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.


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