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Toronto-based Harmon’s Craft Brewery's organic “non-alc” beers have been designed to taste so good that even regular “alc” beer drinkers will guzzle them.
Launched in late 2021, Harmon's is the brewchild of a trio of good pals and ale fiends––all Sagittarians to boot––who really know their hops. Steve Abrams is co-founder of Mill Street Brewery where Rob Doyle––currently a brewing professor at Niagara College Canada––was Head Brewer. Doyle was later co-owner of High Road Brewing Company where he spent years refining his technical prowess in all aspects of brewing. Adding essential business acumen to the triumvirate is Mike “Numbers” Cuch, an expert in consumer packaging goods.
The idea to create a non-alc beer originated with Abrams. Having witnessed far too many of his colleagues in the brewing industry develop gout or liver disease in their 20s, in 2019 Abrams decided to take the plunge and give up alcohol.
As he confessed to Some Good Clean Fun, a site devoted to mindful drinking and an alcohol-free lifestyle, “My sobriety lasted nine months … I love beer, so completely giving it up was difficult at times. There were all those trigger moments: walking past a patio, sitting on a dock, seeing live music.”
During his early days of abstinence, a trip to California (specifically its liquor stores) provided Abrams with an epiphany: there was such a thing as non-alcoholic beer that actually tasted delicious. Fired up by this revelation, he returned to Toronto where he reached out to Doyle and Cuch with the idea of creating their own non-alc beer -- and brewery.
The onset of the Covid pandemic, in March 2020, afforded the entrepreneurs plenty of downtime to experiment with recipes and techniques. In between online meetings, they got together in their improvised “boardroom”, a socially-distanced Etobicoke Toys-R-Us parking lot, to taste test vat loads of (admittedly awful) beer that Doyle brewed up at home.
In a recent post on the Harmonium Blog, Doyle recalls: “I’ve been brewing craft beer for most of my professional life, and it’s more than just a job. So, when I accepted this challenge, there was never any question that I would approach it the same way I’ve set about making every beer I’ve created: no shortcuts. We were going to brew our beer the same way other Canadian craft brewers approach their beer: hard work, integrity and creativity.”
The challenge was to make a beer from quality, organic, locally-sourced ingredients, while adhering to traditional yet sustainable brewing methods. The trickiest part was producing a fully fermented beer without generating alcohol, one whose taste could compete with the best of Ontarian alcoholic options already on the market.
A year-and-a-half (and many vats) later, Harmon’s launched an inaugural trio of beers that checked all the boxes. Lunchbox Lagered Ale pays homage to lager’s German origins, pairing subtle fruity notes with a crisp, hoppy character. Jack Pine Pale Ale channels the Pacific Northwest with bracing flavours of citrus and pine. Then there’s Half-Day Non-Alc Hazy IPA, a dry-hopped New England-style IPA with a bright lemony undertone.
Currently brewing out of the Blackburn Brewhouse in Niagara Falls, Abrams, Doyle, and Cuch have plans to extend their line of offerings in the future. For the time being, however, the focus is on making non-alc beer that, in the words of Abrams, is less “weird” than it is “approachable.”
Their ultimate goal is that anybody with a serious beer craving will pick up a pack of Harmon’s regardless of its 0.5 percent alcohol content. As Mike Cuch recently confessed, “We know who our audience is – beer lovers. Whether it’s one night or the rest of your life, whatever your reason for choosing a beer that doesn’t have alcohol, kudos to you.”
Harmon’s is currently available across Canada via the brewery’s online store (a 6-pack is $16.50 with free shipping for orders over $45) as well as in select grocery stores across the GTA, among them the Big Carrot and the Summerhill Market, in Toronto.