Visiting Grey County: Neustadt Springs Brewery & MacLean’s Ales

As winter rages around us, it seems like a great time to reflect on travels in warmer times. Last summer we were visiting Grey County, so we couldn’t resist stopping into some classic Ontario breweries, Neustadt Springs Brewery and MacLean’s Ales.

MacLean’s Ales

Though MacLean’s only opened in 2014 in Hanover, we call it a classic because the brewery’s namesake and one of the co-founders, Charles MacLean, has been involved in the Ontario craft beer industry for years, as one of the founders of F&M brewery (which would eventually become StoneHammer). MacLean’s Ales was founded by MacLean along with Michael D’Agnillo and Curtis Schmaltz.

The building is like a modern strip mall had a child with a classic British pub. The same vibe followed on the inside where it was largely utilitarian with some elements of coziness like a vintage couch and magazines. We spent time chatting with the bartender and the frequent locals who came by to pick up their regular brews.

As it was mid-summer, the beer available also mostly followed the season. A lot of lighter beer, heavy on British influences which were very strong examples of the styles. The seasonality may have been the reason we didn’t see their Armchair Scotch Ale, a perfect exemplar of the style, though the Luck & Charm Oatmeal Stout was available.

Standout Beer: MacLean’s IPA. Not quite British and not quite American – they describe is as “a unique Ontario spin”. Perfumey in the scent. Fresh, this tastes beautifully green, and not overly bitter, but just enough to make it crisp and refreshing.

Neustadt Springs Brewery

The town of Neustadt has apparently once been named one of the prettiest in Ontario. With a charming main street full of flowers and old stone buildings, it does live up to the name. Neustadt Springs Brewery is one of the village’s big draws, embedded in a historic brewery building from 1859. We didn’t get a chance to take the tour to see the original brewery’s caves and crystal springs, but even in the sampling room you could feel the history. It has the atmosphere of a cozy living room of someone’s century home.

Started in 1997 by its family owners, Neustadt Springs is one of the oldest remaining Ontario craft breweries, and one of the founding members of Ontario Craft Brewers. We had a nice chat with the proprietors about the beer industry and its changes over the last 20 years, and it made for a very interesting stop for beer-culture-lovers like us.

At the time of our visit, their license limited them to 12 oz pours per person, which meant no hanging out for pints in the cozy place (a shame). It also meant we had to choose our three 4oz samples wisely. We already knew we that their 10w30 Brown Ale and 456 Marzen rank among our favourites and are often available at the LCBO, so we went for some that were harder to get.

Standout beer: Sour Kraut Raspberry Lager. A nice light sour, only a bit tart with a fresh and really real raspberry flavour.

The smartest car we’ve ever seen

On our trip we also discovered the Saints and Sinners beer and cider discovery route, which had a passport you can get stamped at a variety of local food and drink places in Grey, Bruce, and Simcoe Counties.

The Exchange Brewery, Niagara-on-the-Lake

We were enticed to head down to Niagara-on-the-Lake this past weekend for a Sour Tasting & Tour at The Exchange Brewery. Neither of us can resist a good sour, and this absolutely didn’t disappoint.

THE PLACE

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The Exchange Brewery is in a compact historical building right downtown in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Despite the size constraints, they packed a lot of space into the area, with two floors of service, brewing and some barreling on-site, and a very chic look that tied it all together.

THE TOUR

Because it was The Exchange’s first anniversary, we were able to get a tour of the facilities. At first when the eager group piled into the very small working space behind the glass enclosure of the brew room, we worried we may had signed up for yet another lesson on the absolute basics of beer-making, like we’d seen on some other tours.

Fortunately, we needn’t have worried!

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The tour felt very personal to the brewery itself. The set-up was unique, and the stories were less focused on an ephemeral “how beer is made”, and more about how this brewery chooses to make their beer. The operators had even purchase different sets of much of their apparatus for sours vs non-sours, which was something we hadn’t seen before.

But the most impressive part of it all was how efficiently they used such a small space. In a room where you could barely squeeze 20 people in, everything was tightly packed with perfectly organized hoses running the liquid up and down and back and forth.

THE BEER

During the talk by the head brewer, he talked about the brewery’s two focuses: hop-forward West coast ales and Belgian-style sours. We could definitely see those focuses in their beer list, especially in the sour selection. He mentioned also making a variety of styles, to please the large variety of people that come through the door – the balance of having a working brewery in a tourist-heavy city.

