Brewing in #HamOnt: New & Upcoming Breweries – Hamilton, Ontario

This year seems like it’s going to be the year of the Hamilton brewery scene. There will be several new breweries adding to the robustness of the Hamilton beer scene, so here’s a sneak peek at what will be opening over the next few months.

Grain & Grit

PLANNED OPENING: September 2017

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Joe and Lindsey Mrav, a craft beer loving couple (sound familiar?) bought an old auto place at 11 Ewen Rd, and they’re in the midst of gutting it to turn it into the Grain & Grit brewery. It’s out with the old and in with the new, from newly poured concrete to a shiny set of new brewing equipment.

The couple met their head brewer Alex Sporn, a recent arrival from Germany, via a touch of serendipity, and hit it off. Both Joe, an avid homebrewer and Alex, also a homebrewer with a wine-making background as well, will be brewing for Grain & Grit.

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They’re in the midst of testing flavours with friends, family, contest winners, and the odd lucky beer blogging couple that gets invited by (e.g. us). The team plans to continously put out new beer and one-offs, not necessarily sticking to a list of standards. The starting lineup may change come September but here’s a sampling of what was around when we visited:

  • Pieschen Prohibition Pale Ale – one you’ll probably see, part of a “prohibition” series that references the fact that it does not actually contain the strongest flavoured ingredient – in this one, it tastes strongly of peaches but has no peach in it (it uses Galaxy hops instead); we also tried a Melon Prohibition version, same idea but honeydew!
  • Pineapple Rye PA – A juicy pale ale brewed with pineapple, bold flavour and light on the bitternes
  • SMASH Sour that avoided the overwhelming hoppiness of many SMASHs we’ve tried (that’s Single Malt And Single Hop), instead with a biscuity, licorice-y vibe with the Columbus hops, plus the sour, of course
  • Bob’s Brown Ale and Bob’s Little Sister – part of an interesting series of entirely different can conditioned beers
  • ESB – malty yet well-balanced

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Grain & Grit won’t have an on-site kitchen, but they’ve got a decent-sized parking area where they plan to invite food trucks by.  This little industrial corner of West Hamilton is soon to become a beer destination, with Fairweather Brewing (see bottom of this post) opening soon right around the corner.

MERIT Brewing

OPENING: May 11, 2017 at 5pm

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With MERIT Brewing‘s clean lines and room of communal tables, this brewpub will fit right into the James North scene. The industrial chic style, Instagram-friendly light bulb logo, exposed brick wall, and the gleam of the brewery equipment just behind the glass will jive with the Art Crawl crowds. The lure of ultra-locally made beer will bring in more.

The brewery is a project of Tej Sandhu (who beer-industry folks may know from Run TO Beer), head brewery Aaron Spinney (who previously brewed with Sawdust City), and chef Jesse Vallins (from Toronto’s Maple Leaf Tavern).

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There is a brewpub area and a bottle shop area, which includes a premium growler filling station. The two standards, both in the bottle shop and at the bar, will be:

  • Chanan – Dry Hopped Saison with Orange Peel and Indian Coriander – slightly spicy with the coriander and quite dry, almost pale-ale-esque
  • Young Rival – IPA named after a Hamilton band you might recognize, not heavy on the hoppy bitterness, but with some light fruity flavours

We were able to attend for a pre-grand-opening, and some of the other beer they had on tap at the time were:

  • S’il vous plait (SVP) – French table beer with saison yeast pulling in at a very low 3.0ABV (hence the “table” part) – pretty unique in what we’ve seen in Ontario craft
  • Between Us – Gose – even for a gose this is very light. Softly tangy, lightly fruity, not much of a sourness, and just a hint of the characteristic gose-saltiness at the end
  • Tomorrows – Earl Grey Tripel –  Dry tripel with the citrus-y taste of an Earl Grey.
  • Real Real – American Sour Saison, collaboration with Jen Nad from Dieu du Ciel – as the American versions of anything go – this goes to an extreme – in this case, a real sour. Mouth puckeringly sour, but with a red fruit tang. If you’re an ultra-sour lover, try this one
  • My Only – our top winner of the night, a Brett Hibiscus saison – the perfect dessert beer; fruity, tangy, and refreshing

