Northern Microbreweries – Must be Something in the Water!

ByPamela Hamel March 25, 2015

What’s behind the burgeoning Microbrewery scene in Northeastern Ontario? Great beer-makers keep popping up across the north and we wanted to know what’s behind it so we sent Pamela Hamel, the “Martha Stewart of the North”, on a fact-finding mission. She also puts her extensive knowledge of food to some pairing suggestions for a totally Northern experience. All of these great Northern microbreweries have us thinking – there must be something in the water in Northeastern Ontario!

Tourists think the water in Northeastern Ontario is mostly about boating and fishing. And it most certainly is right for all kinds of pleasure activity, including craft beer brewing. Every toe-testing swimmer I’ve ever come across says the same thing: “its cold”!  But this cold water might just be the secret weapon in creating award NOMBF - Posterwinning brews. Water in the region has a near perfect mineral profile making it ideal for brewing. But I couldn’t help ask myself, “given the proliferation of new brewers and batches popping up across the region, is there something in the water?” Whatever the reason, this exciting trend is happening and it’s just what thirsty tourists are looking for—local flavours!   

This gastro mission started out in Torontowith a road trip to the Nickel City (Sudbury) for the inaugural Microbrew Festival hosted by STACK BREWING. The four-hour drive was an easy trek and the final destination was no better than the ornate and historical Grand Nightclub. The festival was filled with educational tastings, cheese pairings, meet the brewer, pulled pork with pretzels and a little winding to some live reggae.

Inside This Mission

  1. Let’s Taste the Terroir
  2. Beer & Cheese Pairings Please…
  3. I Say, the More the Merrier

1. Let’s Taste the Terroir

northern_ale001Microbreweries are not a new thing in the region. The original brewery namely, Northern Breweries operated in the Cities of Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie from 1907 to 2006.

All beers are made as ales or lagers; ale and lager are the two main branches (classifications) of the beer family tree and are closely related branches at that. Ales are the older, distinguished, traditional brews of the world, predating lagers by thousands of years, whereas lagers are a relatively modern creation, less than 200 years old with advent of refrigeration.

The cooler fermentation and aging temperatures used with lager yeast slow down the yeast activity and require a longer maturation time. The cold environment inhibits the production of fruity aromas (called esters) and other fermentation byproducts common in ales. This process creates the lager’s cleaner taste. Long aging (or lagering) also acts to mellow the beer.

liongrassCreative Brew Masters are creating a masterful collection of both, using local ingredients from the land, hence the “Taste the Terroir” theme comes alive. It is especially prevalent in the brews of HIGHLANDER BREW Co, who are located in South River, Ontario, in the Almaguin Highlands from which Highlander takes its name. The brewery is on the Northern edge of Algonquin Park, making Highlander one of the most northerly craft breweries in Ontario.

Highlander Brew Co., creates unique flavour profiles, with locally inspired wild ingredients that pair well with the area’s wild game. I enjoyed the taste experience in the LION GRASS ALE, which is made up of a combination of organic lemongrass and dandelion leaf blend with cascade hops. It pairs well with lighter dishes of fish and spicy chicken.

BLACKSMITH SMOKED PORTER is almost opaque black, with faint ruby coloured tinges when held towards light.  It’s flavour profile is brawny complex malt. Notes of dark chocolate, dark roast with burnt espresso edges, hints of maple and mellow, smoke peat. Pairing: Goes well with stews, steak, venison, wild game and rabbit. Also dark chocolates and sweet jams.

STACK BREWING CO. comes up with an award winner, LES PORTES DE L’ENFER with a Bronze at the 12th Annual Canadian Brewing Awards, and a gold at the Ontario Brewing Awards. Portes de L’Enfer has always been a favourite at the brewery and retail shop, it pours a deep amber colour with pleasant caramel notes accompanied with a little warming on the palate from the alcohol. It’s a strong belgian ale with finishing notes of black currant.

STACK on TAP

If you’re looking for a lighter IPA option, then I say go for the SATURDAY NIGHT a light cream ale or VALLEY GIRL, a lighter wheat ale. But go ahead and get adventurous, there is a good variety to choose from at Stack’s retail location, it’s stocked at the LCBO and available at most local franchise and private pubs.

Of course, Stack Brewing’s company name and logo are modelled after one of Sudbury’s most classic icons, the Inco smokestack. But that’s not all. Green-minded locavores will love that Stack Brewing sends spent grain to a local farm to be used as animal feed. Even cooler, if possible, is that every jug of Stack Brewing beer is bottled by hand.

Travelling west to Sault Ste. Marie, I found festival partners from OUTSPOKEN BREWERY, new to the scene with a retail location and a good supply at local pubs. Of interest to me, are:

outspoken logo 1FIRE STOKER PUMPKIN SPICE ALE. A seasonal delight! Malty with a warming spice blend that is complimented by a subtle hop character. Amber in colour, this seasonal ale matches the vibrant hues of the beautiful Northern Ontario autumns. A perfect companion by any fireside.   

