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Ontario’s First Organic Craft Beer: Spotlight on Mill Street Brewery

By Nova Dexter

Mill Street Brewery’s story started in the winter of 2002, when they opened the doors to their red brick brewery in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District. Mill Street was one of the first tenants in the Distillery District in Toronto, and the first commercial brewery to open in the east side of Toronto in over 100 years. With an earth-friendly philosophy in mind, the Original Organic Lager was the first beer Mill Street ever made, and in fact the first organic beer ever brewed in Ontario!

At the time, it was difficult to acquire organic malt and hops grown in Canada, so they sourced organic hops from New Zealand and organic malt from the United States and Europe. At first, Mill Street was actually certified to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, as this was before the Canadian government introduced the Canadian Organic Standards (COS) in 2009 – and from the start, it was important to them to be recognized as certified organic, even if Canada didn’t yet have its standard, because being certified means a consumer can trust that their organic claim is legitimate. Mill Street has since been certified to the COS through the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), the world’s oldest and largest organic certification agency. Organic agriculture has also come a long way and continues to grow since then; in 2018, Mill Street made all of its core beers organic, providing consumers with great tasting beer while utilizing high quality, organic ingredients. Today, Mill Street now sources their organic malt from Canada, U.S., Germany, Belgium, and the UK, and their organic hops from the U.S., Germany, and New Zealand.

Mill Street brews using organic ingredients because it’s the right thing to do; the organic approach supports sustainable farms, communities, and the environment. The brewery follows the requirements of the COS and uses the principles of organic production to brew their beers. The organic brewing approach means that Mill Street does not use artificial additives, preservatives, or GMO’s, and that all their ingredients are at least 95% organic.

Grain is the foundational ingredient of beer, and organic grains have shown to support a healthier ecosystem because organic crop farming emphasizes soil health and fertility, and prohibits synthetic pesticides and other inputs that are harmful to the environment. Additionally, Mill Street contracts its organic hops and malt out several years in advance. In doing so, this guarantees farmers that Mill Street will buy a certain amount of their crop, providing the farmers with economic security. 

What goes into organic beer?

  • Water – there is no such thing as organic water, and water actually makes up over 90% of beer ingredients by weight
  • Organic malt
  • Organic hops
  • Yeast, from suppliers that have verified that the brewer’s yeast has had no contact with GMOs and was produced in a specific way as per the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) guidelines for organic production

What does certified organic production involve? 

  • Voluntarily opening the brewing facilities to an independent 3rd party inspector and being subjected to unannounced verification inspections at any time
  • Keeping detailed records of operating practices and processes, submitting them to an annual certification review audit
  • Organic farming and production practices are costlier and often more time consuming than conventional methods – organic malt and hops can be double the cost vs. conventional crops!
  • By using the Canada Organic logo, Mill Street submits to CFIA regulation under the Canada Organic Regime – this applies scrutiny and serious consequences for failure to comply with the standard

Mill Street works hard to ensure its beers are organic by taking the following actions: 

  • By producing organic beers only at a certified facility
  • Pre-approvals from an organic certifier for all new organic beers, labels, and packaging
  • Raw organic materials have valid organic certificates, arrive in a clean truck, and are stored separately from conventional raw materials
  • Processing equipment is “organic ready” prior to receiving organic raw materials, wort, or beer – this includes a cleaning program or purge depending on the type of equipment
  • Organic beers must be traceable from raw material to arriving to the final customer
  • Quarterly audits conducted internally, and annual audits conducted by an external certifier to ensure compliance with Canadian Organic Standards

Mill Street’s organic beers have the Canada Organic logo, which means that they contain at least 95% organic materials. This line-up of beers includes:

Original Organic Lager:

Mill Street’s first and best selling beer, brewed since 2002; Delicate floral-herbal aroma, light palate with malty flavor, balanced by a hint of hoppy bitterness.

100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager:

Brewed with organic prairie malt and Bravo and Cascade hops, 100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager is firmly grounded in North American brewing tradition. This flavourful amber beauty is a quintessential American-style craft lager.

Tankhouse Organic Pale Ale:

A deliciously complex and spicy organic ale. This brew uses an abundance of hops and five different malts to produce a rich, fiery, copper-red pale ale with big hop and malt flavours. 

Mill Street’s organic beers are available throughout Ontario at the LCBO and The Beer Store, and for direct delivery within the GTA and Ottawa.

Follow Mill Street Brewery on Instagram @millstreetbrew and Facebook.