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Beer Up North: It’s a good time to be a beer drinker in Northern Ontario

In this first Beer Up North column, Jason McLellan professes his love for all things beer and has an imaginary conversation with you the reader.
Beer Up North by Jason McLellan

Yes, it is a good time to be a beer drinker in Northern Ontario. I know what you are thinking. "Isn’t any time a good time to drink beer up here?"

Of course — provided it’s after 11 a.m. and you enjoy responsibly. 

What I’m getting at though is more of the epochal context, kind of in the broader timeline of Northern Ontario’s history.

You are probably thinking: "Ahh, gotcha! The rise of craft beer after decades of oppression by big evil breweries who streamlined everything into bland tasting lager through mergers and acquisitions, with a focus on nothing more than the bottom line. The injustice!"

Well, yes and no. 

My point of view is a little more conservative than that. We live in a time in Northern Ontario where we have the best of both worlds, where we can enjoy a Molson product . . .

Woah, woah, woah!  I am not a philistine and I assure you, nobody’s paying me anything to write this. 

I’m just a guy who likes beer and Northern Ontario, in all it’s progressiveness and backwardness. 

I, just as much as anybody, appreciate the craft beer movement that has taken the world by storm; but I also know my roots and I can’t help but get a little teary-eyed thinking about my first Moosehead. 

When I was in university in Thunder Bay, I remember someone at a party suggesting a road trip they aptly coined The Northern Tour, where we’d load up and tour the taverns along Highway 11, from Beardmore to Iroquois Falls.  The Northern Tour never transpired to my knowledge, but I can hardly think of anything that would’ve been more fun in my early '20s than clinking bottles of Blue and 50 with buddies in the bars of towns built on logging, mining and farming – the stories would have been unforgettable.

Fast forward to today, where we can still appreciate drinking domestic draught in the bars of historic hotels like the Royalton in Thunder Bay (although opportunities like this are fast disappearing), while also partaking in the myriad new styles of beer being brought forward by our region’s craft brewers. 

In towns across Northern Ontario, new breweries are popping up, injecting a healthy strain of beer culture into downtown cores – Sault Ste. Marie alone now has three successful craft breweries.

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t consider what’s available through the LCBO. Their stores are being revitalized and have thankfully become more than just glorified wine shops. With their new online ordering system, the faithful reader in Foleyet can now freely order a wide selection of different beers to their local LCBO on Young St., or right to their front door for a reasonable shipping fee. 

We even have the ubiquitous Beer Store, a mainstay for domestic and import lagers, begrudgingly beginning to admit that the times, they are a-changin’.

The way I see it, Northern Ontario’s beer culture is currently balanced on a thin edge between the past and the future. 

As craft beer culture continues to shine globally, it tends to cast a pall on the mainstream styles and brands that have been the backbone of this region’s beer culture arguably since the early 1900s. 

But, there’s no need to be a beer snob – with an open mind, we can enjoy the best of both worlds in this very special neck of the woods.

Stay tuned for a further discussion of the Beer Up North, next week. 

Jason McLellan is a self-professed beer geek.  He wants the world to know he's damn proud of his Northern Ontario roots, even though he couldn't catch a fish if one jumped in the boat. His columns run Wednesday at 12:00 P.M.


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