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.

Tips on Dealing with Women in the Craft Beer World

As I see more news of women carving out spaces for themselves within the beer world (cases in point: the Society of Beer Drinking LadiesBarley’s Angels, International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day, and the soon-to-start Iron Beer Maidens), I can’t help thinking about why this is necessary. As a woman involved in the beer industry, my view is that despite forward strides, beer – and yes, even craft beer – still has a lot of the “boys club” mentality. Here are some of my personal tips to help challenge assumptions about women and beer.

#1: Don’t Assume That Women Don’t Drink Beer

Some women drink beer.  Some drink wine. Some don’t drink at all. And it’s all good, because: people are different! Overly simplistic, maybe, but not everyone seems to get that first part in particular.

Real Life Example: I’m buying a special beer package that I’m excited about and then I’m asked – by another woman, in fact –  who would be the lucky recipient: could it be my husband, my boyfriend, or perhaps my father? My response: tight smile, vague guilt, as I admit that actually, it’s for me.

Oops; I forgot that women drink wine and men are the ones that drink beer! I always get that one confused. It must be my personal failing that I can’t seem to properly enjoy a rosé. You know, despite the fact that for thousands of years, women not only drank the beer but, as brewing was a household task, they brewed it. I’m not even going to get into the fact that men also definitely enjoy wine too.

The marketing noise from the macro breweries with the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer hints that “their beer will get you all the sexy ladies” seems to have died off a bit, but that doesn’t mean that breweries are getting it all right.  It may not be disrespect, but it’s not quite understanding the full consumer base.  Maybe a boob joke isn’t really that funny to a large portion of potential customers? (Kudos to Ben Johnson for calling out a bunch of brands for sexist marketing – some of whom have since changed their names and labels).

International Women Collaboration Brew Day at Folly Brewpub, March 2017

#2 Don’t Assume Women Only Like Certain Types of Beer

Real Life Example: I’m at a beer festival when a fellow imbiber – male, this time – tells me that “Women like darker beer while men like hoppier beer.” My reaction: gentle puzzlement and a poor attempt to refute it as I enjoy my delightfully malty, dark beverage. 

The dominant message in mainstream marketing may be that women like light and fruity (or need a specific beer for women, which thankfully got destroyed on social media). But apparently some otherwise open-minded folks seem to enforce gendered drinking differences.

What differences may actually exist? Well apparently, scientifically speaking, there may actually be some tasting differences between men and women. Given the same training, a woman might be able to detect a taste or smell earlier. It won’t necessarily pan out to a stout vs. IPA preference.

My lesson here: women all have different tastes! In fact, you might even see them as a diverse pool of unique individuals.

Dark or light or anything in between – all appropriate for women

#3 Don’t Assume Women Don’t Know Details About Beer

Real Life Example: I’m at a brewery, and I ask about a certain beer they have on tap. They tell me it’s “bitter” and “hoppy”. A couple minutes later I hear Josh ask about the same beer . But he doesn’t get vague generalities, he gets the details. Something like “It’s 45 IBUs and made with Citra and Mosaic hops*. . . ” 

This gets me feeling frustrated and powerless. It’s one thing when a bartender starts from scratch because they don’t know what level of understanding you have about beer. It’s another thing when a bartender treats a woman and a man differently when they’re asking the exact same question.

Again, it’s the same as the last two points. Don’t treat a customer or fellow beer drinker differently just because they happen to be female. You never know how much of a beer buff they are.

Working as a Beer Coordinator at an I Heart Beer Festival, with Heather from Hamilton Small Fries as Food Coordinator

#4 Don’t Assume Women are Comfortable in that “Boys Club” Environment

When something ends up dominated by one gender for so long, sometimes even the most well-meaning people can forget about how little things like the use of language can be exclusionary to others.

