Beer 101: Do Canadian Beer Styles Exist?

19 August 2016
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Category: Beer 101
19 August 2016, Comments: 0

Do Canadian Beer Styles Exist?

I am starting to see more often the use of “Canadian” to modify the style of a beer, as in Canadian Pale Ale, Canadian Ale or Canadian IPA. I realize this is mostly a marketing strategy, but it did recently get me thinking. Is there such a thing as a Canadian style of beer, something we can call our own?

Most styles are hundreds of years old. For example India Pale Ale originated in England, Pilsner in (what is now) Czech Republic and Witbier in Belgium. Those countries can legitimately claim to be the home of those styles, even if they are now brewed around the world. More recently we can trace the origin of newer styles to particular regions. Dark IPA, properly called a Cascadian Dark Ale, originated in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Similarly countries can alter a traditional style and make it their own. German Pils is a response to the original Czech version which is drier and sharper. American IPAs have become so far removed from their English sister as to be a different style entirely.

Can Canada make any such claim?

In the 1800s and early 1900s Canadian brewers likely developed Canadian interpretations. They were influenced primarily by German and British brewing traditions but had to work with local ingredients. The resulting beer likely had a distinct flavour profile which had more in common with other Canadian beer than the European parents.

Alas, prohibition and post-war corporate homogenization means all of those beer are now lost to history. There are some historical recipes around but it is almost impossible to know what the original beer

tasted like.

In a more contemporary context, Canada can only point to a solitary style we can legitimately claim as being born here. Alas, it is Ice Beer. The 1990s fad originated in Canada with a war between Molson and Labatt comment obtenir du viagra sans ordonnance and spread across North America. The popularity of Ice Beer, which was basically standard pale lager put through a process of ice distillation where frozen water was removed increasing alcohol content and flavour intensity, quickly died off a few years later. However, Ice Beer remains, inexplicably, available in North America, mostly as a high octane discount beer consumed for buzz rather than flavour.

Some people argue that Cream Ale might be considered a Canadian style. For a period

after prohibition it developed some popularity for its dry finish and light body. Yet Cream Ale was born in the U.S. and only adopted by Canadian brewers. As U.S. prohibition lasted longer than Canada’s, Cream Ale worked its way back into U.S. consciousness from the offerings of Canadian breweries. As a result many see the style as Canadian. But it isn’t.

In general, Canadian breweries offer interpretations of styles originated elsewhere and their tweaks are not likely distinct enough to warrant a regional designation. In particular Canada’s craft brewers are highly influenced by the U.S. or one of the other brewing nations. So, when someone calls a beer a Canadian Ale it really is just about marketing.

However, allow me to offer a broader interpretation that might permit some degree of Canadianization. If we look at the beer world, we often see regions develop a signature to an existing style. Take American IPAs for example. They are assertive, aggressively hopped and offer a citrusy, piney, new world hop flavour. Go to California you will find many American IPAs, but they tend to be drier and lighter in body and colour. The term West Coast IPA has emerged to describe the difference. Still very American, but a clear signature distinguishes it.

Can we see a similar Canadian signature? Maybe. Canadian brewers – and I fully acknowledge I am outrageously over-simplifying here – seem to tend more toward balance in their offerings than their American counterparts, in particular around Pale Ales and IPAs. Canadian versions bring out a bit more toasty, biscuit malt character to complement the hop bitterness. Yet they retain the IBUs of American versions, distinguishing them from British interpretations.

Is it enough of a difference to proclaim a Canadian Pale Ale or IPA? Likely not. But I do think there is a subtle effect at play. Canadian brewers are making beer for Canadians and so are trying to tailor their beer to our palates. That will naturally lead to gentle tweaks that result in a beer that tastes different than one made elsewhere. Partly this is a byproduct of Canada’s relatively less developed craft beer culture, but it is also reflective of the flavours Canadians are looking for. A major hurdle is that Canada’s beer scene is highly regionalized and each region displays wildly different tendencies, meaning it may be more accurate to identify regional Canadian styles (e.g., B.C. IPA).

There may not be a Canadian style, but I humbly suggest that Canada is slowly developing its own approach to craft beer. Maybe, over time, that will work its way into a full-fledged, bona fide Canadian style.


Jason Foster is an Alberta-based beer writer, educator and certified beer judge. He is the beer columnist for CBC Radio’s Radioactive, Edmonton’s Vue Weekly, Saskatoon’s Planet S Magazine and writes regularly for a variety of magazines. He is also the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to craft beer on the prairies and beyond.

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