Photos From My Visit To Jolly Pumpkin, Dexter, Michigan

jp1Click any picture for a bigger view.
It was a Ron-a-thon last Friday at Jolly Pumpkin. After leaving London, Ontario, Canada at about 1 pm and we hit Dexter, Michigan at about 5 pm just as Ron Jeffries was finishing up a days work. He gave me an hour of his time and by the end of it I was thinking this had been one of the most intense hours of beer I have had without taking a drink. Being the doe-eyed schoolgirl that I was, perhaps a bit like Ron in Bamburg, in awe of the moment of course I did not take notes until I got to our hotel in Ann Arbor. But I did get a brain full.








Barrels everywhere. Everything is aged in oak. Barrels from bourbon and brandy distillers. Barrels from Firestone and other brewers seeking vanilla where Ron seeks tang. A 2000 litre barrel newly in from France. Being in a room full of barrels of beer is an interesting experience. The feeling was much more like cheese making than other brewers with their steel conical fermenters and bright tanks. These was life around me and it was asleep, seeking slow funkiness. Lame? Deal with it.








I got an education. While Michigan has twice the brewers of Ohio, it has only 1% of the state’s market, compared to 6% nationwide. This means brewers have to seek markets out of state. I was happy to do my bit and introduce Ontario importers Roland and Russell to Jolly Pumpkin as was announced on Monday. Ron apologized when he explained the price would be high but I had to assure him that ten bucks for a 750 ml of some of the most thoughtful ale made on the continent was quite reasonable given what else we have to put up with.








Ron makes beers unlike others. Beers that have the dryness of oak with less of the vanilla than others impart. There is a lambic, the only true one in North America, that has been three years in the wood soon to be released on a six month cycle. When I asked about the source of the wild yeast strains, Ron said the make of Cantillon told him you can make lambic anywhere. I have particularly liked the Bam and Bam Noire which I think are up for the CAMWA beers of the year award for 2007. I did, by the way, share the concept of CAMWA and think it is now Jolly Pumpkin approved. They have done well with 50% expansion in each of the first two years and 30% for both 2006 and 2007.








The hour flew by and the generosity shared was quite the thing. We took a case of large format beers for just around 75 bucks and others to spare as well. Likely the best value in beverage that I can think of. A couple of hints. Ron recommends, as they age, chilling the beers before opening as they create be quite the fountain. I recommend leaving them to get to that age to get to this state as time enhances their complexity to a degree I have not experienced before with beer.

Ontario: Grand River Brewing, Cambridge, RMW


If Canada has a hub of microbrewing, a very good argument could be made that it is in the cluster of smaller cities around Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph about an hour west of Toronto. Off the top of my head I can think of seven or eight breweries in the area. Maybe there are more but however many there are the newest is Grand River Brewing in Cambridge’s old Galt district.








We stopped in on a two day weekend zip across the Province and were very happy we did. Although they have not been open long, they already have ten draught accounts including some with the finer beer bars of Toronto – and apparently a brisk trade in growlers if our short time at the place was any indication. The brewery is housed in an old knife factory, a long and narrow building lit by sunlight. Even on the largely grey day when we were there, there was plenty to see in the large reception hall and the adjoining brewing rooms and plenty to sample, too.








I heard about Grand River from the discussion on The Bar Towel, like this thread discussing Grand River’s Mill Race Mild. Hearing there was a mild out there to be had was reason enough to stop to check it out given all the interest in session beers as well as my own home brewing interest in milds. But when I got there I found out from one of the owners, Bob Hanenberg, that all of their four beers are under 4.7% and that these sorts of beers was to be their focus. We tried them all and, honestly, all were among the best Canadian micros I have ever tried. Even with the area’s natural hard water, the two lagers and two ales were all rich and more-ish with the mild being the favorite. At 3.5%, it had plenty of grainy and nutty texture and, frankly, it was as big in body than most micros made in Ontario of any style. I took away a number of 15.75 CND (including 5 buck deposit so a good deal) growlers of the mild as well as their rich and hoppy Plowman’s ale, a green hoppy pale ale that was also nicely rich.

