Pictured are two beers bearing the badge of Upper Canada.
One is still “original” in the sense it is brewed by a successor of Upper Canada Brewing Company (UC), which started in 1985. After a middling run, in 1998 its assets were bought by Sleeman Brewery in Guelph, ON. Of the line of beers UC produced, only Upper Canada Lager and Upper Canada Dark Ale are still made. Somewhat unfortunately they are priced as budget craft beers, with a dozen fetching $18.00, a pretty good buy in this Province as the beers are excellent.
Not that many people buy them though judging by the few cases I see in Beer Stores in Toronto. I think many beer fans who would enjoy them are put off by the case format (minimum purchase 12), and, strange as it sounds, low price. You have to have confidence to pay low for something good and not everyone has that, I’ll say frankly.
The new Repatriation Lager is a re-brewing of Upper Canada Rebellion Lager. It was sometimes styled in its day malt liquor, probably for legal reasons as it was always a lager, except when a (separate) Rebellion Ale was issued c. 1997.
Henderson Brewing in Toronto did the remake by permission of Sleeman, a nice gesture by Sapporo of Japan which owns Sleeman now.
Rebellion became Repatriation, a double pun only Canadians will fully understand. I’d guess Sleeman wants to retain the name Rebellion, maybe for future use or disposition, or maybe there is some other issue for Henderson to use the name, I’m not sure. (Henderson has used “Upper Canada” on the label with no issue clearly from Sleeman).
The Repatriation is a partial success in my view as its colour seems somewhat darker than I recall, see also the original pictured below from the Ratebeer page on the original beer, here. (The reviews are interesting too. They describe the colour as gold, deep yellow, mustard yellow. One mentions orange highlights).
But the colour difference is neither here nor there really. Taste is the important thing and it is close to the original but needs to be more impactful in the palate. The yeast background is correct, and the slightly fruity note, but the taste is too restrained even by 1980s standards.
I think this is a great initiative and I’d encourage Henderson to brew it again but just bring the taste profile forward.
Before I get to the Dark Ale, I want to say that Upper Canada never really hit the mark for me. It’s not that its beers were early-generation and lacking by comparison to today’s craft range as such. It’s that they never were spot on and I think that played a role in the demise of the original concern.
The Dark Ale as made by Sleeman is much better than the Upper Canada original, plain fact IMO.
The original had a distinct, almost Belgian banana note (isomer?) that seemed unusual, not English, the ostensible inspiration for the beer. Perhaps the brewery was aiming for a Trappist-like taste, some Trappist beer has that profile.
Some people of course enjoyed UC Dark Ale and more power to them, but the way it is now, it is much better: the taste is malty, quite rich, a good emulation of an “English brown” of the post-WW II era. It reminds me of what Newcastle Brown Ale used to taste like and some other of the older-style English brown ales.
As craft beer is old enough to provide its own examples for emulation, myth stories, and more, hopefully one will see more recreations and salutes. But I’m being honest to say that in general, early Ontario craft brewing did not stand tall in the brewing leagues. Other areas well exceeded it, even taking account of the milder profile craft beer then had in comparison to today.
In contrast, the brewing scene today in this province is much more accomplished, in taste not just quantity.
Still, Rebellion was a good effort, one of the best of the UC range in fact, and I’d tweak Repatriation to get it exactly right.