Spirit of the Rising Sun

By: Tod Stewart

Japan is synonymous with many things: electronics, cars, origami, sake, sushi, intricate art, Sumo wrestling and architecture. Now, if you’re willing to wait out a significant chunk of your day for it, cheesecake.  But whisky?

  Even after seeing Lost in Translation many years ago (a movie featuring Bill Murray as Bob Harris, an aging movie star visiting Japan to promote Suntory whisky), the connection between Japan and whisky still didn’t really register with me. Thankfully that has since changed, and I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying numerous different Japanese whisky expressions, both at home as well as in Japan.

  Today, these drams are becoming increasingly difficult to find, and when you do find one you might experi-ence a bit of sticker shock. However, as with most things Japanese, you do get what you pay for (and here I’m primarily talking about the items I have tried: sake, sushi, Japanese knives, etc.). The Japanese whiskies I’ve sampled have invariably been top-notch. And much to the chagrin of the Scots, they’ve actually been stealing accolades from the world’s top drams.

  A few years back, in his World Whisky Bible 2015, industry expert Jim Murray crowned the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, from Suntory, “World Whisky of the Year.” As it turns out, nary a Scottish whisky made the top five. Since then, Japanese whiskies have continued to bag metal at competitions across the globe (in fact, they were garnering “best of” accolades as far back as 2008). If there’s any consolation to the Scottish distillers now adding tears rather than water to their tipples, it’s that, had it not been for the Scots, the Japanese would likely not be where they are today in terms of distilling.

  Japan has a distilling history that may reach as far back as the 1700s. Yet it wasn’t until after the Second World War that Shinjiro Torii along with Masataka Taketsuru, established the Yamazaki Distillery, which would eventually become Suntory, near Kyoto. In 1918, Taketsuru journeyed to Scotland. He enrolled in the University of Glasgow, becoming the first Japanese person to study the art of whisky making and apprenticed at a number of famous Scottish malt distilleries before bringing his knowledge (and a wife) back to Japan.

  In 1934, Taketsuru branched out on his own, establishing the Nikka Whisky company with a distillery located in Yoichi, on the island of Hokkaido, in the northern part of the country.

  This area seemed, to him, to most closely replicate the Scottish landscape. Japan’s “whisky country” however, is less differentiated than those of Scotland.

  “Although Japan may look like a small island on the map, if you compare it with the map of Scotland at the same scale, you will notice that the nation is much larger and is spread from North to South,” notes Naoki Tomoyoshi, International Business Development Representative for Nikka Whisky. “The climate can vary from the famous skiing resorts in Hokkaido to the beautiful beaches of Okinawa. Within this country, Nikka’s founder Masataka Taketsuru headed north in search for the ideal place for his whisky. He found the land of Yoichi to be the perfect place, a seaside location with a cool and humid climate along with an ideal water source. Then, in 1969, he founded his second distillery, Miyagikyo Distillery, in the mountainous valleys of Miyagi Prefecture, located in the northern part of Japan’s main island. His aim was to create a different style of whisky than that of Yoichi Distillery. The surrounding environment plays an important role in the maturation process, and when that is combined with the different production methods between the two distilleries, the variation of the flavors that can be created is countless.”

  Gardner Dunn, Senior Brand Ambassador at Suntory Japanese Whisky, notes that rather than defined re-gions, the elevation of the Suntory distilleries and the subsequent differences in temperature have more of an impact on the final products.

  “Yamazaki, outside Kyoto, sits at around 160 feet above sea level,” he points out. “Hakushu is one of the highest distilleries, at roughly 2,313 feet in Yamanashi prefecture. The difference in temperature between the two dictates the use of certain sized barrels to optimize maturation.” Dunn explains that as the temperature drops, the rate of maturation slows. Therefore, spirits matured in warmer climates – rum, for example – devel-op more quickly than northern spirits, largely due to the rate of evaporation.

  The proximity to the sea — just a kilometre from the Sea of Japan — and the influence of the salty ocean air, appreciably contributes to maritime tang of Nikka’s Yoichi line of whiskies. I recently sampled a dram or two of Nikka Yoichi (No Age Statement) Single Malt, which seemed to combine the warm, toffee, malt and hon-eyed tones of a Highland malt with the smoky, lemony and in this case, rather intensely briny notes more typ-ical of something like Bunnahabhain’s Ceobanach — a peated offering from a distillery that typically doesn’t use peat.