I will give a more detailed review of the two brews that I brought home soon but suffice it to say that this is a brewery that is trying and achieving something new – lower alcohol, full flavoured beers with no compromise. Go find them.

Ontario: F + M Brewing, Elmira Road, Guelph

Neat and Tidy

Not all my travels for beer around Lake Ontario were on the US side. No, I headed straight for what must be the densest centre of brewing in Canada: Guelph, Ontario. Between the 401 and highway 7 on the west side of town you have national brewer Sleeman as well as venerable province-wide supplier Wellington as well as the more local micro F+M Brewery.

I dropped into F+M just before lunch and was met by the brewer who was right in the middle of mashing in. Rather than saying I would pop back at a more convenient time, I barged into the back…or, rather, followed him back to check out what was going on. What was going on was a heck of a lot of activity. In addition to the mashing man – is that Charles MacLean? – one guy was loading kegs onto the delivery van while another was cleaning out one in a row of bright tanks. It was the busiest little operation I had ever seen. When he got a moment, I was told they have been around for about a decade, are in the middle of a great season with 70 or so draft accounts and have their bottles in many stores from Toronto west to London.





Soon a few more guys showed up and I had a quick chat with Brian Reilly, the brewery’s General Manager as I picked out a mix to review:

Stone Hammer Premium Light: I like that breweries are being honest about the need to supply the summer beer market as well as the demands of those who are not wanting to move too far from the comfort of their macros. Light beer can have a perfectly respectable place in a brewer’s range and this one is a fine example. Clearly grainy and a bit honey sweet, it also has some bright apple notes as well as a subtle touch of twiggy hop. Very light champagne in hue with white clinging foam. 4.2%, this one is not rated on Beer Advocate.

Stone Hammer Premium Pilsner: one notch towards gold deeper in hue with a fine rich head maintained by the very active carbonation. Sweetish with a slight stocky aspect, a short of lightly-smoked husky quality, with a tiny bit of an orange peel note in the aroma along with grass. The finish is stone, grass and honey. 5% and all but one of 14 BAers approve.

Stone Hammer Dark Ale. Translucent chestnut with a cream froth and foam head. A very nice take on a dark ale with, again, plenty of grain, maybe a note of black malt as well as smoked raisiny malt. Fresh bread yeasty. A fairly dry example with some twig bitterness from start to stop. Just two BAers take note but both approve. Another 5% brew. A beer to have bacon on a bun with. Cooked over a fire. In the woods.

MacLean’s Pale Ale: Deep amber ale under a fine white head. I have tomorrow night’s BBQ ribs wallowing in this one overnight. Good move. Strong grain with some smoked rye-esque thing happening over pear juiciness. The label has a piper and, except for the level of hop bitterness, this might be a Scots 80/ ale. In the malt there is a little apple and date with some autumn herb but plenty of husky bread crustiness. Dry stoney finish at, again, the government approved 5%. This one would go well with grilled coarse sausage with onions. All eleven BAers like it.

So all in all, very Canadian with our love of that tilt towards grainy stockiness. When fresh, like these beers, it can be a great thing and really the thing that sets Canadian beer apart – a roughness that verges on rye. Smart brewers given the Canadian taste for rye whisky. This brewer provides a great lesson in what that profile can be. Plenty of chew to the malt but a good reminder that beer is made of barley.

Rohrbach Brewing Company, Rochester, New York

One of the other great things about a trip south, other than loading up the stash with brews that are forbidden to Canadians otherwise, is finding a great new brewpub. A few miles to the west of Rochester, on highway 33, we found one more at Rohrbach Brewing.

