Beer in Canada

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Major brewers like Molson produce popular brands of Canadian beer, such as Molson Dry.

Beer in Canada was introduced by European settlers in the seventeenth century, and a number of commercial brewers thrived until Prohibition in Canada. Though short-lived, very few brewers survived, and it was only in the late twentieth century that new breweries opened up. The Canadian Beer industry now plays an important role in Canadian identity, though globalization of the brewing industry has seen the major players in Canada acquired by or merged with foreign companies, notably its three largest beer producers, Labatt, Molson and Sleeman. The result is that Moosehead has become the largest fully Canadian-owned brewer.


Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Canada, in terms of both volume and dollar value.[1][2] In 2009 beer claimed 46% of the dollar value of alcoholic beverages sold in Canada. This compares to 29% for wine. Statistics Canada figures show that liquor sales in Canada amounted to $19.4 billion worth of alcoholic beverages, up 3.3 per cent from the year before. Beer sales totalled $8.8 billion, wine $5.7 billion and spirits $4.9 billion. 2.3 billion litres of beer were sold in 2009, a 0.9 per cent increase from the previous year. Per-capita beer sales have dropped 28 per cent from their peak of 115.2 litres in 1976 to 83.5 litres in 2009. By volume, imported beer has more than doubled its market share in the last decade. In 2009, imported beer had captured 13% of the beer market in Canada, up from six per cent in 1999.[2] The top selling style of beer in Canada, by far, is the pale lager.[3]


Beer was first introduced to Canada by European settlers in the seventeenth century, as Canada had an ideal climate for making beer before refrigeration was introduced. The first commercial brewery was built by Louis Prud'homme in Montreal (then Fort Ville-Marie) in 1650, followed by a larger brewery built by Jean Talon in Quebec City, in the year 1668.[4] Over a century later a number of commercial brewers thrived, including some that became the staple of the Canadian industry: John Molson founded a brewery in Montreal in 1786, Alexander Keith in Halifax in 1820, Thomas Carling in London in 1840, John Kinder Labatt in 1847, also in London, Susannah Oland in Halifax in 1867, and Eugene O'Keefe in Toronto in 1891. The very first patent to be issued by the Canadian government on July 6, 1842, was to one G. Riley for "an improved method of brewing ale, beer, porter, and other maltliquors."

Prohibition in Canada did not last as long as in the U.S. and was largely over by the mid-1920s (apart from Prince Edward Island, where it ran from 1901 to 1948), although the sale of beverage alcohol products remained heavily controlled by liquor boards and publicly owned stores in each of the provinces afterwards. Nevertheless, it had a similar effect of leaving very few brewers, and it was only in the late twentieth century that there has been a revival and microbreweries have started. Brewpubs are still illegal in some provinces, however.[citation needed]

The brewing had become extremely concentrated in Canada by the 1970s, being dominated by just three companies (Molson, Labatt, and Carling O'Keefe). The revival of craft brewing dates from the early 1980s, according to Ian Coutts, in his book Brew North: How Canadians Made Beer and Beer Made Canada as a result of disparate and random factors. The factors included an article in May/June 1978 issue of Harrowsmith magazine by a former O'Keefe employee decrying the state of the business, the creation of the Campaign for Real Ale in the United Kingdom, the revival of smaller brewers in the United States beginning with Anchor Brewing in 1965, the 1981 deregulation of beer prices in British Columbia by minister Peter Hyndman and the resulting price hikes by the incumbents. In June 1982, the Horseshoe Bay Brewery in West Vancouver opened, creating one of Canada's first microbreweries.[5]

Economics, largest companies, foreign ownership[edit]

Canada's largest brewing companies were traditionally Labatt's and Molson. Labatt's was purchased in 1995 by the Belgian company Interbrew (now part of Brazilian-Belgian Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewing company) and Molson merged with US company Coors in 2005 to create Molson Coors, now the world's fifth largest brewing company. With the purchase of Sleeman Breweries, the largest remaining Canadian brewer, in 2006 by the Japanese owned Sapporo Brewery, Canada’s beer production has been mainly under the control of foreign multinationals. By the end of 2006, nearly 90% of beer sales was of product brewed domestically under license from non-domestic corporations.[6] American beers brewed under license dominate much of the market, and as of 2008 Budweiser was the top selling brand with 13% of the market, followed by Coors Light with 12%. Molson Canadian and Labatt Blue, for decades the top-selling brands, now hold third and fourth place.[3] The market in Canada for domestic beer is dominated by Labatt, Molson and Sleeman, all foreign-owned companies. The largest Canadian-owned brewer, Moosehead Brewery, controls about 5.5% of the Canadian market.[7]


