Craft Beer Takes Root in Caledon

Local restaurants and beer lovers are embracing a fresh wave of Caledon craft breweries – with inventive recipes and meaningful branding behind their budding reputations.

June 13, 2018 | | Food

Erin pub owner Niccole Magill remembers the first time she tried a beer sample from upstart brewer Troy Baxter of Caledon’s Badlands Brewing Company late last year. It was smooth, hoppy and strong – so good she considered rousing her husband and business partner Mike from his sleep when she got home that night from her shift at the Busholme.

“It was so different, authentic and creative,” she recalls.

Sure, Niccole is a craft beer aficionado, always looking for fresh new additions to her formidable Ontario craft lineup. But while few of us would wake our spouses to discuss the tasting notes of an under-the-radar beer, her enthusiasm is emblematic of a growing thirst in Headwaters for local brews to crow about.

Gail Winters, summer intern Raina Milnes and staffer Ryan Brownrigg string the hops. Photo by James MacDonald.

Gail Winters, summer intern Raina Milnes and staffer Ryan Brownrigg string the hops. Photo by James MacDonald.

The number of craft makers in Ontario jumped from 100 to 260 between 2013 and 2017, while the market share of the big multinational brands has been waning. By the end of 2018, there will likely be four new local craft beer choices, some you might be able to buy from your neighbour: GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Co., Caledon Hills Brewing Company, Badlands Brewing Company and Sonnen Hill Brewing.

Most independent local restaurants stock at least one of the newbies on tap, in cans or in bottles as enthusiastic early adopters and ambassadors. Niccole and others can barely keep the small-batch Badlands in stock. The hen-topped GoodLot tap is a huge draw at the Busholme, too, and it’s the only beer used in the pub’s beer-battered fish.

For each burgeoning business the busy summer ahead goes beyond blending and fermenting grains, water, hops and yeast to create cold, carbonated patio quaffs. Some are still building new bricks-and-mortar spaces, and all are hustling to build their brands.

It may be a few seasons before Headwaters is a major beer-tasting hub – there are town permits, bank loans and first on-farm brews to come – but established agri-business peers, local government and cultural organizers are doing what they can to help keep up the momentum. On a steamy Saturday in late May, Caledon’s Spirit Tree Estate Cidery hosted their Get Spirited event, with Badlands, GoodLot and Caledon Hills rubbing shoulders with producers of other local tipples. The second Cheers Caledon event from the Town of Caledon, which focuses on cider and beer sampling, took place June 15. And GoodLot and Caledon Hills have signed on to the Alton Mill’s Wine& Food Festival on July 21.

Calum Hill and his new stainless steel Sonnen Hill brewhouse. Photo by James MacDonald.

Calum Hill and his new stainless steel Sonnen Hill brewhouse. Photo by James MacDonald.

Kevin Hayashi, Caledon’s co-ordinator of corporate partnerships and events, says activities like Cheers Caledon reflect the role of these producers as a “key economic development driver for us and many municipalities that have a strong rural base.”

He admits zoning and regulation issues are still a work in progress, but salutes the “strong-minded and persevering entrepreneurs” he’s worked with. “We’re fortunate to have these brewers in Caledon, not only because of their innovative approach to the industry, but also because they’re such nice, down-to-earth, genuine people,” he says.

Bags of hops at GoodLot. Photo courtesy of GoodLot.

Bags of hops at GoodLot. Photo courtesy of GoodLot.

Andrew Kohnen, the brewmaster at Hockley Valley Brewing Company in Orangeville, is another unabashed fan of the new guard, from the European styles of Caledon Hills to the more bitter, bold flavours of GoodLot and Badlands. “I love them all,” he says. “They’re bringing new creativity to beer making and pushing boundaries.”

Hockley was the only craft brewer in Headwaters from 2003 until 2016, the year Caledon Hills sold their first beer. Andrew’s view? The more the merrier. “In Europe, every small town used to have its own brewery,” he says. “You didn’t need to have it shipped. It was made fresh, just down the street.”

Local and provincial regulations have begun to shift too, helping boost the visibility of artisanal players. It’s now easier for a small brewer to secure shelf space at The Beer Store, the LCBO and grocery chains to charm new customers. Andrew says it works on him, to the detriment of his shopping goals.

“I go to the grocery store for a dozen eggs and I come out with a dozen new beers to try,” he says.

Read on to meet the four new craft brewers in Caledon:
Hops forward: GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Co.
The family affair: Caledon Hills Brewing Company
By their bootstraps: Badlands Brewing Company
The new player: Sonnen Hill Brewing

All About Craft Beer

WHAT’S YOUR STYLE?

Lagers are usually cleaner and lighter tasting than ale, fermented at cooler temperatures (lager is the German word for cold storage) and use different strains of yeast. Pilsners are part of the lager family and are even lighter.

Ales have enjoyed a boost with hops-obsessed craft brewing. They are fermented at warmer tempera­tures and are often more bitter and full-flavoured.

Sour beers are a result of bacteria used in fermentation and often contain wild yeast. As the name implies, they’ll make you pucker.

WATCH THE ABV

Craft beer can range widely in alcohol content, so check the label’s alcohol-by-volume (ABV) measure before you sip. Hoppy ales can reach above 9 per cent as opposed to a more conventional 5 per cent. If a beer is called “sessionable” or “drinkable,” it means the beer has a lower alcohol content. (Of course, always drink responsibly.)

WHAT’S IBU?

The International Bittering Units (IBU) scale is one way to measure how hoppy a beer is. GoodLot Farmstead Ale, for instance, is in the mid range, at 39, while some approach the 100 mark. (Budweiser lager’s is about 7.) Some brewers decline to share their IBU because the bitterness or hoppiness of their beer may be balanced by other, sweeter ingredients.

KEEP IT COLD

You’ll need to make fridge space. All craft beers mentioned in this article are made without preserva­tives and meant to be drunk fresh. If you stack them in the garage you may be disappointed.

THE BIG BOYS

In Canada, the two large multinationals – Anheuser-Busch InBev (Budweiser, Labatt, Beck’s, Alexander Keith’s and others) and Molson Coors Brewing Company (Molson, Coors Light, Rickard’s and others) – still account for about 60 per cent of the beer sold – although their market share is declining.

About the Author More by Tralee Pearce

Tralee Pearce is an associate editor of In The Hills Magazine.

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