tend to be limited, prices are higher than average and there are very few places to obtain alcoholic beverages.

  The body controlling the alcohol, tobacco and cannabis industries is the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. This body is responsible for forming the Liquor Control Act and administering liquor licenses beyond the federal license required to produce alcohol in Canada. The AGCO also oversees most aspects of alcohol sales and service in Ontario. This means they not only control the manufacturing of alcohol but also the distribution and sale of any kind, including bars, restaurants and private events.

  The initial step in becoming a brewer, distiller or winemaker in Ontario is to obtain a federal license to manufacture alcohol in Canada. According to the Government of Canada website, one must prove that they are of legal age and have sufficient resources to conduct a business before applying for the license, which does not carry with it any fees on its own. This license allows producers to manufacture alcohol in bulk, but producers must pay an excise duty once the alcohol is packaged to store it on-site. In Canada, as of April 2020, spirits containing more than 7% alcohol by volume are subject to an excise duty of $12.61 per litre of absolute ethyl alcohol. The only way around paying an excise duty at the time of packaging is to apply for an excise warehouse license that allows manufacturers to store non-duty paid packaged spirits for an extended period.

  Once a producer is licensed by the federal government to produce bulk alcohol, the AGCO requires a separate manufacturer’s license to sell the wine, beer or spirit within the province. The AGCO has strict guidelines surrounding where alcohol may be sold in the province. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario is the main outlet for alcohol sales in Ontario. There are 666 LCBO stores across Ontario responsible for providing the Ontario public with spirits, wine and beer in quantities of less than 12 units per case. A separate chain known as The Beer Store, also mandated by the AGCO, provides Ontarians with cases of beer. If a producer or supplier does not have this license, they will not be allowed to sell their product in the province.

   In 2017, Ontario started allowing a limited number of grocery stores with proper licensing to carry beer and wine, but, according to the AGCO website, these premises must also sell a variety of food products that must occupy at least 10,000 square feet of the retail space. Therefore, only large chain grocery stores are eligible for these permits, and there are only about 450 grocery stores that carry alcohol in the province.

  For breweries and distilleries to operate retail shops out of their own facilities, another license must be issued, even once producers have successfully obtained a manufacturer’s license. Yet another license is required to operate a “Tied House” or restaurant facility out of a brewery or distillery. Each of these licenses carries with it separate fees and must be renewed every two years. Since many Ontario breweries and distilleries are in remote towns across the province, the best way to get their product into the hands of the general public is to apply to have them on the shelves of the LCBO.

  According to the LCBO, they review over 50,000 submissions annually from producers and suppliers trying to sell their products through this system. Even products already approved must reapply for the license every two years. Per the AGCO licensing guide, to be eligible to apply for a Liquor Sales License, producers must submit their federal license to manufacture, a registered business name, a summary of their business plan, including detailed floor plans of their facilities, a marketing plan and images of the bottle/packaging of the product. The roughly nine-week process of approving product submission ends with an LCBO chemical analysis. This LCBO analysis is done on every active product on the shelves once a year, at the suppliers’ expense, to ensure quality. Once approved, the product then has to go through label and packaging reviews.

  The LCBO also has extremely specific requirements surrounding the labeling of not only the packaging of alcoholic beverages but also on shipping containers and cases. While many provinces follow general Canadian guidelines for packaging requirements, Ontario has developed its own set of rules. A 64-page document entitled LCBO Product Packaging Standards dictates not only what information is present on the bottle but also gives incredibly detailed guidelines on everything from the size and placement of this information to the “print contrast standard.” If a product doesn’t adhere to these standards, a producer must go back and have the label or shipping package redesigned.

  Once the product makes it to Ontario liquor store shelves, the LCBO must adhere to the LCA standards for minimum pricing. This means, according to the LCBO Pricing Standards Guide, updated in April 2020, a 750mL bottle of Canadian whisky sold by a supplier to the LCBO for $6.16 and charged a federal excise duty of $3.71 ($12.61/LAA) would end up on retail shelves for $27.50 after being marked up a standard rate of 139.7%. Of that total revenue, $16.17 goes to the Ontario government and $4.92 to the Canadian federal government, with only $6.21 making it to the supplier after a $0.20 container deposit. Manufacturers must adhere to this uniform pricing even when selling from their own bottle shops, with most of the revenue going to government bodies.

  These taxes and guidelines mean the selection and quality of products on the shelves at the LCBO are not always impressive. Many international producers will not bother applying at all. Many of the province’s most talented producers are too small and cannot afford to. As a result, the representation of Ontario beer, wine and spirits in the LCBO doesn’t always showcase the incredible quality of the local industry.

  However, the Ontario government has made some changes to its liquor laws this past year to aid businesses in the food and beverage industry that have struggled with closures and other factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government started allowing restaurants and bars to sell sealed alcoholic beverages for takeaway. They also amended a law prohibiting alcohol delivery to private residences, allowing third-party services such as Uber Eats to deliver liquor from restaurants without a special license. These laws, originally considered temporary, have become a permanent amendment to the Liquor Licence Act as they encourage consumers to support local sources when purchasing alcohol for their homes.

  For a brief moment, on December 4, 2020, the LCBO attempted to offer this same delivery service from its stores by pairing with SkipTheDishes but was met with serious backlash from local restaurants who are now relying on alcohol takeout and delivery to pay their bills. As a result, on December 6, 2020, the LCBO paused this initiative.

  As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and the entire province of Ontario remains in lockdown until at least January 23, 2021, the Government of Ontario will have to continue making adjustments to its rules and restrictions to allow businesses in the province to continue to operate. The hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit by pandemic restrictions, with most indoor dining in the province’s major cities suspended for most of the year. Those allowed to operate have been limited to 50% capacity and forced to close by 9:00 p.m. each night. This means the licensee sale of alcohol dramatically decreased in 2020. There are many businesses in Ontario that are depending on government subsidizing to stay in operation.

  As the AGCO and the federal government continue to collect from the soaring sale of alcohol in Ontario, while manufacturers, suppliers and licensees in the liquor industry continue to suffer, the province’s small businesses rely on the provincial government’s aid. It is the hope that as the world evolves with the COVID-19 pandemic, so too will the laws surrounding liquor in the province of Ontario.

Ontario Craft Spirits

By: Stuart Laidlaw

For over a century, Canadian liquor meant one thing: rye whisky. But in the early 2010s micro-distilleries started popping up across Ontario, focusing on high-quality, locally produced spirits that tell a story about the communities they come from. Today there are more than 30 craft distilleries in Ontario, producing millions of litres of gin, vodka, white rum, single malt whisky, and, of course, rye. But as the public’s thirst for locally produced drinks grows, distilleries are starting to test the waters with more adventurous, niche products.

  Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers was a founding member of Ontario’s current gin boom, and was an early mover in this new wave of Ontario craft spirits. Founded in 2012 by Master Distiller Geoff Dillon, they opened with a pair of gins, a white rye and a vodka, as well as Ontario’s first homegrown cocktail bitters. At that time, bartenders in the province’s burgeoning craft cocktail scene were keen to get their hands on local spirits that told a story about where they themselves were from. Nick Nemeth, at the time a Niagara-area restaurant manager, now Senior Manager for Beverage Development at Boston Pizza, recalls visiting  Dillon’s Distillers in fall 2012, pre-opening: “What was great about visiting Dillon’s from the onset was that, even though there were other Ontario craft distilleries already, they were experimenting with new spirits and flavours in a way that no one else was at that point.”

