Robin LeBlanc and Jordan St. John have authored the The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, published by Dundurn publishers in Toronto. Reading the book reminds me that despite the great resources of the Internet, there is no substitute for a good beer book.
This tome is a comprehensive look at the contemporary brewing scene in Ontario. It focuses mostly on breweries including contract operations, but has a section on craft-oriented pubs as well, organized by city or town.
LeBlanc and St. John are experienced journalists and published authors, and the experience shows in the new book.
It is crisply-written and edited, with a logical flow.
The chapter on Ontario craft brewing history is particularly helpful. It is impossible truly to understand where we are at today without knowing what happened in the last 30 years. Jordan’s experience writing Ontario beer history must have come in handy here.
There are some nice touches too which will respond to the needs of many readers including the chapter at the outset called Top Breweries in Ontario. The authors know that many readers want to know which is “best” and so this summum, a distillation of their ratings, answers that need. (I agree with their No. 1 choice, Side Launch!). Speaking of ratings, they use a simple 5-number system which is easy to follow.
The heart of the book is the alphabetical listing of breweries. It is very complete and even though ongoing developments in the form of new breweries, new beers from existing ones, closures, mean the book can’t be 100% complete when issued, it is still very useful again. Certainly 90% of the listings or more will remain relevant for a considerable time. Plus, I understand the authors will be issuing a second edition in good time.
Under each brewery the authors review various beers issued. The layout is easy to follow, clear and uncluttered. A line or two is used to review each beer. Their notes show considerable knowledge and experience and are excellent guides. E.g. of 10 Bitter Years they say, “dank with pine resin and brightened by clementine and tangerine citrus”. Right on. The style of going on and on, to which the law of diminishing returns applies IMO, is avoided in this book. The advantage of short-but-sweet reviews is the authors hone in on the essentials, and more room is left to include other beers.
Right now I’m sipping on a Kichesippi 1855. I’d rate this dark ale a 3/5 and would call the taste grainy, mildly hopped, not complex. Let’s see what Jordan and Robin say: “nutty body of toffee and toast … well balanced by an appropriate bitterness”. They give it a 4. Well, we are pretty close even though not saying it the same way.
Of course, as beer is a personal preference, this entails a large degree of subjectivity, and disagreement with others’ taste notes is the nature of the game. So if you peruse the book and think, gee they don’t agree with me on one or two beers, don’t let that stop you from buying it. There is a tremendous amount of excellent information in the book and it is a very good resource to have.
I have little to cavil with, my only suggestion would be to include Sleeman Brewery in the next edition. Apart from its historical importance, Sleeman brews some excellent beers – the all-malt Dark Ale is one of the best dunkels in Ontario*, and the ditto Upper Canada Lager is very good too. There is also a creditable porter and IPA. Numerous beers are reviewed in the book which aren’t half as good (IMO), so I’d put Sleeman in. (If Hop City or Creemore are in, too, I can’t see a reason to exclude Sleeman).
But a small point in the context of what is a first-rate book for which the authors deserve kudos indeed.
*Note added June 27, 2016: I remembered after writing this that Upper Canada Dark Ale is presumably top-fermented, indeed The Beer Store entry describes it as a northern English brown ale. Nonetheless to me it evokes the taste of a good Munich-style dark lager (dunkel)…