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.

C’est What, Toronto, Ontario

cest5I was in Toronto for a few days this week and was able to stop by a brewpub called C’est What. I have some notes to add later after I dig through my stuff but wanted to get these pictures up.

cest7The Next Day: I appear to have sprayed my things with notes-be-gone so I’ll do this from memory. I tried two of their own ales with my Porter Beef Ribs and like both a lot. The first was the redundantly named Brown Mild Ale. While it is true there is a style of that is a light coloured mild, it is rare enough that it is an exception to the general principle that mild is brown. At 3.3%, it is the right strength for a session of supping. The beer menu said it was nitro dispensed meaning instead of being pushed by the normal CO2 there is a measure of nitrogen added. This is the same idea behind cask flow ale in a can that leaves a tiny fine head. With this real ale, it works very well giving a creamy head that incorporates many of the flavours of the yeast. The beer was creamy with chocolate and walnut flavours. The hops were subdued giving a bit of structure to the finish. Very nice.








At the heart of the ale there is fresh clean water, exactly right for the style. This beer alone would bring me back to this pub. It is a beer that every brew pub should offer, that and/or ordinary bitter, a low alcohol version of a hopped light ale. My only complaint is that it costs the same as the other stronger ales. As 60% of the ingredients go in, ther should be some accomodation in the final cost I pay. That being said, $5.18 CND for a quality real ale pint is a good price.








The second ale I tried was their hemp ale. This is a favorite of mine whenever I have had it, the hemp replacing or adding to the hop effect. Depending on the amount and selection of hooping, the tastes can be quite different. In this version, it is basically a basic best bitter of 4.5% to 5.0% in terms of mouthfeel which has a layer of sweet green vegetableness added to it. And the green tastes like…fresh broad beans. Should gross but it is not. Quite good with the ribs. cest3The ribs themselves were worth attending again, though the were a smidge underdone for my liking. Meat should fall off ribs and the inner tissue should have essentially melted away. There was a bit too much of a gnaw to the meal but in terms of flavour and texture it was spot on. Served with a spring salad overly drenched in dressing and tastey fine cut herbed french fries. You can order extra ribs and I did, hence the Freddie Flinstone pile on the plate.

This is the second time I have been to C’est What and each time I think there is something less manic about brewing that I would think normal. Less brewiana-esque than most and a little cool or, better, laid back. But I suppose that is the market they are playing to. Odd to see errors like the menu saying Black Sheep Ale is from Scotland when it is from Yorkshire. Nerds usually do not get that wrong. That being said, the quality of the beers – especially in terms of the yeast selection – is as good as I have every tried.

Ontario: Pilsner, Steam Whistle Brewing, Metro Toronto

Every once in a while I have a lager and then I remember that I don’t like lagers much. You may have noticed this in the reviews set out here. But I have been meaning to try Steam Whistle for sometime to make sure I am not missing something good and local.

Good thing as this is my kind of lager. It pours a medium straw and fades to a white rim. While the body is quite watery – without being thin – there are lots of grainy malt as in a quality pale ale but it is a notch sweeter and rounder. That roundness is accentuated by a creamy lager malt strain with a concession to the style in the metallic hops that cut the cloy. But the hop additions come from a measured hand and there is a freshness to them that compliments the sweet malt rather than fights it. This is the one beer the brewery brews and it is quite worthy.

It would be interesting to see what these folks could do with a pale ale. Oddly – the BAers are brutal with over one third saying no way.

St. Veronus, Peterborough, Ontario


So we went to Peterborough yesterday to see old friends and we had lunch at St. Veronus, a cafe/bar with a subtitle: “Belgian beer temple”…truer stv1words were never writ. We are now looking for jobs in the Peterborough area.  Unaccustomed to great selection, great service, reasonable prices, care and attention to interesting beer and fantastic food selection am I in a Canadian beer spot that I kept mentally making US exchange rate calculations as I browsed the menu and the beer lists. Then I would shake my head and say…this place is actually in Ontario…and Ontario is in Canada.








