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.

Hoppily Ever After’s Best Beer “Stuff” 2017

We’ve done the beer itself, but craft beer tends to be such a movement that there’s so many other things going on. Here’s a few of our favourites from 2017.

Best Beer Experience Overall

Organizing a Beer Festival For the First Time.  We got recruited to be the “Beer Coordinators” for the first I Heart Beer Festival in Hamilton, February 2017. We took all of our beer and Ontario brewery knowledge and ran with it, learning a lot along the way. We also did Beer Coordination for the April 2017 festival in Guelph.  Unfortunately we then had to step back from our role as I Heart Beer was growing more than we could participate in with day jobs. Congrats to the team on expanding throughout Southern Ontario though – we were proud to attend the Hamilton I Heart Beer Christmas fest as guests rather than hosts, and see how much it had grown.

Hamilton I Heart Beer Festival

Honourable mention: Prud’homme’s Level 1 course. Yes, we’re now certified Beer Enthusiasts (as opposed to before when were were un-certified beer enthusiasts). This course was great and we’d recommend it to both a novice to beer and those with a bit more experience such as the two of us. Our hope is to be able to attend one of the Level 2 courses in 2018 en route to becoming full Beer Sommeliers.

Best Beer Fest

(Not counting the ones we coordinated, of course). 

Because Beer, Hamilton. We’ve been going since the 2014 inaugural year (see our post on it here), and it never fails to impress. It has a great brewery selection dedicated to Ontario craft, a lovely location by the water, and smooth timing and logistics. As a non-niche festival it works for a general audience – including us. The beautiful weather this year made it even better.

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Honourable mention: Funkfest, Sawdust City Brewery, Gravenhurst. One of the niche festivals, this one is entirely dedicated to funky, sour, farmhouse, and barrel-aged beers.  Totally up our alley. It’s a really fun festival – for brewers as well it seems – and is worth the trek to Gravenhurst.

Best Beer-Related Paraphernalia

Pretty Pennie Jewellery Hop Necklace. After lusting after it all year, the solid brass hop necklace was Jessica’s Christmas present from Josh. A local artisan out of Cambridge, you’ll often see Pretty Pennie Jewellery at all sorts of local craft and/or beer shows. They’re gorgeous in person too!

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Honourable Mention: Brewcrafters GameFun game play and maybe frustratingly realistic about how little money you have left at the end of the “year” – yikes! Very chit-heavy in the set-up though, but once we got things organized the most logical way in their baggies, it was a bit better.

Best Brewery- Visiting Experience

Valentino’s Restaurant, Hamilton. Some Hamiltonians might be surprised to see this old standard Italian restaurant on our brewery list, but it’s our favourite place for pasta AND a pint. The Westdale location brews for the restaurant, and both locations will generally have their flagship Bohemian Ale along with a seasonal. Most recently it was a Lemon Stout and we’ve also seen beers like a Cream Ale, Boreal Brown Winter Ale, and more.

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Honourable mention: Neustadt Springs Brewery, Neustadt. In an old brewery building from 1859 inside a really charming village, Neustadt Springs feels like a bit of a holdover from an older age of beer. They don’t have any food or a license to serve pints, but you can sample their beer. We spent a bit of time and chatted with the proprietors – some of the few remaining founding members of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association. Their 10w30 Brown Ale has always been a favourite but a visit exposed us to others like their very tasty Sour Kraut Lager, a raspberry sour.

Best Beer News

The Expansion of Beer in Hamilton. We love travelling Ontario – and beyond – to tour breweries, but it’s really exciting for us to finally have a good selection of breweries right at home. Collective Arts has become the oldest Hamilton brewery with a physical location, and Shawn & Ed has been trucking along Dundas for a little while, but 2017 saw Merit, Grain & Grit, and Fairweather Brewing all open in Hamilton. Great news for local beer lovers! We’ve heard that Rust City Brewery is getting close to actually being able to brew, and Clifford Brewing has a place which is so close to opening. We predict 2018 will be another great year for local beer nerds.

