Ontario has grown to 270+ breweries so there is a lot of options to drink great, local beer and if you like to travel and visit breweries there are even more options awaiting you. Growing alongside this industry is the tourism, it really goes hand in hand and as the breweries continue to stretch across the province so do the Ale Trails, Brewery Discovery Routes, Beer Passports and the concept of a Beercation. The many maps, trails, blogs and guides all come in handy when needing some assistance in planning your next road trip in an efficient fashion to hit as many stops as you can and not miss something you didn’t know existed only to find out by someone’s Instagram you should have stopped there! We have evolved from the "bar crawl" days to brewery hopping and now to exploring trails that also include other destinations.
Last weekend I had the chance to explore a part of the Brewery Discovery Routes, specifically a section of The Saints & Sinners route. Brewery Discovery Routes is a fold out paper map, also hosted online on Ontario Beverage Network (OBN), consisting of 9 self-guided craft beer routes in the beauty of Ontario and its protected Greenbelt. What I loved about this publication is it includes more than just beer...
It is joined by local cideries, distilleries, farmer markets and culinary experiences. It truly brings together all that these small businesses have to offer and creates a stop for everyone that is on tour with you and you get to sip, sample and eat your way across the province.
Breweries are offering so many activities these days they are almost acting as a community center for the area and with this doing wonderful things for tourism and the local economy and by all of us choosing to support local we are reinvigorating rural Ontario by supporting these local businesses all the while exploring, sipping, eating, laughing and walking our way through new adventures.
Join me as I share below what I had the chance to experience in two days thanks to Brewery Discovery Routes and Tourism Simcoe County! (oh and too prove it was a good time as I went to re-open my paper map to reference it was stuck closed with butter tart goo and stained with beer marks) and if you get to the end there are details on RAD contest being held by BDR!
As we left the house Friday morning coffees in hand we headed to our first stop 1) Beattie’s Distillers in Alliston, ON. They’re a true “Farm-to-Bottle” distillery with all their products grown on site, distilled at their facility and bottled by the farm staff. Beattie’s is Ontario’s first craft distillery to offer premium potato vodka and considering only 2% of the worlds vodka is potato that makes them even more unique. We arrived greeted by the towering sight of the distilling equipment through the 3 story front window and headed inside eager to learn about something new, Vodka.
We had an informative tour of the facility and saddled up at the bar for a tasting of their spirits, what a way to start lunch. The tour costs $5 p/p with $2 donated equally to their five local charities of choice. Public tours are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1pm and can be booked online here.
They are small sips of each so not to be concerned of reliving those wild college days where you end up ready for a dance party at 2pm. Since I knew very little on how to taste vodka or what to expect we were guided through the process with tasting notes and explained to why these vodkas are smoother than others. Potato Vodka, Sweet Potato Vodka, Poitin and Gin all found there ways to my lips and quite smoothly down the hatch.
Here are both some tasting notes and recipes taken from their site directly as I am not yet well versed in explaining the taste or creating a recipe besides a Caesar, though I do make a mean Caesar.
Farm-Crafted Potato Vodka- Crafted using only the heart of the potato for a silky smooth spirit that is naturally gluten free. A subtle bouquet of buttery notes fills the glass, followed by notes of white pepper, hints of almond and caramel, culminating in a smooth finish.
Signature Drink- The Firefighter
1.5 oz of Beattie’s Farm-Crafted Potato Vodka
4 dashes of Angostura Bitter
5 oz of fresh tonic water
4 ice cubes
Serve in Tall Glass
Farm-Crafted Sweet Potato Vodka- This is a lower alcohol vodka (30%), distilled with Sweet Potatoes also grown at the Alliston farm. The use of different potatoes creates a unique flavour perfect for mixing with Cola, or drinking neat. The lower alcohol content means lower calories, yet with the same full taste and smoothness you get from our 40% Beattie’s Farm Crafted Vodka. I bought a bottle of this to up my Caeser game even more!
Signature Drink- The Farmer’s Wife
Beattie’s Farm-Crafted Sweet Potato Vodka
Serve on the rocks
in Low Ball Glass
Farm-Crafted Poitin- This was something I also had never tried or heard of it's a White Spirit distilled from farm grown potatoes, then aged for a minimum of 3 months in new American Oak barrels. Poitin originates from Ireland – meaning “little pot” – and is in effect an aged “Irish Styled moonshine”. This is suggested to drink with ginger ale or over ice and I can imagine that is delicious.
Signature Drink- The Farmer’s Roots
Beattie’s Farm-Crafted Poitin
Serve in Low Ball Glass
Farm-Crafted Potato Gin- The newest member of their Spirit Family, our Farm Crafted Potato Gin! Yes, that’s right, potato gin! This is the first gin in Canada made entirely from potatoes, and the smooth alcohol finish blends perfectly with locally sourced botanicals for a crisp, refreshing summer taste.
Beattie’s proudly won World’s Best Vodka in 2018 at the World Spirit Competition in San Francisco! I am truly thrilled to see a lot of Ontario distilleries and breweries winning worldly awards over in the USA, we should all be proud. Overall I encourage you to put a distillery stop on your next road trip as their equipment is unique, there are things to learn and taste and well we all have a bottle of something, in that cupboard above the microwave, so why not make it world class!
As we drove away from the 5th generation family run farm we headed to 2) Scanlon Creek Conservation in Bradford, ON for a hike and a light snack of locally made treats. As a beer blogger, beer can catch up to you so, I always try to #earnmybeer and remember to keep moving to stay healthy and hiking is one of my favourite ways to do so. Since we were heading to Redline Brewhouse for beer and food next this was good timing. I often pout about missing the scenery of living in British Columbia but have come to realize we are very fortunate here in Ontario for what it has to offer us. Trails, lakes and woods for miles, beautiful countryside and quaint towns, this province also visibly embraces the four seasons of change.