I was overwhelmed at the outset when I realized what lay before me. I did not know what to order for a first drink so I just wandered around the two room cafe taking pictures. I mentioned the fact of this here website and, without shifting into a higher gear of service in any respect, the extremely helpful staff answered any number of my deer-in-headlight questions. They even allowed themselves to engage in a little beer porn for the camera as illustrated below. I settled on a Rochefort 6, a new beer to me. At 7.5% it was off their “new arrivals” short list. It was heaven. From recollection malty, a tad burlappy with even a little chocolate perhaps. Others had various lambics and Gueze as well as a very nice Barbar honey ale which I got to sip. Loverly. Just look at the bar fridge – now that’s real shock and awe.








Despite the excellent price and variety of the beer, however, it was the food that actually made the visit. St Veronus offers a selection of grilled thick sandwiches with thoughtful ingredients that match the beers very well. The best I thought was the cheddar, slow cooked onion goo and slow cooked apple goo sandwich – it has an other better name but whatever it is called it was scoffed down by a seven year old in mucho haste. For my second sip, I had a local micro, Church-key Northumberland Ale. I did not get a six of that when I visited the brewery last winter but I will next time I go. It was a full malt-fruit forward rich pale ale under what must be the best beer handling conditions I have met in Ontario. And only 4.50 CND for a 500 ml pint.

Definitely a first of many visits.



Fire At 9:00 PM

I just took these images from the roof of our building looking east to the other side of the City. I have not been able to find any local news service this Sunday evening to find out what is going on. I would estimate the fire to be at least 5 km away so it is pretty big.

Update: it was the reed march at the river on fire according to reports Monday morning.





And here is the article in the Whig:

Kingston Whig – 30 May 2005 “Firefighters suspect arson in massive marsh blaze”, by Ian Elliot

Firefighters suspect a major fire that burned a huge swath of the Great Cataraqui Marsh was deliberately set. Kingston firefighters were initially called to a large and fast-moving blaze just east of Weller Avenue right before 8:30 p.m. While they were battling that fire, which appeared to have started near the shore and burned out in a concentric ring, another blaze started about a kilometre north of the original fire and burned its way northeast towards Highway 401. “Field mice don’t usually carry matches,” observed Kingston Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Les Meers dryly after the second blaze broke out.

Kingston Police Staff-Sgt. Greg Sands said last night the fire will be investigated, although no one was in custody last night. “There were reports that two youths were seen running from the area shortly after [the fire] and that will be investigated,” he said. There were no reports of property damage as winds blew the fire away from the shore of the Cataraqui River. Nearby homes are protected by the CN Rail track which acts as a firebreak. “The winds were in our favour this evening,” said Meers. “They were blowing east and pushing the fire towards the river.” More than 20 Kingston firefighters were called out to fight the fire yesterday evening and it had been largely extinguished by press time. Several firefighters were to have been posted on the scene overnight to guard against flare-ups. Much of the firefighting was done by crews with backpacks holding several gallons of water, which they refilled from a tanker some distance from the fire. As the fire spread, they tapped into a hydrant on Shaw Street and ran the hose through a trench they’d excavated underneath the railway tracks. “It’s something we don’t like to do, but we have to,” explained Meers.

The fire was intense, and people watching it from their back porches along Montreal Street said, at its height, they could feel the heat from the flames on their faces from a distance of several hundred metres. The fire also drew hundreds of curious spectators, who clogged area roads and bridge overpasses that offered a view of the fire. A number of people also drove to a quarry on Highway 15 in the former Pittsburgh Township that offered a panoramic view of the marsh. There was a street-party atmosphere at the scene as people brought babies in strollers and carried digital or video cameras to snap pictures as the massive blaze spread. Cars also slowed or pulled over on the shoulder of Highway 401 to watch the fire burn and Kingston firefighters were ready to close that stretch of highway if the fire drew too close and interfered with visibility. Train traffic was slowed but not stopped as crews fought the fire. Several slow-moving trains passed through the area during the fire, with passengers on the trains pressing against the windows to see the blaze, which shot flames and embers 10 metres high at its peak and whose plumes of smoke could be seen for miles.

Bystanders lined the tracks and had to be shooed off by police and firefighters as trains passed through the area. The fire department has a boat but didn’t call it out last night. The fire department has been called to the marsh a half-dozen times already this year as a lack of rain has left it tinder dry, but yesterday’s fire was by far the largest this year. The marsh burns regularly in the spring and fall. While the spectacular fires rarely threaten houses, they do pose a threat to the phone lines that run along the east side of the tracks. They weren’t damaged in last night’s fire. In 1995, a particularly large fire destroyed 250 hectares of marsh and burned for almost 24 hours.

