A Wonderland of craft beer

Behemoth Blonde and Leviathan Lager are the two showcase beers at Canada’s Wonderland this summer. Photo: David Ort

I’m not a rollercoaster guy. Or, at least, that’s what I thought before this year. In 2018, I’ve been to Canada’s Wonderland twice already and have taken big strides towards loving the stomach-turning drops. Luckily, I had a bit of good beer to help.

Over the past couple years, it’s become a lot easier to have a great time as an adult at Canada’s Wonderland. How’s that? Well, in large part, it’s because they’ve really upped their craft beer game. The real turning point came in June 2017 when just about the entire park was licensed.

The BBQ & Brews event is the best example of this in action. For one weekend, at the end of June, Wonderland invited a bunch of Ontario craft breweries and cideries to set up booths and sell their wares to be paired with bbq-themed food stations.

Two types of bbq-flavoured flatbread. Photo: David Ort.

Of the event, Brian Kerr, their food and beverage director says: “Since the inaugural event, we’ve received enormous support from our Ontario craft breweries and cideries.” He goes on to note that they “hand-select [their] participating vendors based on what each has going on in their beer and cider portfolios.”

I was invited to check out the festivities this year. The beer selection fit comfortably into the “gateway craft” category I have in mind head — Great Lakes brought Canuck instead of Octopus Wants to Fight, and so forth — but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Photo: David Ort

And the good news continues throughout the season. Craft beer is getting to be ubiquitous at the park. To lend a helping hand to parents, no doubt, Muskoka Brewery has established their Muskoka Craft Burger & Beer Bar within easy reach of the Kids’ Zone. It’s well-designed and, no surprise given the brewery, serves top-notch beers like Mad Tom and Craft Lager.

“The demand for craft beer has increased dramatically over the last five years,” Kerr says, “and we’re excited to continue supporting our Ontario craft brewers. In doing so, we’ve increased the number of our bar locations in 2018 to 10.”

Another cottage-country favourite at the BBQ & Brews event. Photo: David Ort.

Also in 2018, they joined forces Great Lakes to collaboratively brew two special beers — Leviathan Lager and Behemoth Blonde. The former is crisp with an especially clean finish and eminently refreshing without sacrificing anything in the character department. Behemoth (you got that they are named after the park’s two headline roller coasters, right?) is hop-forward but still relatively dry and thirst-quenching; what others might describe as a “session IPA.”

“Many of us in the Food & Beverage division at Canada’s Wonderland,” Kerr says, “are passionate about locally crafted beers and ciders. We began our Leviathan and Behemoth program three years ago and have since begun to create and brew our own recipes at Great Lake Brewery.  It’s great to have the ability to be in the brewhouse and take a hands-on approach to brewing, what we think, are two incredible beers. This is the first year we’ve offered the two beers in cans and we expect both to be amongst our top sellers.”

It’s worth noting that, even though this is how the rest of North America operates, this is a big step for Ontario. As I wrote about in my article about Massey Hall, big venues in the province tend to have their beer selection owned by MolsonCoors or AB InBev.

Canada’s Wonderland is the most popular seasonal (i.e., not located somewhere like Florida, Texas or California, so closed for the winter) theme park in North America. The fact that they had one of the best breweries in Canada design two very good one-offs for the season is definitely worth a genuine round of applause.

So far this year, I’ve clocked in over 50 rides spread over more than a dozen coasters. If I can make that sort of turnaround, and Canada’s Wonderland can devote their beer programme to good craft options, surely old dogs can learn new tricks. Hopefully, we see other large venues follow suit soon.

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