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Bytown Brew Scene

TAPS Magazine | Fall 2009

Quebec’s newest microbrewery opened its doors five minutes outside of Ottawa, in Gatineau, on May 20th this year. Les Brasseurs du Temps brewpub has been in the works for five years, and the owners are delighted to finally see the project come to fruition. They spent six months revamping the interior of a beautiful historic brewery on Montcalm Street. The new warm wood décor is inviting, and the brewpub layout includes a bar and restaurant that seat 200 people as well as a large open kitchen, where the chef prepares fresh foods that highlight local produce and game meats. There is also room to seat 250 people outside, and a lovely private room on the lower floor that will be used for tastings and special events.

As of opening day, there was one Brasseurs du Temps brew available on tap, alongside twelve other Québec craft beers. Eleven of these beers are gradually being replaced by house brews (six regular beers and six seasonals) leaving the last tap open for a guest beer. Brewer, Dominic Gosselin, who studied at Institut Meurice in Belgium, has been perfecting the various Brasseurs du Temps beer recipes, as a homebrewer, for years. He is partial to high octane beer but plans a very eclectic and varying selection for the brewpub, which will include the standard Québec brewpub Blonde, Wheat beer, Amber and Stout alongside Double IPAs, Belgian Strong Ales and a range of experimental brews. The owners also have another interesting project on the go; they have acquired a wide range of brewing artifacts, which will be on display at the brewery, starting next September, as part of a permanent beer history exhibit. Les Brasseurs du Temps brews will also be available outside the brewpub, on draught at various locations, and there are plans to start bottling in 750ml bottles early next year.

 

Although Les Brasseurs du Temps is the only craft brewery in Gatineau, it is far from being the only one in the area. In fact, just across the border in Ottawa, there is a thriving craft beer scene where three local breweries offer a wide range of fresh and tasty beers. Although these breweries have all been around for a few years, they are all currently in the process of increasing their capacity to meet the growing demand and enthusiasm for craft beer in Ottawa. Evidence of the city’s growing interest in fresh brews can be found everywhere: the local slow food movement and board of tourism are promoting local craft beer, the Friends of the City of Ottawa Archives are organizing beer history discussions and, in the spring, the Agricultural museum was hosting an exhibit on hops.  In addition, an increasing number of hotels and pubs in the Ottawa area are adding local beers to the menu, and there are a number of bars, including The Black Tomato, The Manx and Pub Italia that serve a range of Ontario brews. Then, of course, there are the breweries themselves.

Ottawa’s Clocktower Brewpub has three locations. The first opened its doors on Bank Street in 1996. Ten years later, the MacKay Street location opened in New Edinburg and, this past March, the third Clocktower location opened in the busy Byward Market area, downtown. All three locations serve the same menu, which includes standard pub fare as well as selection of dishes that cover every craving from mussels, to chow mein, wonton soup or curry, as well as fantastic sweet potato fries. The food is freshly prepared and makes use of local ingredients whenever possible. It’s interesting to note that the Clocktower brewpubs also carry a selection of domestic and imported beers on tap. Co-owner John Coughlan explains that these guest taps were included right from the first day. The idea was to serve beers that Ottawa drinkers were familiar with in order to get them through the door and then “convert them” to the house brews. Instrumental to these conversions is Patrick Fiori, the Clocktower brewer, who joined the team just over two years ago, allowing Coughlan to focus more on the business side of things. Apart from his brewing duties, Fiori enjoys organizing beer dinners as well as beer and cheese tastings (see sidebar). He offers tutored tastings to groups who come in for private parties and holds staff education sessions at all three locations.

All of the Clocktower beers are brewed at the Bank St. location, which then supplies the other brewpubs. Fiori, who brewed at home for many years before completing a masters in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt, has been ‘tweaking’ the Clocktower beers slowly since he arrived, gradually adding more bitterness and balancing it with a more complex malt profile. The regular Clocktower brews are Kölsch, Raspberry Wheat, Bytown Brown, Fenian Red and Wishart’s Bitter. Two years ago, Fiori also began introducing seasonals: a Porter for the winter and a Pumpkin Spice beer for the fall. This past summer he decided to brew an organic Hefe-Weizen. It was so popular that Fiori is thinking of keeping it as a regular summer seasonal. The Clocktower on Bank St. also has three hand pumps that usually dispense the Brown, Red and Bitter. Fiori has been playing with one-off spiced casks. There was a blueberry cask version of the organic Hefe-Weizen on cask in July, and he is thinking about serving a special edition of the Pumpkin Spice beer on cask later on this fall. The Bank St. team is currently fine-tuning their brewing equipment in order to better meet demand, because the Market location has by far exceeded their sales expectations. Once this is done, plans are to open a fourth Ottawa location, and the team is also looking into the possibility of selling growlers.

