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.