  Licensees unexpectedly became a big market for Dillon’s from day 1. “I was shocked by the amount of attention and excitement in the licensee scene,” says Geoff Dillon. “I was excited about making pure, real rye whisky, that was my big thing, that and gin; and the licensees’ [interest]…changed the whole business immediately.”

  In the intervening years Dillon’s has added sweet vermouth, absinthe, black walnut amaro, bitter lemon aperitivo, cassis, peach schnapps and golden plum schnapps to their collection.  Craft cocktail culture continues to inform the product range at Dillon’s. “Bartenders are the ones who have their fingers on the pulse,” says Geoff. “That’s why Adam D’Intino [Dillon’s Sales Manager] is so important. He’s nicely dialled in with what’s going on in the scene, and it really is how we decide what we’re doing moving forward. That’s probably where all the amaros and fun things came from.”

  The amaro that Geoff mentions is his Black Walnut Amaro. It is something of a benchmark for the kind of progressive local spirits that Ontario is starting to produce: an old-world style, made unusual and new by focusing on locally sourced ingredients. “We try to use stuff that we have. My house next door’s got a bunch of big walnut trees,” says Geoff. “We’ve got all these walnuts that fall and we want to get rid of…The community gets together and picks up all the walnuts, and dumps them,” he continues. “I love walnuts. My dad [Peter Dillon, now Head Distiller] is obsessed with bitterness and he loves that pith of the walnuts. So maybe six years ago, we told our neighbours to drop them here if they want. We threw them in 95% ethanol on the pith and let them sit there for two years, and what came out was this incredible bitter, pithy, pitch black liquid.” They blended it with their sweet vermouth base and, after some trial and error, hit on a unique liqueur that tastes smoky, herbal and bittersweet – clearly an amaro, yet unlike anything else.

  Local ingredients play a critical role in everything Dillon’s makes. Its Unfiltered 22 Gin is distilled from locally grown grapes, and their other spirits are distilled from 100% Ontario-grown rye. Their Cherry Gin, Peach Schnapps and Golden Plum Schnapps are all made with locally grown fruit too. Nemeth, reiterating Dillon’s importance in the early days, says, “Other [local] craft distillers 66 Gilead (now Kinsip) and Still Waters…were really only focused on whiskies, whereas Dillon’s was working with local fruit and botanical spirits way more than anyone else.”

  One factor that has contributed to both the number of distilleries and the increased variety of artisanal spirits has been the launch of Niagara College’s Teaching Distillery. Opened in 2018, it looks to have an impact on Canada’s spirits landscape similar to that of the college’s successful Teaching Winery. Students in the college’s Artisan Distilling diploma program are given the opportunity to put their education to practical use throughout the eight-month-long course. They gain valuable hands-on experience with every step of the distilling process, whereas in other programs, students spend about one week in a working distillery. Here again, Dillon’s stamp is indelible: Geoff Dillon helped to write the curriculum, Head Distiller David Dickson was formerly Head Distiller at Dillon’s, and students from the program tour Dillon’s Distillery every semester.

  Although the Teaching Distillery is only two years old, it is already bearing fruit. In 2019 they released their first student-made spirits, including an eau de vie made with grapes grown by the college’s Teaching Winery. And last year, they released their first barrel-aged spirit, a dark rum, followed by an escubac (a long-forgotten type of botanical French liqueur). Graduates of the program have also started to pop up at other distilleries and to start their own ventures, with the Teaching Distillery acting as an incubator for new product ideas. Greg Junop, one of the team who developed that escubac, is now Head Distiller at Niagara Distillery in Niagara Falls. Craig Mann, previously a coffee roaster and café owner, recently graduated from Niagara College and is set to open Manns Botanical Spirits. His inaugural product? A white tea gin made with a tea he was familiar with from his previous career, based on a recipe he experimented with while studying at the Teaching Distillery.

  Still, there are barriers to new spirit producers that are inhibiting growth in Ontario, and forcing the province’s distilleries to focus primarily on the most profitable products. The most obvious is the taxation of spirits. For a bottle of gin that retails at $40.00, $18.37 is paid as tax to the province. Another $9.46 is paid to the Federal Government, leaving the distillery with $12.17 to pay its bills and turn a profit. It is no wonder that micro-distilleries have been reluctant to make more niche products like amaro or aperitivo. It has not prevented distilleries from exploring less well-known drink styles – recent releases include spirits as diverse as saffron liqueur, pastis, Shochu and dry vermouth – but it does present an unnecessary obstacle to experimentation.

  Of course, no discussion of obstacles in 2021 would be complete without mentioning the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. It has been devastating for the food and beverage sector, with one result being that distilleries, breweries and wineries in Ontario have lost most of their restaurant and bar sales. For operations that rely heavily on those sales accounts, it could have been disastrous. But one of the advantages small distilleries have is the ability to pivot quickly. In early March, Dillon’s committed its stills to the manufacture of sanitizer and disinfectant, leading Ontario’s micro-distilleries in an effort to fill the overwhelming immediate demand, even offering it for free to frontline healthcare workers and other essential services.

  The pandemic did have a positive effect on one particular Dillon’s product: their bottled Negroni . “When we released the Negroni two-and-a-half years ago, it was too early. We thought it was going to blow up and change the world,” says Geoff. The landscape has changed rapidly though. “We’ve sold very little of anything else to licensees,” he laughs. “But we’ve set volume records just selling Negronis. A palette a week was just going to licensees.” Dillon says that it was all mom-and-pop Italian grocery stores and restaurants beside parks in Toronto where, all summer long, people could just crack open chilled, single-serving Negronis to drink outdoors. In fact, it has been so successful that Dillon’s plans to make bottled cocktails a bigger part of their program. “That’s the future,” says Geoff. “We’ve got four or five new ones coming out this year. Most of them are classics, but we’re going to do our own spin on the classics using local cherries, strawberries and that kind of thing.”

  In a marketplace where ‘ready-to-drink’ (RTD) canned cocktails and hard seltzers have exploded in popularity, and at a time when takeout dining has all-but replaced the restaurant experience, it makes sense that micro-distilleries would look to sell more exciting RTD cocktails than Jack-and-Coke. Plus, they give customers an idea of how to use a less well-known product from the distillery, like sweet vermouth or bitter aperitivo, and a chance to sample it before buying a whole bottle. At a time of great uncertainty, when it feels as though much of life is on pause, Dillon’s is still finding ways to develop new, exciting products. Hopefully the rest of Ontario’s craft distilleries continue to follow suit.