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Beyond beer, Merit is a proper brewpub, with the food that goes along with that. Matching the German beer hall style tables gone upper-scale, the menu is sausage heavy but gastropub gourmet. Such as a “butter chicken” sausage with mango & apple chutney and black pepper-lime yogurt in a naan, or pork sausage with fennel, chili, tomato jam, garlic aioli, and fresh oregano. Add this to the pork rinds, baked beans, pickles, and those crispy fries, and you have yourself some pretty sweet beer grub.

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See the post on Merit from Hamilton Small Fries if you want a deeper dive into the food side.

Rust City Brewery

OPEN NOW as a beer bar/coffee shop; PROJECTED TO SERVE THEIR OWN BEER: August/September 2017

Located at 27 King William Street, Rust City Brewery got snarled up in some City zoning and bylaws and decided that instead of waiting until they could brew on-site, they’d open up as a beer bar and coffee shop right away. Currently that’s where they stand, but good news is on the horizon with the next couple weeks looking like the zoning issues may be solved. They expect to be serving their own brews around late August or early September, 2017.

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Currently, there’s a solid tap and bottle list, where you’ll often see the Hamilton contract brewers (THB, Clifford) and some harder-to-find locally beers on tap (e.g. Napanee Brewing) and the popular Toronto bottles (e.g. Bellwoods, Halo, Burdock) in stock.

When they are able to do their own batches, it’ll be focused on British and Belgian styles. With a very small batch system, they’ll focus on flipping it a lot, with lots of experimentation, and a special love for sours and barrel aging. Plus, they plan for regular casks.

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The space is simple, with an order-at-the-bar set-up that includes a pretzel list, and coffee shop dining (soups, sandwiches, salads, and baked goods), all created with a focus on organic food and local producers.

Brie & Apple Pretzel Sandwich
Brie & Apple Pretzel Sandwich

It’s also a tipping-free bar – the tips are built in to prices, staff are paid a living wage with benefits and profit sharing. It makes those pints a little pricier, but it’s not out of the realm of craft beer pricing – and we think it’s worth it.

Fairweather Brewing

PLANNED OPENING: Late May, 2017

Fairweather Brewing has moved in to a big space at 5 Ofield Rd in West Hamilton (right around the corner from the upcoming Grain & Grit from the top of this post – Hamilton’s “brewery district”?). It will end up with a pretty large scale brewing operation for a start-up, and has a great bar area.

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The brewery is owned by business partners Brent, Ram, and Dan, with a lot of beer experience between the three of them, including homebrewing, the Niagara College Brewing program, working at Lakeport, and participating in brewing and brewpubs in the BC craft beer scene.

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They’re hard at work brewing up a storm, and already working to bring a lot of styles to fruition. While we were there, we were able to try

  • Dry hopped saison – a bright and refreshing version of the style, with a slightly floral hop note and quite low noticeable bitterness
  • Grisette – this rustic Belgian style is a sessionable one at under 4.0% ABV, and slightly sweet on the mouth through the use of roasted oats

We explored their vats and talked beer plans, and they have a lot on the go. When they open, you might see an IPA, an APA, kettle sours, a roasty/malty porter, and a saison aged in cherries in oak. The team wants to be able to explore and play around with styles, so you can expect this will be a brewery consistently producing new and different varieties.

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The space is clean and and crisp,  with brick, bare bulbs, wood, and greenery setting off the look in a sort of West coast industrial chic vibe. With the gleaming wood tables and white-washed picnic tables in the long tasting room, it looks like ti will be a great place to hang out.

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Honourable Mention: West Avenue Cider at Somerset Orchards

Opening: June 3, 2017

West Avenue is one of our favourite cideries, and they move into their orchards at 84 Concession 8 E out in Freelton (which, yes, is part of Hamilton!), as of June 3. We can’t wait to get the chance to pop by their tasting room.

