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Something’s brewing in Ontario’s wine country

Something’s brewing in Ontario’s wine country

BALL’S FALLS SESSION IPA, BENCH BREWING

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Ontario’s Niagara Region has long been known as our province’s wine making heartland, and for good reason. But lately, a small crop of talented brewers have been turning heads in the shadows of all those vineyards.

From Oast House to Silversmith to the brewers-in-training at Niagara College Teaching Brewery, the Niagara Region’s craft beer scene is producing some excellent brews, and giving us another reason to detour away from the wineries that have made the area so famous.

Enter Beamsville’s Bench Brewing, and their top shelf Ball’s Falls Session IPA. It stands heads above the increasingly crowded bunch of so-called session IPAs that have been rushed onto the market lately. Think about sticking your nose into a basket of peaches and citrus and then sipping a well-hopped, nicely balanced dry pale ale with a subtle hint of nectarine, pine and mango, and you’ll start to get there.

I was introduced to Bench by my brother-in-law in London, before their beer started appearing on Guelph shelves (it’s since been selling out at LCBOs around town). Unlike some watered-down-tasting session IPAs, this is full flavoured but still a drinkable 4.5 per cent ABV.

At $2.95 for a 473 ml can, it’s also a bargain for a high-quality craft beer. I’m looking forward to trying more stuff from these guys.

What the brewery says:

“Named after the historic waterfall located in the Twenty Valley, our Session IPA has a juicy hop aroma of peaches and citrus. It’s highly sessionable with a low bitterness, and finishes dry with a hint of cedar.”

Unleash the Jutsu

Unleash the Jutsu

BELLWOODS BREWING, JUTSU AMERICAN PALE ALE

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It’s no secret some of the best beers being brewed in Ontario right now aren’t ones you can find on LCBO or Beer Stores shelves.

Bellwoods Brewery’s Jutsu pale ale is a fine example. I had two 12-ounce glasses of it at Guelph’s Baker Street Station pub last week, and kinda fell in love. It’s a hazy, hoppy concoction the colour of pale orange juice, with an appealing aroma of tropical fruit and nectarine.

It tasted like it had just been brewed that day, and was exactly what you’d want in a dry, aromatic American-style pale ale. Bellwoods uses a unique Vermont yeast strain that gives it an especially juicy character, at a pleasantly sessionable 5.6 ABV. I promptly went home, and tried to find some more Jutsu I could put in my fridge. Only it’s not available on any local shelves.

The Beer Store and LCBO don’t carry it, or any other Bellwoods beers for that matter, since their listing requirements exceed the small brewery’s production capacity. A few local bars carry Bellwoods on tap and occasionally in bottles, including Baker Street and Woolwich Arrow in Guelph, Kitchener’s Arabella Park and Abe Erb, and Brux House and The Brain in Hamilton.

If you want take-home Bellwoods bottles, you need to go direct to the brewery. Which, I suppose, adds to its allure, but sucks if you’re a fan living outside the GTA.

Bellwoods, which started as a small brewery and pub in Toronto in 2012, brews such popular beers that their retail shop on Ossington Avenue became known for running out of stock. They’ve tried to fix the problem with expansion, and added a second shop on Hafis Road in North York, but in the rest of Ontario our only option is to hope our local bars are smart enough to put Bellwoods beer on tap.

But if we want to bring the Jutsu magic into our homes? We remain out of luck. That still requires a road trip into Toronto, and my taste buds are hoping that changes soon.

What the brewery says:

“Hazy with restrained bitterness, juicy yeast-derived aromatics, and a dry body. A refreshing and super drinkable hoppy beer with notes of cantaloupe, grass, and nectarine.”

I saw the light with Elora Borealis

I saw the light with Elora Borealis

ELORA BOREALIS, ELORA BREWING CO.

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I found Elora Borealis on a recent night out in downtown Guelph, just about the time I was losing all hope I’d be drowned in an endless sea of Alexander Keiths and Sleeman Original.

Nothing against those inoffensive beers, but when you’re craving a well-made North American-style pale ale, everything else kind of disappoints.

All the usual craft beer pubs were jammed, so we were stuck searching elsewhere. Our final stop on the night was NV, a bar I associate more with cocktails and than craft beer. But credit to their bar manager, who on had a keg of Elora Borealis on tap.

