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Where The Wild Beers Are

We get really excited about trying new beer flavors, techniques and concepts. A beer from Bath’s MacKinnon Brothers Brewing recently caught our eye because it was made from ingredients foraged from their brewery backyard.

 The winter seasonal stout is made in a traditional Irish style and is cut by the refreshing crisp bite of wild peppermint the brothers forage around their farm property in the warmer months. Naturally, the story (and taste!) had us hooked.

When talking about beer and the growth of the brewing industry in Ontario, we spend a lot of time talking about how, when and where to find local products. To put it in perspective, The Ontario Hop Growers� Association now lists about 40 farms in its Ontario Hop Farm Directory. Together, those farms harvest almost 30,000 pounds a year — a lot, yes, but not nearly enough to fuel our entire craft beer industry.

Hops farmer Nicholas Schaut grows hops in Grey County for Beau’s All Natural Brewing and other Ontario breweries. When he lost %30 of his crop last year, he planted buckwheat and set up hives to make honey. Hops farming is still finding it’s legs in Ontario, but resourceful farmers and increased access to resources is helping the industry grow.

All this peaked our interest because, in a way, the ‘wild beer’ trend hearkens back to brewing’s homegrown past, before thousand-acre barley fields and international freight shipping. Upon digging a little deeper, we discovered lots of different brewers using Ontario grown ingredients. We’re talking rose hips, burdock root, cherry bark, elderberries, hawthorne berries, cedar, Labrador tea and more. These unique brews are all a little different, they reflect the terroir of their region and the personality of the brewers. Try one at a better pub or bar near you tonight! 

Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. just released two new botanical forward brews including the Original Gruit chalk full of Labrador tea, bog myrtle, and yarrow. It is mildly citrusy and finely balanced, with pleasant herbal qualities offsetting the sweetness of the malts.

Legends date back to the 1800’s when lumberjacks and fur traders took to the woods and encountered the mysterious culture and wildlife in the Northern region… whether you believe their stories or not, if you like herby, aromatic heavy brews, you’ll the Legendary Oddity from Muskoka Brewery. They use heather tips and juniper berries in their top secret recipe.

At Burdock in Toronto you’ll currently find one of our favorite spring pours — the Cranberry Berliner. This sour wheat beer uses cranberries from Iroquois Cranberry Growers in Gravenhurst to create a balanced, tart brew.

Haskapp are like a cross between honeysuckle and blueberries. They’re sweet, tart and extremely tolerant of cold weather.

Meanwhile, up in Collingwood, Northwinds Brewery is making a sour ale with haskapp berries from Oliver Farms, Vineyard and Haskap Orchard in Meaford, Ontario. Haskapps are interesting little berries in that they’re able to bloom in -7 degree weather. Now that’s a berry built for Ontario!

Dominion City Brewing Co. brews of a line called the ‘Terroir Series’ that features things like fresh-roasted pumpkins from Manotick, Ontario-grown hops, Ottawa Valley-grown oats and landrace grains. More recently, they brewed a batch called Honey Bear & Friends Granola Porter featuring honey from Radical Homestead. While not foraged per say, according to Edible Ottawa, Brewer Josh McJannett has a foraged brew in the works.

A tasting flight of limited editions brews from 5 Paddles is served in a wooden canoe and always yields something interesting!

At 5 Paddles Brewing in Durham Region, they’re making summer ale reminiscent of long summer days picking and peeling tomatoes in Nonna’s backyard. It’s chalk full of Italian Basil and is aptly named ‘Italian Backyard’.

In Guelph, the guys at Royal City Brewing are constantly experimenting. Last year they brewed at Scottish Ale infused with heather tips, while their (sort-of) neighbours at Elora Brewing Company made something called the Finnish Fury filtered through juniper twigs.

And last, but not least, we recently read about a collaboration between Antler in Toronto and Big Rock Brewery to create a fully foraged brew — with aromatics like cedar thrown into the mix. Can’t wait to try it!

Keep in mind, these are all seasonal brews and are available in limited quantities. Visit a tap room or bottle shop near you for more.

For beer news and trends, check out the Ontario Craft Brewers!