 

Pub Crawl: The Winking Judge, Hamilton

The fact that The Winking Judge is our go-to bar at home in Hamilton is no coincidence. It’s an amazing pub for craft beer lovers, with an impressive craft/microbrew selection.

Winking Judge for Craft Beer - Hoppily Ever After

THE PLACE

The Judge has a classic British pub feel – stained glass, brick, climbing ivy up the exterior walls. Even a fireplace inside (not working, but still – it’s there). It’s on Augusta Street, in Hamilton, part of the string of pubs in tall skinny Victorian houses. The clientele is a mix between the young and hip (and/or hipster), and older downtown regulars, but it’s a comfortable blend.

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The main and second floor are both bar areas,  with wooden seats, beer-branded collectibles galore, threadbare little couches, heavy wooden chairs, and benches tucked here and there. There’s also a front patio alongside the rest of the Augusta pubs, and a back patio with a ceiling of vines.

THE BEER

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Selection from back in November 2015

The beer is the #1 reason to visit the Judge. With 22 constantly changing taps and one cask (for real cask ale, also rotating), there’s a huge selection.

The big chalkboard is your invitation to this world. Beers are often chosen based on the season, so expect lighter and fruitier in the warmer weather, dark and stronger in the winter, and pumpkin and spices in the autumn.

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The majority of the drinks on offer are Ontario craft beer, but they also have decent selections beyond: including Quebec, US, and some European.

THE FOOD

It’s a beer-focused pub first, so don’t expect fireworks with the food. That said, it’s a solid menu of pub grub: you can’t really go wrong with wings (Wednesday is their cheap wing night) and the nachos always taste fresh.

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THE EXTRAS

As befits a proper pub in a Victorian-era home, the Winking Judge is apparently haunted. If you poke around the pub, you’ll see a newspaper article framed on the wall from a 2008 ghost hunt, where the paranormal investigators say they captured a child’s voice on tape saying “I can hear you.” Whether you hear the hauntings may depend on how many glasses of Delirium Tremens you have beforehand – but don’t take our word for it.

Spirits at the Winking Judge, Hamilton - Hoppily Ever After

In terms of less paranormal extras, you can get your name on a plaque on the wall. Just complete what the sign calls an “Irish coffin”:  have 25 different beerswithin 2 months.   Jessica has her name up there, though Josh has yet to get his.

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Pub Crawl: Brux House, Hamilton

Our “pub crawl” series features beer-focused bars, restaurants, clubs, and pubs around Hamilton, throughout Ontario, and beyond.

THE PLACE

Brux (“brucks”) House is pure industrial chic. It’s all brick walls, bare bulbs, steampunk-esque metal, raw wood, and marquee letters. It’s also a temple to craft beer.

That craft beer vibe works its way in everywhere. The logo has a stylized hop in the form of a wolf. The windows are etched with a pint glass and fork silhouette. Under the Brux House sign, it proudly states: “Craft Beer + Kitchen”.

Brux House

Brux House is like a new version of fine dining. Classy service and a finely crafted menu, but with the comfort of a neighbourhood pub.

THE BEER

Brux Flight 1
L to R: Rosée d’Hibiscus – Dieu du Ciel, Spirit of the Woods – Revel Cider, Maredsous Brown – Duvel

Brux has a long, carefully curated list of beers and ciders. With a local brewer as a co-owner, they’ve got the local beer connections downpat. They have a wide assortment of Ontario craft, including a good number of unique brews that may never make it to the LCBO.

Beyond Ontario brews, their list has a good picture of European styles both classic and modern. Belgium seemed to have been particularly well-represented each time we visited.

Beer List
Chalkboard Beer List on July 30, 2015

The beer comes by the pint, but you can also go with our favourite option: a three-beer flight. It’s a good way to try a batch of specialty brews and still make it home in one piece. Plus, it’s always fun trying to match each drink to a course.