Government regulations require that all beer sold in Canada show the alcohol by volume on the label. A standard bottle of beer (12 imperial fl oz or 341 mL and five percent alcohol by volume) which makes 21.6 mL of alcohol (17.05 g). The percentage of alcohol is expressed in mass per volume (g/100 ml) so it means grams of alcohol per 100 ml of solution (fluid in the bottle). It means that a 78.9% alcohol liquid would be pure meaning only pure ethanol. In most nations, the labelled alcohol percentage is either the average or maximum percentage allowed. However, as of 1927, most Canadian provinces require the minimum alcohol percentage to be labelled rather than the average. This move was meant to eliminate inaccurate nonalcoholic labelling as well as fraudulent advertisement.[8]


In most of Canada the most popular types are macro pale lagers like Molson Canadian and Labatt Blue. In Quebec and the Maritimes, lager-like ales such as Molson Export and Alexander Keith's are also popular.

Craft beer is a small but steadily growing market segment in Canada, with many larger breweries buying smaller operators or introducing new bolder styles to keep up with consumer demand.[9]

Indigenous and semi-indigenous Canadian Styles[edit]

Ice beer[edit]

Ice beer originated in Canada, though it is essentially based on the German Eisbock style of beer. The first ice beer marketed in the United States was Molson Ice [10] which was introduced in April 1993, although the process was patented earlier by Labatt, instigating the so-called "Ice Beer Wars" of the 1990s.[11]

The process of icing beer is done by bringing the temperature of a batch of beer down to or just below the freezing point of water (32 °F or 0 °C), the greatest constituent of beer. Because water freezes at a higher temperature than alcohol, the water becomes frozen and the alcohol stays a liquid. Because of this, a layer of ice can be skimmed from the surface of beer (hence the name "ice" beer). This creates a concoction with a higher volume ratio of alcohol to water and therefore creating a beer with a higher alcohol content by volume.

Labatt patented a process where beer is pumped through a tank of ice crystals before filtration. The freezing of beer allowed the removal of protein-polyphenol compounds, creating a smoother, more colloidally stable beer, and avoiding long aging time.

Cream ale[edit]

Although cream ale was invented in the United States, its production has largely migrated north and undergone innovations by local brewers.[citation needed][12][dead link] Also known as Kentucky Common south of the border, this brew uses a top-fermenting ale yeast, which is then lagered, making it similar in preparation to the German kölsch and the inverse of the California common. Despite its name, the cream ale does not include lactose.[13]

Craft beer[edit]

Craft beer accounts for 6% of the Canadian beer market, but that share is much larger in some regions such as British Columbia where 20% of beer sold is craft beer.[9][14] The first modern Canadian craft brewer was Horseshoe Bay Brewing, founded in Vancouver in 1982. This was followed by Spinnakers Brewpub in Victoria (1984), Vancouver Island Brewery in Victoria (1984), Granville Island Brewing of Vancouver (1984), Brick Brewery of Waterloo (1984), Granite Brewery of Halifax (1985), Wellington Brewery of Guelph (1985), Big Rock Brewery of Calgary (1985), McAuslan Brewing of Montreal (1989) and Steam Whistle Brewing of Toronto (2000). Microbreweries and brewpubs have continued to expand since.[3]

One way the foreign-owned "macrobreweries" have dealt with the threat of this slow but steady growth of domestic brewers is by buying them outright. For example, Creemore Springs of Creemore, Ontario was bought by MolsonCoors in 2005, and Granville Island Brewing became part of the corporation in 2010.[3] Mill st of Toronto, Ontario was purchased by Labatt in late 2015 [15] after the acquisition closed Mill St purchased Brickworks Ciderhouse and brought it under the Labatt umbrella of companies as well.[16]


Jason Foster, a beer columnist for CBC Radio One's Radio Active and Vue Weekly and the creator of, argues that Canadian regional styles of craft brewing reflect the history and culture of those regions, often based on the origins of the people who settled there. He argues, for example, that Atlantic Canada is associated with the British styles and Quebec with Belgian styles due to their settlement history. Ontario has a more "mainstream", "conservative" style — with German and eastern American influences. British Columbia has an "eccentric" style, influenced by the U.S. West Coast, with a noted presence of fruit beers and organic beers drawing from that region's culture of environmentalism.