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They had about 15 different beers on offer, including a couple on cask as a special anniversary weekend event. Some of our top hits were:

  • & Oud Bruin Barrel Aged Sour – Our winner of the night, a complex sour with a dark brown/red colour – sour, malty, with a sort of dried cherry taste. A bit of everything.
  • 7White IPA – An interesting mashup, with the coriander and orange peel of a witbier combined with the hoppy bitterness of an IPA, but without too much of either. This blend worked very well for us.
  • Black Saison – A very surprising beer. Sour, malty, even a bit of toasty oak at the end. Quite diverse in its taste profile, and unique among saisons.
  • ∞ Belgian Stout – Medium-bodied, with a flavour reminiscent of those fancy cherry chocolates. Quite a pleasant cool-weather brew. 
  • Flanders Red – Another complex, rich sour, with a light, slightly nutty flavour; stays quite true to its roots.

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THE EXTRAS

What’s with the numbers and symbols? The building was once used as a telephone exchange (hence the name – and the numbers!). It also works perfectly on the round trays with plastic ‘tokens’ they give out to mark their flights.

The Exchange has a short food menu with snacks and bar staples the can be made behind the bar (cheese trays, hummus, flavoured popcorn), but they also build partnerships with local food places on different nights – sushi, food trucks, pizza places. When we were there, British-fusion food truck Ello Gov’na was parked outside supplying the bar patrons with a delicious apricot cauliflower curry.

BONUS: If you can’t make it out to NOTL for a little while but want to try some of The Exchange’s brews, they’ll be serving them up at the Hamilton I Heart Beer Festival on February 10-11, 2017.

Visit date: February 4, 2017

Silversmith Brewing, Niagara-on-the-Lake

We visited Silversmith Brewing on a blustery day in January, and it was a cozy respite from the weather. It’s a pretty great brewpub too!

Silversmith Brewing, Hoppily Ever After

THE PLACE

Built in an old church, with arched windows, stained glass, red brick, and bare wood, Silversmith Brewing still looks the part. And it still does have a big congregation. Even though it was mid-afternoon on a Sunday in the middle of winter, the place was packed, with a band and a lively crowd.

Silversmith Brewing, Hoppily Ever After

THE BEER

Though it’s more of a brewpub than a tasting room, there was just enough space in the crowd for us to squeeze up the bar and order a flight of beers.

Silversmith Brewin,g Hoppily Ever After

  • Bavarian Breakfast Wheat – Crisp and sweet, this tastes as close to a real German Weiss as you can find in a local brewery.
  • Black Lager – Another in the German style, this is quite a traditional Schwarzbier: light-bodied, but with that dark and roasted malt overlay, as it should be.
  • Hill 145 Golden Ale – They call this one a “patio crusher”, and it’s easy to tell why. Great for summer, it’s a light but full-flavoured ale, heavy on the pineapple
  • Dam Buster – An English bitter. It’s clean, medium-bodied, and – don’t be fooled by the name of the style – not overly bitter
  • Devils & Details – A Belgian strong golden ale that was a limited release during our visit. Citrus-y, with quite a hoppy punch.

Silversmith brewing, Hoppily Ever After

THE EXTRAS

Tide and Vine Oyster House have set up shop at Silversmith, and it’s a great match for their beer selection. The menu changes seasonally, but it’s always a good bet that you’ll find oysters.

There’s also a good amount of merch available, much of which describes their fans as – what else for an old church? – “The Congregation”

Visit Date: January 31, 2016

Cameron’s Brewing – Ontario Brewery Tours

Cameron’s Brewing has been in business since 1997, which makes them one of the oldest players on the Ontario craft beer scene. They’ve had the time to hone their craft to create some really solid brews, and now they’re undertaking a branding revitalization. 

Ambear, Cameron's Brewing, Hoppily Ever After
New brand on the Ambear Red Ale

THE PLACE

Cameron’s Brewing is a classic brewery, tucked into a business park in Oakville, Ontario. It has a simple front end, with just enough space for tasting and purchasing, and then a back-end busy with the operations of beer creation.

Brewery, Hoppily Ever After
Some of the older style, externally insulated tanks

THE BEER

The $10 tour included a whole raft of samples. Here’s our take on what we tried:

  • Cosmic Cream Ale – Clean and creamy. This is the original Cameron’s Cream Ale, with an updated name and brand for the 21st Century.
  • Ambear Red Ale – Red & roasted, some toffee notes. Another rebrand, this is a slightly modified version of their Auburn Ale.
  • Dark 266 – A sweet and roasted dark lager. Smooth and rich, with a hint of bitterness that tastes more like raw cocoa.

