Canada: snow, hockey, lumberjacks, beer. That about sums it up, right? But yesterday, I said to my husband, “Hon, would you like some wine? I’m not really in the mood for beer tonight.” This is something rarely said in my home. However, the only beers we had in the fridge were in an eight-pack mixer from our vacation in Canada. I simply could not muster enough enthusiasm for my Canadian beers to pop open another 473ml can of meh.
My family and I have visited the balmy northern shores of Lake Erie every summer since before I can remember. The visit has always consisted mainly of reading on the beach, eating fresh fish and fruits, and (once I reached the Ontario, CA drinking age of 19) drinking copious amounts of beer.
I always took an inordinate amount of pride in knowing to order a Blue in Canadian bars, rather than a Labatt. Problem is, of course, that Blue isn’t all that good. It’s one of my favorite cheap beers, but I’m just not a cheap beer kinda gal. Drink it for a whole week?! You might as well make me go camping. Full disclosure: we brought up craft beer from the states.
The other option for finding beer in Ontario is going to The Beer Store, where three giant beer companies dictate what you can drink. For realsies! In each store they have a tablet listing every beer they have in stock. You touch whatever you’re interested in and learn its origin, abv, and other helpful things except how it actually tastes.
On my trip this year I met a The Beer Store manager who knew which six or seven of the hundreds of beer options on the menu were “craft.” I tried two of his suggestions, Flying Monkey and St. Ambroise’s pale ale. Flying Monkey has as acceptable amount of hops for a brewery claiming to provide all “hopped-up” beers. St. Ambroise though, and every crafty Ontario beer I tried afterwards, failed to meet standards. Even the craft brewery in the town we visit served me a skunky, watery, brownish beverage. I drank it, but with that squint I make when I’m really trying to convince the person in front of me that I don’t think they’re stupid.
I felt that I must be missing something. Not all Ontario beers can be this bad. Before we left town we stopped at an even bigger The Beer Store and stocked up. I picked out beers that looked like they could be craft (but those big breweries are damn sneaky about that these days). So far I’m 0 for 4. I did some research into these improbable statistics.
Canadian beer writer Jason Foster hypothesizes that every region in Canada has its own signature, the way American beers are known to be hop-forward, Belgian beers, Belgiany, and so forth. He says the Ontario “beer scene emphasizes quality and quiet accessibility.” Mm-hm, mm-hm. Wait, no — I’m not sure if this is actually an inside joke.
I really want that quality part to be true, but so far my empirical evidence points elsewhere. Canada is, like, my favorite country on the planet — please tell me there is good beer four hours north of my Ohio home! Tell me so and then send it to me! (The United States Postal Service won’t let you send beer…unless you tell them it’s actually snow globes. Just fyi.)
I realize this vacation spot is idyllic in my heart, and can’t actually be perfect. But does its real-life fault have to be its beer? I’ve had beer from small Quebecois breweries that knocked my socks off (once literally); what is it about Ontario that inspires such mediocrity? Are those The Beer Stores preventing the small, actually good breweries from distributing beer into hands such as my own? Is this a conspiracy of Canadian proportions? Buncha hosers.