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.

neu6

neu5

neu4

 

 

 

 

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.

 

neu2

neu11

neu9

 

 

 

 

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.

neu1a

neu8

neu7

 

 

 

 

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

strat6

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.

strat7

strat4

strat2

 

 

 

 

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.

strat3

strat1

strat5

 

 

 

 

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.

key1

key3

key12

 

 

 

 

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.

key4

key5

key6

 

 

 

 

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.

key7

key9

key13

 

 

 

 

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.

Historic Ales of Scotland

histales

Alba Pine, Fraoch Heather, Ebulum Elderberry, Grozet Gooseberry

I buy this four 330 ml bottle boxed set every Christmas at the LCBO for no doubt an exorbitant price given all the fancy packaging. What I do not understand is why the beers in this promotional package are not otherwise available as singles. What exactly is being promoted? Anyway, the best thing is that these are all good beers and worth comparing even if each is more or less a unique style on its own.

These beers are made by Heather Ale Ltd. which also brews a full range of cask ales under the “Craigmill Brewery” brand and bottles Craigmill Swallow IPA. It is located in a 18th Century water mill on the river Avon, near Glasgow, in Strathaven, Lanarkshire. The web site for the brewery has a shop for readers in the UK to try and does indicate that single-brand cases can be bought, including cases of Kelpie, a seaweed beer, which is not included in the fourpack. Here is what I think of the four brews that are:

Alba Pine Ale: The label tells me that:Alba is a “triple” style ale, brewed to a traditional Highland recipe using the sprigs of spruce and pine collected in May 1998. This complex rich tawny ale is best drunk at room temperature from a wine goblet. Ingredients: malted barley bree, scots pine and spruce sprigs.I remember thinking before I had tried this ale that I had better brace for something resembling a 1960s institutional floor cleaning liquid. Nothing of the kind. This brew is very well structured with a big malt and sweet pine green front end. It is pretty apparent that there are no hops leaving any bitter edge. Rather the spruce and pine leaves a slight astringency and aromatic heat in the mouth that serves the same function as hops, cutting the cloy of the malt. While the brewer uses the word triple, implying a form of strong Belgian ale, I think that the malty and herbal taste at 7.5% is more analogous to a Belgian dubble.The beer is reddish brown with a very nice tan head that faded quickly unsupported by the low carbination leaving just a rich rim inside the glass. There is lots of woodsy fruit in the glass as well as some whiskey, perhaps smokey notes. At the Beer Advocate, all but 5% of 105 reviewers give it a thumbs up, something I would not have expected for such a unique ale. The finish is orange peel, butterscotch, some heat yet a fresh juiciness quality that would make this rather more-ish if it were available-ish from the LCBO-ish.

Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale: black ale this beer calls itself. It is really an oatmeal stout with fruit flavouring but that is besides the point – the point being that this is very good stout. Elderberry is an ornamental plant here in Canada which grannies grow on their front lawns and make jelly from in the autumn. It is a lovely small fruit bush and, when mature, very productive providing masses of the tart, woodsy, dark grapey berries. It is not that far off a blackberry or what some call a thimble berry but , unlike those, is not shaped like a dark raspberry. It is the perfect compliment to the roastiness and silkiness of an oatmeal stout. The bottle says:It is a rich black ale with fruit aroma, soft texture, roasted grain and red wine flavour, with a gentle finish. Ingredients: malted barley bree, elderberries, roasted oats & barley and hops.It is interesting to note that there is no style called a “black ale” though there is a central European one called Schwartzbeer – but it is a lager. Beer advocatonians pick up the red wine comment and compare to port. Given the truly vineous nature of lambics and other soured beers, I think this is a bit of a red herring but it is not devoid of merit. Again, it is utterly beyond me why the LCBO does not stock the 500 ml bottles as a standing order when it brings this boxed set in each Yule.

I am confused as to the use of “barley-bree” on the lable as I understand this to reference a finished ale, implying I think incorrectly that the other ingredients are infused into that finished ale. I do not think that is the process being employed here given that roasted oats, unmalted, would create a problem with stability if it were merely infused.

