By Ben Johnson
For a long time—almost 170 years, in fact—if you were drinking a “local beer” in London it probably meant you were drinking beer made by the city’s very large and very well-known local brewery, Labatt. These days of course, Labatt is owned by AB-InBev, a Belgian-Brazilian company that just happens to be the largest beer company in the world. As Labatt continues to grow and its parent company continues to seek new ways to expand their reach, it is becoming increasingly difficult to feel the same sense of hometown pride one previously felt whilst cracking open a bottle of Blue. Thankfully though, Ontario’s craft beer scene is growing as well. Small breweries are popping up across the province and some estimates even put the number of craft brewers in Ontario at around 200. Even London’s craft beer scene is starting to catch up, although Labatt’s presence has evidently slowed its progress. Consumers who seek out well-made beer crafted by locally owned companies have more options than ever before! Additionally, these passionate local breweries are coming to market fully prepared to meet the demand, which only continues to grow! As a result, London is slowly but surely beginning to embrace locally made craft beer. Here are some local organizations and businesses that are leading the charge.
Milos Craft Beer Emporium
Located at the corner of Talbot and Carling, Milos is London’s premier destination for Ontario craft beer. With 23 beers on tap and two cask offerings, Pub Milos features a selection of beer you simply can’t find elsewhere in London. This unparalleled selection is thanks largely to the owner and proprietor, Milos Kral. Having worked in London’s bar scene for a number of years, Kral long championed craft beer and now, thanks to his willingness to visit Ontario’s craft brewers himself, he is bringing great local beer to the Forest City and opening people’s eyes to the merits of drinking local.
Forked River Brewing Co.
Run by three award-winning home brewers, all of whom are Western graduates now raising families in London, Forked River Brewing Co. is the first new brewery to open in London in about 15 years. Offering a rotating selection of small batch beers in addition to two flagship beers, Riptide Rye Pale Ale and Capital Blonde, some of Forked River’s beer is available in the LCBO and at a few Beer Stores, and, increasingly, on tap at local restaurants and bars. Forked River is leading the charge in helping Londoners discover the joy of visiting a small brewery, meeting the people making your beer, and buying it directly from the brewery as fresh as possible.
The London Homebrewers Guild
Meeting on the last Tuesday of every month at Forked River Brewery, the London Homebrewers Guild has 100 members that all pay dues and meet to discuss all things brewing. Organizer Jon Rush says, “We volunteer at events, host our own, and support the local brewers and pubs by spending our beer money there.” They’ve also organized bus trips, brewing demos, rare beer exchanges, and a homebrew competition. While many of the members are simply hobbyists who prefer to make their own beer than to buy it, it’s easy to see how the group, connecting new and experienced home brewers to learn more, might be fostering the future founders of London’s next craft brewery.
Toboggan Brewing Co.
Perhaps the most telltale sign of London’s changing market, Toboggan is a new business venture in the former home of the infamous student hang out, Jim Bob’s. Noting a tide change in consumer habits, owner and long-time downtown London pillar Mike Smith this year converted the cheap-beers and dance-music mainstay into a working craft brewery. “Ten or fifteen years ago the selection of beers in bars was very limited,” Smith says. “Most people thought having a Heineken was exotic. Today the selection is growing by leaps and bounds.” As result, he’s invested heavily in the growing interest in craft beer, offering up a growing selection of beers made on-premise alongside a lengthy list of guest taps.
The London Brewing Cooperative
With an emphasis on community in everything they do from how ingredients are sourced to where products are sold, The London Brewing Co-op is a nano-brewery and workers co-operative that shares space with the Root Cellar Organic Café in London’s Old East Village. Aaron Lawrence, President and Director of the Co-op credits London’s increased interest in craft beer as part of a trend toward more informed consumerism. “People want more interesting beers that come with a story,” he says. “It’s part of the same movement that sees more people shopping at farmer’s markets and buying artisan bread.” The London Brewing Cooperative currently offers their beer to patrons of the Root Cellar and holds occasional pop-up shops to sell bottles of their products.
An example of how great it can be when your local goes local, Morissey House is a cozy pub that recently opted to only support local craft breweries. “When we opened,” says owner Mark Serre, “Our chef and I decided that we wanted to use ingredients as local as possible, and that eventually carried over to the beer.” Thankfully, as Mark explains it, the approach paid off. “It turned out our core clientele was very into that idea. A lot of downtown tech people, a huge amount of the arts community, and the people in Woodfield and surrounding area are involved in London and appreciated the local approach.” Morrissey House has 18 beers on tap that are almost entirely Ontario craft beer..
Evidently, as the market grows, consumer awareness will also increase and as a result London will see even more businesses embracing craft beer. Until then, for lovers of small independent businesses, it’s worthwhile to seek out these London organizations that are already raising a toast to local beer.