West Avenue Cider House Pushes the Limits of Apple Cider

By: Alyssa Andres

Over the past decade, the cider industry in Canada has taken off, with over 150 cideries across the country and 55 in the province of Ontario. The cidery that continues to stand out amongst the crowd is West Avenue Cider House. Since establishing in 2012, West Avenue has drawn massive attention from cider lovers and connoisseurs alike, winning awards nationally and internationally for their line of ciders. The Ontario cidery not only uses traditional, slow fermentation methods and an array of Heritage apples to create their unique brand of apple cider, but owner and head cidermaker, Chris Haworth, also experiments with alternative techniques and approaches to cidermaking, creating never before seen products that are changing the way people think about apple cider.

  Haworth started his career as a chef in the U.K., working in some of London’s best restaurants, including Quo Vadis, owned by three Michelin star chef, Marco Pierre White. Haworth made the move to Canada in 2005 with his wife, Amy Robson, and that is when he started to take an interest in fermentation, brewing beer at home as a part-time hobby. As the couple got settled in Canada, Haworth noticed there were a lot of apples in Ontario, but not a lot of apple cider. It was in 2008 that he decided to leave the kitchen and make the shift into full-time cidermaking.

  Haworth takes a very traditional approach to cidermaking. All of his cider is made by traditional methods using slow fermentation. He only ferments when there are apples on the trees because he is focused on quality ingredients and authentic flavors. While many cideries can take only three weeks to get from ferment to shelf, West Avenue cider takes six months to go through the same process. Haworth believes this is what sets his cider apart. The cool ferments lend his ciders more complex aromatics and distinct flavors that are native to Ontario and cannot be reproduced anywhere else. He adds yeast from previous batches of cider to his new ferments to encourage this unique West Avenue flavor.

  Haworth’s first release, the West Avenue Heritage Dry, is a 6.5% alcohol by volume, traditional cider made from 100% Heritage apples. The cider took home “Best Cider in Ontario” at the 2014 Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention Hard Cider Competition and a silver at the 2014 Great Lakes and International Cider and Perry Competition. It continues to win awards each year, as does the cidery itself. West Avenue has taken home “Best Cidery in Ontario” four years in a row at the Golden Tap Awards.

  After mastering the art of the dry apple cider, Haworth started to experiment with blends, releasing West Avenue Cherriosity Cider in 2015 – a mix of Heritage apples and Montmorency cherries from Niagara. Cherriosity took home a silver at the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention that year and won Best in Show at the 2015 Royal Winter Fair. The two ciders – Heritage Dry and Cherriosity – are mainstays at West Avenue Cider House and can be found in liquor stores across Ontario. 

  After experiencing such success with his first two releases, in 2015, Haworth decided to move his growing business to Freelton, Ontario, just north of Hamilton, purchasing a 75-acre piece of land and starting his own organic apple orchard. Since then, Haworth has become what he calls an “apple collector,”  planting over 6,000 apple trees and over 110 different varietals of Heritage apples on his property, with more on the way. Some of these species of apples are 200 to 300 years old and are extremely uncommon.

  Right now, Haworth’s trees are still young, but he says the quality of the fruit is increasing from year-to-year and the true characteristics of the apples are starting to come through. He ultimately wants to capture the unique terroir of his orchard and figure out which varietals thrive in Ontario and where, in the orchard, they produce the highest quality fruit. He is also learning about the different flavor profiles of his extensive varietals of apples. Some of the apples are so high in natural sugars that they can reach 35% ABV when fermented on their own. Others are extremely high in acidity.

  In the long run, Haworth wants to determine the perfect blend of apples to make the ultimate apple cider. He has started planting several other native Ontario fruits, herbs, edible flowers and shrubs on his property to use in his ciders. He currently has 10 varieties of pears and other unexpected additions like sea buckthorn, black locust, elderberry and sumac, just to name a few. He says it’s like he’s trying to create his own cookbook of sorts with a multitude of cider recipes and concoctions that he has developed over the years.

  He is able to focus more on his experimental ciders since opening a tasting room on the property in 2017. The tasting room has a growler program that Haworth says has really taken off. Guests can come and fill their growlers with the latest on-tap offerings, and Haworth doesn’t have to worry about the cost of bottling. Currently, West Avenue is producing half a million pints a year. Haworth estimates the production is 50/50 experimental versus traditional flagship ciders he sells to restaurants and retailers. He has taken full advantage of this opportunity to experiment and has an extensive number of offerings in the tasting room in various styles and flavor profiles.

  Haworth is continuously searching for new approaches to create a remarkable cider. Just as a chef continues to learn different kitchen techniques, Haworth continues his education in cidermaking. Once he masters one method, he moves on to learn another. He has also begun to study winemaking and is now experimenting with using traditional winemaking techniques on his cider. As a chef, he says it started with the idea of not leaving any waste and using all of his raw materials. When he saw wineries throwing out their pressed grape skins, he decided to take them and add them to a vat of fermenting apple juice. The result was a beautiful rosé-colored cider, with bright fruit and mild tannins that won a silver medal that year in an American competition. A lightbulb went off in his head.

  From there, Haworth started buying grape juice from local producers and creating wine-cider hybrids. Rhineapple, one of the tasting room’s current offerings, is a blend of 35% Niagara Riesling grapes and 65% Northern Spry and Snow apples. This 9.2% ABV traditional method sparkling wine-cider hybrid is bright and floral with pear and honey notes. The apples and grapes are fermented together in bottle using an in-house strain of yeast. Haworth also experiments with wild yeast that is naturally occurring on the skins of the apples. He uses it to produce ancestral style ciders. One of his latest ciders, Pommerage, uses a Meritage blend of grapes fermented in oak before being combined with apple cider. At 11% ABV, this unique hybrid is a perfect substitute for wine and pairs excellently with food.

  Haworth is also experimenting with the use of a variety of barrels – from wine to tequila to rum. Genevieve is an apple cider aged in gin barrels and blended with ginger, peach, lavender and lactose. The barrels add depth and complexity to ciders rarely found in the industry. It is obvious when visiting the West Avenue tasting room that there is a chef at hand.

  Haworth is even making “ice cider,” made in the same way as ice wine – by pressing frozen apples, so the sugars are incredibly concentrated. Northern Lights is an ice cider aged for five years in cognac barrels, producing a syrupy sweet cider with an incredible body and notes of caramel, pecan and orange zest.

  Firecracker is a dessert-style cider made using a totally different technique – a maple syrup evaporator. Instead of freezing the apples to concentrate the sugars, Haworth wanted to try using the same method as maple syrup, essentially cooking the apples over a Maplewood fire to evaporate the water. The result is a thick and viscous 8.5% ABV cider with maple, nut and smoke notes. It’s perfect for sipping around a campfire.

  It’s hard to fathom what is next for Chef Haworth. Each year, he continues to hone his cidermaking skills and try new and innovative methods. He says, ultimately, for him, the obsession is to be able to create the “perfect cider.” Just as a winemaker seeks the perfect blend of grapes, he believes there is the perfect blend of apples. He says that in five years, he should be at the point where he has figured out that perfect blend, whether it be a blend of three different apples or ten. That is something cider lovers should look forward to.

COVID-19 Continues to Impact Canadian Craft Beer Industry

By: Briana Doyle

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to reshape the craft beer landscape in Canada. Unlike in the spring, when businesses closed from coast-to-coast, what breweries are experiencing to-day is very different depending on where they are in Canada.