Crowds at Grain & Grit
Crowds at Grain & Grit

Honourable mention: Online Ordering from Breweries. This is a great piece of beer news we haven’t yet taken advantage of, but our new year is going to be filled with beautiful deliveries from far-flung breweries. We’ve been drooling over Instagram pics of other people’s orders from breweries like Dominion City and Half Hours on Earth.

Did we miss any amazing 2017 beer experiences?

 

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Our Very Beer-filled Oktoberfest Wedding

What happens when two craft beer bloggers get married? Apparently, an Oktoberfest wedding!

Prost!
Prost! We’ve got mugs of Brock Street Brewing’s Traditional Irish Red Ale.

We didn’t just choose Oktoberfest because it’s an excuse for an amazing party with comfort food, rollicking music, and good beer (though those things definitely contributed), but also because the very first Oktoberfest was a royal wedding. In 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria married Princess Therese von Saxe Hildburghausen, with massive celebrations and horse races in Munich. The people enjoyed it so much, they kept it up year after year. We tried to imitate a classy Bavarian wedding vibe, but left out the horse races.

Princess Therese & Prince Ludwig - we certainly wouldn't want to imitate their marriage though, just the wedding
Princess Therese & Prince Ludwig – we tried to imitate their wedding, but want to avoid imitating their marriage. Older royal marriages were apparently not often happy ones.

One of the ways we incorporated our love for local craft beer was by using growlers as our centrepieces. Along with German table numbers and votive candles, we just ordered loose seasonal flowers and filled the growlers. All 19 tables had different breweries that we had visited.

Do you know the breweries on display at these two tables?

Our Oktoberfest theme showed up in a lot of places from the delicious schnitzel and spaetzle served a a main course, the apple strudel standing in for wedding cake, the live band in lederhosen and dirndls, the late night pretzels, and German phrases slipped here and there.

Lebkuchenherzen favours, which are gingerbread hearts that sweethearts traditionally give each other. "Schatzi" means "little treasure"
Our favours were Lebkuchenherzen, which are gingerbread hearts that sweethearts in Germany give each other during festivals. “Schatzi” translates roughly to “little treasure”

The bridesmaids wore “dirndls”, which is the traditional Bavarian outfits. These were custom-made for us.

Dirndls & bride

The ceremony also had a taste of beer and Oktoberfest – literally. We did a modified version of the loving cup, or quaich (“quake”) ritual. An ancient friendship and love tradition with roots in multiple cultures, it became a common wedding ritual when King James VI of Scotland presented it to Anne of Denmark on their 1589 wedding day – another royal wedding! A quaich is actually a wide, two-handled mug, but we substituted a German stein we had bought in Germany. The ritual was three small sips each: to our love in the past, in the present, and in the future.

Hofbrau = "Royal brew". We visited Hofbrauhaus in May
Hofbrau translates to “royal brew”. Yes, more European royalty. We visited Munich’s Hofbrauhaus together in May, so this was particularly meaningful.

And of course, there was the beer! We did our own bar set-up so we could do our own beer choices. We figured out we wanted to work between Ontario craft and German classics, and aim for four varieties: a lager, a wheat, a darker, and a “quirkier”. After much debate, here’s what we ended up with:

  • Side Launch Mountain Lager – We got about half lager, and that worked, as there was none to take home the next day! We would have only gotten MORE beer, and less wine for a wedding like this
  • Erdinger Weissbier – It was more popular than we assumed, and our amounts were gone by the end of cocktail hour.
  • Brock Street Brewing Traditional Irish Red Ale – We actually won a keg from them, so we had some family make the trek to Whitby to pick it up, since we’re big fans of this dark and smoky red. The bar wasn’t as used to keg pouring, but got the hang of it after a while.
  • Collective Arts Sour Harvest Saison – Our choice of something a little different to bring basic beer drinkers out of their shells. We got our wish and quite a few people tried it, but we still had a decent amount to take home (not that we’re complaining)
We also got to use the big Lowenbrau lions as decor. Sehr gut!
We also got to use the big Lowenbrau lions as decor/drinking buddies. Sehr gut!

 

Wondering where we got something? Here’s our vendor list: 

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.

5 Paddles Brewing

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!

innocente-purgatory

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