Friday 24 April 2015

Book ~ "Ontario Beer: A Heady History of Brewing from the Great Lakes to Hudson Bay" (2014) Alan McLeod and Jordan St. John

From Goodreads ~ Ontario boasts a potent mix of brewing traditions. Where Europeans explored, battled and settled, beer was not far behind, bringing the simple magic of brewing to Ontario in the 1670s. Early Hudson's Bay Company traders brewed in Canada's Arctic as Loyalist refugees brought the craft north in the 1780s. Early 1900s temperance activists drove the industry largely underground but couldn't dry up the quest to quench Ontarians' thirst. The heavy regulation that then replaced prohibition centralized surviving breweries. 

Today, independent breweries are booming and writing their own chapters in the Ontario beer story. Beer historians and writers Alan McLeod and Jordan St. John have tapped the cask of Ontario brewing to bring the complete story to light, from foam to dregs. 

I like beer and I like reading books about the history of Toronto and Ontario ... and this book combines the two.

The book covers seven time periods:
  1. Exploration and Empires:  1600s - 1775
  2. Brewing and the Two Loyalist Wars:  1775 - 1815
  3. Upper Canada Becomes Canada West and Expands:  1815 - 1860
  4. Victorian Expansion and Industrial Brewing:  1860 - 1900
  5. Temperance, Prohibition and Regulation:  1900 - 1927
  6. Control, Consolidation and the Rise of National Brewing:  1927 - 1980
  7. The Brewery Next Door:  1984 - 2014

Each chapter provides a high level overview about what was going on in the different eras.  It was interesting to read about the changes in beer production (flavours and styles) over the years and how tastes have changed but have remained the same.  I found the last chapter especially interesting as it talked about what is happening today.

Here are some interesting bits of information ...

After prohibition in the late 1920s, public drinking places reopened.  Concessions had to be made to prevent the harassment of the modern women who wished "to seek out new entertainments outside of the home" and separate beverage rooms for women were created.  Female servers were subjected to official inquiries about whether they were sources of immorality (male servers weren't).  The beer-drinking women who chose to stay at home when drinking faced public disapproval when purchasing alcohol and risked being subject to commentary in the press.  Imagine!

Until 1955, Ontarians had to sign for their beer purchases when buying at the Beer Stores (then the Brewers Retail stores).  You could buy up to 10 cases a day and no ID was required.  In 1955, a resident in Brantford was visited by the police after the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) reported on a review of his recent liquor purchase history.  When the police checked it out, they discovered it was for a family gathering.

In 1867, Ontario had about 150 breweries.  That number was greatly reduced over the years due to prohibition and breweries consolidating leaving a handful of major players.  Happily the little guys are back and the craft brewing industry in Ontario is thriving ... Gord and I have a couple craft brewers within walking distance of home.

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