  Breweries in the Maritime provinces — Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador — are almost back to business as usual, thanks to the Atlantic Bubble. Strict mask-wearing and sanitation rules, along with aggressive contact tracing, have left this part of Canada with some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 in the world.

  Like Australia and New Zealand, the remote Maritime region has benefited from its isolation. This region has almost completely eliminated cases of COVID-19 thanks to strict travel re-strictions that require anyone entering the region — including fellow Canadians — to self-quarantine for 14 days. The only other Canadian region with a similar requirement is the Northwest Territories, which also has a low number of cases.

  Even here, however, festivals and events have been canceled, restaurant and pub seating ca-pacities are reduced and gathering limits have been imposed to reduce the risk of super-spreading events that could lead to a resurgence of COVID-19.

  In Quebec, by contrast, breweries and brewpubs, like bars and restaurants, were forced to close again this fall as partial lockdowns were reimposed to quell the spread of COVID-19. When this column was written, it appeared that other provinces, including Ontario, British Co-lumbia and Alberta, were heading in the same direction.

  For breweries in Canada’s COVID-19 hot spots, the playing field is far from even. Each prov-ince has responded differently to the pandemic. In Ontario, for example, home delivery has emerged as an important sales channel for craft breweries. Taprooms that were focused on servicing their local community are now launching full-fledged e-commerce websites and ship-ping beer anywhere the rules allow.

  The province has relaxed certain rules around alcohol delivery, which has opened up new op-portunities for brewpubs to sell beer from other breweries — something the craft beer industry has been lobbying for over many years. Dominion City in Ottawa, for example, is now offering a “Friends of the Dominion” variety pack featuring a handpicked selection of Ontario beers. The package comes with a bag of chips — the token “food” item to meet the restaurant license re-quirements.

  In areas hit hard by the second wave of the pandemic, many breweries are struggling to stay afloat. To offer some of these producers a little lift, Canadian brewery supplier, Hops Connect, created a pandemic beer called Isolation Nation, a light and refreshing ale with notes of man-darin, lemon and tea. The company provided the hops and malt required to produce it, at no cost, to 45 breweries from coast-to-coast to help them make a little extra cash. The beer is made from Canadian-grown malt and locally produced Sasquatch hops.

  The first brewery to launch its version of Isolation Nation was the New Maritime Beer Company in Miramichi, New Brunswick. The brewery opened in 2020 and brewed its inaugural batch of beer just two days before the first pandemic shutdowns in March. Co-founder Adam Lordon told CBC News that it was hard to think of worse timing for the shutdown. “It was pretty much at the beginning and the worst possible timing. The startup phase is certainly challenging enough and can be stressful enough in the best of times,” he said. To pay it forward, the brew-ery is donating a portion of profits from the sale of this beer to the local food bank.

  New Maritime Beer Company is still in business, for now at least, but many other Canadian craft breweries are closing operations or seriously considering it. After six years in business, Ontario’s Abe Erb Brewing announced in October that it would shut all four of its locations in Waterloo, Kitchener, Ayr Village and Guelph.

  In Alberta, Mill Street Brewery announced in late October that it would close its Calgary brew-pub due to COVID-19. Mill Street’s other brewpubs in Toronto, Ottawa and St. John’s will re-main open.

  In British Columbia, Central City Brewers + Distillers also closed one of its Red Racer Tap-houses in downtown Vancouver after five years.

  In April, a survey of craft breweries conducted by the Canadian Craft Brewers Association found that 44% reported a year-over-year drop in revenue of 50% or more when the pandemic hit in March. 

  Most breweries who responded to the survey reported having cash reserves for only three months or less. Although the federal government has introduced financial support programs for businesses, many craft breweries did not meet the requirements for financial aid. Establish-ments in business for less than a year did not qualify for many programs, for example, while other programs specifically excluded alcohol-based enterprises. 

  With restaurants and bars closed in many parts of the country, more Canadians are eating and drinking at home these days. A poll released in June by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction found that one in five Canadians who drink alcohol and have been staying home more since the pandemic drink more often than before the onset of the pandemic. About 20% said they have a drink every day.

  “It is reassuring to see that for the majority of Canadians, alcohol use has either decreased or remained stable since the onset of COVID-19,” said Dr. Catherine Paradis, senior research and policy analyst at CCSA. “However, from a gender perspective, there is concern. On average, female consumers of alcohol are reporting 2.4 alcoholic drinks per occasion — which is above the low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines — and about 12% are reporting they consume alcohol in excess when they drink. By doing so, women are putting themselves at risk for short- and long-term negative health consequences.”

  As awareness grows of the negative health impacts of alcohol, a growing number of millennial beer-lovers are now looking for low- and no-alcohol beer alternatives. Between 2013 and 2018, nonalcoholic beer sales increased more than 50%, and over the past year, the category has grown 12% in total volume.

  In a press release announcing the launch of alcohol-free Budweiser Zero in Canada this fall, the company noted that consumer data reveals the 19-to-34-year-old age group, including mil-lennials and older members of Generation Z, led all demographic groups in consumption vol-ume of nonalcoholic beer.

  These “sober-curious” consumers aren’t necessarily teetotallers but are seeking responsible alternatives when they do not wish to drink booze, whether for health reasons or because they don’t want to drink and drive.

  According to Budweiser’s research, 64% of no- and low-alcohol beer is consumed by those in the 19-to-34 bracket. Women most often choose nonalcoholic beer as an alternative to sugary drinks, and men see it as suitable for a variety of social occasions.

  It isn’t just big breweries that have noticed this consumer trend. This fall, Beau’s Brewing in Ontario joined a growing number of breweries offering lower-alcohol options for customers, with the introduction of Lug Tread 2.5% — a lighter version of its flagship brew.

  Beau’s designed the layered ale to mimic the taste of the company’s most popular beer, Lug Tread, with a blend of barley malts and wheat delivering fresh grain flavor and a satisfying mouthfeel. The brew has mild herbal and orchard fruit notes and a clean finish. 

  “This is no watered down, bland ‘lite’ beer,” company co-founder Steve Beauchesne told Na-tion Valley News. “We’ve put time and care into developing this recipe, and we’re super happy with the results. This is a low alcohol beer that actually tastes like craft beer.”

  The beer is available in single 473mL cans at provincial liquor stores and the brewery, and will also be in the brewery’s six-pack winter sampler.

  In the spring, Toronto-based Rorschach Brewing also launched a nonalcoholic offshoot, Free Spirit Brewing, which debuted with the 0%, low-calorie Adventure IPA. The beer is available in cans and on tap at the brewery.

  Microbrasserie Le BockAle, based in Drummondville, Quebec, has gone even farther. The company has made a name for itself producing nonalcoholic craft beer, which it distributes throughout Quebec and Ontario. In June, the company also launched an e-commerce website offering free shipping across Canada. Le BockAle offers three core beer varieties, Découverte IPA, Berliner Sonne Berliner Weisse and Trou Noir Stout, as well as occasional limited-edition releases.

