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The future of Ontario beer?

Posted April 9, 2013 | 1:15 am, by Mirella

Logo for the Ontario Hop Growers AssociationLast month, I became a member of the Ontario Hop Growers Association. I also had the pleasure of  attending their conference on Saturday, March 9th, where Québecois hop agronomist Julien Venne presented an advanced course in hop growing. The talk was fascinating and it was great to learn more about how to best select appropriate and relevant hop varieties to grow in Ontario.

I’ve actually been following the growth of the local hop industry for a few years now, ever since I started working in the beer industry in 2007, because I think this hop growing revival is really exciting.

Ontario Hop Growers Association Conference, March 2013

Southern Ontario used to be a well-known hop growing region. Unfortunately, in the 1920s, our hop bines were devastated by downy mildew. This blight, coupled with the advent of prohibition, destroyed the Ontario hop growing industry.

The reason I’m excited about this local revival in hop growing is because hops have the potential to  imbue beer with an Ontario signature, and their presence could lead to our brewers developing their own distinct Ontario beer styles.

Hops are the one ingredient that give an unmistakeable local signature to beer. If a brewer is making a Czech style pilsner, for example, s/he has some flexibility in the water, malt and yeast used but must use the Czech Saaz hop in order for that beer to have the right character. Another classic example I could cite is the American hop industry that started developing boldly aromatic & bitter hop varietals in the mid 1900s. These hops are so distinct that, when their character is obvious in a beer, this beer is automatically classified as an “American Style – .”

It’s going to take some time, of course. Our hop industry is in its early stages and yields are fairly low. Still, brewers have started brewing smaller batches of beer with these hops and familiarizing themselves with the flavours they impart. For the time being, Ontario brewers are mostly reproducing existing styles and simply substituting local hop varietals. As both the hop and beer industries grow, however, it is possible the features of our hops will inspire new recipes that will complement their particular character and then we’ll have our very own distinct Ontario beer styles… I’m excited to see what the future holds!

One comment

  1. I am now drinking hop forward beers mae in Ontario that taste just like the Sierra Nevada Pale Ales did thirty years ago. While most will see this as evolution of beer style in Ontario, it is not OUR style.

    Hops are key to developing our brand and taste profiles. I see activity in this province from many quarters, from Bellwoods’ shared plot and rooftop community programmes right on through to nascent commercial enterprises, and am very much looking forward to the results. We have excellent brewers in this province and I am sure the outcome of this story will be rewarding over time.

    The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has a good introductory piece on the subject, broad in scope but a little short on detail. However, it is up to date and contains valuable links. See:http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CDsQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ofvc.ca%2FSessionDownloads%2FThursday%2FHops%2FT_Hops_930_Elford.pdf&ei=Yb1mUej2Lont2QXx-oDYCg&usg=AFQjCNGDOCSnPfkcGVoz1P4Zw4Txhpvjpw&sig2=RlzH7IxiZtX1pS6SD0p1fw&bvm=bv.45107431,d.b2I

    Comment by Jefrey Poulin on April 11, 2013 at 1:47 pm

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