  The peat used in Nikka’s whiskies was sourced locally until the 1970s. Today the distillery uses imported barley peated to the required levels. Dunn confirms that Suntory, as well, imports barley from Scotland that has been peated to a specified degree. As well, both Nikka and Suntory strive to use the purest water available.

  “The main source of water for Nikka’s Yoichi Distillery is from the mountain springs and surrounding rivers, in particular the Yoichi River,” Tomoyoshi points out, adding that water for the Miyagikyo Distillery is sourced from the Nikkawa River. Dunn reveals that both of Suntory’s distilleries use unique water sources. “Our beau-tiful, soft water is optimal for producing [our] style of whisky.”

  In terms of casks, Suntory and Nikka have somewhat similar approaches. “We both import and make our casks,” informs Tomoyoshi. “We have a cooperage in each distillery maintaining casks of different sizes and types of wood. We also source various types of casks from around the world, including ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. All refurbishing and re-charring of the casks are done in-house in our cooperages.”

  Suntory uses a range, from ex-bourbon to American white oak and Spanish oloroso sherry casks. The company’s in-house cooperage also fashions barrels from Japanese Mizunara oak. “It is a very tight-grained oak that only grows in the North Island,” Dunn explains, noting that it matures very slowly and imparts notes of oriental incense, spice and coconut to the finished whisky.

  When it comes to whisky, distillers know that the shape and size are crucial in forming the character of the finished product. The copper pot stills used by Nikka Whisky were crafted in Japan and are of varying sizes. “All stills are slightly different from each other, which enable us to produce a wider variety of styles,” informs Tomoyoshi. “In general, the stills at Yoichi Distillery are smaller, with a straight neck and descending line arm. The stills at Miyagikyo are larger, with a bulge neck and ascending line arm.”

  Suntory operates two sets of eight distinctly shaped stills. As any distiller will attest, the size and shape of a still significantly impacts the spirit it produces, and the varying sizes employed by Nikka and Suntory no doubt play a role in crafting the unique character of the individual whiskies.

  While Japan’s whiskies have experienced a spike in popularity, the industry itself, like those in other countries, has weathered ups and downs. The whisky boom of the 1970s and early 1980s gave way to a slump in domestic whisky sales by the late ’80s, resulting in the closure of several distilleries. However, the international acclaim Japanese whiskies have since garnered has led to a resurgence in interest. A lot of interest, in fact. In the case of Nikka, a few factors combined to create the perfect storm surge of popularity. A surge so strong that it resulted in the discontinuation of age-statement whiskies.

  “We delisted most of our age-statement expressions in 2016,” confirms Tomoyoshi confirms. “This was due to many factors, such as the Nikka 80th anniversary in 2014 along with strong – yet organic – growth in foreign markets. Above all, the most impactful factor was the domestic Nikka fever caused by the NHK TV series Massan. This was unpredictable and sudden.”

  Massan was an Asadora – a “morning drama” – that ran from September 29th, 2014, until March 28th, 2015. Based on the lives of Masataka Taketsuruand and his Scottish wife Jessie Roberta “Rita” Cowan, it detailed the creation of Nikka Whisky…and landed a huge audience not only for the series, but for Nikka’s whiskies as well.

  Though they may currently be a little scarce in some international markets, Japanese whiskies are worth pursuing. They offer the best qualities of their Scottish counterparts — including complexity, harmony and great depth of character — along with certain exotic aspects that distinguish them as unique, different, and worthy of the accolades they have garnered both in the Far East and around the globe.

The Charismatic Spirit: The Heat of Jamaican Rum

By: Hanifa Sekandi

It is a warm summer night in Montego Bay. The sound of the ocean, the harmonious steel drums, sand beneath your toes, and laughter allow you to forget your worries while you clutch your cocktail in one hand. You have most likely never given much thought to that velvety smooth texture and golden color, the fermented by-product of sugarcane. It’s the drink that is unequivocally the life of the party. So infamous it deserves a special place in your holiday baked goods: rum. There is no better way to describe Jamaican-made rum than simply sublime.

  For some, it is the best accompaniment for plantain, callaloo, ackee and saltfish. Perhaps you prefer it while you dine on curry goat or spicy jerk chicken? It is the spirit that is bar-none, best sipped on the rocks. You feel the heat of this distilled spirit immediately pulsing through your entire body with just one sip. Rum, a Jamaican classic spirit with deep historic roots enlivens you and exhilarates you. You can fuss with it, add a little this or a little that but, rum revelers know it’s simply good just the way it is. What makes Jamaican rum so good?