  Likewise, Toronto-based Partake Brewing has developed a line of five low-calorie, nonalcohol-ic craft beers that have proven popular in Canada: a red, IPA, blonde, pale ale and stout. Now the company is getting set to expand into the U.S. In September, Partake announced that it raised $4 million of Series A capital in a funding round led by San Francisco-based CircleUp Growth Partners.

  The new funds will accelerate the company’s growth, specifically in the U.S. market, by allowing the brand to secure key hires, grow its distribution and retail network and build consumer brand awareness. This growth will support Partake Brewing’s expanding coverage with retailers such as Total Wine & More and Whole Foods Market.

Canadian Brewery Turns Wastewater Into Beer

Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets (ACWA) has partnered with Village Brewery and Xylem Inc. to brew Alberta’s first beer made with reused water. Christine O’Grady is the ACWA employee who led this project, and Jeremy McLaughlin is the Brewmaster from Village Brewery.

By: Briana Doyle

It’s one thing to turn lemons into lemonade, but will customers buy turning wastewater into beer?  On August 22, Village Brewery released a blonde ale produced in collaboration with University of Calgary researchers and the U.S.-based water technology company, Xy-lem, to create a limited-edition ale from water sourced by a Bow River wastewater treatment plant. The purpose of the project was to address water scarcity by proving that “dirty” water can be safely purified for drinking purposes. 

  The beer’s launch was initially pegged for March 22, which is U.N. World Water Day, but was delayed due to COVID-19.

  “There’s a mental hurdle to get over of how inherently gross this could be,” said Jere-my McLaughlin, head brewer at Village Brewery. “But we know that this water is safe, we know that this beer is safe, and we stand by our process.”

  Before brewing, the water was tested by Alberta Health Services to ensure it met pro-vincial quality standards for drinking water. The partially treated water was purified us-ing ultrafiltration, ozone, ultraviolet light and reverse osmosis. 

  “This beer shows that water reuse can be a safe and important part of our sustainable future,” said Christine O’Grady, program co-ordinator at Advancing Canadian Water Assets, another key partner in the project. “Wastewater can be treated using advanced treatment technology, making it into a reliable and safe water supply for many uses.”

  ACWA is a unique test bed and research facility where researchers, municipalities and industry professionals collaborate to improve wastewater treatment and monitoring technologies. It is a partnership between the University of Calgary and the city of Cal-gary.

   Reusing wastewater where possible is a practical solution to improve sustainability of our freshwater resources, O’Grady said, because it can reduce the amount of freshwa-ter needed for human consumption, lowering the demand for freshwater sourced from sensitive ecosystems.

  “AHS was happy to be part of this project to help develop a water safety plan and en-sure the water met drinking water standards,” said Jessica Popadynetz, AHS public health inspector. “With the right measures in place, alternative water sources such as wastewater, grey water, rooftop collected rainwater and stormwater can be made safe for many potable and non-potable end uses.”

  Xylem has been involved in similar projects to explore potable water reuse in the pro-duction of beer, wine and spirits throughout Europe and the U.S. In 2019, they part-nered with the city of Manchester, Heineken’s Manchester brewery, and the Manches-ter City Football Club to produce “Raining Champions,” a limited-edition beer brewed with purified rainwater collected from the rooftop of Manchester city’s Etihad Stadium.

  The company was also involved in the Pure Water Brew competition in Oregon last year, which challenged local homebrewers to create the best beer possible using sew-er water from Clean Water Services’ Durham treatment facility in Tigard, Oregon. The water was run through an additional high purity water treatment system. Brewers were then able to use the high-purity water, along with selected minerals, to custom-tune the water in order to modify the flavors of their beer.

  “Water scarcity continues to be a global challenge as populations keep growing,” said Albert Cho, vice-president and general manager of Xylem Inc. “Innovation and reuse are essential parts of the solution. Xylem is proud to partner with Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets and Village Brewery in Calgary to demonstrate how we can all make this happen together. And we’re excited to try the beer!”

Upstart Alberta Brewery Takes the Crown in 2020 Canadian Brewing Awards; Quebec-Made Gluten-Free Red Wins Beer of the Year

  The verdict is in: Canada’s best brewery in 2020 is a three-and-a-half-year-old brewery in Calgary.

  Common Crown Brewing Company took top honors at the Canadian Brewery Awards, an annual competition that judges Canadian-made beer based on blind tastings from certified judges. The competition is open to domestic breweries of any size from across the country.

  In addition to winning Brewery of the Year based on the strength of the beers submit-ted, Common Crown was also awarded three gold medals for specific beers: the Ploughman Wheat Ale in the North American-style Wheat category, Andy’s Wee Heavy Scottish Ale in the Scotch Ale category, and Coppersmith Brown Ale in the Brown Ale category.

  The prize for Beer of the Year, however, went to Montreal, QC’s Brasseurs Sans Gluten for its chestnut-infused Glutenberg Red. The brewery’s Glutenberg brand, which launched in 2011, is not just a Canadian phenomenon; the company said half of all production is exported to the United States. 

  In addition to the company’s flagship blonde, pale ale and red beers, the Glutenberg line also includes some more unusual varieties, including a gose, stouts and a double IPA.

  To achieve a 100% gluten-free beer, the company brews strictly with gluten-free grains such as millet, buckwheat, corn, quinoa and amaranth, sourced primarily from farmers at nearby Ferme Sans Gluten. After brew day, spent grain is returned to the same farm, where it is used as compost in the millet and buckwheat fields that supply the brewery.

  Sales at Canadian microbreweries across the country were hit hard this year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the whole country went into a months-long lockdown, and Common Crown was no exception.

  Co-founder Damon Moreau told Global News that being able to quickly pivot to home delivery when the pandemic hit helped “keep the lights on” when on-premise sales at the brewery and local restaurants and bars plummeted during confinement.

B.C. Brewery’s Popular Charity Program Returns After Pan-Demic Pause

  In September, British Columbia’s Fernie Brewing announced the return of its popular fundraising program for local charities.

  The brewery’s established Cheers for Charity program, in which a portion of sales from flights in the tasting room is given to a different local charity each month, was put on ice during the spring quarantine.

  Although the taproom has now reopened, tasting flights are still not permitted by local health order. Cheers for Charity will return in a slightly different format. One of the brewery’s 12 beers will now be selected as a “featured beer,” and proceeds of all sales of that brew will be given to the charity of the month.

  Since it launched in December 2013, Cheers for Charity has raised more than $150,000 for local charities, groups and clubs. The program is designed to support Fernie-based community groups.

  Past beneficiaries have included the Old Type Music Society bluegrass appreciation group, Fernie Friends of Refugees, WildSafe B.C., wildfire relief efforts and more. September sales will contribute to a fundraising effort for a new ultrasound service at the local hospital.

The Canadian Ready-to-Drink Canned Cocktail Movement

By: Alyssa Andres

Over the past five years, the Canadian ready-to-drink cocktail scene has gone from passé to a huge craze, hitting liquor stores across the country. Blossoming from a limited selection of sugary beverages to a sophisticated array of craft canned cocktails, RTD beverages act as an easy and accessible option for cocktail lovers. As more and more breweries and distilleries make the move to include alternative, ready-to-drink choices to their repertoire, it is clear Canadians love a canned cocktail. The movement has sparked an array of new RTD options across the country, each offering a unique, local flair.

