How life can change so unexpectedly and wonderfully is not the topic of this post. However, before delving into beer from two of the best breweries in Ontario, I am forced to point out that my last trip to Ottawa, over a year and a half ago, was to meet Rick and drink beer. Then he was a Couchsurfer companion, and now he is my husband. Funny.
The beer scene has changed, too, I am pleased to say. 18 months ago, my visit led me to Lowertown Brewing, where they were not brewing in house and their “dark” summed up the all the confusion of the entire trip. The beer wasn’t too bad, but it was forgettable. Beers at Clocktower, though, had fermentation issues galore. My most enjoyable sip was Pink Fuzz, by Beyond the Pale Brewing, on tap at a restaurant.
I would not have called Ottawa a beer destination.
What a difference a year can make – Ontario makes a strong showing at the @CdnBrewAwards
— The Brewbellion™ (@TheBrewbellion) May 29, 2016
This spring, though, I discovered two breweries worthy of tourism (plus I learned of several that wouldn’t fit into my timeline). And while Lowertown has improved enormously, I’d advise hitting these instead, especially if you’re short on time as they are within walking distance of one another.
The first stop was Beyond the Pale Brewing, creators of Pink Fuzz who have a sampling room On the edge of Fisher Park and Little Italy. Walk around here if you’re able. We were staying on the edge of Chinatown near to downtown and it was a very pleasant stroll. The brewery itself isn’t much to look at, but a neighboring ceramics studio plus a number of other hyper-local boutiques are charming and fun.
Beyond the Pale began in 2012 and has continued to crank an impressive amount of beer out of their 400L system. During our visit, the beers above were available for sampling. It’s a truly minuscule brewery; beer is sold in 4-pack cans as well as growlers. How they keep up with demand I do not know. They do not have a taproom, but their beers are on draft in many Ottawa restaurants.
I sampled the Pretty Little Porter and The Darkness Oatmeal Stout, as it was a chilly spring evening. Overall I enjoyed these malty selections a bit more than their hop-forward Party Animal or Sissy Pants, which had a bit too much residual sweetness for me. I left with a 4-pack of Aromatherapy, though, an excellent IPA that bucks the trend of other Ontario beers — both the bittering and the aroma hops are spot on, creating a balance of punchy flavor and drying bitterness. The hop profile is herbal and dank while a brief biscuity malt presents itself on the finish. Extremely well done.
We also left with a growlette of The Mullet, a Belgian IPA with more temperate alcohol content and floral notes from Belgian yeast. It’s the best of both worlds, falling between the spice and citrus influence of a saison, and potent hop aroma.
Several blocks back east will lead to Tooth and Nail Brewing in the Hintonburg neighborhood, which is very different from Beyond the Pale in that it has a small taproom that serves more than just beer – charcuterie, other snacks, and even wine are available, meaning the place will please nearly everyone. But the energy has not been taken away from the brewing process. Case in point: the brewery won four medals this weekend at the Canadian Brewing Awards. Way to go!
What is particularly stunning about Tooth and Nail is how inviting the place is. Far from those taprooms that were clearly afterthoughts built into production breweries, Tooth and Nail feels like a beer bar with a lovely ambiance and thorough service. The pendant light in the front window is shaped like a hop and even glows green, and the bar is a warm, dark wood that is narrow enough to keep the customer close to the action.
The beer list contains mostly classic styles, from Pilsner to bock to Belgian golden strong. There doesn’t seem to be a regional specialty, so we opted for a German-style bock and a saison.
A more classic saison I may have never had in my entire beer-drinking life. Truly. Drink the Valor saison and you will be convinced is has been imported, except it tastes even fresher. The essential grassy aroma heralds what is to come, and each sip documents how the beer evolves, from floral and phenolic to bright and nearly tart. It stops prior to funky, though, making in positively drinkable.
Valor won gold at the Canadian Brewing Awards, so I’m not exaggerating here.
In darker territory lies the Horn Banger Bock, which I found to be excellently authentic. The caramelized aroma comes across borderline burnt, like creme brulee. The flavor has caramel as well, plus dark fruit undertones of cherry. The beer was lagered for over two months, which is the reason it is so fantastically clean.
The charcuterie is thoughtfully paired with beer selections, such as the Rabble Rouser plate with the corresponding IPA of the same name. It features pepper-stuffed sausage, aged gouda, candied nuts, and chutney. The beer is an unexpected pairing that relies on contrast rather than similarity. El Dorado and Azacca hops add spice and tropical fruit notes.
Ottawa is now home to over two dozen breweries, but these two are not to be missed. Spend and evening with Tooth and Nail and bring beer home from Beyond the Pale. I’m tempted to search plane ticket prices just from revisiting these sips. Cheers!