Real Life Example: A common acronym for wife/girlfriend/female partner in homebrewing forums and mailing lists (and apparently other male-dominated internet domains, like yachting forums) is SWMBO. She Who Must Be Obeyed. I get it, it’s a joke. But it feels very much 50’s sitcom gender roles style, like “I’ve got to deal with this controlling nag of a wife and if I don’t do what she says, it’s the dog house for me”.  For a female trying to participate, it makes you feel excluded. 

Then of course there’s the very important point that beyond discomfort, there can sometimes even be a fear for safety. Sometimes, in groups where there are too many tipsy dudes, women just might not feel safe. That is almost definitely a part of the allure of the all-ladies events springing up lately.

Though this article includes some stories of frustrating scenarios, it by no means includes my whole experience in craft beer. I’ve met so many amazing people – men and women – and for the most part everyone tries their best to be inclusive, kind, and open.

~Jessica Gaber

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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Hoppily Ever After’s Top Beers of 2017

We carefully combed through our Untappd reviews and logs to see what beers stood out in 2017 for the two of us. Though we didn’t always completely agree – or, in fact, always have the same beers – we found a good list of winners. They tended to be quite complex beers, which we guess should be no surprise for people who drink a good deal of beer.

In no particular order, here’s our top 7* beers of 2017:

*Why 7? It just seemed to work with our “best-of-the-best” ratings approach.

Barnstormer Brewing – Smokin’ Skywriter Peat-Smoked Scotch Ale

Malty, smoky, and sweet. This beer was Barnstormer’s January seasonal, and we were happy to get it in the beer-of-the-month club we had throughout last year (which was from AmazingClubs.ca – thanks to Josh’s mom!). As fans of smoky beers, this peat-smoked offering won us both over with a slightly smokiness and a good dose of sweetness.

The Exchange Brewery – & Oud Bruin

One of the most complex beers on our list, this sour, malty, red wine-barrel-aged classic Belgian style (also known as a Flanders Brown) is beautiful. There’s a lot going on but it evens out very well, and has a sort of dried cherry taste overall. Their “& Flanders Red”, also complex and sour, deserves an honourable mention as well. We did a post about The Exchange and it’s now one of our favourite Ontario breweries.

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Nickel Brook Brewing – Cafe del Bastardo

Josh’s sole 5/5-star beer of the year, while Jess didn’t try it (as she doesn’t like coffee). This was one of the next level versions of Nickel Brook’s Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout, this time barrel-aged and on coffee beans. It was a dream for Josh, as it took everything he loved about the Bastard family, and added coffee.

Bellwoods Brewery – Plum Jelly King

Jess’s sole 5/5-star beer of the year, while Josh didn’t try it (as he missed it!). Of all the Jelly Kings, this one stood a head above the rest from Jessica’s perspective, with the fruity, sour, and dry tastes all perfectly lining up to match strength-for-strength.

Side Launch Brewing – Festbier

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A Festbier is one of the styles we call Oktoberfestbier (the other being Marzen), and though we’ve had a decent number of these, Side Launch’s version is comparatively great. It’s got a cracker-ish malt taste and a warm caramel smell which follows up with a lightly spiced robust body with the slight sharpness that reminds you it’s a lager at the end. Though it’s probably the least complex on this list, it’s got a lot of flavour and still manages to be easy-drinking.

Great Lakes Brewery – Grimace’s Tears Milkshake IPA

Another Jess-only one on this list, and a strange one at that since IPAs are not usually her style. However, Grimace’s Tears is basically the dream come true of what a “milkshake IPA” could be. Quite transparent, but very creamy tasting with vanilla and orange tones; Creamsicle-esque.

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Great Lakes Brewery – 30th Anniversary Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout

With two entries on our list, it’s evident that Great Lakes had some real winners this year. This was our favourite sample while at Indie Ale House’s 2017 Stout Night . It blends flavours of coffee, bourbon, cocoa, and vanilla for this smooth and strong taste that even non-coffee lovers can really get behind.

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: