What is craft beer?

An 8-pack carrier with an assortment of tall cans on a white surface.

If you shop at The Beer Store, you’ve likely seen the term “craft beer.” Find out what craft beer is, where to buy it (spoiler alert: at our stores) and more

What exactly is craft beer? Much like asking some pals “What’s your favourite movie?” or beer lovers “What’s your favourite brew?”, defining craft beer really depends on who you ask.

In Canada, there’s no legal definition of “craft beer.” Think of craft beer as a marketing term — or even a sign — that lets the drinker know the ideology or general approach of the brewery.

That said, there are a few tenets associated with craft beer.

  • Independent. The craft brewery is owned by a person, a group of people or a small organization with a passion for beer.
  • Local. The craft brewery, first and foremost, caters to its neighbourhood. It’s as much a local institution as it is a brewery crafting beer for the wider public.
  • Size. The craft brewery is generally small in size. The beer they make is mostly distributed in its hometown and throughout Ontario, but doesn’t sell beyond those borders in a great quantity.

A brief history of craft beer

Many say American beer writer Vince Cottone was the first to use the term “craft beer” in his 1986 book Good Beer Guide: Breweries and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest. He defined it as a small brewery that used traditional brewery methods and ingredients.

In Canada, the term “cottage brewery” was often the go-to in the 1980s to describe this type of brewery. The first wave of these small cottage breweries began popping up in earnest during this period, with 42 opening by the end of the decade. The 1990s and early 2000s saw a boom in craft breweries — more than 160 in operation — experimenting with various styles of IPAs, stouts and anything else that moved them.

The craft beer scene has continued to expand over the last two decades, with approximately 400 breweries and brew pubs in operation across Ontario.

Craft brewery versus microbrewery: Are they the same thing?

It’s common for the term “microbrewery” to come up when talking about craft beer. At times, the two are used interchangeably. But, are they the same thing?

Yes and no.

If we’re talking about size, then the terms can be interchangeable. While there’s no legal definition of a craft brewery, they’re generally considered to be small or “micro.” In this scenario, a craft brewery and a microbrewery can be considered the same. Also, there are the overarching ethos and spirit that many affiliate with a craft brewery, which can also apply to a brewery that you might call “micro.”

If we’re talking about the volume the brewery produces, then, no, the terms are not interchangeable. In Ontario, a microbrewery is a brewery that produces no more than 4.9 million litres of beer per year, as this affects their tax rate. The term “craft brewery” does not have the same volume requirements or tax implications attached to it.

What style of beer do craft brewers make?

All styles are fair game.

There’s a perception that craft breweries only make “wild and outrageous” styles, and there’s some truth to that. Experimentation is part of a craft brewer’s DNA and includes such styles as milk stouts, unique sours, seasonally inspired brews and barrel-aged beers. They’re not your run-of-the-mill styles and are often saved for special occasions or certain seasons.

But, craft breweries also major in beer styles that are familiar to most. These include different kinds of lagers and ales, and stouts and porters.

How to drink craft beer

You’re at home, craft beer in hand. Now, it’s time to simply enjoy it as you would any other beer.

If, however, you’re sampling a new-to-you style (whether it’s craft or not), consider expanding your exploration to the glassware you’re using. There’s a recommended glassware for each style of beer, so all the flavours and aromas shine just as the brewer intended. And go one step further by ensuring your beer is served at the recommended temperature.

Where can I buy craft beer?

At The Beer Store, of course! You can find more than 1,000 brands of beer at The Beer Store, including a dedicated section for Ontario craft beer.

When in-store, ask a Beer Store employee to help point out which craft beers they carry at your location.

While The Beer Store’s catalogue is vast, we want to ensure we have your preferred brands in stock. Let your favourite craft breweries know you’d like them to list in a location near you, as The Beer Store is an open-market system and is a key distributor for all breweries in Ontario. We love discovering new beers, too.

I want to try craft beer, but don’t want to commit to a full case

The Beer Store offers incredible flexibility when you’re trying a brand for the first time, so you don’t have to commit to a full case. Most craft beer brands are available in single cans, which is perfect for your first purchase. Fill up a carrier with a few different types and styles. And once you find the brands that are right for your palate, you can go for a larger pack.

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