Thursday, September 24, 2015

Road Trip, Part 2

Highway 6, on the Bruce Peninsula, is a straight stretch for kilometres on end. The only obstacles to passing slower traffic on the single-lane stretches are the oncoming cars and the blind spots in the rises and falls off the gently rolling landscape. It's less than an hour from Wiarton to Tobermory, driving through cattle farmland and both provincial and national parks.

The entire population of the residents of the Northern Bruce is only slightly more than the number of students and faculty at my kids' school. Driving along this stretch of road, you have a sense of isolation.

Highway 6 ends in Tobermory and yet, it doesn't really end. The road stops at a ramp: you can either drive into Georgian Bay or onto a ferry to South Baymouth, on Manitoulin Island, and then onward, all the way up to Espanola, in Norther Ontario. But Tobermory is where my family and I stopped, and it's where I discovered a new brewery.

At only a year old, Tobermory Brewing Company is situated with a commanding view of the tour boats that come and go from Little Tub Harbour, across the street from the trailhead of the Bruce Trail. The brewery has a cozy bar room in the front of the converted house, with tables at the back that provide a view of the fermentation tanks. But on a warm, sunny day, you'll want to take your brew out to the veranda, which wraps around to the west side of the brewery.

My wife and I sat right out front, where we watched the tourists wander Bay Street and the boats come and go. We also chatted with two other couples, who had a cottage nearby and were visiting the brew pub for the first time.

Tobermory Brewing has two ales, both of which are polar opposites: a blonde and a porter. My wife ordered the former; I, the latter. We exchanged sips and shared our opinions.

The Bruce Trail Blonde is clean and refreshing, and goes down well. It was a well-balanced, traditional blonde. And while blonde ales aren't my thing, I appreciated it for what it was and would recommend it.

Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5

I loved the Fathom Five Porter. Rich, solid malt flavours in this medium-bodied dark ale. And though this ale is darker by appearance, its 4.2% ABV made it a lighter brew than the blonde, which weighs in at 5%. If we had the day to kill, I would have stayed on the veranda and consumed this porter all day. If it had been available in cans or returnable bottles, I would have stocked up. And thought it's available in growlers, I wasn't willing to drive the eight hours to bring the empty back.

I should have stopped at the brewery on my first day and taken a growler then, rather than my last day on the Bruce Peninsula. My loss.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5

Driving south of Owen Sound, Highway 6 joins with Hwy. 10, before the two split at Chatsworth. Before they do, you come to Regional Road 8. At this intersection, you will find a non-descript, warehouse-like building that houses another Ontario craft brewery, Kilannan.

I discovered this brewery in Tobermory, when my family and I dined at the Ancient Cedars Café, where I had the best smoked-meat sandwich in my life. The beef was locally raised, the meat was smoked only hours before it was served, and it was cut thick and piled high. My family and I dined twice at this establishment and I can't recommend the place enough. The owners are friendly and show that they care. I'm sad that we live so far, but if we needed another reason to return to the area, the Ancient Cedars is one.

The café offered two ales from Kilannan: a kölsch and an altbier. While the kölsch was nice (Beer O'Clock rating: 2), I preferred the altbier (Beer O'Clock rating: 3), which had nice malt flavours. The brewery also makes a delicious oatmeal stout, The Men Who Stare At Oats (Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5), which I enjoyed on the rooftop patio at The Crowsnest Pub, also in Tobermory (served in a Tobermory Brewing glass), but when I stopped in at Kilannan Brewery, they were sold out.

I picked up more of the altbier directly from Kilannan, so you can expect a full review in the weeks to come. The same goes for a bourbon-barrel-aged Imperial stout, but look to winter for that review.

Travelling further south, along the 6, toward the town of Guelph, you can take a little jog, west, from the even smaller town of Fergus (or is it a village?), you come upon the pretty town (or village) of Elora, and one of Ontario's newest breweries.

The Elora Brewing Company, situated in the heart of Elora and just north of the shops that back onto the Grand River, opened as a brew pub that offers good food that you can wash down with great beer. I visited the brewery just before the dinner rush, when the hostess was forced to turn guests away because every table was full, and tried a sample of four ales.

Three Fields Triple Grain Lager has a fancy name but it's a basic lager. Clear straw in colour and clean tasting, it's what you'd expect from a lager (Beer O'Clock rating: 2.5).

Straw Hat Matt is a flavourful  Hefeweizen, perfect for late-summer patios. I bought more and will give it a full review in the weeks to come (Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5).

A La Mode is an apple flavoured ale that tastes like liquid apple pie. I was initially nervous about drinking this beer, because of my allergy to apples and apple juice, but I took the risk and it paid off. I liked this beer better than I thought I would, and again, I'll pay full respects to it in an upcoming review (Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5).