National Six-Pack XI: 10W30 Dark Ale, Neustadt, Ontario


The trouble with Ontario is really expressed in its beer distribution system: it is too big. Half the nation lives here, half the office space and half the bears as well. It goes from the arctic to the Carolinian forest, from the western prairie to a few miles from Montreal. The effect on beer distribution is a focus on localization so that if you want to find one of the beer from the handful of brewers in the province you have to drive. Driving on the weekend for other reasons, I took the opportunity to test the LCBO stocks in Guelph, north on highway 6 just past the Sleemans Brewery, four hours drive to my west.

This beer was worth the drive. A dark ale that actually tries to be something other than a darkened lager like the quite foul Waterloo Dark. Dark ale is not really a style so much as a place there by brown on the lighter side and porter on the richer. It is a small place and this beer settles there well. The body is heavier than the average Canadian ale – as the automotive oil name would imply. It is however fairly fresh with bright, if twiggy, hops cutting quite a sweet rich malt profile. Within the malts there are grainy pale malt flavours as well as some chocolate. Amongst those there is also a treacle note and perhaps a little hint of licorice. A brighter and lighter Theaksons’s Old Peculier? Here is what the advocates say.

Perhaps not the most amazing ale but – for those named dark – the best I have had from Canada.

National Six-Pack X: Sgt. Major’s IPA, Scotch Irish, Ontario


Finally the wee truck from Fitzroy Harbour up on the Ottawa River near Arnprior made its way down to Kingston giving us a taste of this excellent local ale. This is a hoppy that reminds me a lot of my recollection of the Dragon’s Breath Ale contract brewed and bottled by the old Hart Brewery of Carleton place about (without looking) 35 miles south of Fitzroy Harbour. Candy cane Goldings and grapefruity Chinook hops combine to provide quite a bit of a sour tang to this fairly lightly bodied clean ale. The finish is a nice combination of the slight rough edge of the hops and the light graininess of the pale ale.

The brewery has a pretty good web presence which provides the names of bars where you can buy a pint of tap. It also describes the Sgt. Major IPA as follows:

Our Sgt. Major’s IPA is our most intense ale to date. It’s a massively hoppy and quite bitter beer, yet one with a nice, full-bodied malt background. It weighs in at 5.5 percent Alcohol (balanced by its big body). It is hopped with lots of Chinook hops which impart a tasty white-grapefruit/spice/resin flavour and aroma (and a total of 68 IBU) making the ale wonderfully refreshing. Being at the low end of the alcohol range for the style, it’s as close to a supping pint as tradition allows. While the Sgt. Major’s rather considerable bitterness is nicely balanced by its full-bodied maltiness, this is overall a predominantly hoppy ale. The full body of our India Pale Ale comes from lots of English pale ale malt and crystal malt, with a very small amount of chocolate malt. Our all-natural draught ale uses no artificial additives or preservatives.

I don’t know if that means the bottled version does have artificial additives and preservatives. I would also think that the full-bodied characterization is pushing it a bit in a world where a drive as far south as this is north will get me a Middle Ages Wailing Wench or Druid Fluid. It is, for example, lighter but hopper than Propeller’s ESB from Halifax, one of the nicer bodied ales in Canada, but according to the standard scheme of bitters and pale ales a grade below an IPA. But this all is not to distract from the ale, just the adjectives. Like Mill Street Tankhouse Ale, the lighter mouthfeel I think reflects the apparent or possibly emerging Canadian style of pale ale, as opposed to my suggested putative style sweeter fuller Canadian amber but less hoppy. Both are a degree or two off the standard for an American pale ale or its amber sibling and different again from English ones.

Nevertheless, this is very good beer and a worthy addition to quest for the National Six-Pack. The quality of the craftsmanship makes me think a wee trip to the Manx in Ottawa is in order to try out the brewer’s draught only Session Ale, a rare ordinary bitter which – if true to style – should not hit 3.5% and ought to be as refreshingly quaffable as a good dark mild.

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.