A History and Guide to Canadian Beers

Bartender pouring beer into beer glass

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Canadian beers are an excellent introduction to the "culture" of Canada. Canadians like their beer and consume it more than any other alcoholic beverage. Many Canadian and international brands of beer are widely available at beer stores, restaurants and bars right across the country. In addition to the bigger beer brands (which are rarely "Canadian"), you can order authentic locally brewed beers nationwide due to the prevalence of microbreweries.

A Brief History

The two biggest players in the Canada beer market have traditionally been Labatt's and Molson, and although both companies still brew beer in Canada, neither is fully Canadian owned. Since 1995, Labatt's has been foreign-owned and Molson has merged to become Molson-Coors. Sleeman - a Guelph-based brewery that became extremely popular in the 1980s and 90s - was bought by Japan's Sapporo Brewery thereby making foreign-based companies responsible for the bulk of Canada's beer production. Today, the largest Canadian-owned beer company is Moosehead, which hails from New Brunswick and offers a number of ales and lagers. On the other side of the country, Kokanee is a popular beer brewed in BC.


Microbreweries are prevalent across Canada, especially in British Columbia and Ontario. These breweries sometimes referred to as "craft" breweries, brew smaller batches of beer for local distribution. Microbreweries have come to represent an alternative, more experimental approach to brewing that does not pander to mass tastes. Beer lovers, when in Canada, should ask the waitress, bartender or beer store clerk for microbrew recommendations.

Some of the most popular microbrews include Steamwhistle and Amsterdam in Toronto, Wellington Brewery in Guelph, McAuslan Brewery in Montreal, and Vancouver Island Brewery in Vancouver.

American vs Canadian Beer

Canadians like to crow about the stuff they do better than Americans. After all, in Canada, we are for the most part overshadowed by and possibly insecure about our neighbors to the south. One area in which Canada excels is beer production. The consensus among Canadians is that their beer is more full-flavored and less "watery" than U.S. beer.

Part of Canada's sense of beer superiority has to do with the belief that Canadian beer has a higher alcohol content than American beer. In fact, American and Canadian beers are comparable in alcohol content; however, the way the alcohol is measured in the two countries is different resulting in American beer labels listing a lower number. Both American and Canadian beer have alcohol by volume percentages between 4% and 6% (for every 100 ml of beer, between 4 ml and 6 ml is alcohol).

Where to Buy Beer

Alcohol can be purchased at wine and beer stores, which are regulated and operated by each province or territory. In all cases except Quebec, alcohol sales are done through specially designated stores (eg. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) or The Beer Store in Ontario). Quebec, Canada's most European and more liberal province, allows the sale of beer and wine at convenience stores and supermarkets.

As of 2016, Ontario was beginning to allow the sale of beer and wine in a limited number of supermarkets, but overall, the Canadian attitude to the sale of alcoholic beverages is backward.

Drinking Age

Be sure to know the drinking age in Canada, which is 18 or 19, depending on the province.

Taking Beer Home With You

You may well be so enamored of some of Canada's fine microbrews that you want to bring some home with you. Great idea and maybe throw some Canadian wine in there as well. Just be sure to check your allowance for bringing back alcoholic beverages into your home country.