The Ladyfriend IPA seems to be their flagship ale and was my overall favourite. It's a big-flavoured IPA with good hops in the mouth but not overpoweringly bitter. I would have loved to bring some home for a proper review, but came away with a growler that I polished off, later that evening, with friends in Guelph. It didn't last very long (Beer O'Clock rating: 4).

I had planned to visit a couple of the breweries in Guelph, but my prime reason for being in that agricultural and university town was to spend quality time with my old friends, and that's what my family and I did. All that means is I'm going to have to return to that town again, on my next beer road trip.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Road Trip, Part 1

I love hitting the road and discovering the many craft breweries that Ontario has to offer. To date, there are some 200 microbreweries in the province, with no slowing in sight.

Obviously, I can't get to all of them at once, but little by little, I'm paying my respects to more and more of them.

On my recent vacation, I hopped in my car and drove to the Bruce Peninsula, in Southern Ontario. If you don't know where that is but have a basic concept of what Ontario looks like, Southern Ontario looks a bit like an arrow head, with its directional point towards southwest: the Bruce Peninsula is that northern point in the arrow head, and it's the narrow strip of land that separates Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.

From Ottawa, depending on your route, it can take approximately seven-and-a-half hours to reach the Northern Bruce, which is just north of Wiarton. I chose my route carefully, making sure that I passed a few craft breweries along the way. My intention was to stop for lunch in the Muskoka Lake district and visit three breweries: Muskoka Brewery, Lake of Bays Brewing Company, and Sawdust City Brewing Company. As time had it, I never got the chance to stop at Lake of Bays.

My first stop was to Muskoka Brewery, in Bracebridge. Not far from the intersection of highways 118 and 11, the brewery was only a couple of minutes off of my route. These criss-crossing thoroughfares join up south of the town, so the drive to the brewery gives you the impression that you're out in the back woods. Sort of. You definitely feel as though you're in cottage country, which suits the brew company well, with its iconic Muskoka chair as its logo.

Muskoka Brewery is one of my favourite Ontario ale producers. I love the hoppiness of Mad Tom, and last year, I almost exclusively drank their Detour session ale. I was looking for something special to try at the brewery and anticipated something on tap at their tasting bar.

On that note, I was sadly disappointed. Four ales were on tap: Mad Tom, Detour, their cream ale (or possibly, the Craft Lager—I didn't pay close attention), and their Summerweiss. All four (or five, since I don't remember with of the two beers the fourth tap offered), I have had before, and I like all of them, but I wanted to try something I had never had before, something I could take with me that I wouldn't normally find in my local LCBO.

Happily, while there was nothing new for me to taste, their refrigerator held two beers that were new to me: Moonlight Kettle Just Peachy, a peach kölsch, and Winter Jack, a barrel-aged, double-chocolate stout. I grabbed a bunch of both, and within about 10 to 15 minutes after pulling into the parking lot, I was on my way.

Because I'm not drinking in September, you can expect a review of the kölsch in October. The Winter Jack is laying down until Christmas.

On my drive, when Hwy. 118 cut through Carnarvon, I should have turned onto the 35, heading north, towards Dorset. From there, I would have turned onto the 117, which would have taken me to Lake of Bays, my other intended stop. Because I didn't know how long it would take me to backtrack, and because I like to keep moving forward, I decided to save that brewery for another trip. My next destination was Gravenhurst and Sawdust City.

This newish brewery is located in the heart of Gravenhurst and was only a couple of blocks off my route. Located in what looks like it could have once been a small department store, Sawdust City boasted a large retail area with a wall of refrigeration cases and a sitting area that could host dozens of visitors. Large windows showcased the fermentation tanks, and a small stage offers live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Now that's a Muskoka chair!
I pulled into their parking lot just after noon, just in time for lunch. I learned that you can order food from a truck that is parked in the lot, so I ordered a Korean beef bulgogi sandwich. The owner of the food truck takes your money and delivers the food to your table inside the brewery. I ponied up to the bar and tried a four-glass sampler, selecting four ales that I hadn't yet tried from Sawdust City: Gateway Kölsch, Golden Beach Pale Ale, Skinny Dipping Stout, and The Princess Wears Girlpants, a lovely Belgian blonde.

The kölsch was light in body and in flavour, and while it was a good beer to sip on a hot day, it wasn't my favourite of the bunch. I really liked the pale ale and the stout, but by far, my favourite was the Belgian blonde. My greatest disappointment, however, was when I learned that the brewery was sold out of cans, and the only way to enjoy it for this season would be to drink it from the keg at the brewery.

