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Brewing Beer ~ Ontario Craft Brewers, Brew Pubs

Beer route Mississauga, Oakville & Burlington

Brewing Beer in Ontario Though die-hard beer lovers may disagree, the dead of winter (when I wrote this story) is not the best time to travel the Ontario Beer Route. Especially in Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington, Ontario, spring, fall and summer weather makes for a fine day trip!

As you might expect, a beer route in this context is similar to a wine route, which Ontario has in abundance in the Niagara Falls area.

Enterprising craft brewers compiled a map of southern Ontario breweries and crafted it into a downloadable map see OntarioCraftBrewers.ca). Here are some of the Ontario craft brewers in Oakville, Mississauga and Burlington, with comments from Roger Mittag, the 'Professor of beer. Cheers!


Ontario Craft Brewers ~ Brewing Beer in Ontario

"There are two main styles of beers," says Roger Mittag. "Ales and lagers. About 90 percent of all beer consumed around the world is lager. Lagers are like white wines -- less flavour, more refreshing and easier to drink. Lagers can be served colder, between 2 and 5 degrees. Use a tall, narrow glass to focus what aromas there are at the top of the glass," he says. "Think of ales like red wines. Ales are more robust, with more complex flavours, and should be served at a warmer temperature -- between 5 and 10 degrees. Take ales out of the fridge for a while before serving, then serve them in a wider mouth glass, so all the aromas can come out in the foam."

Mittag, the 'Professor of Beer" and spokesperson for The Beer Store, knows his brews. Originally trained by some of the world's best master brewers, he's been 'helping Canadian appreciate beer for the past nine years'. Beer has the largest share of total alcoholic beverages sales in Canada, representing 80 percent of the entire volume of spirits, wines and beer sold across the country, he says, adding, "One of the great myths is that beer is fattening. Beer has no fat, and less calories than milk or orange juice. It all depends on what you eat with it."

As for 'what to eat with beer', says Kevin Healy, Labatt Beer Institute and Training Manager, follow a few simple guidelines. "Lagers go well with white meats such as mild-flavoured seafoods -- mussels, scallops, halibut -- and chicken, game hen and turkey. Ales pair well with red meat, like beef, lamb and game, and traditional English pub foods, like Shepherd's pie, Steak and Kidney pie and Bangers and Mash, and French Tortiere," Healy says. "The 'hoppiness' [aromatic hops influence aroma, flavour and bitterness] in beer is equal to the acidity in wine. Therefore, pair spicy foods, or oily deep-fried foods, with a 'hoppier', or more bitter tasting, beer."

Trafalgar Brewing Company, Oakville

Optimal beer and food pairings are the focus for several local establishments where 'microbrewery meets pub food', as it does at Trafalgar Brewing Company, in Oakville. Now in its 16th year and operating as Trafalgar Ales and Meads, says company founder, Mike Arnold, the new name reflects the six meads added to its line up of 11 different beers. "We began doing meads for the [now defunct] Ontario Renaissance Festival when they were looking for an Old English style beer," Arnold says. "Ten years later, we're still making meads, which are sold at the brewery."

The pub, called The Tied House in the Old English tradition of pubs 'tied' to a brewery, features foods cooked with beer, he says. "We developed our own recipes using beer. Beer has hops, and hops can be bitter, so we don't use hoppy beer, we use malty beer." As for 'pub food' being synonymous with deep-fried foods, Arnold says, "We don't serve any deep-fried foods. We make beer breads for our sandwiches, and stews with beer. It's basic, good home-style cooking."

West 50 Pour House and Grille, Mississauga

West 50 Pour House and Grille is the newest HIP Restaurants Mississauga venue (TEN Restaurant and On The Curve are the others). Olaf Mertens, executive chef, has set menus for lunch and dinner that answer his question, "What do I like to eat when I drink beer?" His response: "Spicy foods, Asian foods. They go well with beer. And 30 percent of West 10 recipes are flavoured with beer. We serve soft beer pretzels and use beer nuts in the salad," he says.

"West 50 is the largest all-draft house in Canada, with 100 flavours on 115 taps, and with 40 percent sourced from Ontario microbreweries. The only bottled beers are a non-alcoholic beer and a gluten-free beer. The largest draft selection in Canada, and great food: We think that's a winning combination."

Pepperwood Bistro, Burlington

Pepperwood Bistro, in Burlington, is a true brew pub, says Bill Leslie, who with Stephen Bell, co-owns Pepperwood Restaurants (Pepperwood Bistro, 2020 Lakeside and La Costa Nuova in Burlington, and Rosewood in Mississauga). Currently brewed on-site for for on-premise consumption only, Pepperwood beers will soon available at all Pepperwood restaurants, they say.

"Pepperwood beers will be made for us by another microbrewery using our recipes, developed by Paul Dickey, our brewer," says Bell. "Paul's been brewing since 1985. He's a BJCP [Beer Judge Certification Program] Master Beer Judge and also associate brewer at Black Oak Brewing Company."

As for the menu, Leslie says, "We use beer as an ingredient in feature items, like Best Bitter in mussels. At our beer dinners, we match beers to the courses." For Pepperwood's annual beer festival, he says they close the restaurant, and 16 to 20 microbreweries -- 125 to 150 people -- come to sample beers from top local breweries. Leslie explains, "The top beers are determined at this festival, then featured monthly throughout the year at Pepperwood."

