Beer retailing in Ontario is dominated by the Beer Store, a near monopoly, owned by the large breweries.  This set up has some positive aspects, as the employees are well paid and they recycle almost everything they sell.  However, for those of us more interested in craft beer than industrially

produced domestic or imported brands, the Beer Store limits options.  The other booze monopoly, the government owned LCBO, sells a wider selection of Ontario Craft Beers, but they only sell in single cans or six packs and the prices are prohibitively high.  Neither retailer provides a wide selection of craft beers from across Canada or the United States.  This leaves beer drinkers with few options aside from figuring out how to brew your own craft beer.

Thankfully Craft-U-Brewing is a growing trend.  If you have the time and space its possible to brew your own beer from scratch at home.   Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher is a good resource to learn more about home brewing. For those of us living in apartments, too poor/cheap to buy the equipment or to lazy to learn all the complicated steps in brewing high quality craft beer there are great Craft-U-Brew stores like Toronto’s Fermentations that make brewing easy.

I know that many of you hear U-Brew and think about cheap kit-beer that taste terrible and allow hangovers to start while you are still drinking.  This is true of many of the cheaper U-Brew options that substitute corn sugar for barley to keep the price down.  Thankfully, it is now possible to buy micro-brewed wort (unfermented beer) made with barley malt, water and hops (you add the yeast yourself to make the process legal).  By adding more malt, hops, fruit, spices or coffee you can transform the base wort into almost any style of beer.  Fermentation have a wide selection of beers on their regular list (here are just a few):

  • Danforth Lager
  • Dutch Lager
  • Hoffbrauhaus
  • Czech Pilsner
  • Fuggles Pale Ale
  • Bavarian Bock
  • Newcastle Brown
  • Oatmeal Stout
  • Hefeweizen
  • Belgian Wit
  • Trappist Dubbel

However, what makes this U-Brew special is their ability to emulate just about any beer you have ever tried or read about.  My friend Val tried a Hefeweizen  in Colorado Springs with a really pronounced banana flavour.  Scott, one of the two employs that work with Charles the owner, thought it thorough and choose a yeast strain that would bring out the banana in their wheat wort.  The resulting beer was amazing and that batch did not last very long.  Over the past years we’ve experimented with beer style from around the world.  earthy Peat Smoked Scotch Ales, bitterly hoppy West Cost IPAs, danerously strong imperial coffee stouts (8-9%) and traditionally lagered double bocks.

In a couple of weeks our yearly batch of double bock will be ready.  A couple years ago Scott figured out that sections of the basement stay at a similar temperature to the caves in Germany where the first cold-fermenting lager yeasts were discovered in the 19th century.  The colder temperature slows the fermentation process and creates the amazingly clean and crisp beers that now dominate the world market.  Using these same yeasts and cold temperatures to make the darker and stronger bock creates a close facsimile of a style of beer hard to find here in Ontario.

In three or four years of brewing with Fermentations we have learned a great deal about beer traditions and current trends.  We  have done all this without expensive beer vacations or smuggling runs across the US boarder.  Moreover, we’ve developed a close relationship with the people that help make our beer (and wine) and we get together with friends every few weeks to bottle the beer and start another batch.  If you are tired of the limited options in provincially controlled liquor stores or the high prices in the private beers store out in BC, join together with a group of friends who share your tastes in beer and find a Craft-U-Brew near you.  If you live in the Toronto area, head to the Danforth and get Scott, Greg or Charles to help you start a batch.

Other articles you might like:

  1. First Batch
  2. Toronto Beer Week
  3. Beercation!
  4. Winter

5 thoughts on “Craft-U-Brew

  1. Hey Jim,

    amazing what you guys are doing there. I always thought this was more of a European thing (yeah, I know, old worldish arrogance…XD). What truly gets me going is the thing about flavours like coffee or banana. That really emerges from the beer in the process??? I remember drinking a lot of beer in France (Kronenbourg, to be exact) that they pimp there with sirups, on the spot. You get stuff like “demi citron” or “demi cerise” as they call it that way. Made my holiday in Nice, in ’97 and in Lyon in 2000. (c;
    So you guys can actually create a “demi citron” in the brewing process, home-made (while not talking Beck’s Gold synthetic shite beer)?
    If so, then you people are amazing…
    Cheerio *(Fake) Pete

  2. Fake Pete you come from the land of the “shanty” (pilsner and sprite) – Shudder. Subtle flavor is one thing, but I can’t imagine sirups making the beer taste that great – at least not to the average North American tongue.

    Jim – terrific article. Really enjoyed your recommendations and it has almost convinced me to get on with it and head down to a Vancouver brewing house and make some homemade beer. One question, does homemade beer need to be refrigerated to keep or can you store it in the closet like homemade wine?


  3. Kurt,

    It lasts a pretty long time in a cool dark area. Darker beers last longer than lighter beers. It does help to get a group together so you don’t end up with more than you can drink over a month or so.



  4. I’m loving your theme, Jim Clifford. Recently, I attended an Oktoberfest/Birthday party at which the host had home-brewed his own beer and uploaded it to a keg. From the eclectic collection of glasses, mugs and bowls we used to sample the delicious brew to the deliciously malty taste of the final product, it was truly an experience to remember. My favourite part – just like my favourite part of your posts – is that his beer, unlike most of the stuff we get at the liquor stores, has a great story to go along with the great taste.

    Outstanding work!

    - JCH

  5. @Kurt von Heinrich: Whaaaaaaaaat? You don’t like my beer?? I’ll have you arrested on my turf, next time! What insolence… (c;

    Yeah, I agree, it may not be everybody’s cup of tea (sirup and stuff). But I’m not a natural born beer drinker anyway, so… I hope I’ll be forgiven for drinking effeminate variants.

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