Where is Canada’s Beer Style?

by Stephen Beaumont 

Over the past several years, I have presented numerous seminars in mostly up-and-coming beer countries like Brazil and Chile, China and Mexico. The upshot of many such seminars, in fact the majority of them, is that the key to developing a national beer culture is to have emerge a beer style all your own.

Examples of this abound, beginning with that most dominant of craft beer cultures, the Americans. For it was back in 1975 that Anchor Brewing, under the guidance of non-brewer-owner Fritz Maytag, decided to take a semi-popular bittering hop called Cascade and make it the star of Liberty Ale, arguably the first of the modern American IPAs. Anchor was followed, of course, by Sierra Nevada, and with the emergence of the latter company’s Pale Ale, the American style of that British stalwart was born.

Other countries followed suit, albeit at a distance. Italy toyed with chestnut beer, actually a French creation, before eventually settling on the Italian grape ale as a suitable and impressive national beer calling card. Kiwi brewers mined the skill with which they employ their own distinctive hops to produce first the New Zealand pilsner and then, more popularly, the Aotearoa pale ale. Modern Czech brewers rediscovered the joys of světlý ležák, what we would call Bohemian pilsner, and took that classic style to new levels, while Brazilian brewers discovered the versatility of the fruits and woods of the Amazon for their still-loosely defined national style.

It goes on. Mexican brewers are working with molé spices for their Mexican Imperial stout – and doing it better than the Americans, I might add – while the Aussies are seriously playing around with Galaxy and other emerging Australian hops and the Chinese are toying with baijiu yeasts and traditional Chinese medicinal herbs. Saké-influenced Japanese beers, Poles and their grodziskies, Lithuanian kaimiškas, Spaniards playing with their nation’s strong culinary influences…the list goes on.

What makes the national style so important is the prevalence of craft brewing the world over and the skill with which the Americans are tackling export markets, the combination of which makes it difficult to make a mark on the world stage, and thus draw increased interest from domestic beer consumers, with styles that are keenly brewed south of the border and in countless other nations.

But in Canada, a land that has had microbrewing almost as long as have the Americans? Nothing.

Okay, perhaps not precisely “nothing,” but close to it. We have had numerous maple beers, but let’s face it, aside from the late and highly lamented Niagara Falls Maple Wheat, few have cut the mustard so far as establishing a national beer style goes. And while I have great hopes for our emerging hop industry, we haven’t exactly gotten to the point that we have a single hop that speaks to a particular province, much less all of Canada.

Now, normally at the end of a screed such as this, you might be expecting a suggestion for a solution. Alas, I have none. As I noted to a Chilean brewer who was curious as to what might someday step up as their own national style, I’m not in the business of creating trends, but rather spotting ones which look healthy and emerging.

Or, in other words, I’ve no idea what Canada’s national beer style might ultimately be, whether it will be hop-focused or yeast-based or feature some ingredient that it true to the Canadian spirit. What I do know, however, is that as a country with now more than three decades of craft brewing history behind us, it is high time we had one.

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Short Sips with Stephen Beaumont

A corner dedicated to bringing you insight from industry author and beer connoisseur, Stephen Beaumont.

Twitter: @BeaumontDrinks