Hunting down new brews in Ontario with the Bishop’s Cellar crew

This time a few weeks ago, I was pretty elated to be on my first business trip to Toronto & the GTA with my colleagues Caroline and Ryan. Our mission? To source new beers for Bishops Cellar.

I had forgotten how hot Toronto can be in the summer – two sweaters probably weren’t the best idea. What was a good idea though, was to pop into Bellwoods Brewery the night before our first day of work started. We enjoyed some amazing food, and even better beer – sampling IPA’s, session blondes, barrel aged sours, and even a 2 vintage comparison of a Brettanomyces barrel aged Tripel.
We started the work week off by driving out to Burlington to visit with John Romano, the owner of Nickel Brook Brewery, famous for the Headstock IPA and Kentucky Bastard barrel aged stout. John gave us a tour through his brewery and we tasted through a lineup of beers. His brews were solid, clean, and well made – but, of course, our favourite was one not yet released: a cucumber and sea salt Gose, ageing in barrels.
After that we ventured up to Hamilton to meet with Collective Arts Brewing– a brewery that is very focused on the link between artistry and beer. Every label on every beer has artwork reflecting a band or artist – you can even scan any label with the Blippar app and it will play a song from the artist on the label. Honestly- I’m usually skeptical of wacky labels on beer, it seems as if the brewery might be covering up a less than desirable beer, but it is definitely not the case with Collective Arts. The art is beautiful and the beer is even better. Styles focus on super drinkable styles like citrusy Blonde Ales, session IPAs, Hefeweizen’s and Gose’s.
We kept heading down the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW highway) towards Niagara to check out Oast House Brewery, a quaint Belgian style farmhouse brewery with some killer styles like Biere de Garde, Saison, and Biere de Mars. Just down down the road, we had lunch at Silversmith Brewery– a solid brew pub in an old converted church. I’m pretty sure churches make the best breweries.
The next day we took off for Great Lakes Brewery (GLB). A stalwart in the Ontario beer scene, GLB is ever-expanding has had to meet the growing demand of the market- turning the brewhouse into a maze of fermentors, mash tuns, canning lines, packaging lines, and so on with every turn of a corner. During the tour we were given a can of session IPA right off the canning line; before the top was put on and 20 seconds out of the brite tank. If that’s not fresh beer I don’t know what is.
After the amazing brews from GLB, we jaunted up to Indie Ale House for some fried chicken and delicious beers with the owner Jason Fisher. He’s making big brews in a little space – Cherry Saisons, Ginger Witbiers, Porters, IPAs everywhere and even a red wine barrel aged Flemish Red Ale – plus he’s doing it in a area festooned with Sportsbars, chain stores, and almost no dining scene!
To finish the day off we took a quick pop up to Collingwood to check out Sidelaunch, recently voted at the Canadian beer awards as Canada’s best brewery. We walked into a huge warehouse with a retail shop in front and the brewhouse exposed right behind. This compamy is a massive operation making largely German style beers like Dunkels, Pilsners, Hefeweizens, and Bocks. In a lot of ways, it is the polar-opposite styles of brewhouse from GLB- yet an equally great product!
On our last day we had a meeting with Bellwoods – probably the smallest and one of the most in-demand breweries on our tour. At times the brewery has a hard time supplying even their own bottle shop and bar. Luckily expansion is on the horizon and, hopefully, one day we can enjoy their amazing beer in our province.
To bring it all together: every brewery we visited put quality and cleanliness as a top priority. They really care about what their beer tastes like. Something else I noticed was that the malt bills were considerably lighter than a lot of styles found around Nova Scotia. Sure, the stouts and porters were still rich and dark but the IPAs, Blondes, Session IPAs, and Pale Ales appeared to favour Pilsner and Two-Row malts, rather than Crystal malts giving them a certain freshness and lively character that makes going for another even easier.
Stay tuned for new brews from Ontario on our shelves!