We sat outside and were treated to great service as well as great food and beer. The Rochester area seems pretty German if the number of cabbage fields we passed is anything to go by. Actually, it is fair to say that each corner town in the area we passed on our trip had a different history and immigrant population – Poles, Swedes, Germans. But Rohrbach is definitely a German spot given the brat’s and ‘wecks we had for lunch. Menu: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.





With my ‘weck, I had their South Wedge Hefeweizen, a beer with a fine white foam over yellow straw clouded ale. A dry take on the style, it had cream of wheat and grassy hops with tropical fruit like kiwi and papaya. A fine counterpoint to the food which was among the best pub meals I have ever had. The bread was incredibly fresh and the German potato salad hot tangy and hammy – like church supper scallop potatoes with a big shot of vinegar.





On the way out, I mentioned the blog and owner John Urlaub popped out to say hello. We chatted about beer blogging and the history of his bar and the upcoming Flour City Brewers Fest that Rohrbach sponsors which is coming up on its twelfth edition. Also on the way out, I picked up a copy of The Great Lakes Brewing News and read in Steve Hodos column that Rohrbach is having a great year with plans to meet the greater demand for their great brews by consolidating all brewing operations at the highway 33 location.* I think I caught one of the planners in a planning session in the photo I took through from the bar out to the brew house.

Just as we were heading out, John handed me some stuff including one comp pass to the Four City Brewer’s Fest. I can’t go and, even if this means contest over lap, if anyone within shooting distance of Rochester wants it give me something about your favorite western NY beer experience and I will get the ticket out to you. Or just tell me you want it. Best response in the next 24 hours gets it. And first one I get may just be the best.

*See comments.

Middle Ages Brewing By Shoe Cam

We had a bit of a beer blog break through as Gary and I met at Middle Ages Brewing in Syracuse NY as part of his day of two tailgates and my introduction to NCAA football. It was a perfect place to meet to start the day. Gary filled in when my camera’s memory card let it be known that it was not about to cross international borders this weekend. The effect was top notch shoe camera.





Let me start by saying, this experience is fairly foreign to Canada but not unknown. Middle Ages opened its doors on Saturday at 11:30 am. Gary was there at the bell and reports that there were a couple of dozen beer fans lined up with growlers to be filled. Once those guys were served, two happy gents behind the bar asked what we wanted and sold us – no, gave us free 4 oz shots of their excellent fresh ale. I tried their porter, IPA and the double IPA. All were as good as I remembered. So good I bought the baseball hat. I figure that if a brewer is good enough to go into business, make great ale and then give it to you for free, you ought to buy the hat. Note also Gary’s uncanny capture of the original portrait of the wench who wails. Gary also showed me the first beer blog award pottery component which now just needs me to forward the brass plaque for the 2006 award to be announced later in the year – though I already am pretty sure I know who is getting it.





I mention that I have not seen exactly this sort of thing in Canada before but I have almost seen it. In the days before the beer blog, I lived in the Maritimes and Halifax’s Garrison Brewery would serve all you want. But it had to be booked and was a private affair for attendees only. You got to pour and hang around asking the happy patient brewer lots of repetitive questions and also get a tour of the place but it was not a moment to meet other beerfans and you did have to stick around for the time booked. I like the Middle Ages approach better.

So a return for the tour is definitely in order as are more secret assignments with Gary and the shoe phone.

Ontario: Neustadt Springs Brewery, Neustadt, Bruce County

neu3As I headed up from Stratford towards Owen Sound on a family tour, I knew that Neustadt was roughly on the way but I had to figure out the shift in the north-south concession lot roads from the north-west to south-east ones…and I got a little lost. South of Clifford on highway 9 I got my bearings again and soon was there. Watch out if you find yourself on School Road #7, though. I am glad I did find my way there as my whole family was treated to the sort of tour of Neustadt Springs Brewery by owners Val and Andy Stimpson, up and around the brewing equipment, that I really love and the others tolerate in return for all the other great things I do in life…really.