Cameron's Beer, Hoppily Ever After

  • Resurrection Roggenbier – With the banana bread flavour that’s customary in Roggenbiers, which use malted rye in place of some of the wheat. Reminiscent of Hefeweizens in that sense. This one is sweeter than the Roggenbiers we’ve tried, and a little peppery. Very sessionable.
  • Dry-Hopped Tripel – Sweet like a Belgian tripel, but lighter and not at all syrupy. Definitely a fruity taste, we were envisioning grape. The Cameron’s guys told us the aim was to be a “white wine of beer”, and that makes a lot of sense to us.  And doesn’t taste like a 7.5%!
  • Rye Pale Ale (RPA) – A rich hopped brew with a little white pepper undernote. Smoother than a lot of hop-forward brews, but still too hoppy for Jessica’s tastes – Josh quite enjoyed it.

Growlers at Cameron's, Hoppily Ever After

THE TOUR

Cameron’s tours are Saturdays at 1, 2, and 3pm. For $10, you get the tour and the tasting. On the tour, you get the story of beer creation, and in particular Cameron’s style of doing it. You’ll also see all their equipment and packaging, from old to new.

Cameron's Brewing, Hoppily Ever After
Original branding on the boxes

They also showed off their towers of the new cans, and different rooms throught the brewery like the barrel-aging room.

Barrels at Cameron's, Hoppily Ever After
Doppelbock being aged in Bourbon barrels

THE EXTRAS

There’s a  tiny shop with a few items – namely this Beer Geek shirt and some beer brittle candy.

Beer Geek, Hoppily Ever After

And as we’ve mentioned throughout, Cameron’s Brewing just went through a rebrand. We think the cans give a very hip and updated look to this old stalwart brewery, but you can hear even more about it from our friends at Hamilton Small Fries.

Cameron's cans, Hoppily Ever After
The new look

If you want to check out Cameron’s – and a few of their friends – further, they’re having a Cask Night on April 1, 2016.

AprilCaskNight

Our Visit Date: March 19, 2016

Refined Fool Brewing

Sarnia might be quite a ways from most other cities, but Refined Fool is worth the trip. It’s the sort of brewery that has it all going on: it’s a good place to hang out, it has a great batch of beers, and it even has a neat brand and interesting merch.

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THE PLACE

The big colourful mural down the side of the building makes it stand out, and they keep up that quirky, old-timey theme (heavy on top hats) throughout the building and throughout their brand.

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And they have a proper bar. Not a standing-awkwardly-tasting area, but a place you can get cozy at one of the table. It feels like they actually want people to hang out there.

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So you can hunker down at a table, and try a flight of interesting samples, or have a big glass emblazoned with that logo.

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THE BEER

Refined Fool makes a lot of beer in a lot of different styles. Jess & Josh have conflicting views on this. Jess thinks: how exciting, keep pumping out the brews! While Josh thinks that maybe a focus on 3-4 might be the better way of doing it.

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Still, they go across the field, from European standards to beyond, playing with the bits and pieces, and interesting ingredient ideas to make some pretty unique brews.

When we were there, these were the offerings on tap.
During our autumn visit, these were the offerings on tap.

Some of our favourites:

  • She’s German, Oktoberfestbier –   perfect for the season, less malty than most Oktoberfest styles
  • Pouch Envy, Australian Pale Ale –  quite unique. With a fruitier, more citrus-y taste than most IPAs, and less of the hoppy bitterness, this was a winner for both of us. We took a bottle home.
  • Serenity Now,  Extra Special Bitter (ESB) – we’re always on a hunt for a good local ESB, and of the Ontario craft ESBs we’ve tried, this one probably matches the traditional English style best. Well balanced in hops and malts (and not particularly bitter).
  • Troll Toll, Cream Ale – uncomplicated, simple, and refreshing. What else can you say about a good cream ale?

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THE EXTRAS

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Now as we’ve mentioned, the Refined Fool brand is strong – and pretty freakin’ cool too – and the little shop at the back of the store shows it. (Jess regrets not picking up a t-shirt).

We even caught the brewer at some paddling.
We even caught the brewer at some paddling.

 

Visit date: October 17, 2015