  In 2015, the biggest names in RTD cocktails on Canadian liquor store shelves were Smirnoff Ice, Palm Bay and Mike’s Hard Lemonade. They were most popular amongst teenagers and novice drinkers but left something to be desired amongst cocktail connoisseurs. Still, sales of these vodka-based coolers were on the rise each year as the only portable alternative to beer. As consumers continued to reach for these products to bring along to the beach or a picnic at the park, the concept of the cooler started to evolve, and the idea of a sophisticated, more adult RTD cocktail was born.

  In 2016, a new, more refined canned cocktail arrived on the scene in Ontario. That year Georgian Bay Spirit Co., located in Northern Ontario, released the Georgian Bay Gin Smash, made with their award-winning, handcrafted London style dry gin. The Gin Smash, flavoured with lemon, lime, tangerine and a hint of mint, was an instant hit, earning rave reviews from The Toronto Star that called it “easily the best pre-mixed cocktail to have hit the shelves of the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario).” They could not keep it on the shelves, doubling their sales in 2017.

  The Gin Smash appeals to a more mature audience. The gin is made using wild juniper berries handpicked along the shores of Georgian Bay. It’s light, complex and refreshing while still having some sweetness. Since the remarkable reception of the original Gin Smash, Georgian Bay Distillers has released seven variations of RTD canned cocktails, including a Smashed Tea that combines the original Gin Smash recipe with black and Darjeeling tea. Following the Gin Smash’s enormous success, many breweries and distilleries across the country added ready-to-drink cocktails to their lineup.

  No longer are these RTD beverages marketed explicitly to young adults. Many companies are opting for a dry and often sugar-free alternative to the everyday canned cocktail using natural flavours and sweeteners. On the west coast, Vancouver company Ocean Blu has created a vodka-based beverage sweetened with stevia, a natural alternative to refined sugar. With zero grams of sugar and 100 calories per serving, these drinks are perfect for the health-conscious consumer and a far cry from the limited offerings of the early 2000s. True to its name, Ocean Blu is also dedicated to the environment, using eco-friendly packaging and donating 25 cents from the sale of every six-pack to ocean shoreline clean-up initiatives and marine wildlife conservation, pivotal to the west coast’s ecosystem.

  Further inland in Kelowna, British Columbia, Orchard City Distilling has created their own conscious cocktail, Zen Kombucha, which combines vodka with kombucha and other organic herbs and botanicals in a convenient can. The health tonic/alcoholic beverage is the first of its kind in Canada and hints at a potential future evolution of hybrid RTD cocktails that could cross over into health elixirs and probiotics.

  While British Columbia distillers create health-conscious canned cocktails, in Alberta, Canada, they are crafting a spirit that is unique to the province. Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley created Alberta’s first line of craft cocktails. They instill a “field-to-glass” attitude in their small-batch craft cocktails, using local ingredients like spruce and handcrafted techniques, including hand-harvesting and hand-sealing. Master distiller, Caitlin Quinn, has created a unique spirit made with prickly pears that are indigenous to Southern Alberta. She uses the Prickly Pear Equineox, a sweet, barley-based alternative to gin or vodka, in the Eau Claire Equineox Mule. The spirit is naturally sweet, intensely fruity and has hints of watermelon and bubble gum.  The Equineox Mule combines this unusual spirit with a ginger beer made by local brewery, Annex Ale Project, and is a great option for cocktail lovers interested in Alberta’s local flavours.

  The emphasis on local flavours doesn’t stop in the west. The prairies of Canada are also serving up a variety of RTD cocktails. Prairie Cherry and Prairie Pear are the results of a collaboration between Manitoba’s Fort Garry Brewing Company and Capital K Distillery. These RTD cocktails are produced in Winnipeg using small-batch gin made from Manitoba grains and are released seasonally, selling out each summer in liquor stores across the province. Fort Garry Brewing Co. general manager, Scott Shupeniuk, says the duo of gin beverages has been a huge success. They plan to continue releasing these types of beverages despite being predominantly focused on beer most of the year. Many breweries and distilleries are choosing to release variations of their usual offerings to please consumers looking for new drinks to sip on this summer. 

  Canada’s signature summer drink, The Bloody Caesar, has also evolved with the RTD movement. Four variations of the original cocktail are now available at liquor stores across the country, including Pickled Bean, Lime and The Works. Made with Mott’s Clamato juice, vodka, tabasco and Worcestershire, the Caesar is just one example of a classic cocktail that now comes pre-mixed in a can, no bartending skills necessary. This is a huge draw when most bars have been closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The notion of sitting down and ordering a cocktail at a bar is no longer, so more brands are choosing to offer classic cocktails in a pre-mixed, RTD format.

  So, what’s next in the Canadian ready-to-drink cocktail movement? As single-serving pre-mixed cocktails become more popular amongst consumers, a new line of spirit-forward beverages has started to appear on the Canadian RTD scene. Dillon’s Distillers in Grimsby, Ontario, has created a single-serving Negroni they call The Professor’s Negroni, available at Ontario liquor stores. At 18.4% alcohol by volume, this product is the first of its kind in Canada. It took two years for Dillon’s to get the product on the shelf due to the cocktail’s spirit-forward nature. As of May 2019, Canada set in place restrictions on ABV in canned cocktails. Previously a 568 mL beverage could contain up to 11.9% ABV. Now, a 473 mL canned cocktail may contain 5.4% ABV, while a 568 mL can is limited to just 4.5% ABV. Dillon’s Distillers has gotten around these restrictions by classifying their pre-mixed Negroni as a spirit and serving it in 125 mL glass bottles. It isn’t located in the RTD section of liquor stores; it is placed on the shelves alongside bottles of liqueurs and aperitivos, despite being pre-mixed and ready to pour over ice for quick and easy cocktail convenience.

  The Professor’s Negroni is an example of a truly artisanal RTD cocktail. Dillon’s Distillery crafts all three ingredients for the cocktail, from the Dry Gin to the vermouth to the bitter aperitivo, made using rhubarb, violet and wormwood. The distillery believes this sort of spirit-forward RTD cocktail fits their brand better than a canned drink and allows them to showcase what they do best. The distillery has even tried a kegged version of the classic Negroni, ideal for busy bartenders and extremely cost-efficient for restaurants. As the idea of easy, accessible, pre-mixed beverages continues to evolve, RTD cocktails might be the new alternative to traditional bartending. 

  Presently, new RTD products are hitting the shelves each month in Canada. From seltzers to spiked iced teas to classic cocktails-in-a-can, the options are limitless. Unique cocktail creations are becoming more common with flavours that might be surprising to find. Collective Arts in Hamilton, Ontario, is producing an artisanal dry gin soda with grapefruit, lemon and thyme. Little Buddha Cocktail Company in Toronto makes a premium distilled vodka-based cocktail with grilled pineapple and rosemary that also contains carrot and pumpkin juice. No matter their preference, there’s an option for every cocktail lover.

