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

Our Top Ten Noteworthy Beers of 2016

We went through our Untappd ratings for 2016 to find our top ten new-to-us beers for the year.

This is our combined list, and we do have different preferences, so it took some negotiation. We both love darks and sours (as evidenced by our list), though beyond that Josh’s tastes are more likely to go toward barrel-aged brews and high ABV offerings, while Jessica’s preferences run more toward the sweeter and fruiter flavours.  Neither of us are particularly into hop-bombs, which is why they aren’t well represented here.

In no particular order

Home Sweet Home – 5 Paddles Brewing – This honey vanilla wheat ale is one of their standards, and it was a stand-out for us. Creamy and sweet caramel/honey taste, it reminded us of Werther’s candies. Very crisp for a wheat ale as well, despite the sweetness. Available regularly at the Whitby brewery.

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Collective Project: Gose – Collective Arts Brewing – We did a whole post on Gose, and this is a perfect example of the style: tangy, slightly salty, and very refreshing. It was their summer seasonal, but is still available at the brewery as of this writing, and had also been available in some grocery stores.

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Dry-Hopped Tripel – Cameron’s Brewing – We got lucky enough to get this seasonal at the brewery, which was sweet, fruity, and not at all syrupy as some high ABV offerings tend to be (this one sits at 7.5%). They told us they were aiming for it to be a “white wine of beer”, and we thought that label fits – it even has a light grape flavour.

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Brooklyn Sorachi Ace – Brooklyn Brewery – Our one non-Ontario pick, because it’s just that good. Rated highly by both of us, this saison was rich, creamy, dry, and lightly hoppy. An all-around good beer. We found this one at the LCBO, and there are still some available at certain locations.

Purgatory – Innocente Brewing Company – Don’t expect a usual cream ale, as this black “cream ale” was something a little more intriguing. Very roasted yet at the same time very smooth, with deep milk chocolate tones and a light body. We had this possible one-off at the brewery, and it doesn’t look like it’s still in production – let’s hope we’re wrong!

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Limberlost Farmhouse Ale – Sawdust City Brewing Co. – A tasty wild yeast farmhouse ale, tangy with a hint of sourness, like a lambic mixed with a saison. We’ve seen this one at a couple festivals, and we hope to see it appear again soon.

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Harry Porter – Great Lakes Brewery – This is a not a new beer, but strangely, though we’d had several of the take-offs (for example, Harry Porter and the Cherry Hoarder), we’d never had the original until recently. And… yes. Here’s a delicious porter. Smooth, dark, drinkable, rich, and delicious.

Beer 101 Pilsner – Niagara College Teaching Brewery – The NCTB has an entire line of style essentials, but the pilsner is easily the best. Malty, interesting, more robust than the colour lets on, just a little hoppy and super drinkable.

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Russian Imperial Stout – Oast House – Josh loves his Russian Imperial Stouts so this was a no-brainer addition to his list – however, even Jessica found it the most drinkable R.I.S. she’d ever had. As rich and malty as it should be with coffee on the nose and grape on the tongue, it was also so smooth for a Russian Imperial. This was a seasonal offering in-brewery last winter, so perhaps it will be returning soon.

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Motley Cru (2016) – Bellwoods Brewery – Yes, we said this list wasn’t in order, but this was our unofficial top beer of the year. This two-year barrel-aged, funky & wild sour made with Gewurtztraminer grape juice was a big winner for both of us. Phenomenally well-balanced, blending the sweet and the sour, and bubbly on the tongue. We could definitely taste the Gewurztraminr. motley-cru