  As you sample your way through the best of Jamaican rum you will learn quite quickly that each rum carries its own secret. This is why so many bar carts around the world carry more than one from a few of Jamaica’s acclaimed rum estates.

The Beginning of Jamaican Rum

  It was Christopher Columbus, in 1494, who brought sugarcane to the shores of Jamaica. This birthed an industry that although not as robust in size as it once was, still thrives today. With all things good, there is another side that is not as sweet. The production of rum in Jamaica began in 1655. It was brought over by British colonialists who imported the art of rum-making from Barbados. Under British rule, rum was made by the hands of enslaved labor. The mass production of rum during this time in Jamaica led to its popularity around the world. There were approximately 148 rum distilleries in Jamaica in 1893. When slavery was abolished in the 1800s the free and now finally autonomous rum laborer, was free to live as one should. This emancipation led to a decline in rum production.

  Where is rum today in Jamaica? In 1893 approximately 31, 555 acres of sugarcane was cultivated by sugar estates that housed and operated distilleries. Even with the reduction of the scale of production and rum mills, Jamaica produces 50 million liters of rum yearly. With only six remaining rum distilleries sugarcane, the oldest running industry in Jamaica is still a predominant labor source with the employment of over 50,000 people. Jamaican rum makers produce large and diverse varieties of rum that are distributed around to world to more than 70 countries. The six remaining rum distilleries are Worthy Park Estate, Appleton Estate, Long Pond Distillery, Clarendon Distillery, and Innswood Distillers Limited. The later three distilleries are owned by the National Rums of Jamaica.

Making Jamaican Rum

  Who knew sugarcane is the key ingredient to this deep rich spirit? With no sweetness on the palate when sipped that one would discern if they chewed on sugarcane. The process of making Jamaican rum is quite intriguing. Molasses, partially responsible for rums golden color is a sweet syrup with a thick consistency. Perhaps you have used it as an alternative sweetener. Blackstrap molasses is full of minerals and vitamins. With that said, a shot of

rum is not your new multivitamin replacement! This rich thick sweet syrup comes to life when sugarcane juice is boiled until it is crystallized and then fermented. In the case of gold-hued rums, the color begins to take hold by using oaken casks to age the clear liquid which turns color due to the tannins from the oak. On average Jamaican rums age close to seven years. A process that differs when making another popular spirit, white rum.

  Deeper-toned rums are made from the dunder or skimmings from vats used to boil the sugar and molasses. What makes each rum unique are the expertly blended elements that will determine the flavor profile and aromas. For example, the addition of caramel when aging commences creates a silkier and darker liquor. It’s these little nuances that create a vast difference between one rum to another although they may appear similar in appearance.

  A full-bodied rum is aged in casks that have great depth and are large in size. These casks, “puncheons”, can hold approximately 111.6 gallons. The difference between light and full-bodied rums is fermentation. In the case of full-bodied rum, slow fermentation is required, and this is referred to as wild fermentation. Light-bodied rum mostly produced in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico undergoes a process called cultured fermentation where yeast is derived from raw material. The aging period for these lighter-colored and dry rums is under four years. In some cases, light-bodied rums are aged for only one year.

Who Is Joy Spence?

The First Woman Master Blender?

  Appleton Estates is the oldest sugar estate and one of Jamaica’s six thriving rum distilleries. It is where Joy Spence, their Chief Chemist since 1981 and the first woman Master Blender, has been

making her incomparable mark in the global rum market. She has a Masters’ degree in Analytical Chemistry from Loughborough University. Spence was under the helm of the previous Appleton Estates Master Blender, Owen Tulloch for over 16 years who mentored her. During this time, she was able to use her passion for chemistry to become a world-renowned blender.

  In 1997 Spence, unbeknownst to her at the time, became the first woman master blender. At this time, there were no other women designated with this accolade. This show-stopping rum that Spence has been creating for over 35 years draws its sweet soft taste from the limestone-filtered spring water it uses from the Black River, the longest river in Jamaica. This distillery is located in a favorable area with limestone hills and an ecological system that works perfectly to nurture the abundance of greenery. Due to this natural irrigation sugarcane is easy to grow.