Grozet Gooseberry Lager: This deep straw coloured lager pours out quite still, the white head diffusing immediately. The berry flavour is much more forward than in the Ebulum giving a very tangy prominant overtone. It is citrusy – a combination of lemon/orange/lime. The bottle tell us that the ingredients include malted barley bree, wheat, gooseberies, hops, bogmyrtle and meadowsweet – the last two being traditional Scots wild herbs used before hops came to the UK in the 16th century. Unhappy beer advocatonians do not appreciate the goosebeery flavour but as the best dessert I ever ate was a gooseberry-pear pie, I am not worried. The gooseberry matches the tang of the wheat very nicely.

Fraoch Heather Ale: Heather is a lovely thing and, being a Scottish immigrants kid who grew up in New Scotland, a pretty pervasive symbol in my life. Unlike hops, which is a robust annual vine that can grow to hundreds of feet, heather is a low bush that grows in pretty marginal rough places. It has both a sweetness like clover, twigginess and floral blossom aspects. This comes out in the ale, which is otherwise a fairly neutral low-medium pale ale. There is some fruit in the grain which joins with the sweetness of the heather nicely. There is an lavender-orangey thing to it but woodsy rather than fine. The finish is just off-dry and flavourful. Beer advocation is positive. From the brewery’s website, this interesting technique to infuse the beer is explained:

Into the boiling bree of malted barley, sweet gale and flowering heather are added, then after cooling slightly the hot ale is poured into a vat of fresh heather flowers where it infuses for an hour before being fermented.

For me, that is a better use of the infusion description. This one would be a very good every day ale if it were actually for sale here…every day.

So all in all an interesting four pack worthy as an introduction to this interesting brewery. People thinking to make things interesting.

Five Foot Square Brewery

Happy news from Wales where they have the common sense to allow tiny batch breweries to exist – the smallest in the world in a former outhouse has just reopened. Practically impossible in Canada where a whacking excise fee has to be paid unless you fall into section 172(1) of the Excise Act:

172. (1) Notwithstanding sections 170 and 171, the duties of excise thereby imposed shall not be levied or collected on beer that is made or brewed by any person for personal or family consumption or to be given away without charge and that is not for sale or commercial use.

Notice that “not for charge” but still “commercial use” nonetheless requires the whacking fee – pubs couldn’t even give it away. Then, under section 3(1) of the Brewery Regulations [C.R.C., c. 565] you have to phone the government up when you do your job:

3. (1) A brewer shall establish a production day in respect of the brewer’s brewery and shall, in writing, notify the appropriate superior officer of the time of commencement and the duration of the production day.

and then pony up:

5. The excise duty on beer shall be charged and computed on the quantities of beer produced during each production day…

All to stop the madness of Canadian pubs making 9 gallons of real ale every two weeks in an outhouse. Thanks government.

Beer: The Story of the Pint

Last July, I wrote a review of Pete Brown’s book Man Walks into a Pub. Over 7 weeks later, A reply was posted by Martyn Cornell:

I had better declare a massive interest before I begin, since I’m the author of Beer: The Story of the Pint, which came out two months after Pete Brown’s book. I’ve met Pete, he’s a nice guy, and his book contains, in its second half, an excellent analysis of where the brewing industry in Britain is today. It’s a pity the first half does not seem to have had as much research put into it, as it repeats all the old myths about the history of beer my own book attempts to correct – myths which add up to rather more than “a few” factual errors. I wouldn’t ask you to take my word for it – read both books, and let me know what you think.

Before I knew it I shelled out 18.92 Euros through amazon.co.uk and a few weeks ago the book arrived. Paying the $2.20 or so for GST [and the most cursed $5.00 more for the Canada Post GST collection charge – a money grab worthy of Aliant] I ran right home and started into the read.