POTTERSWORTH MAPLE BREAKFAST STOUT. Coming soon is an intriguing brew surely to please the stout lovers. Brew masters beg the question, “Beer for breakfast? This stout is so rich and velvety with a hint of sweet maple coffee, you may just need to try your next pint with a tall stack of pancakes. Brewed with the addition of St. Joseph Island Roasters Maple Magic coffee blend, our stout is not your typical stout. But, we didn’t want it to be”.

2. Beer & Cheese Pairings please…

Mirella from MirellaThis gastro mission was a big learning curve in the world of beer, and admittedly I graduated with a wee bit of a wobble by end of day. I learned that more than wine goes with cheese. I have an improved pairings ability thanks to the super educational sessions hosted by Mirella Amato of Beerology. Mirella is Canada’s first and only Master Cicerone™ (aficionado in beer pairings and tastings). If you are looking to build your beer knowledge or hold a tasting event of your own, you will want to start with a copy of her new reference titled “Beerology“.

Mirella loved the event too: “It was really a pleasure to participate in the inaugural edition of the Northern Ontario Microbrew Festival. I was delighted to witness both interest and enthusiasm for craft beer from the audience, which has increased dramatically in North East Ontario over the past three years. It was also great to see that, during this time, a number of new breweries have opened their doors in that area.”


Serve these fine cheeses at room temperature, along with thin slices of your favourite baguette and fresh fruit:

STACK Brewing

Beer: Les Portes de L’Enfer

Pairing: Temiskaming, slightly sharp heritage

HIGHLANDER Brewing Co.

Beer: Blacksmith Smoked Porter

Pairing: Evanturel double cream warm with maple syrup drizzle

OUTSPOKEN Brewery

Beer: Outspoken Blonde (Ale)

Pairing: Original Medium Cheddar or Charlton


Creating a Delicious Dining Experience with Beer
Beer makes an excellent accompaniment to many different foods. The following beer and food pairing tips can help enhance your overall dining experience:

  • A very general rule is to think of Lagers as the beer equivalent to white wine and ales as the red wine equivalent.
  • The best pairings occur when beer is used to either cut, contrast, or complement the dish. For example, a hoppy India Pale Ale cuts through the oiliness of duck or lamb, a malty Lager contrasts the heat of a 5-alarm chili, and a rich Imperial Stout nicely complements fudge brownies.
  • Drink light-bodied beers before eating; save fuller bodied beers for dessert or for after the meal.
  • Lighter bodied and coloured Lagers pair well with delicate fish; malty, amber-coloured beers pair well with chicken; hoppy Pale Ales mate well with pork and lamb; dark Porters and Stouts complement hearty beef dishes–especially when grilled.

3. I Say, the More the Merrier!

Going into this mission, little did I know about the make-up or character of the brewers. The unique thing about microbrewers is that they love to collaborate and help each other push the passion.  Collaborative vs. Competitive is a welcomed harmony. Organizers even invited a local spirit maker to the party so that the north’s famed loons wouldn’t feel left alone.

IMG_0915The region is spawning more than new brewers (fishing pun intended!). There is a new spirit on the menu, Loon Vodka from Hearst, and they made a bang at the fest showcasing their premium 5X distilled vodka.

So back to my original question, “Is there something in the water?” Maybe it’s the laid-back feel you get from hops or maybe the hops make it a friendly climate for craft brew makers. The best way to answer this question is to taste for yourself.  As it was only just 3 years ago that the first brewer was licensed, there’s a fair bit of adventure tasting on the rise. Beer seekers can look forward to a future filled with big flavours and ‘hoppiness’.

Here’s a few newly-opened and still in the works breweries to watch for and a whole new reason to keep coming back for BIG Taste in the Northeast: 

  •  New Ontario Brewing Co. in North Bay has a retail space to take home your favourite brew, as well as a patio in the summer to sit down, enjoy a pint, and have a snack from the chip stand!
  • Manitoulin Islands’ Split Rail Brewing Company is now producing world-class beer on what just happens to be the largest freshwater island in the world.
  • Highlander Brew Co. is located in South River, in the Almaguin Highlands from which Highlander takes its name. Highlander isn’t a new comer, but a new event space and apprentice program with Canadore College is in the works.
  • Timmins Brewery is currently working on their flagship product and raising capital. Spring 2017
  • Ontario’s first Northern Ontario Hop Production is underway in Verner with pelletized production to start in 2-3 years.

That’s a wrap for this mission, you be sure to keep on your mission to taste the regional flavours making their way into LCBOs, on tap and by special order. Please drink responsibly!

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