Photo from New Belgium’s Evolution of Le Terroir

Toronto is 10-15 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to food and drink trends. This is a statement I often hear from people in the industry. A recent NOW magazine cover story declared that Toronto is a city of copycats when it comes to culinary trends. We’re too obsessed with what we’re missing out on to be truly innovative. This too is true when it comes to our beer. We’ve recently started making dry-hopped sours, though they’ve been available in the US for 14 years. Granted, this is due to the prolific nature of New Belgium’s experimentation, as the rest of the world caught on years later.

I’m going to give a name to this lapse of time between different countries coming out with similar styles. Though any beer scene game-changing trend will do, let’s call it the Dry-Hopped Sour Effect. For the definition of dry-hopped sour, we’re talking about sour and not just funky dry-hopped ales. The funky hoppy ales trend in the US started around 2009-10, but in order to be classified as a sour there needs to be some lactobacillus/ pediococcus/ souring bacteria action and not just brettanomyces yeast. They can be barrel or kettle soured (though kettle souring is a more recent thing).

These are, to my knowledge, the first widely produced dry-hopped sours in their regions:

  • US – New Belgium’s Le Terroir, 2003
  • Belgium – Cantillon’s Cuvée 1904 (now Cuvée Saint-Gilloise), 2004
  • Canada – Four Winds’ Nectarous, 2014
  • The rest of the world (US & Denmark mostly) – 2014-2015
  • … Toronto – Bellwoods Jelly King, 2016

Everyone’s obsessed with American beer trends. The truth is, it’s hard to innovate when our growth is stunted by the government; we’re not in an environment that encourages innovation. We’re distracted by what we can’t have. This is slowly changing.

A recent batch of Milkshark, a hazy sweet milkshake-style IPA – all the rage in the US and Sweden for a couple years now – saw the city go crazy. The beer sold out in no time, and is still being requested on the beer trade market. The truth is, it wasn’t very good – it finished too bitter for the style. The city still went crazy for a taste of the style they haven’t had access too, giving it high praise. Heck, I travelled four hours to Kitchener in a blizzard to try the last keg of Pulp on tap. It was awesome.

So what does it take to do something truly unique and not just copy trends? I think it has something to do with the startup mentality of nourishing a creative and supportive ecosystem. Since Ontario craft breweries have just started to experiment the way that American ones have been doing for years, it’s something we’re building.