This week’s Canada’s Craft Beer post comes from our Eastern Canada craft beer guy, David Ort, who looks at how macrobreweries have moved into the craft beer realm.
After I included a beer in last month's column that's made by a brewery owned by MolsonCoors, I got thinking that it's time I took a closer look at the subspecies of beer known as crafty beer. In broad strokes, the idea is that once the giant multinational brewing conglomerates realised that microbreweries were more than just three guys with beards and a garage full of brewing equipment they wanted a piece of the action. They've either started new operations and dressed them up in craft clothing or bought the most successful small breweries and slotted them into their marketing machine.
This month, I take a look at two beers that don't have much in common except that they're both made by breweries owned by larger macrobrewers. La Fin du Monde is one of the best-known products of Quebec's Unibroue, now owned by Sapporo, and HopBot IPA is brewed by Moosehead's Hop City brewery in Brampton.
Unibroue is a particularly strong example of a small brewery that's been left to make excellent beer that still pulls in international awards, top-of-class ratings and critical acclaim even after it was bought out by corporate overlords. (Sleeman in 2004 who, in turn, were taken over by Sapporo in 2006.) I can remember being able to find Fin du Monde in Ontario before '04, but the successive buyouts have helped them move into markets outside of central Canada.
By contrast, Hop City bears very little resemblance to what it looked like when it was bought in 2004. It was known then as the Niagara Falls Brewing Co. and its successful brands today have little in common with the beer it used to make.
Like crafty beer in general, Moosehead falls into a bit of a gray area. It's still independently owned by the Oland family, but has grown into a cross-border operation in its own right. Its annual production is about one-fifth of Sapporo's, but at least 10 to 20 times that of an average Canadian craft brewery.
Hop City HopBot IPA (Moosehead)
HopBot is standard IPA amber with a finger's worth of tan head. This one has a delicate aroma from which I can pull a bit of pine if I really dig my nose into the glass. A subtle malty flavour backs up the obvious notes of pineapple, tropical fruit and grassy herbal flavours from the hops. A better-than-average, entry-level IPA that hides its 7 points of alcohol nicely.
ABV 7.1% Available in ON
Unibroue La Fin du Monde (Sapporo)
From my early twenties I remember that Fin du Monde has to be poured with care because of the abundant, pillowy white foam that sits on top of the hazy, yellow-gold beer. The aroma combines the natural partners of ripe orchard fruit and warm spices. Rising, yeasty bread dough and a peppery spiciness add themselves to the already mentioned aromas on the flavour side. This is one of the most consistently excellent beers made in Canada.
ABV 9% Available in ON and QC
Both of these are very good beers and, even if you're offended by the corporate tie they have carefully rolled up in their inside pocket, chances are they might be the best option available at some point. Large breweries do a very consistent job of using their distribution network to add new on-tap locations for their craft-like offerings.
Check out our Summer Flavour Trend Report: Beer Beyond the Glass for all the unexpected ways beer will be popping up in your food this fall and winter with Dana McCauley!
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David Ort writes about food, travel, and craft beer for various online and print publications. His first book, The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook, is in bookstores and available for purchase online. For more of his thoughts on all things edible and potable follow him on Twitter or get in touch with him at [email protected]