Another article I wrote for the World Beer Collection Here:
And for the Lazy Clickers, see the Full Text below!:
The search for a truly Local Beer
What does Canada taste like? With this question in mind I set out to find a beer made from entirely local ingredients. Does such a beer exist? I came across many “Craft Breweries”, independently owned businesses that are not a part of some mammoth corporation, and many organic beers with some local ingredients. But is there a beer with 100% local ingredients? This is what I set to find out.
Like a taste-bud tourist, when I drink beer from a certain country or region, I want that beer to reflect the place where it’s made; I expect to taste the distinctive flavour of the country. Not that there is anything wrong with beer made with ingredients from all over the world, but then you can’t really claim the beer is truly of a certain place. I imagine that these beers have a more international flavour. And there is a lot of global beer on the market. What I want, is to try the flavours of a particular place, not the flavour of all over the place:
“It’s disappointing to think that when I drink a pint of Brooklyn Lager in Brooklyn, New York . . . I’m inevitably quaffing hops and barley grown, processed and shipped from hundreds, if not thousands of miles away” (from: In Search of a Homegrown Beer, by Ben Carmichael, Dec./08, oneearth.org)
Until a hundred years ago or so, all beers were probably locally sourced and independently owned by “craft” breweries, but with the globalization of farming techniques, following a short stint of prohibition which knocked out many small scale breweries, beer became more international, with ingredients from all over the world. Craft breweries are generally small scale, independently owned, and use fewer ingredients in their beer, without a long list of additives (called adjuncts), preservatives, or un-pronounceable chemicals.
The main ingredients in beer include: a starch source like malted grain (usually barley, but sometimes wheat, rice, oats, corn, rye, sorghum, potato, cassava, agave, among many others that can be used), Hops (for which there are numerous varieties), yeast (a type of micro-organism of which there are 1,500 species), and water (which has different minerals that influence the taste of the beer). Who knew beer was so complicated?
There are European countries where beer has been brewed and been a part of the culture for thousands of years. I assume the ingredients are locally sourced, since the rest of the world seems to get their ingredients from them. Beer is very much tied to a place; when you think of Guinness, you think of Ireland. But Canada is a much larger and much newer country. And beer, unlike tobacco, hasn’t been cultivated and gathered for thousands of years here. Although corn and cacti did form the basis for fermented beverages in North America prior to contact, this is still a far cry from beer.
According to Charles B. Heiser Jr. who was an ethno-botanist at Indiana University, “the only distinctive important contribution of northern North America to the world’s alcoholic beverages,” was a type of whiskey called Bourbon, “created by people of European descent using maize”– although a beer is also said to have been made by “Indians in the east” using persimmon fruit. (Heiser, C. B. Jr. 1993 Ethnobotany and Economic Botany, In: Flora of North America, volume 1, New York).
Persimmon beer? Cacti beer? Corn beer? I wonder how that would taste? (Come on craft brewers I’m shoveling you gold!)
What would a beer Indigenous to Canada taste like? People say that alcohol was not a traditional part of most Indigenous cultures, but is this true? Pulque is a traditional Indigenous beverage of Mexico, made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant. Where there is one, there are bound to be others. Alcoholism and drug use probably has more to do with poverty, assimilation, destruction of culture, and genocidal practices, than it does to any biological argument of tolerance. Given the catastrophic impact of alcoholism in many First Nations, why would cultural leaders want to maintain any traditional cultural uses for alcohol?
Cultures can change, and something that isn’t part of Indigenous culture, can become a part of it. There are Indigenous owned wineries, see www.nkmipcellars.com, so why not breweries? When you want to go as local as you can get, the question becomes: are there hops and barley strains indigenous to North America? And can Indigenous strains be used as substitutes?
Hops are the female flowers of the humulus lupulus plant, which is native to Europe, Asia and North America, and the many different strains are part of the cannabaceae family of plants (which includes marijuana). Who knew, beers are made with flowers? Barley was one of the first domesticated crops, although the barley used in brewing is not native to N. America; hordeum pussillum or little barley, is native to North America, has edible seeds and was cultivated by Indigenous Peoples prior to contact. Yeast is a naturally occurring organism.
This leads me to believe that a 100% locally-made, locally-grown-with-local-plants-beer is at least conceptually possible!
There are many reasons to choose a locally made beer; it reduces the amount of miles the ingredients have to travel before they get to you– so freshness— it reduces the carbon footprint of your beverage and the impact on the environment, and it gives you a sense of what an area tastes like.
The following is a list of the Top Twelve breweries in Ontario that I’ve ranked based on their level of local-ness, beginning with the most local:
- 1. Maclean’s Ales– Located in Normanby in west Grey County, the Farmhouse Ale is made with their own homegrown hops, and locally grown barley, as well as locally sourced spring-water! They also have their own in-house recycling program.
- 2. Railway City Brewing- Located in St. Thomas, they use locally grown hops, Ontario sourced malted grains, and their seasonal beers contain local ingredients! No adjuncts, preservatives, additives or pasteurization. And an impressive environmental strategy to reduce their carbon footprint!
- 3. Black Creek Historic Brewery– Located in Black Creek Pioneer Village, all their ingredients are locally sourced, and they take their inspiration from 1860’s Ontario brewing techniques, using only wood and copper equipment.
- 4. Muskoka Brewery– Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout! Need I say more? They list their ingredients on their label, and they use no additives, preservatives, adjuncts or pasteurization.
- 5. Steam Whistle Brewery– Located in Toronto, they use GMO free ingredients, two-row barley from Saskatchewan, spring water from Caledon, hops from Czech Republic, and their ingredients are listed on the bottle. They also have an extremely impressive environmental strategy!
- 6. Granite Brewery– Located in both Halifax and Toronto, they use barley from western Canada, black malt from England, Canadian wheat flour, and hops from Washington state and England. They use no adjuncts, and somehow use sturgeon fish for filtering!
- 7. Wellington Brewery– Located in Guelph, they use Canadian two-row barley malt, local spring water, English hops, and cask conditioning!
- 8. Great Lakes Brewery– Located in Toronto, they use both local and international ingredients selected on the basis of quality. Their seasonal Pumpkin Ale is really delicious!
- 9. Barley Days Brewery– Located in Prince Edward County, they use many local ingredients; their Brown Ale uses local hops, and their seasonal beers use local hops, cherries, and maple syrup!
10. Flying Monkey Craft Brewery– Located in Barrie, they use spring water, organic and privately grown hops, and other interesting and local ingredients like coffee, orange peels, juniper berries, and old Halloween candy!
- 11. Trafalgar Brewery- Located in Oakville, they are known for making mead! Their Mead is made with fermented honey, blueberries from P.E.I., and some of their other local ingredients include cedar and maple syrup
12. Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company- Located in Vankleek Hill, they use mostly local ingredients, local spring water, certified organic hops and malt, enviro-packaging, and they are in the process of developing local hops to replace their German imports.