Our Top 20 Ontario Beers of 2020

Tara Rafiq photo illustration

Sure, 2020 was punctuated by lockdowns and significant changes for the brewing industry in Ontario, but it hasn’t stopped our province’s brewers from releasing new and exciting beers. Plus, 2020 is not all bad. It has mercifully stopped arguments over whether children are allowed in tap rooms. No one is allowed in them.

I’ve asked Growler contributors Robin LeBlanc, Ren Navarro, Tristan Bragaglia-Murdock, Jordan Duff and editors, Crystal Luxmore and Tara Luxmore, to provide a shortlist of the Top 20 beers that they thought made a difference in 2020.

Amsterdam Brewery, Barrel Aged Double Tempest, Rye Barrel Variant

The basic model of Barrel Aged Double Tempest had a fantastic year, sweeping competitions across Canada and the world, so that alone would put it in our Top 20 Beers of 2020 list. While skepticism is warranted when you see brewers play around with things that are working, the rye barrel significantly changes the complexity of this imperial stout, taking it in a spicy, warming, fruity direction. (JSJ)


Avling Brewery, Fallow Year Ontario Lager

This urban brewery is proving you don’t have to be on the farm to brew like you are — their all-Ontario lager is a thing of beauty, and a thing of the land. A fluffy, crackery malt body with notes of citrus and herbs on the nose, it’s worth picking up anytime it’s in their bottleshop. (TL)


Beau’s All Natural Brewing, London Fog

Brewed with an organic cream of Earl Grey tea blend from Davids Tea, this beer features vanilla and lactose in order to provide sophisticated sweetness perfect for solitary consumption. (JD)


Counterpoint Brewing, Black Cello Stout

Why? Not only are they absolutely connected to the community and boosting BIPOC initiatives, they make darn tasty beer. (RN)


Dominion City, The Good Way, Menobideg Sumac IPA

No strangers to making great beers and backing fantastic causes, Dominion City’s collaboration IPA with Algonquin Anishinaabeg restaurant The Birch Bite features foraged ingredients including cattail root and sumac. Hazy and pine like resin notes play together while a hint of the sumac’s acidity shines through to keep this beer fresh and vibrant. As with many of their releases, a portion of the proceeds from each can sold goes to support a good cause: Menobideg is a social enterprise educating young Indigenous folk with outdoor science learning opportunities. (TBM)

Gateway City, Screamer New World Saison

The Belgian Saison suffers a lot of innovation in the New World, but in the right hands it’s a viable platform for customization and delight. Screamer slots lotus hops into the orchard fruit ester profile of the yeast strain and creates a bright, vibrant, refreshing experience. Drying, moreish, and yet aromatically fruity, worthy of a place in our Top 20 Beers list. (JSJ)

Godspeed Brewing, Sklepnik V Oceli

Call it a buzzer beater. Released the week before Christmas, Sklepnik V Oceli is perhaps the culmination of Luc LaFontaine’s experimentation with Czech ingredients and techniques. A nearly letter perfect recreation of cellar fresh Pilsner Urquell, with the bitterness goosed ever so slightly, this beer is an absolute must try and a real expression of the brewer’s admiration for tradition. (JSJ)

Great Lakes Brewing, HazeMama IPA

Looking through Untappd, it turns out Great Lakes released something like 50 beers in 2020. From a market penetration standpoint, HazeMama is the one that matters. A regularly available New England style IPA from Great Lakes is very welcome and just builds on the pedigree they’ve established with Lake Effect, Octopus Wants to Fight, and Canuck. (JSJ)


Left Field Brewery, Ice Cold Beer 100% Ontario Ale

Torontonians may have missed out on baseball season this year, but Ice Cold Beer, made with ingredients from Barn Owl Malt, VQH Farms, and Escarpment Labs, brought us right back to the Rogers Centre (- cough – SkyDome) imagining local icon Wayne “Ice! Cold! Beer!” McMahon yelling at the crowd. A little grassy with some mild bread and honey notes, and just hits the spot on a hot summer day. This beer sells well for a reason. (RLeB)


