London's craft beer scene is 'exploding'

Beer afficionados in London have a lot to look forward to, starting with this Friday's Forest City Beerfest and the opening of two new breweries within the next year.

With 4 new breweries open since 2012 and another 2 on the way, craft beer has never been so popular

Justin Belanger (pictured) along with co-owner Michael Naish is looking to open Storm Stayed, the city's newest craft brewery, this November. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"Storm Stayed" is a term used mostly on the stormy East Coast to describe being snowed in or stranded by bad weather, but for London's brewing scene, things couldn't look sunnier. 

Storm Stayed also happens to be the name of London's newest craft brewery and somewhat ironic given the lack of storm clouds on the local industry's horizon.  Something that's not lost on Justin Belanger. 

"I think that people want to experiment. I think people like to have local and local has really grown in Ontario," Belanger said standing against the gutted backdrop of the old Coves restaurant on Wharncliffe Road South, a space he and co-owner Michael Naish hope to transform into a neighbourhood brewery and rotating tap room over the next three months. 

Justin Belanger describes why he and his business partner Michael Naish picked the name Storm Stayed for the name of London's newest brewery , set to be open in November. 0:46

"It's a big boom," he said. "People like to support local and I think that's why the boom is happening." 

Londoners are blessed

At least 110 communities now have at least one craft brewery provincewide and according to the Ontario Craft Brewer's Association there are at least 180 craft breweries in Ontario as of February of this year with another 50 in the planning stages. 

Once Storm Stayed opens in November, it will be the fifth brewery to open its doors in the city within the last five years and one of ten craft breweries open within an hour's drive of the city. 

Crystal Luxmore is a beer writer and certified Cicerone, a sort of beer sommelier. She thinks Londoners are blessed by the sheer variety of breweries within an hour of the city. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

"Londoners are blessed to have so much variety in that city," said Crystal Luxmore a Toronto-based beer writer and certified cicerone, the beer's world version of a sommelier. "It's exploding. There are so many new breweries that are coming on this year and last year." 

"I think what I like about the scene there is that there is a mix of breweries in the city and also just outside in the outskirts in smaller farming communities, like Cowbell brewery in Blyth," she said. 

Craft breweries near London:

  • Railway City Brewing Co, St Thomas
  • Upper Thames Brewing Company, Woodstock
  • Cowbell Brewing, Blyth
  • Half Hours on Earth Brewery, Seaforth
  • Stone House Brewing, Varna

Craft breweries in London:

  • Forked River Brewing Company
  • London Brewing Co-op
  • Toboggan Brewing Co.
  • Anderson Craft Ales

Craft breweries set to open soon in London:

  • Storm Stayed Brewing Company
  • Milos Beer Lab

Explosive growth

"I think that always makes beer tourism to a city really attractive, when you can go to a few breweries in the city. Even a big brewery like Labatt is fun to tour, but then also drive out to the country and have a great brew pub experience."

Growth has been so explosive, Aaron Brown, who runs the Forest City Beer Fest can remember when there was no local representation. 

Aaron Brown, the event director at Forest City Beerfest can remember a time when there were no local craft breweries represented and that was only five years ago. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"Zero," he said. "In the beginning the scene in London was a lot more focused on going to the bar and to go in and try stuff from the bartender from all across the province."

The festival is now in its sixth year and features four city breweries, and three others within the London region.

"The other big thing is the knowledge of the patron," he said. "The level of knowledge out there in the public is massively higher in the last five years. They're feeling very confident about what styles they like. That's been a huge change."

Aaron Brown, the event director of Forest City Beerfest explains why a festival celebrating local beer is giving London's oldest brewery the cold shoulder. 1:29

Forest City Beerfest takes place Friday Aug. 11th and Saturday Aug 12th at the Covent Garden Market. It is family friendly and admission is free. 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: