It’s that time of year again – the post holiday keener period when the weather generally sucks so everyone decides to take a stab or two at being productive before spending the spring, summer and fall indulging in their own laziness.
<P>Some people diet, some people go sober, some people swear up and down that they’re going to hit the gym tomorrow, and many others decide to actually try hard at work instead of just surfing the off-topic forum all day.
<P>One group of people that actually has no choice but to be productive at this time of year are high school seniors. There are tough decisions to be made, and I’m not talking about which new ringtone to put on their cell phone. This is the time when seniors have to start seriously thinking about which university they wish to attend. From experience, I can say that choosing a school based on academic reputation may make your parents feel good, but it doesn’t guarantee the important things in life – like a supply of good beer. And besides, unless you went to Harvard nobody cares what school you went to anyway.
<P>Now I don’t know much about US schools, European schools, Australian or whatever, but for the benefit of high school kids in Canada, or for American kids looking to save a few bucks and drink two years earlier, I present my Beer Drinker’s Guide to Canadian Universities.
<P>First, a note about the scale I used to attain the scores I present. The first feature was the brewpub scene. This mark is comprised of quantity, quality, and proximity. No point in having great brewpubs if the average student can’t get to them, now is there? The second component was the micro scene. Again, quantity and quality were factors, as was availability. I wasn’t factoring in the availability based on the crappiest, most-ubiquitous brewers like Big Rock or Okanagan Spring, but more on the mid-to-high level micros. This also included out-of-town micros, which weren’t included in the quantity part of the score. Lastly, the import scene was considered. Quality, selection and availability were the criteria used here. A final note, while some would allocate additional benefit to Alberta and Quebec for having a lower drinking age, I decided not to. As long you can get someone to buy you a six-pack of St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout or Trois-Pistoles (and you can do this just about anywhere) you’re set for that extra year.
<P>In the west, the strongest contenders unsurprisingly came from southwestern British Columbia. The University of Victoria scored well for its brewpub scene, which includes the lovely Spinnakers, but comes up short on both brewpub proximity to campus and the import & micro scenes. Those are stronger than most places out west, but pale compared to those in Vancouver.
<P>UBC scored higher than SFU in ranking the Vancouver schools. This is in part because while both are kind of isolated from the brewpub scene, UBC has better transit connections to the brewpub core downtown, and the availability of micros is better on the west side than in the suburbs where SFU is. The fourth BC option, University of Northern British Columbia, is in a beer wasteland. Technically, you can order stuff from Vancouver through the liquor store, but that’s just a technicality. And any time you go out you’ll be drinking crap.
<P>The prairie provinces are rather dismal when it comes to beer. It’s a bit of a sawoff between Calgary and Edmonton. The University of Calgary scores for having more brewpubs, but the University of Alberta (Edmonton) has the province’s best micro, Alley Kat. In the end, Calgary gets the nod because it has better beer stores, giving it a higher import score. The University of Lethbridge doesn’t fare so well, a branch of the Brewsters chain being the only saving grace.
<P>In Saskatchewan, the University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon) both have fairly easy access to several brewpubs, being that they are located in small cities, but Regina’s brewpubs have a better reputation, led by Bushwakker (although the brewmaster primarily responsible for that reputation now brews in Singapore). Saskatchewan as a province has no micros, and the import scene is almost non-existent, so Regina takes it.
<P>In Manitoba, the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg) goes head-to-head with the University of Brandon. Neither city has brewpubs anymore to my knowledge, leaving Winnipeg’s better access to micros and imports (they get Rodenbach Grand Cru, if you can believe it) as the deciding factor.
<P>Ontario has a lot of universities, and the scores vary widely. Most places have around the same score for imports, as they come via our wonderful government-run LCBO operation. The exceptions being University of Toronto, Ryerson University and Trent University for their proximity to beer bars that carry North American exclusives.
<P>Micro-wise, the availability scores are highest in downtown Toronto but go down as you get further away. Ryerson gets a slight edge here for being within spitting distance of BeerBistro and C'est What, while the UofT counters that on the import side being within spitting distance of Smokeless Joe. One tricky one was McMaster, in Hamilton. The Winking Judge is worth some points in and of itself, but overall Hamilton blows for micros so I wasn’t sure precisely how to weigh that.
<P>Overall, schools in northern and western Ontario fared rather poorly, while southern and eastern Ontario schools did much better, thanks to a higher micro presence in many areas, brewpubs for Queen’s University (Kingston) & Brock University (St. Catherine’s) and the Ottawa both having a good selection of imports and fairly convenient access to Quebec. The only reason the University of Windsor didn’t make the nation's worst list was because folks there have easy to access to a place called Michigan, aka home of Bell’s (and Stoney Creek Brewing, which technically you could walk, bike or swim to from Windsor, given the inclination). The University of Western Ontario (London) was saved by having a brewpub, albeit a shitty one according to those who’ve been there, right on campus.
<P>In Quebec, the Montreal schools (McGill, Concordia, UQAM) were the highest-scoring in the country. Beerwise, there are six brewpubs, including some very highly-rated ones, tons of local micros, again including some highly-rated ones. The availability of imports, while not on the same level as Toronto, is pretty good too.
<P>Outside Montreal, UQTR in Trois-Rivieres is one of the schools that benefits greatly from having a brewpub across the street (Chez Gambrinus). The same goes for Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, where the Golden Lion is the top bar in town. This factor put both schools ahead of Université de Laval, located in Quebec City, which has better access to imports. All of these schools outside Montreal did pretty well nationwide on the microbreweries part of the scale, in no small part due to the wide availability of Unibroue and McAuslan products.
<P>In Atlantic Canada, the trend towards major urban centres continues. Halifax schools (Dalhousie, St. Mary’s) scored highest, as both have three brewpubs in easy walking distance and a pair of ubiquitous local micros. Nationwide, these schools rank ahead of anything on the prairies, or in northern or western Ontario. However, the lack of more than a dozen decent imports holds them out of the top ten. Still, Halifax and its universities aren’t so bad beerwise if you just want to do your master’s here. But four years of undergrad might be pushing it for the beer geek.
<P>Of the Atlantic schools in towns and small cities, Acadia in Wolfville, NS received the highest score, for having a brewpub (Paddy’s) across the street. The value to a thirsty student of ready access to a brewpub cannot be stressed enough. The Unversité de Moncton placed well, due to its having a pretty good local brewpub (though the school is French and the brewpub Anglo, beer is a universal language even if you have to go there by yourself). Other places that aren’t too bad as they have local brewpubs and micros are places like Fredericton (University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas), Saint John (UNBSJ), St. John’s (Memorial) or Charlottetown (UPEI) Any of those will give the student at least some access to quality beer.
<P>At the bottom end nationwide is the University College of Cape Breton. To call Cape Breton a beer wasteland is to be very generous. They’ve probably never heard of microbrewing up there, and probably never will. Small-town schools also figured greatly in the bottom of the survey. There is very limited access to good beer if you attend schools like the University of Brandon, Nipissing University, Lakehead University, University of PEI, St Francis-Xavier or my alma mater, Mount Allison University. You should, in most cases, be able to track down a few decent beers, since brews like St. Ambroise, Maudite, Pilsner Urquell, Hoegaarden or Schneider Weisse are available almost everywhere, but your beer hunting skills will be very much tested should you attend one of these schools.
<P>(Though I'll say this - you'll be a lucky shit to attend Mt. A now. My first year, I lived off of McEwan's and Blanche de Bruges. Second year was desolate...no more Blanche de Bruges and I was making trips to Amherst for Clancy's and Ten Penny just to not die...third start started awful but soon we got Beamish and that was enough until the end of first semester when arrived not only Maudite & Fin du Monde but also Picaroon's on draught down at Ducky's. Fourth year rocked the most. Partly because I could afford beer runs to Quebec more often but also because Picaroon's was so established many people started buying kegs, but also because Unibroue was shipping other stuff and I damn near forget that Moosehead existed).