Heritage Brewing first opened its door in Ottawa in 2001 and, as of April 1st this year, has moved back into the city, after having brewed in Carleton Place for six years. “It’s closer to home,” explains co-owner Donna Warner “and we also save in transportation costs because it is more central”. In fact, Heritage Brewing has quite a wide distribution area: extending as far west as Hamilton and up North into the Ottawa valley. Heritage is a Lager brewery, with two year-round brands: Heritage Premium Lager and Heritage Traditional Dark. Warner categorizes both these beers as ‘California Common’, meaning that they are fermented at higher temperatures. The brewery team settled on this style early on, after conducting some taste panels at the brewery. They found that customers were looking for beers that were crisp and refreshing, but had some underlying complexity and a fuller body than traditional lagers. Heritage Brewing also releases twregular seasonals: a Black Currant Rye in November and the Maple Bush Lager in June. Then there is the Passion Brew (brewed with passion fruit), which was released to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the past, and will likely be brewed again as of next year. Now that the brewery has re-located, there are plans for expansion. Heritage will be doubling its capacity over the next year, in order to better meet demand. This will allow the brewery to offer more regular seasonals, to introduce other limited-edition beers and to experiment with aging beers.

The beers at Heritage are brewed under the care of Ancil Hartman, who has been with the company for eight years. He enjoys brewing in a wide range of styles, and his personal goal with each beer is to provide a consistent flavour from batch to batch, and to highlight each beer’s “own character”. As of 2006, the Scotch Irish line of Ales are also being brewed at Heritage Brewing. These include the Sgt. Major IPA, Corporal Punishment Bitter Brown Ale and Stuart’s Natural Session Ale (formerly Dog’s Body), all available year-round. There are also two cold weather seasonals in the line: Black Irish Plain Porter and John By Imperial Stout (formerly Tsarina Katarina Imperial Stout.) Both the Stuarts Natural and the John By were re-named because their recipes were altered in a significant fashion at Heritage Brewing. Warner says that when the decision was made to brew the Imperial Stout again at Heritage (It had only been brewed once before, in 2005, at Church-Key Brewing Co.) the recipe was “stripped down to the essential flavours” and a new name was chosen. The Stuarts Natural differs from its predecessor in that it is now brewed using organic ingredients, and Warner plans to obtain an organic certification for it soon. With the upcoming increase in capacity and the new location, Warner has a number of projects in mind. She is even talking about opening a distillery in order to make beer liqueurs. These would be a result of aging a mix of beer and vodka. She has done tests with some of the Heritage and Scotch Irish brands and is very happy with the results.

The third craft brewery in the Ottawa region, Beau’s all Natural Brewing Co., is located one hour east of the city, in Vankleek Hill. Beau’s opened in July 2006 and released its flagship brand: Lug Tread Lagered Ale. The Lug Tread is brewed in the style of a German Kölsch. Brewer, Matt O’Hara developed “a passion for German beer styles” while working at Denison’s brewpub, in Toronto, and the Beau’s team liked the idea of having a flagship beer that was brewed in an uncommon style. In addition, the decision was made to brew Beau’s beers using organic ingredients and, as of June, all of the Beaus beers are certified organic. This approach proved to be an instant hit. The local response to Beau’s has been enthusiastic from day one, and the brewery is struggling to keep up with the demand. As co-founder Steve Beauschenes puts it, he feels like the brewery has had its “foot on the brake pedal for the last year”. This year, Beau’s is finally ready to expand and has added four big fermenters to the brewery. There is also a bottling line on the way, which should be installed and running by October. At that time, the Lug Tread will be re-packaged into 600ml glass bottles, replacing the current swing-top ceramic bottles. As a pint drinker, Beauschenes feels that 341ml bottles are “just too small”. These new Lug Tread bottles will be available in distinctive open top four-packs that were designed to minimize packaging.

For the time being, Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. beers are only available as far west as Kingston. The team has kept the distribution as local as possible in order to maintain a high level of customer service. With the recent expansion, the focus will be to meet the current demand first, and then potentially expand distribution. In the meantime, as of 2007, the Beau’s team started introducing seasonals. The first one released was the winter seasonal: Bogwater, a very unusual 6% alcohol brew that is seasoned with bog myrtle instead of hops.  Then there is Festivale Altbier summer seasonal and Nightmärzen that comes out in the fall. This year, the team has added Beaver River I.P.A. as a spring seasonal. Once a month, Beau’s has a “homebrew day” where one of the brewery employees designs and brews a beer with O’Hara’s assistance. According to Beauschenes, this helps to keep everyone stimulated while promoting beer literacy throughout the small company. He is thinking about getting a pilot system for the brewery and to make these one-off homebrew day beers available at special events.

While days in our capital can easily be filled with visits to the National Gallery, the Parliament buildings, the Byward market, or one of Ottawa’s many museums and festivals, beer tourists will be happy to discover that one can keep equally busy exploring Ottawa’s range of tasty brews and spending time visiting local breweries and pubs

Beer & Cheese:

Here are brewer Patrick Fiori’s suggested cheese pairings for all five Clocktower brews:

Clocktower Raspberry Wheat – Saint Agur Blue Cheese

Clocktower Kölsch – Grand Crème

Clocktower Bytown Brown – Jura Floré

Clocktower Fenian Red – Gouda

Clocktower Wishart’s Bitter – Seven Year Old Cheddar

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