While taste is subjective, an overview of beer enthusiasts' favourite Canadian beers is a good way to get a sense of the most highly regarded breweries in the country. According to Beer Advocate, a ratings website frequented by beer enthusiasts, as of 2012 46 of Canada's top 100 beers were brewed in Quebec, 25 in British Columbia, 13 in Ontario, 6 in Alberta, 4 in Manitoba, 4 in Nova Scotia, and 2 in Yukon.[17]

Atlantic provinces[edit]

All four of the top 100 Beer Advocate Canadian beers brewed in Atlantic Canada are brewed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Three of these are made by Propeller, and one by Garrison.[17]


Main article: Quebec beer

46 of the top 100 beers in Canada are brewed in Quebec, according to Beer Advocate. The ratings are led by Dieu du Ciel of Montreal (with 17), and followed by Unibroue of Chambly (10), Microbrasserie Charlevoix of Baie-Saint-Paul (7), Les Trois Mousquetaires of Brossard (5), McAuslan Brewing of Montreal (3), and Le Trou Du Diable of Shawinigan, L'Amère à Boire of Montreal, Brasseurs Illimités of Saint-Eustache, and Hopfenstark of L'Assomption, with one each.[17]

The Mondial de la Bière was founded in 1994 in Montreal and attracts around 80,000 people,[18] while Quebec City held its first beer festival, the Festibière,[19] in 2010.


Of beers brewed in Canada, 13 of the 100 top-ranked beers are brewed in Ontario, according to user-submitted ratings on the website Beer Advocate. Black Oak of Etobicoke brews three of these, followed by Denison's of Toronto, Muskoka Cottage Brewery of Bracebridge, and Wellington of Guelph with two apiece. Flying Monkeys of Barrie,[20] Spearhead of Etobicoke, Creemore Springs of Creemore, and Great Lakes of Etobicoke (not to be confused with Great Lakes of Cleveland) brew one top beer apiece.[17]

About 80% of Ontario's consumer beer trade is handled by The Beer Store, a government-instituted, privately owned monopoly owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev (of Belgium), MolsonCoors (incorporated in the United States[21]), and Sapporo (of Japan).[3] This unique situation has enabled these companies to earn an estimated one billion dollars in profit per year.[22] The other 20% is handled by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), a Crown corporation.[3] Smaller brewers, which tend to focus on German and English styles,[3] are represented by the Ontario Craft Brewers trade association.[23]

The Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest is a nine-day event in Kitchener-Waterloo, which started in 1969 influenced by the original German Oktoberfest.[24] It is held every October, starting on the Friday before Canadian Thanksgiving and running until the Saturday after. Toronto's Festival of Beer was first held in 1995 at Fort York in Toronto, though has been held at Exhibition Place since 2009.[25] In 2011, the Toronto Festival of Beer also launched the Queer Beer Festival, a separate one-day event marketed toward Toronto's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.[26] There is also the Lauder Beer Festival, which is a much smaller festival held in the north end of Toronto. A beer festival also took place in Ottawa in 2003.[27] Beau's All Natural Brewing Company, located in Vankleek Hill, is the host company of Oktoberfest in the Ottawa area. The 2011 edition was a sellout, drawing an estimated 8,500-9,000 guests over the course of three days.[28] The Golden Tap Awards is an annual beer awards event held in Toronto. The awards are sponsored and presented by The Bar Towel, a website and forum dedicated to the discussion and promotion of Toronto's craft and microbrew beer scene.[29]

In 2010, the Ontario Craft Brewers started Ontario Craft Beer Week, a week-long craft beer celebration across the province.[30]

New microbreweries established in the 2010s have included All or Nothing Brewhouse[31] in Oshawa, Barnstormer Brewing Company in Barrie,[32] Bellwoods Brewery in Toronto,[33] Refined Fool Brewing Co. in Sarnia,[34] Stack Brewing in Sudbury,[35] OutSpoken Brewing in Sault Ste. Marie[36] and Sleeping Giant Brewing in Thunder Bay.[37]


Of the Beer Advocate Top 100 Canadian beers, four brews each are made by Half Pints of Winnipeg and Alley Kat of Edmonton,[38] and one by Wild Rose of Calgary.[17] Great Western Brewing Company and PaddockWood is based in Saskatoon.

Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada which has completely privatized the beer retail, import, and warehousing industries.[3] Alberta has also opened, as of 2013, Olds College Brewery, which hosts the Olds College Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management course, the second of its kind in Canada.[39] Alberta has been host to several microbreweries, including Big Rock founded 1985, Alley Kat and Wildrose both founded 1996, and a plethora (now over 20[40]) of brewpubs, microbreweries and smaller craft breweries opened since.

