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

Niagara College Teaching Brewery, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara College Teaching Brewery is attached to the Niagara College brewing program, which means you get two worlds of beer: the seasoned brew teachers, and the upcoming new brewers.

THE PLACE

IMG_20160618_135600909 (2)In a small building on the Niagara College campus,  the brewery isn’t about atmosphere. It’s got the basics down for though: fridges full of product and a long line of taps. This is a place where you sample and buy beer. Enough said.

On the day we visited, the building was at capacity, as there was a festival on the grounds. Other days would generally be a lot quieter.

 

THE BEER

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There’s not a lot to see from the inside the store. It’s a small tap room with a short bar top, minimal seating, and a few industrial grab-and-go fridges. However, What the brewery may lack in atmosphere, they certainly make up for with selection. They’ve got their “Beer 101” series featuring the faithfully recreated styles we all know, a “Brew Master” line featuring some carefully crafted brews, and one-offs made by the students. The pouring station has 16 taps, which we assume comes in handy around exam time.

Here’s a selection of some we tried:

  • Beer 101: Pilsner – Malty, just a little hoppy, and so drinkable. This was a winner for both of us. Don’t be fooled by the pale colour, this is more robust than you’d think to see it.
  • Brew Master Stout – Strong, rich stout, with a bit of a coffee flavour.
  • Cherry Pilsner – Also a Brew Master beer, it’s both malty and tart. Cherry flavour is subtle, so it still has the light, pilsner-y profile.
  • Sugar Parents – This one was a student Brew. A “big boozy Belgian” that was a one-off, and probably Jessica’s winner of the sampling day – fruity and interesting, and couldn’t quite tell it was 10% ABV

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THE EXTRAS

NCTB is a simple place. There is some merch to check out and purchase, but the real interesting part is the beer fridges. It’s the kind of place that always carries one-offs, so we grabbed as many as we could so we could sample these exclusive brews.

Visit Date: June 18, 2016

Silversmith Brewing, Niagara-on-the-Lake

We visited Silversmith Brewing on a blustery day in January, and it was a cozy respite from the weather. It’s a pretty great brewpub too!

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THE PLACE

Built in an old church, with arched windows, stained glass, red brick, and bare wood, Silversmith Brewing still looks the part. And it still does have a big congregation. Even though it was mid-afternoon on a Sunday in the middle of winter, the place was packed, with a band and a lively crowd.

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THE BEER

Though it’s more of a brewpub than a tasting room, there was just enough space in the crowd for us to squeeze up the bar and order a flight of beers.

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  • Bavarian Breakfast Wheat – Crisp and sweet, this tastes as close to a real German Weiss as you can find in a local brewery.
  • Black Lager – Another in the German style, this is quite a traditional Schwarzbier: light-bodied, but with that dark and roasted malt overlay, as it should be.
  • Hill 145 Golden Ale – They call this one a “patio crusher”, and it’s easy to tell why. Great for summer, it’s a light but full-flavoured ale, heavy on the pineapple
  • Dam Buster – An English bitter. It’s clean, medium-bodied, and – don’t be fooled by the name of the style – not overly bitter
  • Devils & Details – A Belgian strong golden ale that was a limited release during our visit. Citrus-y, with quite a hoppy punch.

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THE EXTRAS

Tide and Vine Oyster House have set up shop at Silversmith, and it’s a great match for their beer selection. The menu changes seasonally, but it’s always a good bet that you’ll find oysters.

There’s also a good amount of merch available, much of which describes their fans as – what else for an old church? – “The Congregation”

Visit Date: January 31, 2016