  Joy Spence is credited for masterfully blending two rums that made Appleton famous. The 8-Year-Old Reserve and “50-Year-Old which is according to Appleton Estates “the world’s oldest barrel-aged rum that has been bottled and sold. “The Appleton Estate 8-Year-Old Reserve, a full-bodied rum is probably one of the most recognized rum brands at your local liquor store. You have most like experienced its robust aroma and flavorful smooth notes. Sold at a price point that will make your jaw drop, something this good does not come cheap, the Appleton Estate 50 Year Old — Jamaica Independence Reserve rum by Spence will have you singing the best I ever had.

Notable Jamaican Rums

Appleton Estate 12-Year-Old Casks

Did you know the number on the front of the bottle is the number of years the rum has been aged? Yes, this is true. With so much variety offered by Appleton selecting your favorite rum is not an easy task. Once you have been introduced to one of their rums you will find yourself wanting to explore the entire repertoire. This 12-year aged rum has a smooth dark chocolate flavor and the sweet smell of almonds; you may catch hints of caramel. Best enjoyed on ice or just on its own. When you sip on one of these rums you are stepping into the magical world of Master Blender Joy Spence.

Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve

Rum-making began at this estate in 1741. Most people describe this rum’s flavor as earthy, citrusy, and spicy. An interesting combination that also includes other notes such as toffee, cinnamon, and cloves. Although it serves well on its own, it proves to be an excellent carrier of cocktails since it cuts through without overpowering other ingredients. Worthy Park Estates is a distillery that honors tradition and as a result, distill their rums in a traditional Jamaican Pot.

Hampden Estate Pure Single Jamaican Rum

Wild fermentation is the method used to make Hampden’s pure single rums. There is no sugar added during this process. Their Pure Single Jamaican rum aged for eight years carries a lot of heat. Its strong spicy, earthy herb-like taste with a touch of citrus, banana, and caramel strikes the palate with tremendous strength and also warms the senses. Serve over ice and sip slowly. This is the best way to go with this rum.

Long Pond Distillery — 18-Year-Old 2000 Mezan

Hopefully, the price tag does not scare you away from this vintage 18-year old Jamaican rum. This rum slowly ages and matures in a bourbon oak cask. As you can imagine, a lot of rich flavor and aromas embody this spirit. Its sharp ginger and tropical fruity notes along with a warm and spicy base create a nice finish.

African Craft Brewing & the Pandemic

By: Calvin Obbaatt  

The negative impact of coronavirus has been felt globally in all sectors of the economy, resulting in a worldwide production deficit. With consumers being unable to access products, large and small companies have been forced to stop production or produce less than usual. Companies in the hospitality sector have suffered a major blow as pandemic regulations have caused many businesses to shut down completely. Among the companies significantly impacted is the brewing industry, specifically craft brewery. 

  Initially, craft breweries enjoyed massive sales that yielded millions of profits in Africa alone. The industry also employed a vast staff, and production was increasing day-in and day-out. Compared to their competitors, craft breweries stood out for producing unique products that suited customer demands. In Africa, craft breweries thrived, and craft beer was some of the most consumed beer. Nearly all pubs, restaurants and bars sold craft beer. These products became more popular with the introduction of cheaper and smaller packages that are accessible and cost-friendly. 

  Unfortunately, with the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of breweries in  

Africa were directed by different governments to stop on-site consumption of beer completely. The taprooms that had become popular drinking places and earned the breweries massive income were shut down for hosting large amounts of people. Consumers were instructed to stay at home and avoid any public places. Similarly, parties and public events were also shut down. Clearly, parties and events were significant markets for the breweries. Bars, significant purchasers of beer products, were closed indefinitely, causing beer sales to drop significantly. This, in turn, caused breweries to take tough measures that impacted that production greatly. Many brewery workers were laid off, a move that increased the workload of the remaining staff. 

  The breweries were also forced to adopt creative but expensive delivery services. The companies adopted a pick-up and delivery system whereby the drinks were transported to each individual who ordered. The idea proved costly to the producers as they had to incur transportation costs as well. Additionally, the producer was forced to use glass and aluminium packages for all the products distributed by these criteria. In other countries with strict measures, breweries were required to produce hand sanitizers to accompany their products. 

  Restricted consumption of brewery products has led to the expiry of billions of kegs of beer on the African continent. This loss will be directly felt by the breweries as bars and restaurants purchase the products on loan and only pay after the sale. The loss of millions is likely to see some bars close completely. These closures mean that breweries lose potential customers as well as the money owed from the bars’ debts to them. 