You may recollect that Neustadt’s 10W30 is a favorite of mine. Well, meeting the couple that make this brew was a real treat and also an education. We were shown their special import New Zealand hops, asked to grind a few pellets and shown which ones have hints of kiwi fruit and mango. Dandy. We were also given some of the short run Manchester Bitter to try and had a few secrets shared. I found it an excellent light beer in something of the light mild tradition. You will note there was only a bit left when I thought to take the photo of the brew.









After that, when the kids got a bit Dad’s-dragged-me-to-a-brewery…again, Andy said he’d take care of them and we all went off to the cellars. You see Neustadt is a 21st century micro sitting in and on top of a mid-Victorian brewery, the Heuther Brewery opened in 1868 or so and run by a cousin of the original operator of the now revived Heuther Hotel, another modern micro-brewery in Waterloo. In the basement we were shown the brewing area, the tunnels to the downtown area of the village as well as the one to the Victorian brewer’s home. We were also shown the air vents, below left, dug into the ground to keep the air sweet.








Great stuff. So now I got to support Ontario craft brewers while picking up a dandy 10W30 glass and t-shirt as well as a bunch of bottles fresh from storage. In the fall they are putting on a porter. Worth the trip if their other beers are anything to go by. Here’s the BAers take on the beers.

Directions to Neustadt Springs

Ontario: Stratford Brewing Company, Stratford, Perth County


This weekend I made a discovery while looking for things to do while visiting family…OK, my in-laws. Right there in little Stratford Ontario was the Stratford Brewing Company. At the south end of town in a small industrial park area at the back of a building there it was…a van, a man and a set of second-hand brewing equipment making one of the best pilsners I have ever had.








After I got past what looked like an attack beagle, I met Joe Tuer who ended up taking over two hours of his day to tell me about his beer and his business.

I actually came back with the camera and a note pad. I was going to do this interviewing thing right. Looking at my notes now you would think I was sitting in a chilly lagering room in the middle of a Canadian winter fixated on the beer in front of me and chatting with a new found beer nerd fellow traveller. Oh…I was. I did get a good quote after I asked what his challange as a brewer was, which he replied:

I don’t want to be someone’s favorite beer. I don’t want someone to buy our beer religiously. If we’re in your top six – perfect.

This is a two beer operation. The flagship is a 4.9% Czech pilsner – by name of Stratford Pilsner – which has a nice breadcrustiness from the pale malt as well as a easy drinkability from Stratford’s soft artesian well water. Joe also poured me a new 4% porter he decided to add for winter. Chocolate with a nice snap of twiggy hops, this beer relies on a light fruity English ale yeast as well as that soft water. Again, quaffable at the lighter end of porter. The malt Stratford Brewering uses is from Gilbertson & Page of nearby Fergus, the hops from Hop Union and the yeast are from Wyeast.








Brewing lager takes a bit of an investment and a bit of a chance. Lager has to be “lagered” or stored in cold temperatures for a significantly longer period of time than ales. This means you need more storage capacity to produce the same amount of beer as an ale brewer. It also means you have to pay higher cooling costs. But what is smart about it is that you are aiming at a niche that the average southern Ontarian is already used to supping. You have market. Stratford Brewing services a keg market of about two dozen accounts right now which is largely based on local loyalty in town as well as beer lovers in downtown Toronto, about two hours drive east. The town of Stratford has a world famous Shakespeare festival which attracts folk from around the world including many who expect a town to have a local town brewer and who ask for his beer before they even know the name.

After some rejection from banks as a new grad with a business degree, Joe reinvented his business interest in beer while working in Singapore enjoying the ex-pat life. Diligent readers of the archives will be familiar with Brewerkz, a brew pub there visited by Newfoundlander and Asiapundit, Chris Myrick before he moved to Shanghai, land of pineapple beer. Joe got a short course of over the shoulder training from Scott Robertson at Brewerkz which carried him back to Canada a year and a half ago and started him on his search for equipment. What he found was in Cincinnati – a 14 barrel Specific Mechanical system originally from BC shown here.