Scanlon Creek Conservation Area describes itself as a hikers’ haven, a picnicking paradise, a birder’s delight and a photographer’s dream and I can attest to this. You are able to spend an hour to a day there exploring forests, marshlands through trails and bridges while taking in the sights of birds, wildlife and the soon to be vibrant fall leaves Ontario offers in this 300 hectare park. There is a Bark Park for your dog if you are like us and have them join most trips!
We hiked one of the many loops that took about 45 minutes and then enjoyed our picnic basket back near the car. So what was in this basket? Pure tastes of heaven in the form of butter tarts & cinnamon buns from Carriage House Bakery and a new discovery of Salted Caramel Milk from Sheldon Creek Dairy purchased at The Modern Market in Alliston, it was delicious! Oh and the map doubled as a perfect placemat to set our our goodies and multi task by planning our next trip back.
With our heart rate back to normal, more steps on out fitbits and sweet tooth’s fulfilled we hopped back in the car to continue 20 min north to our third stop 3) Redline Brewhouse in Barrie, ON for a tour, craft beer and a sure to be tasty dinner! I have travelled here before and always look forward to my visit as there is consistently new beers to discover and the menu never disappoints as their head chef, Glen, has curated a great menu and some fantastic daily specials!
We were seated at the bar, my favourite place to sit for the conversation and meeting new people, and ordered a flight of Idle Coast (Pale Lager), Peel Out (Dbl IPA), Cherry Traffic Jam (Gose w Cherries) and Concept 8 a colab with Thin man Brewery from over the border in Buffalo NY.
Redline had 12+ beers on tap and an impressive guest bottle list to choose from. I followed up with another pint of Clutch APA, a stand-by favourite for me, to enjoy with dinner a pork belly sandwich with sweet potato fries, because I #earnedmybeer today and the sweet potato vodka gave me a craving ;) The food was fantastic, the beer fresh and enjoyable and the tour left me knowing a little more about Redline that I didn’t know before. Put them on your list to discover or re-discover because there is way more to them than what you can get at the LCBO.
At this point it was time to rest our heads with a quick dip in the hotel hot tub first. We spent the night in 4) Barrie at Hampton Suites. It was a great nights stay as this hotel seems to have done some re-branding so it was up to date and lots to look at as you navigated to your room.
After a goods nights sleep and a bit of TV (since we don’t have cable at home) we were ready to get back on the road and swing by the 5) Barrie’s Farmers Market. Farmers Market’s are always on our list to check out in any town we are visiting, where food and community truly come together and you can put a face to the folks who feed the cities. It is a great way to taste local produce and discover the town’s gems as far as coffee, sandwiches or samosas go! It also feels good to know, for the most part, that your money from the purchases are going directly to the source of where the food, flowers or creations came from.
I purchased some bright sunflowers, a fresh squeezed juice and some swiss chard and chives. We strolled through took some pics and had some nice conversations with the local vendors. Did you know the Greenbelt Farmers’ Market Network has helped double the number of Markets in the region helping more people eat locally more often?
Our final stop on this adventure was a beautiful finale to this trip. 6) Heritage Estate Craft Cidery and Winery, which is located just outside of downtown Barrie and feels like you have been whisked off to a far away farm with it’s beautiful views. Once again, being a beer lover, I am not very well versed in wine or cider so was very excited to explore both at one spot and determined to find a cider that isn’t overly sweet.
Peter and Jocelyn McArthur are the proud owners and operators of Heritage Estate, Barrie’s first and only boutique vineyard and cidery situated in the heart of Simcoe County. Since opening in 2014 Heritage Estate offers uniquely crafted beverages out of 100% Ontario apples, free from additives or preservatives and with less than half the sugar content of most larger commercial ciders I was on the right track to finding “my cider”. This beautiful property includes a century farmhouse that you can rent out for a stay, tasting room, state-of-the-art on-site processing facility and two scenic patios to sit on as you sip their beverages and snack on their tasty chacuterie board.
As we hopped on a golf cart for a tour of the vineyard and to taste some of the grapes we really felt like we had been there many times before with the warm welcome and hospitality we received. There is something special about these types of wineries, cideries or even breweries now that are onsite to their farm. They open their doors to you as if you are family and you get a great look at who they are and what there values are it really adds to the experience to be toured around where their passion and hardwork comes together.
Since I have been blogging the last three years I have really noticed a new wave of cider makers and have learned it is the fastest growing segment of the market. It makes sense when you consider they are refreshing and a lower calorie, gluten-free alternative to beer.
Alright now onto the adult beverages we sampled… Yes, many say they have a dry cider but my palate never seems to fully agree. Well I came to the right place as the first one we tasted was a hit and I bought six cans. Dragon’s Gold Cider is 5.5% craft cider that (their words proceeding
not mine) is a semi-dry cider with refreshing acidity balanced with a touch of sweetness; starts with notes of caramel apple, blackcurrant and raisin with a green apple finish. I LOVED the cider and the whole Game of Thrones theme that was happening on the can. Their Heirloom Apple Cider was a real treat too thundering in at 12% it is from 2016 and aged for 6 months creating intense golden colour and beautiful flavours. It is made from the Heirloom trees in their orchard and with spicy aromas I was pleased to have been able to try this batch.
As we continued to sip our way through their line up of ciders, various wines and even sangrias we overlooked the vineyards, reminisced on the last two days and indulged in an almost too beautiful to eat charcuterie platter they brought out with local cheese, meats, crackers and of course grapes!