Brux Flight 2
L to R: Sour Cherry – Oast House, Rodenbach Grand Cru – Brouwerij Rodenbach, Aphrodisiaque – Dieu du Ciel

THE FOOD

In terms of ingredients, planning, and service, Brux might qualify as “gourmet”. But the European comfort food theme makes it very accessible. German, Belgian, and French seem to be the primary food influences.

Menu options are inspired by local produce, and chalkboard specials pop up. Some of our favourite dishes include mussels, schnitzel, and Belgian waffles. Heck, even their deep fried broccoli was a stand-out dish.

Pretzels

THE EXTRAS

Brux House has two floors and a patio, but it’s all very cozy. A number of locals seem to have caught on to its appeal, so if you’re visiting at a popular dining time, you probably want to make a reservation.

They’re also up for Air Canada’s best new restaurant award. Check out their description, or vote for them here: http://eatandvote.com/en/restaurants/brux-house/

Why? Because Beer!

Until very recently, Hamilton wasn’t a craft beer city. Even the Lakeport plant shut down over 5 years ago.

That’s changed, and the craft breweries sprouting up aren’t the only evidence. The second annual Because Beer (July 10-11, 2015) is one of the new local beer festivals. It’s organized by Sonic Unyon – better known as the Supercrawl people. We knew from year one that it would be well put together.

A Collective Arts-y lineup

And yes, the event was a solid performance. We got lucky with the warm, sunny weather two years in a row. But everything else – from the bayfront location at Pier 4, to the shade tents, to the short lines, to the clean and plentiful port-a-potties (a dirty topic, but vital) – were prime examples of good planning.

Muddy York Brewing’s branded burlap

BECAUSE… WHAT? BEER!

In 2015, there were 30 breweries, up from last year’s 23. The signature glass steins are already on our keeper shelf, and since they match last year’s, we’ve got a nice little set. The entry fee also included 4 sample tokens, with the opportunity to buy more as the day progressed. Each sample was 4 oz, but many breweries were giving a little extra – great for those coming for a few samples, but making it nearly impossible for those trying to fill out their “beer passports”.

Because Beer steins 2015

 

Standout Beers of the Event

Our winner was, strangely, a combination of two of Flying Monkeys beers (yes, actually mixed together), recommended by the guy behind the taps. Those were 12 Minutes to Destiny – a hibiscus/raspberry lager, and Chocolate Manifesto Stout – a sweet-and-bitter triple chocolate milk stout. “Like a Viva Puff,” he said. We agreed! They’re both good on their own, but even better together. Like us.

The navigable crowd, early in the day

 

Garden Brewers is one of Hamilton’s new craft breweries. We’ve been following them since last year’s Because Beer, so we knew we had to try their new Petal Pusher, an elderflower lager. Josh described it as one of the best lagers he’s ever had, and the elderflower gives it a floral, vaguely fruity, kind of citrusy…almost indefinable taste. Pure summer. We tried both cask and draught versions, finding the cask stronger but more mellow, with the draught version having more carbonation and a sharp tang at the end.

Yeah, we did pretty well.

 

We were into the ginger flavours going on this year. Jessica particularly liked Mill Street’s Ginger Cat, a Belgian Witbier that would make the ideal, flavourful session beer: candied ginger! Orange peel! Unfiltered hazy deliciousness!

Josh’s ginger pick was Double Trouble’s Revenge of the Ginger – Kickin’ Ginger Red IPA (oddly described as an Australian Pale Ale on Untappd). The Double Trouble guys described it to Josh as a gingerbread IPA. He found it had the kick of ginger without the extreme hoppiness found in some IPAs. Even Jessica enjoyed her sip, and she’s not one for the ultra-hoppy brews.

THE FOOD

The Hamilton food truck scene is no slouch, and they were out in full force, in great variety, many with beer-matching menus or beer puns, which delighted us (though our many beer samples may have helped).

Good one, Southern Smoke truck

All in all? We’ll be back next year!