Calgary is home to a majority of the breweries in Alberta. It boasts large revenue-generating marketing powerhouses like Big Rock and Minhas Brewery, while also having several enthusiastic mid sized craft breweries like Tool Shed, Village Brewery, and exciting new smaller brewers like Last Best (A member of the Bear Hill Brewing Companies[41]) and Calgary's only nano-brewery: The Dandy Brewing Company.[42] The opening of the Olds College Brewmaster program means that a large number of domestically trained brewers will be added to Canada's brewing industry.

Beer styles commonly brewed in the Prairies include approachable and sessionable types/styles such as Lagers, Blondes, Pale Ales and Ambers, IPAs, malt forward beers including Porters and Stouts as well as many filtered and unfiltered, fruited or standard wheat beers.

British Columbia[edit]

The British Columbia craft beer industry has seen major growth since 2010 and is now home to more than 100 different craft breweries. Victoria and Vancouver are the two most dense areas in which breweries can be found with additional breweries opening every year.[43] In 2013 the BC Beer Awards recognized the top craft beer to be produced in the province and adorned top breweries such as Central City, Steamworks, Phillips, Townsite, Fernie, Lighthouse, High Mountain, Yaletown, Coal Harbour and Vancouver Island with Gold Medals for their beers in a broad range of categories.[44] The rapid growth of the BC Beer industry resembles that of Portland OR more than a decade ago and the rapid growth is helping to spur on local social-economies as well as grow the tourism opportunities around craft beer.

25 of the top 100 beers in Canada are brewed in British Columbia according to Beer Advocate. Driftwood of Victoria leads with 9, followed by Central City of Surrey and Phillips of Victoria with four each, Howe Sound of Squamish, and Crannóg Ales of Sorrento, Old Yale of Chilliwack, Russell of Surrey, Tree of Kelowna, Lighthouse of Victoria, and Spinnaker's Brewpub of Victoria, with one apiece.[17]

The Great Canadian Beer Festival has, since 1993 (with help from the Victoria chapter of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)), focused on cask ales from the Pacific Northwest. Since 2003 the festival has been held at Royal Athletic Park on the first weekend after Labour Day. The festival attracts over 40 craft breweries from across Canada and the Pacific North-western USA and more than 8000 visitors.[45][46]

In 2010, a group of craft beer enthusiasts started Vancouver Craft Beer Week, the first "beer week"-type festival in Canada,[47][48] a format that was begun in Philadelphia in 2008.[49] To promote the festival, organizers produced the 'I am a Canadian Craft Brewer' video,[50] a local take on 'I Am A Craft Brewer" produced by Stone Brewing CEO, Greg Koch.[51] On May 10 at the Alibi Room, Vancouver Mayor, Gregor Robertson, proclaimed Vancouver Craft Beer Week and launched the festival by tapping the first cask of VCBW Collaboration Ale. This special festival beer was a West Coast Abbey Ale crafted by Vern Lambourne, Brewmaster of Granville Island Brewing, and Iain Hill, Head Brewer for the Mark James Group and resident brewer at Yaletown Brewing Co.[52] Over the next six days, 25 venues hosted craft beer events showcasing 30 participating breweries to more than 2,500 attendees.[53]


Draft beer in Canada, when advertised as a "pint", is legally required to be 568 ml (20 fluid ounces).[54] With the allowed margin of error of 0.5 fluid ounces, a "pint" which is less than 554 ml of beer is an offence, though - to the detriment of consumers - this regulation is often violated and rarely enforced.[55]

Prior to 1961, Canadian beer was sold, and served, in two sizes, colloquially known as "quarts" and "pints", or "large" and "small". They were 22 and 12 imperial fluid ounces (625 and 341 mL), respectively, whereas a true imperial quart was 40 fluid ounces. Over the years, some provinces banned the sale of beer in the larger bottle. For example, in Ontario in the 1950s only the pint could be sold, but in Quebec both sizes were about equally common. In 1961, both sizes were replaced, nationwide, by the standardized bottle, equal in volume to the "small" and affectionately known as the "stubby".

Stubbies are a type of bottle which is shorter and with a slightly larger diameter than the now predominant longneck bottle. Starting in 1962 almost all beer in Canada was sold in stubbies until the beer companies chose to switch to the American-style longneck bottle, between 1982 and 1986. The last major label to be available in the stubby was Labatt's Crystal which switched to the longneck in the summer of 1986. Brick Brewery of Waterloo began selling Red Cap Ale in Stubby's as recently as the mid 2000s, although this may no longer be the case.

In media[edit]

See also[edit]


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  14. ^
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  19. ^ Festibière de Québec/
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External links[edit]