Now, I have over 30 books about beer. Some are style guides about the history of and how to make, say, Stout or German Wheat Ale. Others are technical works like the ever popular The Biotechnology of Malting and Brewing by J.S Hough (1985, Cambridge)while others are layperson homebrewing guides like the classic 1970’s The Big Book of Brewing by David Line (12th ed, 1985, Amateur Winemaker). Some, like Beer: The Story of the Pint are histories of the phenomena of beer drinking and the brewing industry. I have three or four of these now which focus on the history of the English industry:

Beer and Britannia: An Inebriated History of Britain by Peter Haydon (2001, Sutton)

Beer: The Story of the Pint by Martyn Cornell (2003, Headline)

Man Walks into a Pub by Pete Brown (2003, MacMillan) and

The English Pub by Michael Jackson (1976, Harper & Row).

The latter text is the ish-ish one as it is largely a photo essay on the elements of the pub but it contains as much historical information as any so I include it here. So where does the most recent text fall in?

Lets just say from the outset that I am biased myself as I will buy any book about beer and find something useful in it. In that sense I am speaking as a a collector more than as a book reviewer. Further, I was particularly pleased to be contacted by the author and even more pleased by a continuing email correspondence we have shared. At one point in my reading, I wrote to say that I was somewhat frustrated by the lack of footnoting, to which Mr Cornell replied:

Mmmmm – trouble is, the general feeling in the publishing world is that footnotes equal elitist-looking equals lost sales, except if they’re jokey asides as per Pete Brown’s book. This may be wrong, but it’s what publishers think. The aim of Beer: TSOTP was to try to appeal both to people, like yourself, who already knew a lot about beer and brewing, and also to people looking for a Christmas present for Uncle Ernie (since by getting them to buy the book, I and the publisher make more money …), hence no footnotes so as not to put off the Uncle Ernie crowd. However, to make up for this a little, I tried to make the bibliography as complete as possible, and also chapter-specific, to help people track references down.

Cheers, Martyn Cornell

He is, of course, right…and even knows I have an Uncle Ernie, who lives in the Scottish Borders (blessedly near Traquair House) and who would, indeed, like these books for Christmas. The bibliography provided by Mr. Cornell is extensive, running 14 pages, and wil add muchly to my hunt for more books to buy.

That all being said, it was the first half of the book I enjoyed the most – the history of brewing to very roughly 1850. The latter part I found became a recitation of corporate mergers in the English brewing industry. In the first part a compelling argument concerning the history of porter is set out, the meaning of the XX and KK system described and the pre-1500 story set out more clearly and supported by more extensive research than in any other book I have read. He is, however and for example, lighter on the place of mild from 1850 to 1950 than the others, yet does the best job in explaining Burton. They all, however, miss the best reference to that latter strong ale in Wind in the Willows when Rat and Mole in the chapter “Dulce Domum” discover it in Mole’s old pantry as they prepare a winter night’s feed:

The Rat, meanwhile, was busy examining the lable on one of the beer-bottles. “I perceive this to be Old Burton,’ he remarked approvingly. “Sensible Mole! The very thing! Now we shall be able to mull some ale! Get the things ready, Mole, while I draw the corks.”

Old Burton can be enjoyed in Ontario every winter with the supply of Samuel Smith’s “Winter Welcome” or  Young’s “Winter Warmer”, the latter renamed as such in 1971 from the previous “Burton Ale”, as we learn on page 206 of Cornell.

When I compare Cornell’s work to that of Haydon, I find the latter has the better description of 1800 to 1950. Similarly when I add Brown to the mix, he has the best explanation of 1950 to now. What Haydon and Brown achieve is contextualizing the place of beer in English society during those periods, the former in terms of the political and regulatory overlay, the latter in terms of consumerism and marketing. Cornell’s success is setting the greater social context better than the others before 1800 and especially before 1500.  My verdict? Buy all of them – and find an old coffee table sized copy of Jacksons The English Pub for more illustrations. Each will add to the others both in terms of the overall timeline and interpretation of particular facts.