What makes good beer?

Just ask any of the 30-odd member breweries making up the Ontario Craft Brewers. Malt, water, yeast and hops: These are beer's main ingredients. You could make up a batch in your back yard, as did Susannah Oland, in 1867. Her October Brown Ale went on to launch one of Nova Scotia's oldest breweries. But since each ingredient affords many variations, from source and variety to how it is handled, the possibilities for unique brews seem limitless.

Black Oak Brewing Company, Oakville

One such brewer is Black Oak Brewing Company, in Oakville, with two beers available at their retail store, as well as across the GTA at selected LCBO and Beer Store locations, pubs and restaurants. Seasonal beers are added, says Ken Woods, president. "Our Nutcracker Porter is available the month leading up to Christmas, and our double chocolate cherry stout is availlable from the end of February until mid-April," he says. "Our brewmaster, Adrian Popowicz, is excellent at creating new beers."

Camerons Brewing Company, Oakville

And when it got too big for its Etobicoke site, Camerons Brewing Company moved to Oakville, where there's room for further expansion, says Jason Ellesmere, sales manager. "We outgrew where we were," he says. "With the move to Oakville four years ago, we more than doubled our square footage."

Camerons Brewing Company's two lagers, an auburn ale and a cream ale are sold at its on-site retail store and at The Beer Store across Ontario as far north as Sudbury, he says, noting that "Toronto is our biggest market. And we're included in the Ontario Beer Route, which generates a lot of tour groups to our plant and retail store." (For a printable Ontario Beer Route map to all member brewers, see OntarioCraftBrewers.ca) Like most microbreweries, Camerons offers free tours, which can take 15 minutes or up to an hour, depending on the questions asked and the size of the group, says Ellesmere. "Our tours are informal. Come in and meet us, and we'll walk you through."

Old Credit Brewery, Port Credit (Mississauga)

old credit brewery port credit Mississauga ontario canada "Old Credit Brewery was the first stop on the inaugural Beer Route tour, and we're also an affiliate of Mississauga Tourism," says Noreen Lista, who with husband, Aldo, owns the Mississauga microbrewery embarking on its 13th year in Port Credit.

For the Christmas season, she says, Holiday Honey Ale (available only at their retail store) joins Old Credit's award-winning amber ale and pale pilsner, which are available year round at selected LCBOs, and other venues.

"Our Holiday Honey ale won a silver medal in 2006, the first time we entered it," Lista says. "Our customers want us to make it all year long, but then it wouldn't be special. We start brewing it in August and it's ready three months later. Once it's gone, it's gone."

Old Credit Brewery is unique among microbreweries, she explains, because of their beer has a longer fermentation time (2-3 weeks instead of five days) and because it's aged on ice for eight weeks. "Our customers appreciate our unique beers and our method of making our beers," Lista says.

Better Bitters Brewing Company, Burlington

Thinking the traditional 'bitters' moniker would favourably resonate with local residents, and in homage to a favoured chapter in a beer book, in 1991, John Romano named his new Burlington brew store Better Bitters Brewing Company.

"We were the largest home brew store in Canada," says Romano. "Later, we decided to add 'make it with us', selling beer and winemaking kits to be used on our premises. Then we decided to become a microbrewery on the same site. I believe we are the fastest growing microbrewery in the LCBO," he says.

And more importantly, he adds, locally produced beers put 40 percent back into the local economy. The microbrewery is nearly two years old now, producing Nickelbrook Beer, named for his children, Nick and Brook. "When we introduced the Nickelbuck -- our 'glass of draft for $1' (for on-site consumption only) -- it got too popular and cut into the U-Brew business," says Romano. "It seems people would rather let us brew it for them."

Renovations turned the U-Brew into a cafe. "My brother and I are both very good cooks," he says. "We make marinated mushrooms, soups, stews, pastas and dips with beer. I also do food demos for the LCBO. I've catered a few parties at the brewery and got lots of compliments on how good the food was."

How to Host a Beer Tasting

Roger Mittag, the Professor of Beer, offers these tips.

  • Pick a theme, like Beers of Canada.

  • Choose the beers. For 20 guests, allow one 6-pack of each tasting beer. Mittag suggests 6-10 beers, which allows three ounces per guest per beer.

  • Get the glasses. Rinse glasses between each tasting or use plastic wine glasses.

  • Cleanse your palate. Between beers, and especially when switching from ales to lagers, sip water and nibble crackers or bread.

  • Start with lagers then go to ales.

  • Start with the lightest beers and move to the darkest: Light lager, amber lager, dark lager, light ale, pale ale, amber ale, stouts, then porters.

  • Taste: Look for what you like. Many people have a prejudice, such as 'I don't drink dark beers'. A tasting is an opportunity to try different ones.

  • Smell: Look for different aromas. Malts give rich chocolate and coffee notes, hops give grassy, fruity, floral, citrusy notes.

  • Look at the colour: Malts bring colour -- caramel, light or red.

  • Enjoy: Cheese is wonderful with beer, says Mittag. "The bitterness in beer cuts the taste of a rich, sharp cheese