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.

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