  With Canadians deprived of bars and restaurants for the majority of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore unable to grab a cocktail made by a proper bartender, the pre-mixed cocktail movement may continue to rise. With seemingly many more days of social distancing ahead, RTD beverages are the perfect option for summer outdoor gatherings and backyard barbeques. Opting for an RTD beverage makes perfect sense for most, as opposed to spending money stocking a bar cart with expensive liquor bottles and taking the time to prepare the perfect cocktail to-go. As the food and beverage and hospitality industries continue to change and evolve through this pandemic, so too will the vision of the RTD cocktail.

Canadian Brewers Struggle to Survive Amid Pandemic-Related Shutdowns

By: Briana Tomkinson

  At the close of 2019, the Canadian beer industry was riding high. The craft beer craze showed no signs of flagging, with triple the number of breweries in operation just five years before. In 2019, Canada had more brewing facilities in operation than ever before. Then, in March, the coronavirus pandemic spread to Canada.

  Taprooms, restaurants and bars are closed, and though some parts of Canada that were less severely impacted by the virus are slowly starting to allow businesses to reopen, it’s far from business as usual.

  There will be no beer gardens and merrymaking at large summer music festivals, no big wed-dings, no corporate shindigs, no Friday night pints in busy bars. Even in places that allow ser-vice businesses to reopen at a fraction of capacity with seats six feet apart, it’s likely business won’t be booming. With an estimated two million Canadian jobs lost in April alone, many Ca-nadians will be at home counting their pennies, not out on the town quaffing beers.

  According to a survey conducted in early May by Restaurants Canada, seven in 10 of those in the foodservice business fear they will run out of money in three months or less.

  Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s foodservice sector was a $93 billion in-dustry, directly employing 1.2 million people serving 22 million customers every day. The in-dustry has since lost 800,000 jobs and is on track to lose as much as $17 billion in sales over the second quarter of 2020, the industry association said.

  While the situation for Canada’s breweries is not quite so dire, many smaller breweries also say they are only months away from closing their doors.

  According to Beer Canada Interim President Luke Chapman, many Canadian breweries are under a huge amount of financial stress. A recent member survey conducted by the industry organization revealed that half of the respondents said they had only enough cash flow to sur-vive for a maximum of six more months.

  In 2019, the number of brewing facilities in Canada increased by almost 13%, from 995 in 2018 to an all-time high of 1,123. Yet, although there was an unprecedented number of beers to choose from at grocery stores and dépanneurs, beer sales in Canada have been falling: do-mestic beer sales were down almost 4% in 2019.

  With fewer sales in an increasingly competitive market, Canadian breweries were already brac-ing for more challenging times ahead, yet nothing could have prepared the industry for COVID-19, Chapman said.

  While relief programs for business owners from the federal government have provided some help to keep employees on the payroll—for now—Chapman noted that with major events can-celed and many restaurants and bars closed, breweries will miss out on the expected bump in summer season revenue.

  “This is a very difficult time, and like everyone, like a lot of other businesses, brewers are just trying to learn as they go and trying to make the best of a bad situation,” Chapman said. “No one knows what the market’s going to look like next week, let alone two to three months from now. It’s a very uncertain time, for sure.”

  Canadian breweries directly employ an estimated 15,000 people; however, Conference Board of Canada figures show beer supports 149,000 Canadian jobs, with a labor income of $5.3 bil-lion. The sector contributes $13.6 billion to Canada’s GDP, thanks to the domestic nature of the industry (in 2019, 85% of the beer consumed in Canada was brewed in Canada). The vast majority of Canadian breweries are small, local operations; 94% produce less than 15,000 hec-tolitres of beer.

  Many smaller microbreweries who primarily sold beer through on-site taprooms and local res-taurants have quickly transitioned to selling packaged beer. Expanding into home delivery has also been helpful for many smaller breweries, Chapman said. Even in provincial jurisdictions that do not permit breweries to offer home delivery service, restaurant partnerships have ena-bled some breweries to have their beer delivered with dinner orders.  

  Yet Chapman said even when these transitions have been successful, for taproom-focused breweries, which can make as much as half of their revenue from tap sales, the additional costs of packaging, distribution and delivery are eating away at their profits.

  “A couple of our breweries say they are selling a similar amount of beer, but costs are up 40 to 50%. They’re just trying to keep staff employed and keep the lights on,” he said.

  In some cases, breweries have also had difficulty sourcing cans, bottles and packaging materi-als due to pandemic-related supply chain issues.

  While closing bars, restaurants and taprooms initially resulted in a slight uptick in retail beer sales, for most craft breweries, this was not nearly enough to offset the steep decline in keg sales, Chapman said. Many shuttered bars and restaurants also returned unopened kegs, forc-ing breweries to issue refunds.

  Rather than dump all this unused product down the drain, some breweries have offered this excess beer to distilleries to produce hand sanitizer.

  “Beer is really the only perishable alcoholic beverage. Both wine and spirits last essentially for-ever, and some get better with time. That’s not the case for beer,” Chapman said. “No one wants keg beer anymore, so there are a lot of brewers left with a lot of product that’s going to go bad.”

  While some breweries have been able to sell hand sanitizer on a cost-recovery basis, most breweries are treating it as a way to give back to the community.

  “I know for a fact there are some that are doing it and losing money in the process,” Chapman said.

  Hand sanitizer has been all but impossible to find on grocery store shelves in many parts of Canada since the first wave of COVID-19 cases were discovered in March. Health Canada has since moved to expedite approvals for distilleries and other companies to start producing the product. In Canada, hand sanitizer is regulated under Health Canada’s Natural Health Product Regulations, part of Canada’s Food and Drugs Act.

  In late March, Spirits Canada, Cosmetics Alliance Canada and the Canadian Consumer Spe-cialty Products Association launched the Hand Sanitizer Manufacturing Exchange in collabora-tion with Health Canada. The Exchange provides support for firms interested in contributing to the manufacture of hand sanitizer to find the materials, services or manufacturing capacity needed for production.

  “People are coming together to do what they can in this crisis, but Canadians need access to safe products. DIY hand-sanitizers, the latest trend on social media is at best ineffective against COVID-19 and at worst potentially dangerous,” said CCSPA President, Shannon Coombs.

  On top of all the other challenges facing Canadian brewers, the federal government went ahead with a planned increase in alcohol excise duties. “We as an industry were a little bit stunned that the government decided to go ahead and raise our taxes in the midst of a pan-demic that is having huge negative impact on the industry,” Chapman said.

  Although the 1.9% increase may not seem significant, he said, for a regional brewery produc-ing 70,000 to 80,000 hectolitres of beer per year, the increase translates to about $50,000 to $60,000 in lost cash flow.

  “It is a material amount of money that’s now been taken out of the hands of the breweries and put in the hands of the government,” Chapman said. “I think from our view, and I think most brewers would agree, that money is better in their hands, at least at this point in time.”

  There is one bright spot for Canadian brewers, Chapman said. Some provincial governments have temporarily lifted some restrictions on the sale and distribution of alcohol that have lim-ited how breweries can serve their customers.