I will revisit Stratford Brewing (and not only because I visit my in-laws there) from time to time. This is a lager I would return to – and this is from someone who is not a lager fan. I hope to find Joe on a hot August Saturday with a lawn chair each and time to contemplate his work.

New York: King Arthur’s Steakhouse & Brewery, Oswego

While across the way on the weekend we had dinner at King Arthur’s Steakhouse and Brewery in Oswego, New York and we were very glad we did. I had a little problem with the camera but I expect that you get a sense of the place from these photos. The building is quite impressive and is on one of the main corners downtown in this small city of 18,000 or so on Lake Ontario. The dining area is split into two, a bar and a restaurant. The site also has conference rooms on the second floor as well as suites for overnight on the third.





We sat in the restaurant side and found the place very kid friendly – important when you have a five and a six. Mac and cheese and other friendly food kept them happy for a while allowing we parents to enjoy ourselves. I tried a six sip sampler before dinner and had their IPA with a steak. Across the table, a shepherd’s pie was partnered with an Oatmeal Stout. Also, I am happy to report that the medieval theme was fairly tastefully done. It is not like the wait staff have to dress like court jesters or anything, it avoids Monty Python references and the mural of the Knights of the Round Table sits up in a recessed part of the ceiling. The bright gleaming brew equipment – made in Canada by the way – gets much more prominent place of pride.





Lew Bryson, in his book New York Breweries, does not cover the spot as it came into being after his first edition came out – but he does provide notes from his visits over the last couple of years at his websites’ updates page for New York:

Opened in the Buckout-Jones building (1st & Bridge Sts., Oswego, right by the river), site of a former brewery (Buckout). Strongly medieval in theming. Visited 8/12/03: not good news, I’m afraid. Very cool place, great location, but two were horrible, others mostly flawed, one good one. A new brewer had just been hired, I’m hoping for the best.

12/19/04 Update: Just saw on Pubcrawler that former Empire Syracuse brewer Andy Gersten is brewing at King Arthur’s. This is great news for both the pub and Andy; glad to see him working and them getting his excellent beers!

4/22/05: Andy Gersten has moved on to Sackets Harbor (excellent news for them), will be replaced by former Flour City (and Empire Rochester) brewer Greg Smith.

The beer was excellent. Earlier in the afternoon, I had taken a long drink of Oswego water and thought how good it was, soft and likely drawn from the lake. The beer had that quality as well. I scribbled some notes from the sampler. The brown as lighter on hops than most US browns, had a nice medium body with some chocolate notes. The APA was malty with some crystal sweetness and good green hops. The IPA was higher test with lots of fresh green hops and loads of fruity malt. It went really well with a blue cheese toped Delmonico with garlic mash totties – which is something of a testamony to its size. The oatmeal stout was thick espresso mocha with a rich creamy yeast. It could take on a scoop of Hagan Daz vanilla as a float. I thought the Old English did not have any noticeable stale or soured quality that should be part of the style and, yet, the Bitter was a light green English hopped clean sip. Drinky drama trying to think it all through.





All in all, despite the shifting brewmasters over the last two years that Lew notes, I think they have achieved quality. The ingredients are clearly first rate and the choice of yeast is particularly well suited to the local water – something not often achieved by many good brewers wanting to copy a style rather than express what is local. Two litre growlers were available for take-away. We refrained but if I was passing though, I would definitely pop in for one of the IPA and another of the Oatmeal Stout.


Gritty McDuff’s, Portland and Freeport, Maine, USA

Gritty McDuff’s Brewpub, Portland

I got to visit both the Portland and Freeport locations of the oldest brewpub in Maine within 24 hours. I am glad to say the brew in each is fine even if the setting of the Freeport pub is a bit rough. It is a bit like drinking in an old storage shed though – to be very fair – it is clearly a summer spot and dropping in during a late winter snow storm did not show it to its best. I liked the food in both spots.





