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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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.

All-American April: Craft Beer in Las Vegas

While the Ontario craft beer scene has just started to really pick up, the US craft scene has been alive and kicking for a good while. We can’t resist checking out the local beer wherever we happen to travel, so we decided this month we’d do an “All-American April” to feature some of the US places we’ve been.

It’s true: you can get craft beer in Las Vegas. Here’s our take on what breweries and beer bars were easy enough to visit from a casino/hotel on the Strip.

Sin City Brewing

Sin City Brewing

With four locations serving up their own beer list on The Strip, we’d venture to say that Sin City Brewing is the easiest Vegas brewery to locate. We visited the location inside the Grand Canal Shops, a stone’s throw away from the canals, gondoliers and palazzos of “Venice”. To our Canadian eyes, the walk-up bar within a mall (with to-go beers as well) was both peculiar and should absolutely be a thing here.

Sin City Brewing

Sin City serves up five beers + a rotating seasonal. We found that they were all pretty basic or traditional styles – but done quite well. We were even surprised by their Light Lager, which we tried with some serious hesitation, as light lagers are not a style either of us is generally a fan of. But we found it quenching, and much more malty than your average light lager, and both of us enjoyed even that.

Ellis Island Brewery & Casino

Ellis Island Casino & Brewery

One long block off the Strip, on Koval Lane at E. Flamingo Dr, Ellis Island Casino & Brewery is what’s often described as a “neighbourhood casino” – meaning it’s not on the glitzy Las Vegas Strip, and their clientele is primarily the locals. The slots were low value (heavy on nickels and pennies), and it had a more casual atmosphere than the rest. It’s also a brewery, with a window you can peek into on-premises to the see the inner workings.

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The beer was also dirt cheap, for Vegas or anywhere. A $7 flight, which included 6 beers and a root beer, was a great deal. Like Sin City, they focus on 5 key styles that are relatively traditional and common-place, and a rotating seasonal. The standards were decent, but our major winner was the seasonal – at the time, it was a Winter Spiced Ale which had the taste of cinnamon and mulled cranberries.

Banger Brewing

Banger Brewing

If you decide to take the Deuce from the Strip and head up to see the Fremont Street Experience, find this neon among all the rest and don’t miss Banger Brewing, located right on Fremont Street.

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Banger went into fully inventive craft territory, with a long list of their own beers and some local guest taps. Josh loved the Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout Dark Angel, and we both found the Morning Joe, a kolsch with hazelnut and caramel coffee, really tasty. And that’s saying something, considering Jessica doesn’t drink coffee – it was more like a beer version of a Coffee Crisp than a cup of coffee.

The vibe was that kind of industrial-hipster aesthetic that you see in a lot of breweries back home. We were into it. Felt like a good hang-out place, appropriate for locals and tourists.

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BEER BARS

Public House

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Inside the Venetian’s Grand Canal Shops, not far off the casino floor is this gem of a gastropub. Prohibition-themed with a look that’s kind of industrial meats swanky, Public House’s menu looked good (we were between meals), and the beer and liqour lists were fabulous.

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We were delighted in trying US craft from all over, with a special focus on Vegas and the surrounding area. Since we were between meals, we sidled up to the bar, conveniently located near their interior entrance, and chatted with the bartenders on beer, beer regulations and politics.

Yard House

Advertised as having the world’s largest selection of draft beer, even though Yard House is a chain, we couldn’t resist heading over to the Vegas Strip location, which is in the row of outdoor shops at The LINQ. After all, we don’t have any of them near here! The food was pretty good, and seemed to have a sort of Mexicali focus (we enjoyed the fish tacos), and the staff was particularly friendly.

A bartender hams it up for the camera
A bartender hams it up for the camera

And yes, the beer list is pretty amazing. Multi-page and organized by stylistic tendencies, it also featured a lot of the US craft beers we’d hear about but would never be able to try. Too bad that the closest installment of this restaurant from our house is all the way in Ohio.
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MISSED THIS TIME

There’s a few more breweries in Vegas, but we found them a bit further afield and trickier to access as a non-car-having traveller staying on The Strip (e.g., Tenaya Creek Brewery, Hop Nuts Brewery, and Big Dog Brewing Co)

We know there’s some good beer bars in Vegas, but again some were further out and we just couldn’t see everything! Two on our wishlist included: Aces & Ales and Atomic Liqours. And then there’s Hofbrauhaus, a classic German beer hall like it’s namesake in Munich . .  but as we’ll be at the original in May, we decided we could leave it off.

Visit date: February 2017

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