  “These are things we’ve been asking for, for quite a while,” Chapman said. “We’re hoping some of these will stick around after COVID-19 is a distant memory.”

Canadian Food and Beverage Battles COVID-19

By: Alyssa Andres

  The COVID-19 pandemic struck the entire world swiftly and harshly. In March, Canada lost over one million jobs—800,000 of which were in the food and beverage industry. It is estimated that one in 10 Canadian restaurants have already permanently shut their doors, and those numbers will continue to climb as small businesses struggle to keep up with costs without their regular revenue streams. More than ever, business owners have to find creative and alternative ways to make a living and do so while trying to maintain a safe and secure work environment for their customers and employees. As a result, large companies have started offering their support to businesses and individuals in need, and communities have started coming together in an effort to lessen the pandemic’s impact on the hospitality community. 

  The Canadian government is doing all they can to support its citizens as they battle to flatten the curve. The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit was created in March to assist those suffering from job loss. The fund offers $2000/month to any individual who has lost work since March 15, 2020. The government has also lightened restrictions surrounding the sale of alcohol, allowing food delivery services, like UberEats, to deliver alcoholic beverages to people’s homes between 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. Restaurants can also offer beer, wine and spirits with their takeout menus.

  Breweries, wineries and restaurants that have remained open have had to rework their operations entirely. Most offer free delivery and curbside pickup options for customers to avoid any contact with staff members. Many also offer discounts on their products or other incentives to generate sales. The craft brewery, Half Hours on Earth, in Seaforth, Ontario, is planting a tree for every online order they receive. Pearl Morissette Winery in the Niagara Peninsula, which normally relies on its world-class, farm-to-table restaurant to drive its business, has transformed its operation into an online country market offering curbside pickup. Patrons can purchase ethically sourced meats, eggs and dairy from local farmers as well as pick up bottles of Pearl Morissette wine, which is highly regarded in the region and usually not available for retail purchase. 

  Other initiatives that have spawned in the wake of COVID-19 include Exchange Brewery’s Virtual Ladies Happy Hour. The Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario brewery offers packages for sale that include several of their beers along with a link to a happy hour zoom chat. This type of virtual event allows their loyal following to come together, taste and discuss their current beers while maintaining social distancing.

  The spirits community is also using online initiatives to bring their following together during this period of social distancing. Campari Canada teamed up with Toronto-based online community, Bartender Atlas (, to create the #camparistircrazy campaign. The campaign brings together bartenders from across Canada to develop Campari-based cocktails using common ingredients from around the home. The competition resulted in hundreds of cocktail submissions from across the country, uniting bartenders at a time when most are struggling with job loss and self-isolation. Corby Spirit and Wine, one of Canada’s leading distributors of wine and spirits, has partnered with WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) to offer the Level 1 Award in Spirits course to 1,500 Canadian bartenders. The four-week online course is an introduction into the world of spirits, providing an opportunity for novice bartenders to make good use of their time off.

  Many businesses are having to use this time to develop new sales strategies. Shawn & Ed Brewing Company and Flat Rock Cellars Winery in Niagara,   Ontario, have partnered with several other local businesses to create “Bloom Boxes” that are for sale through its online shop. The gift box sets include a bottle of beer or wine, a DIY potted plant kit and a bottle of locally sourced hand sanitizer. The initiative aims to bring the community together and support local businesses in a time when they would typically be flooded with tourism.

  Restaurants Canada is also trying to bring the country together in support of hospitality. They have created the #Takeoutday initiative, encouraging people to order takeout meals every Wednesday. This effort supports restaurants and craft breweries across the country battling to stay afloat. The initiative even includes a tandem fundraising livestream event on Facebook, Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, featuring music by famous Canadian artists including Sam Roberts and Tom Cochrane, all in support of Canadian restaurants. You can join Canada’s Great Kitchen Party at

  Many large businesses in Canada have stepped forward to offer assistance in any way they can. Restaurants that remain open are preparing meals and delivering them to first responders who are working tirelessly to care for the ill. Large hotel brands whose business numbers have declined are instead offering their rooms to frontline workers, who prefer not to commute or decide not to have contact with their family members. Large scale food suppliers like Sysco are helping to support charitable endeavors by donating their excess product to food banks and shelters. 

  Many Canadian breweries and distilleries have transformed their operations into full-time alcohol antiseptic factories. Employees of Dillon’s Distillers in Grimsby, Ontario, have been working tirelessly since March 17, 2020, to provide 40,000 bottles of antiseptic at no cost to 1,300 hospitals, shelters, elderly homes and emergency response personnel. The generosity they’ve experienced from others in support of this cause has humbled the distillery employees. Many local businesses have donated materials, money and time in the effort to help with production. Once the distillery developed a system to provide the alcohol antiseptic to frontline workers, it opened up its order forms to the public to incredible response. The distillery saw over 10,000 orders for sanitizer in a matter of days, forcing it to remove the alcohol antiseptic from its online shop so workers could process the requests already received. The 10-person staff has worked from 6:00 a.m. until midnight, trying to get the orders bottled, labeled, packaged and shipped. The overwhelming number of orders will allow Dillon’s to subsidize the cost of the endeavor and rehire staff they lost due to closures during the pandemic.

  Worldwide, craft breweries have come “all together” in an initiative sparked by Brooklyn-based brewery, Other Half Brewing Company. The All Together collaboration started as a way to support local hospitality professionals by offering an open-source recipe and public label artwork for breweries to use as a starting point to create a unique beer. The concept enables breweries to produce their All Together beer at the lowest possible cost, allowing them to band together to support the hospitality workers that, in turn, support them. Blue Label Packaging Company has volunteered to print labels for the All Together line of beers at cost, and Craftpeak Multimedia has created free social media graphics for breweries to download to promote the initiative. Since launching, 718 breweries from 51 countries around the world have signed on to create an All Together IPA. Many breweries across Canada have joined forces to support the effort. Counterpart Brewery in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is one of them. The new craft brewery has continued to operate through the pandemic, stating that business has been really good, and they’ve continued to be blown away by the support from the community.

  According to, a coalition of over 500 independent restauranteurs and operators, many restaurants in Canada will not be able to sustain these closures for much longer. Without the proper aid, the entire industry could collapse, taking down a whole system of suppliers, purveyors and distributors with it. Restaurants need help. The coalition has formed a detailed plan for the government of Canada about what the Canadian hospitality industry needs to sustain itself moving forward. The initiative provides information about the short-term and long-term needs of restauranteurs to maintain their businesses in the future. Waiving property taxes and deferring loans are just some of the coalition’s initiatives. The full document, which has been signed by hundreds of restaurants all over the country, is available online at The hope is that the Canadian government will respond to this crisis and support the $90 billion foodservice industry, which accounts for 7% of the country’s workforce. 

  As of now, the future of hospitality remains unclear. What is clear is that we are all connected in this pandemic and should take this opportunity to reflect on the things that really matter. Support your local businesses. Support your neighbors. Order from your local restaurants. Buy local brews from craft producers offering curbside pickup. Let’s get through this and come out on the other side, smarter and stronger.