August 22, 2014

Road Trip - Visiting Breweries with the Ottawa Beer Bloggers

Road trips are a summer staple. I love them. All the more when breweries are involved and more so when good friends are along for the ride.

Anyone who knows Wort and I in person knows we travel for beer. This whole blog started because we based vacations on number of breweries we could hit in a given area. Add a nice motorcycle drive and we are hooked.

For this particular trip however we left behind the two wheels for more seating. We, along with Matt Petitpas, Sasha Dunfield and Brian Papineau set out towards the Muskoka region with a list of eight stops and a full tank of gas.

Two days before we set off I was able to attend a special Tap to Table lunch with Muskoka Brewery's Gary McMullen. We sampled the Summer Weiss, Cream, Detour, Mad Tom and Twice as Mad Tom. Each beer was paired with a dish designed by the kitchen at Hintonburg Public House.

Spicy beer nuts and Detour are fantastic, blue cheese and Twice as Mad were great but the perfect dish had to go to Cream ale and the chicken poutine. Perfect comfort food.

 Poutine anyone?
 Spicy nuts and Detour

Beets and big hunk of blue cheese, Twice as Mad

Getting to talk to Gary about the brewery's history and the beers was the perfect way to prepare for a trip to the Muskoka region and surrounding areas. His passion for the beer fueled my own excitement for what was sure to be a memorable trip.

We let the breweries know we were coming weeks in advance. There may have been only five of us but if you have been anywhere with even two of the group you know we can be loud and boisterous.

Every place we notified welcomed us with open arms and offers of tours. Many even gave suggestions for other must stop places.  Our list quickly grew from eight to almost twelve. We knew we could not hit them all so we narrowed it down to ten.

Our first stop was Lake of Bays Brewing. Ian was waiting for us and poured us our samples, including the brewery only Lake Monster. As we toured the back we were tickled by the names on the tanks, things like Ethylred the Unsteady and Maltose Falcon.

 Hello Lake of Bays!

 Ian and Athos. Yes the other musketeers are there too.

So many smiling faces. We hadn't seen our hotel yet...

We had a timeline that I preset and I got so engrossed in talking to Darren Smith about beer related things that Ian had to come pull me away. I like to talk about beer, what can I say?

Not leaving empty handed, we headed towards Bracebridge for lunch at the Griffin GastroPub.  The wonderful thing about Griffin is they do a lot of collab beers with Muskoka and other regional breweries. We enjoyed wonderful food and beer we could only get there like Original Jordan IPA and Lemon Verbena Saison.

Stomachs full we made our way to Muskoka Brewery.

Blurry but you can make out the handprints. Takes a lot of people to make a brewery.

Wort and I had been to the old brewery in downtown Bracebridge along with a quick stop at the new one shortly after they opened. This was the first time we were able to tour the new location.

Jake took the large group back into the warehouse. The space was large yet with the barrels, tanks and painting of the iconic muskoka chair on the wall it still felt like a small brewery. They may have gone with more space but they have not lost the intimate feel.


 More barrels!

Check out the colourful cans

We left Muskoka happy with loads of beer in the trunk.

Our next stop was to see what was at the time, the soon to be opened Sawdust City Brewery in Gravenhurst. Even though it wasn't complete (they were laying tiles when we arrived) it was easy to see just how beautiful the brewery was going to be. We were treated to a behind the scenes view of barrels and canning machine.

 Who knows what the boys of Sawdust will make in these but I bet it will be good.

Breweries like barrels and we like barrel aged beer.

The consensus was we cannot wait to go back once they are opened.

Final stop of the first day, after we checked into our less than impressive hotel, was Flying Monkeys Brewery in Barrie.

Well hello Flying Monkeys

We arrived as they were closing for the day but having made arrangements we were able to get a quiet behind the scenes tour of the brewery.  What was striking? The history of the building and the personal touches. There are drawings from the employees children framed and lining the walls of the hallways that lead to the offices. There are black and white photos that speak of the history of the area, the first iteration of the brewery and how long they have been around.

Nothing like a brewery in the middle of an evening thunderstorm, especially when the power goes out

Upstairs in the event room we talked for a long time with Courtney, the brewery's sales manager. She talks about beer with a knowledge and passion that draws everyone in. It is easy to see why she is good at her job and why the brewery makes it possible for anyone who comes into contact with them to walk away with a story.

 Happy beer people are happy.

Our second day began with a pit stop to the LCBO. We hadn't originally planned to stop but given the proximity to Toronto we had a feeling that they might have beer that the Ottawa area doesn't see. We were not disappointed.

Next up was lunch and flights at Barnstormer.


We tried both of their flights and ate some very tasty food. The stand out beer for the majority of the group was the Widebody Galaxy IPA. (Want to see it in their own words? Check out OttBeerBloggers)  For me the Twins Basil was the winner, Galaxy a strong second. I really enjoyed the basil notes of the Twins.

 Thank you pin up lady for our flights

Day two has only just begun. The tiredness hasn't kicked in yet. Still smiling.

From Barnstormer we pushed our way through traffic to get to 5 Paddles Brewing. By the time we got there they only had one beer for sale but luckily a few to sample. The Chupacabra had a nice bite but the winner for the samples was the Strawberry Wheat. The group was unanimous is lamenting the lack of bottles to buy. We did get a fun tour and some of their Steamin' Paddles to take home.

 Still smiling but wishing we had more strawberry wheat beer.

Plastic kegs. So much easier to lift.

Another short jaunt up the road and we made it into Peterborough to the Publican House. We didn't realize how small the retail space was and crowded our way in with those purchasing cans and growlers and looking for BBQ on the patio.  We were warmly greeted and sampled their two offerings.

Hello Publican House.

Cans in hand we made for our very last stop of the trip.

Church Key Brewery in Campbellford is housed in an old church giving it a certain charm that most ultra modern breweries do not have. John Graham, head brewer appeared out of the back of the brewery to welcome us and explained he had been following our adventures via Twitter.

He took us into the back where we chatted as he filtered a brew. John told us about the Ooh Mommy beer and how he experimented with different mushroom teas until he got the blend he liked. With that description how could we not try it?

Visiting Church Key and tasting Ooh Mommy.

The Ooh Mommy was less earthy than I expected and rather nicely balanced. Bottles were bought for further taste testing at home.

We returned home late, tired but very happy. The trip had been a success on all fronts.

We would like to offer thank yous of the biggest kind to breweries who opened their doors to us and welcomed us in with such hospitality that we were speechless. (Well the rest were, I am never out of words)

You all made this trip memorable. To them and to my traveling companions, thank you.

Tired but...still smiling.