Matron Fine Beer, Nonesuch

Highlighting the wine country that surrounds them, the Matron team incorporates grape skins into this low-ABV farmhouse ale. Embracing the spirit of sustainability, the winemaking byproduct finds a new home in this clean saison. The grapes become the fulcrum; a subtle hopping and straightforward malt bill gives the grapes kins centre stage for colour, tannin and complexity. Working with different vintners and varietals means each batch is an exploration into a new element. (TBM)

Meuse Brewing, Rouge Cuvee

Technically a 2017 brew, this Flanders Red inspired ale has been sitting in barrels for years waiting for its opportunity to debut. It did so by taking Best in Show at the Ontario Brewing Awards. In speaking with Meuse’s Estelle Van Kleef, she has referenced a 20 year plan for the brewery. If this is what they’re capable of after three years, I’m looking forward to the additional 17. (JSJ)

New Belgium, Voodoo Ranger IPA

What’s that I hear you say in the comments? They’re American? They’re brewed in Etobicoke. The arrival of Voodoo Ranger in this market significantly raises the bar for acceptable quality in an IPA. It’s a game changer, at least in the sense that there’s probably going to be something you want to drink on tap at a Boston Pizza from now on. (JSJ)


People’s Pint, Settebello Italian Pilsner

In a year that saw many breweries attempt the Italian Pilsner style, People’s Pint’s version reigned supreme. The nose of apricot, laurel, and sweet flowers is bolstered by Eracela Pilsner Malt, making it a legitimate product of terroir. The fact that it is dedicated to the brewer’s family adds the suggestion that you’re experiencing something special. (JSJ)

Reverence Barrel Works, Slrrp! Blue!

It’s blue! It’s wiggly! It leans vaguely in the direction of copyright infringement! While Reverence Barrel Works came seemingly out of nowhere in the spring of 2020, they’ve earned a reputation for playfulness and quality. Slrrp! might not be what they’re remembered for in the long term, but it makes a statement and that statement is: “shut up and take my money!” (JSJ)

Sawdust City Brewing Co., Viva La Stout Chocolate Raspberry Cookie Stout

You like Viva Puffs? This is a beer that tastes like a high end Viva Puff with dark chocolate, fresh raspberries, and delicious notes of rich biscuit and creamy marshmallow. It’s tasty. Need I say more? (RLeB)


Sonnen Hill, Lager Beer

Overrepresented but underappreciated, Sonnen Hill tackles a well-known, but typically underwhelming style with both ease and confidence. Despite it’s crisp and clean nature, they introduce an element of complexity and depth from the base ingredients that makes for an infinitely crushable and still exciting pint. (TBM)

Spearhead Brewing, Akwa

In a year where most of us drank waaay too much at some point (because pandemic), we were delighted to find more and more breweries making sparkling water. I was pregnant from January through September, so I’ve tasted a ton of flavoured sparklers this year, and Akwa is by far and wide the best. It’s got a beautiful floral nose, and a clean bitter-free taste. A lot of hopped water tastes like non-alcoholic beer rather than clean water. But not Akwa my friends, it’s clean and refreshing flavour, like a Bubly water, without the acrid bitterness from the hops. It’s a beautiful beverage, and available year-round. (CL)

Third Moon Brewing, Blood Dimmed Tide Double IPA

You could substitute any Third Moon IPA in this slot given the amount of hype the Milton, Ontario brewery has generated this year; they all sell out at approximately the same rate. That said, Blood Dimmed Tide is not merely a hazebomb. The bright Orangina style citrus character is balanced by bitterness and while it leans sweet overall, it’s exactly representative of an important segment of the craft beer market. (JSJ)

Wellington Brewery X Lacuna Collective, Nothing Civil IPA

In a year that saw unrest and highlighted inequity across the world, Nothing Civil was emblematic of Craft Beer’s potential to do good. With 100 per cent of the profits going to BLM Canada, the collaboration between Lexi Pham, Ren Navarro, and Truth Is … had the additional benefit of being delicious while expressing vision. It’s the total package. (JSJ)

Willibald, After Party DIPA

Kings of big, hazy IPAs, Willibald is tough to get your hands on if you aren’t near Ayr. Often selling out, their beers are worth the drive. Tropical juice and pine resin come together with just the right amount of intensity. After Party lets you know that it’s 8 per cent, but it is also inviting enough to want you to stick around for a little while. (TBM)

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