  Breweries also face challenges of inadequate carbon dioxide since the production of CO2 has also been affected by the pandemic. The inefficient quantity of CO2 is likely to stop beer production due to the lack of a carbonator. The low availability of carbon dioxide has shot its prices to levels quite uneconomical to producers. Additionally, the small amounts of highly-priced carbon dioxide available are highly sought by multiple organizations and industries that are in a constant scramble for the commodity. According to a recent survey carried out by EABL, 60% of breweries in Africa have wholly stopped production, and only the large companies are still producing. These large companies, such as the East African Breweries Ltd (EABL)., have suffered a significant loss in enforcing the measures advised on by the experts to contain the pandemic. These measures will cause the company to lose $86.4 million in net earnings. Accompanied by other issues from the pandemic, EABL will lose at least 25% of its annual revenues: 28.7 million dollars. 

  EABL is based in the Eastern part of Africa and operates in the four countries of the East African Community. Countries within this trade block, such as Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, imposed some of the strictest laws to stop the spread of the pandemic. Meanwhile, neighbouring countries like Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan were reluctant to impose COVID-19 restrictions. The reluctant countries blamed the pandemic for imposing an economic tragedy, a road that they were unwilling to walk down. 

  According to Paul Mwai, CEO of EABL in Kenya, the pandemic was not only felt by the breweries but also in all sectors of the economy, including manufacturing, hotels and catering. The brewery further reported a worse decrease as the situation was not getting better. Workers, who were the major consumers of beer products, had lost their jobs and thus income due to layoffs, business closures and job losses.  

  The pandemic has led to shareholders pulling back their resources when it comes to investing in the company. Most Boards of Directors advised their shareholders and the public that company profit will decrease significantly from the previous year when breweries recorded massive profits after taxation. Previously, EABL faced the problem of high taxation that increased after every financial year. The trend is worrying to the EABL Board of Directors, as the government – specifically the Kenyan government – has imposed hefty taxes on bottled beer brands. 

  The company’s woes were further castigated by the government when an excise tax of 5.2% was introduced on beer and a resounding 15% on spirits, making these drinks unaffordable to many consumers. A similar situation was felt in Uganda when the government banned spirits from being sold in plastic containers. The Ugandan government’s ban on plastic reduced the growth and sales of spirits. 

  The majority of breweries in Africa are internationally owned, predominantly by European and American entities. Travel bans imposed by the African countries have made it difficult for international owners to access these institutions. For instance, the EABL is owned by British Diageo, accounting for 50.03% of the shares. The restrictions and the inevitable losses predicted have made the Board of Directors rethink their judgment and resort to returning the shareholders’ investments in the form of dividends. The pandemic has put the companies in a situation that demands high capital investments that will enable them to pull through during the unfortunate events. The financial pressure is mostly felt by the shareholders who are in the tightest position on whether to invest more and risk in order to salvage the situation or withdraw entirely and wait for better seasons. 

  Major stakeholders, such as the banking industry, have also withdrawn any lending activity as advised by the central banks globally. The European Central Bank has also advised against paying dividends to shareholders. 

  The coronavirus pandemic has led to the loss of lives of some of the best brains in the breweries. With labor and expertise being a major driving force in the success of any economic sector, the impact of the loss is felt heavily. Breweries depend widely on human labor. Loss of this labor will be felt long-term as replacing some of these workers will not be a walk in the park. Training a new individual will take time and money. For instance, EABL had some of its technical staff trained efficiently in the developed countries, and these people have been a significant asset for the company. The death of such experts minimizes the production potential of the company to extraordinary lengths. 

  Currently, most organizations have adopted medical policies to cater to the welfare of their staff, a way of promoting the efficacy of workers. However, with the rise of the pandemic, the brewing industry has incurred considerable expenses in staff treatment. With the disease tending to attack people through contact, many people within a single organisation will likely get infected within a span of one week. The companies, at this point, will have no option but to provide for the entire sick staff as stipulated within their agreement. Such a move is likely to render the organisation bankrupt and incur huge losses. 

The situation is likely to worsen if the pandemic persists as the government is relentless in reducing the pandemic through control measures. However, hopefully, scientists will overcome the situation and produce a viable vaccine, getting the brewing industry back in business and thriving once again. 

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.