Next year, Sawdust City, I want to write a full review of this ale, so keep some aside for me, okay?

I left the brewery with a full stomach (the food from the truck was amazing!), some lovely beer flavours in my mouth, and cans of the pale ale, stout, and a third, untried selection—a saison called 7 Weeks of Staying Up All Night (with a name like that, how could I resist?).

Back on the road, I continued my road trip, without stopping, until I came to a rest at the mouth of Lion's Head Harbour, overlooking the curving coastline of Georgian Bay, where the high, sheer cliffs mark the beginning of the Niagara Escarpment, waiting to meet up with my family, who had been camping on the peninsula for the past three days before my arrival.

Together, we visited a few more breweries over the next week, and in my next Beer O'Clock post, I'll continue the road trip and share some thoughts on the beer I sampled.


Thursday, September 10, 2015


I hear it a lot from people who don't know me that well, who follow me, periodically, on Twitter, who see a photo of a glass or bottle, almost daily, on Facebook.

"You drink a lot," they say.

For the record, I don't drink a lot: I drink often, and there's a big difference.

Those daily Untappd posts? That is the one beer I drank. Sometimes, I might have two; rarely, three, unless I'm drinking a sampler, four to six four-ounce glasses. I rarely, if ever, have drained every one of those glasses. Almost every time I order a sampler, there will be at least one glass that has only had one or two sips; other glasses will be left half-full.

I don't drink a lot: I drink often.

I can stop anytime I want. I know, a lot of people with drinking problems say that, and I don't wish to make light of those who really do struggle with alcoholism and are courageous in their fight to break free from the temptation to put the bottle to lips.

Because I am fortunate to not have an addiction, I can say, with confidence, that I can stop drinking when I want to. And, for the remainder of this month, and into the beginning of October, I'm going to do just that. I shall not drink any beer, any wine, any whisky, any alcoholic beverage, between September 8 and October 2.

And the reason why I'm on hiatus from my cherished bevvies is not what you think: I'm back on my bike, training for a 100-kilometre ride from Ottawa to Vankleek Hill, for Beau's Oktoberfest, on Saturday, October 3. Because I haven't ridden my bike very much since the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, from Perth to Kingston, in June, I have gained some extra flab around the waist.

It doesn't take a lot of beer and little exercise to do that.

When I ride my bike, it doesn't take long to lose the spare tire, but because I don't have a lot of time to train, I don't want to fight the fat with beer. And so, until I get to Vankleek Hill, I'm not putting unnecessary calories into my body.

I'm going to try to watch what I eat, but I have a greater weakness for food than I do for alcohol.

While I was on vacation, I travelled to several Ontario craft breweries and I tried many local ales from the Bruce Peninsula, Muskoka region, and Guelph, and I made some notes for reviews. So, while I may not be drinking through September, my Beer O'Clock reviews will continue each Thursday.

I'm on a hiatus: my beer blog isn't.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Tank 7

Over this summer, I've noticed that of the beer I've consumed, very little of it has come from outside Ontario, and even less has come from outside of Canada.

That's not surprising, considering that I buy the majority of my beer at the LCBO, and I go to the craft-beer section, where local beer features prominently. And if I see a new beer from a local brewery that I like, or from a local brewery with which I'm unfamiliar, I tend to pick that bottle, can, or six-pack up (my local LCBO recently started stocking 12-packs of select beer, but nothing new, and the only one that interests me is the sampler from Muskoka Brewery).

Every once and a while, though, I do cruise the aisle just behind from where the local craft beers are stocked, where the imported beer is kept. And recently, my eye caught a four-pack that was simple in design, with a simple name that stood out in big, red type.

And as I've been enjoying saisons and farmhouse ales more and more, I was sold on trying this one.
Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (8.5% ABV)
Smokeshack Series
Boulevard Brewing Company
Kansas City, Missouri
Appearance: an unfiltered, deep gold to amber-orange, with a creamy, pale-beige head that provides a thick cap.

Nose: yeast and dough, like unbaked bread; citrus and earthy herbs.

Palate: yeast, hops, flinty minerals, and alcohol. The finish is clean, though the alcohol lingers, but not overpoweringly so.

Overall impression: I drank the first bottle of this ale without checking the ABV level. When I did check it, as I poured my second bottle, I was surprised by the high level. I did expect a higher-than-normal level, but somewhere in the range of six to seven percent. The alcohol is apparent in the taste, but it doesn't dominate the other flavours. But, because the ABV is high enough, this is an ale that you will want to enjoy when you're not planning on going anywhere.

So sit back and enjoy Tank 7. Enjoy the full flavours and the nice finish. I would drink this farmhouse ale anytime.

And I'll also check that aisle in the LCBO more often.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5