One of my friends immediately zeroed in on the Elora-made beer and suggested I try it. I’m so glad he did.

The first pint was a revelation. Bright pine and citrus greeted me, with hints of mango and something like canned peaches. It had an intense aroma of musky tropical fruit thanks to the exclusive use of Citra hops.

The beer, a bronze medal winner at the 2016 Canadian Brewing Awards, was a looker. A fine, frothy white head that lasted until the final sip, pouring with a hazy, golden hue. It weighs in at 5.1 ABV and is a dry 30 IBUs, just about right for a hoppy, but not too overpowering, North American-style pale ale.

The next week, I picked up a few bottles from the LCBO ($4.50 for 500ml), which only started stocking the Elora-made pale ale in October. It was every bit as good as I remembered. I enjoyed smelling it almost as much as drinking it. Almost.

When so many Ontario breweries are jumping on the pale ale bandwagon, it was refreshing to find one of the best in the province is made right here in Wellington County. This is an excellent beer.

What the brewery says:

“Elora Borealis is a lightly malted pale ale that is bittered, flavoured, and dry-hopped exclusively with Citra Hops. A bright, floral nose gives way to crisp, light malt flavours and finishes with several citrus notes.”

A cream ale a hundred years in the making

A cream ale a hundred years in the making

HERITAGE CREAM ALE, TOGETHER WE’RE BITTER

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Over a century ago, the Preston Hops Yard was one of the biggest hops farms in Canada. But few people have tasted beer connected to this former 70-acre plot in Cambridge for a very, very long time.

But thanks to a special collaboration between the Tavistock Hops Co. and Kitchener’s Together We’re Bitter Cooperative Brewing (TWB), we finally can.

TWB is selling a one-off batch of cream ale brewed with hops that were originally grown on the now-wild hops land. For that, we can thank Kyle Wynette, who grew up on Hamilton Street in Preston, just a few blocks from where the hop yards used to be.

When Wynette started his Tavistock hops farm a few years ago, he dug up some wild hops rootstalks on the banks of the Speed River, all that’s left of the old Preston site, and replanted them on his farm. Soon he had enough for a small crop, and found a local brewer willing to work with him.

TWB, run in a unique cooperative model, produced what they called a Heritage Cream Ale based on a traditional recipe that would have been brewed at the turn of the century. The result is a surprisingly tasty and smooth cream ale that craft beer fans and mainstream drinkers alike should appreciate.

You get a hint of fruit and floral in the first whiff, and a touch of malt sweetness that’s balanced out nicely by the local hops. It’s a quintessential Canadian-style cream ale. I can picture myself walking into a local pub a hundred years ago and drinking this.

The brewery only made about 750 litres of the one-off batch, so don’t expect it to last much longer. I sampled the beer at the brewery’s Mill Street tasting room, then bought a growler to take home. For now, that’s the only way you can taste this one-of-a-kind brew.

Warm up with this local Irish stout

Warm up with this local Irish stout

100 STEPS STOUT, ROYAL CITY BREWING

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If you’re like me, these first cold blasts of winter get you thinking about hibernating indoors, and stalking the fridge for darker, more roasted-tasting beers.

One of the better local stouts on offer out there is Royal City Brewing’s 100 Steps Stout, a year-round brew that’s especially appealing this time of year as the snow begins to fly.

Fans of inky, rich Imperial stouts might find this stout too tame, but for me, it’s the right balance of roasted coffee and dark chocolate without losing its sessionable drinkability. Coming in at 5.2 ABV and 20 IBUs, it’s a good find on a cold winter’s night.

100 Steps is a dry, traditional Irish stout modelled after Guinness’s iconic brew, but a lot fresher because it’s brewed in town. We picked up a growler direct from the brewery, and weren’t disappointed.

The beer pours with a frothy brown head, and has good malt body, and feels slightly creamy, without being too sweet or over-carbonated.

What the brewery says:

“This beer starts off with a dry roasted taste, akin to coffee or dark chocolate. It then follows with a hint of malt sweetness immediately after. This then yields to more dark chocolate notes and slight herbal finish from the hops.”