In 2013, a brewery I have long admired for its great potential seemed to finally find its mojo, something it only took it about fourteen or so years to do. West Toronto’s Black Oak Brewing has made some tentative moves forward through its years of existence – moving from the suburban then-craft beer wasteland of Oakville into Toronto, celebrating its 10th anniversary with the brewing of a terrific ale, getting its seasonal releases out on time – but last year was when things really started to come together for the company.
I say, thank goodness!
I’ve spoken of Black Oak as a brewery with almost limitless potential for years now. The brewery’s Nut Brown Ale is a terrific beer, better now than any time previous, and its Pale Ale is a solid refresher and also a bit of a gateway craft beer, while seasonals from the Christmas Nutcracker spiced porter to the Summer Saison – not really a saison at all, but a light, spiced wheat ale – have always been solid, and the anniversary 10 Bitter Years was a bit of a landmark brew when it appeared as Ontario’s first truly, unapologetically hoppy and strong and still well-balanced ale. But something was always missing.
That something seems to have finally appeared in 2013, with a major rebranding effort, a tightening up of all the beers and a renewed emphasis on the necessity of sales and marketing, the last of which being something with which Black Oak always seemed to struggle. Basically, Black Oak is back, defiantly and resolutely so. And if you question this as anything more than strictly a cosmetic change, I invite you to grab a bottle of the brewery’s Nut Brown Ale, always a solid two-and-a-half star beer (in Pocket Beer Guide terms), now a borderline-better-than-three star.
For its great step forward, and its wise use of space in hosting a select number of beer commissioners, I salute Black Oak Brewing as my Ontario Brewery of the Year for 2013.