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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Beer Baron - Road Trip: Finding Good Beer in Wine Country

This guest post is by Matt

While Jen was at the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference, I decided to take a little road trip to the Niagara region to see family and check out the newly emerging craft beer scene. (I admit I also visited Cave Springs Cellars in Jordan, Ontario, but that’s because only a fool passes up the chance to get their CSV or Dolomite Rieslings.)

After meeting their representative at the London Food & Wine Show in January, I had been planning a trip to the Silversmith Brewing Company in Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

Converting a church into a brewery and brewpub is the Holy Grail (pun intended) for beer geeks like me, so I had to see their operation for myself. It was an impressive site:

When I walked in, I was greeted by the following menu:

I kid you not, I clapped and grinned like an idiot when I saw it. Silversmith is best known for their Black Lager and I knew they would have that, but seeing the Russian Imperial Stout – which is my favourite style of beer – on the menu was a happy moment, indeed.

After seeing my insane enthusiasm, the staff greeted me warmly and poured me a sample of each of the three beers. The Black Lager is light and crisp like a traditional lager but uses black and caramel malts to imbue it with the bitter chocolate and coffee notes you’d find in many porters or stouts. It is a pretty unique beer and a nice gateway beer for those who have yet to succumb to the dark side and really embrace more robust porters and stouts.

The Bavarian Breakfast Wheat was decent but I could hardly wait to get to the Russian Imperial Stout, seen here poured from the growler I bought:

Described by the staff as a work in progress and something of a “Little Rasputin” due to its slightly-lower-than-average alcohol content (7%), it was all the dark chocolate and roasted coffee notes I’d expect from the style, but was a little more easy-drinking due to the lower alcohol and less sticky sweetness. (Obviously, 7% alcohol seems high for most beers, but Russian Imperial Stouts are often in the 9-11% range or even higher in some awesome cases.) Regardless, the beer was worthy of my excitement and considering how close we are to Michigan (the land of incredible stouts), I’m glad to see them starting to play with the boy boys. Well done, Silversmith.

While Silversmith currently brews the majority of their flagship Black Lager in Toronto, they are expanding their facility in Niagara-on-the-Lake to handle everything in house. If you look past the car lot reflection, you’ll see what I mean.

Just a click or two up the same road was Niagara Oast House Brewers.

They have a beautiful little brewery and really pleasant little tasting room, which was serving:

When I asked if the “Smokey” Irish stout was actually smoked, the staff member passed me a glass of the barley to sniff and it was pretty intensely smoky but came across as nicely subtle in the beer itself. Overall, my favourite was their simple-but-delicious Barn Raiser Country Ale.

Overall, it was a happy day and nice to discover that even in the middle of wine country, you can still find a very good beer (and a clap-worthy stout).

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