If I was in Freeport again I probably would stop in for a stout but if you are heading to visit just one, go to Portland. In each you can see bench seating which is fairly common in New England and Atlantic Canada but less so as you move west. Superb. Their use of rolled raw barley creates a creamy mouthfeel that out strips Guinness anyday. It is like melted ice cream…ok…it reminds me of melted ice cream with a pin-fine nitro beige head above black malt roasty double devon. It is exceptional.





I also tried the Scotch Ale in the Freeport location and was similarly impressed. I sometime wonder about the style and whether you can put anything in it you want as long as it has less hops and a black malt roughness. This offering has an orangey hue as well as that flavour in the mouth – a nod to Scotch seville marmadade? The fruitiness is counteracted with the rough black malt, subdued green hop and a slight smokey feel. With an additional tangy edge, the overall effect is slightly Belgian and slightly Scots. Very nice and at 6.3% a wee methodical ale worth deconstructing over an afternoon’s sip.

So definitely worth the visit for the ales, Portland for the ales and the location. Gritty’s also bottles its own – or at least has it contract brewed somewhere – which you can pick up pretty much anywhere in southern Maine. I think I brought a quart of Black Fly home for further study. Below are some shots from the Freeport location which you can click on for a larger view.

Ontario: Church-Key Brewing, Campbellford, Northumberland Co.

I got off the 401 at the Brighton exit and headed away from that town, going north. I will write more about this brewery tomorrow when I am not so tired but for now here are some pictures and the assurance that some of the best beer in Ontario is being made in a small Victorian church in the rolling hills of Northumberland county. Just one point before tomorrow, however: there were renovations going on and that is why a good swiffering looks due.








The Next Day: You have to spend an hour getting to and from Church-Key Brewing from the 401. Do it. It sits between Campbellford and Springbrook on route #38 on a high point among small century farms. If it is not on the road, you will notice the yellow draft dispensing van out front. The brewery is housed in the former Zion United Church which was likely the former Zion Methodist Church. The main body of the building is from the 1860s or ’70s with an addition from the 1920s that the brewery is expanding into at the moment. Its 3000 litre conical fermenters stand floor to rafters like the dullest organ pipes in the what was the sanctuary.








I got to spend an hour with Church-Key Owner John Graham and Marketing Director Cary Tucker. We got so quickly into talking that I didn’t even sample any samples. They only sell six-packs at the brewery, moving kegs to bars and restaurants from Ottawa to Toronto, Kingston to Peterborough. Cary and I got into beer travelling, the joys of the Galeville Grocery and his website. These guys like to know what is going on in the industry and, after five years or operation, are still self-described beer nerds.








They brew a lager, a pale ale, a smoked ale and a chocolate porter and, going by the two sixes I picked up, the beer is some of the best made in the province. I’ll review the smoked ale and chocolate porter later but suffice it to say that I can easily see making the two and half hour round trip some Saturday just to get another fix. Recently, they have won some important awards:

Church-Key Brewing picked up three Gold Medals at the second annual Canadian Brewing Awards held at the Duke of Westminster Pub in Toronto. Church-Key’s first gold medal came in the Scotch Ale competition as Holy Smoke was chosen Best of Category. In the Cream Ale Category, Church-Key’s Northumberland Ale tied for the Gold Medal with Gulf Islands Salt Spring Golden Ale from British Columbia and Quebec’s Microbrasserie du Lievre La Montoise. Church-Key’s Decadent Chocolate Porter, flavored with cocoa from World’s Finest Chocolate in Campbellford, tied for Gold in the Stout or Porter category with Black Oak Nutcracker from Oakville, Ontario and Boreale Noire from Quebec.

Impressive competition which makes me think we have a couple of candidates for the National Six-Pack.

Directions to Church-Key Brewing.