Oh Canada! We stand on guard for beer!

Canada, for those who haven’t heard of it, is a rather large country conveniently situated where most people would rather not live. The vast majority of its landmass is practically uninhabitable, and therefore extremely sparsely populated, whereas the rest of the country is uncomfortably jammed up against the world’s only remaining superpower, and therefore dominated by the culture and politics south of the border. No wonder that the Canadians, many of whom stubbornly remain in their home and native land, are a fiercely proud people, refusing to pronounce the letter Z “zee”, spelling colour with a “u” and measuring their distances in kilometres rather than miles. Basically, the main defining feature of a Canadian is that he or she is not American.

Things to do in Toronto: take a trip up to the top of the tower.
I have been lucky enough to marry one of Canada’s many fine womenfolk, and I therefore get to visit this vast country regularly in order to visit the in-laws and drink beer in no particular order. The beer scene in Canada resembles the one in the USA. Until 20 or so years ago, the market was completely dominated by a few big brands which sold their bland, industrial lager beer to the great masses. These behemoths still supply the vast majority of what Canadians knock back in their pubs, and not unlike similar breweries in the rest of the world they seem to take pride in inventing new and trendy concoctions that taste almost, but not entirely unlike beer.

Luckily, the beer revolution that hit the US has also spilled into Canada, though perhaps on a slightly lesser scale. This means that it is nowadays generally possible to find at least one microbrewery or brewpub in every major city, and some of the bigger micros (as it were) are sold in the Norwegian-inspired state-controlled alcohol shops, which in Ontario come in two flavours: the LCBO, and the ingeniously named “Beer Store”. There is, in other words, plenty of good beer to be enjoyed if you know what to look for.

The area around Kitchener-Waterloo (about 100km southwest of Toronto) seems to have more than their fair share of microbreweries, so if you’re desperately searching for something more exciting than Molson Canadian or Labatt’s Blue, you may want to head in this direction. Just outside of Waterloo is the city of Guelph, surely the only city in the world which name resembles the sound of having had one beer too many. There’s a splendid pub near downtown called the Woolwich Arrow with a very long beer menu dominated by local breweries. I spent a happy lunchtime there in glorious sunshine a couple of weeks ago, and I can only recommend that you pop in for a swift half or an all-night drinking session or something in between.

Another personal recommendation is the Shepherd’s Pub in the tiny hamlet of Elora, about 30km north from Waterloo. It’s an extremely cosy little place, with live music and great beer. If you’re really lucky you can experience an Irish-style session where local people playing flutes, fiddles, banjos and other dodgy instruments will accidentally sit at the corner table and then equally accidentally start playing tunes that everyone happens to know. It’s excellent fun listening to such shenanigans whilst knocking back a few pints carefully selected from the extensive beer menu.

Kitchener-Waterloo also has its own version of the Oktoberfest, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post. I only had time for a brief visit, and I was able to confirm with some dismay that the main beer on offer was Molson Canadian served in rather small plastic glasses. They did have a selection of more interesting bottled beers sold at Norwegian-inspired prices, also poured into unlovely plastic glasses. Are Canadians so wild that they cannot be trusted with proper glassware, or is it simply a cost saving measure? In either case, I strongly disapprove.
The K-W Oktoberfest at 3pm on opening day. Not the best time to go.

I am also very happy to report that my request for free beer in a previous post has been fruitful. A very friendly Canadian sent me two lovely bottles from the Unibrue Brasserie in Quebec. This is the French-speaking part of Canada, so the beers had the suspiciously foreign-sounding names “Trois Pistoles” and “La Fin du Monde”. The former is dark and has a rich, vinous and full-bodied taste whereas the latter is light, cloudy and also very rich – a bit like a Belgian golden ale (such as the famous Duvel) on steroids. In fact, it had so much taste that I had to numb my taste buds with liquid nitrogen just to get it down. Or perhaps I was exaggerating a little bit just there. Anyway, both of these beers are strong (9%), tasty and very well brewed.

A little bit of Canadia in our living room.

So, what’s the conclusion? Canada is a huge country inhabited by friendly people that don’t tend to shoot you, and there are lots of things to see and do, at least if you think ice hockey is the main reason to live. As for the beer, well, there’s plenty of good stuff to be found, but it’s not a country I would recommend visiting just for this reason. Just like the country itself, many of the new breweries are a bit wild and untamed, brewing stuff full of taste and adventure, but perhaps lacking the mature subtleness of their more established counterparts in Europe. That's it folks. Have a great day!