Checking Out the Craft Beer Scene in Sarnia-Lambton. All Roads lead to Craft Beer one way or another
As I headed out on a 2-day exploration of Ontario’s Southwest I was filled with excitement to discover a variety of new foods, people, beer and learn more about cider & coffee. I returned with all that accomplished and something else... something important. I had the realization how each stop we made along the way that wasn’t a craft beer brewery was still linked to that industry in a way, whether a similar concept, approach or felt like a close cousin and that was cool.
Enjoy the following blog post as I take you through a great way to spend two days exploring the Sarnia area and share how I found everything related back to Craft Beer, in a way. You can revisit my Instagram story of this trip as a highlight on my Instagram page titled Blue Coast ON!
1) Twin Pines Orchards & Cider House was our first stop on the tour. Fall is a wonderful time of year to visit and orchard and with the cool temps setting in and pumpkins getting as ready as the apples to pick I was excited to peek around and expand some of my little knowledge on hard cider. We were kindly greeted by Mark one of the owners and family members of this family run operation and he took us on a tour of the cidery and he is a true wealth of information I could have stayed there for days listening and learning about apples and how the hard cider process works, I had no idea and was so cool to learn and their traditional methods are making a great hard cider!
Twin Pines Cidery & Orchard is a 50 acre family run orchard / farm located in Lambton Shores.
The farm produces well over one million pounds of apples from 25 commercial varieties and approx 15 heritage and specialty cider varieties for their fantastic cider. The land is rich with naturally occurring aquafirs and is perfect for growing fruit and all of the preserves made in our kitchens incorporate these wonderful fruits and vegetables.
We made our way to the ever favourite tasting room and worked our way through a line up of ciders. Want to try something most likely new to you? Then try their Scrumpy! Scrumpy and original were my fav but we got a bottle of the old world too as we couldn't choose! ! It’s is a rustic, unfiltered, farm-based cider with a strong, distinctive taste and apple varieties used are unique to each year. To “scrump” is to steal, snag or swipe up apples from an orchard and this hard cider is a classic from England’s West Country. Making their way from across the pond, the enthusiasm behind these farm-fresh scrumpy ciders is mirrored in North America there are a few producers taking a crack at their own recipes and Twin Pines is one and a must try! Apparently these can be fantastic or strange, based on where made and what your taste buds enjoy, I LOVED it. Now my cider tasting notes may be a little rookie but I’d describe it as a medium dry cider with layers of full apple flavour. Dry and a slight sour / tang on the finish it makes it a fantastic cider.
I encourage you to visit to taste the gauntlet of ciders, shop their cute gift room for seasonal trinkets and locally made preserves and in fall they host Apple Fest so a perfect time to visit and join them for wagon rides, pick your own apples, taste the amazing hard cider and perhaps even choose the perfect pumpkin! I must also share that as I made my way through the rest of the weekend stops and mentioned I was here everyone had something FANTASTIC to say about Mark and this family run business, they are basically famous in these parts!
***Learning the process can be as timely for making cider as some beers and it truly tells you when it’s ready too. With similar concerns of wild yeast, temperatures and packaging I saw the similarities to brewing beer but a hell of a lot more labour intensive believe it or not. I give this operation a lot of credit from pest management (or pre-management, to harvesting the apples, pressing the cider, cleaning and waiting then bottling it can be a three year process to the perfect bottle of cider.
2) As we continued in the direction to Sarnia we came across our next stop. From pig & chicken farmers to brewery owners Stonepicker Brewery, opening only on Labour Day, claims they have had a very exciting first four weeks in the biz. The two couples are good friends and were eager to help each other along with this new project on the Donkers Farm. With 8 offerings on tap, which may seem like a bold start, they are welcoming and proud to share their lineup of beers.
We sipped our way through with the IPA and cherry as our favourite. Hack and Splash IPA was to style with hints of grapefruit, tropical fruit to taste it had a beautiful Citrus Aroma and mild bitterness on the Finish. They had a clever system of colour coding the logo on the flight glass to each flavor of beer so you could reference them to the menu if you needed a reminder of what one it was out of the eight. Something unique about this brewery is that they grow and malt their barley on site. The large garage has been converted into the brewery / tap room (see photo below) and is well pieced together in their as a nice site to gaze upon while having some beers, the bar is also a cool feature with the taps coming off the wall and a large tractor hung from above.
Be sure to add them on your route as they are conveniently located between Twin Pines and Sarnia and place a pin on their world map to show just how far you’ve travelled to get there!
**Well it relates to craft beer as it is craft beer but it shows that a larger operation can open in the outskirts of a small town and have success early on shows that the demands and awareness of a fresh glass of locally made beer has grown and is continuing to rise.
3) I first visited Refined Fool a few years back in their first location downtown Sarnia, I fell in love with many aspects of this brewery including, of course, the beer. They have since opened a second larger brewing facility and taproom this summer on London Road and it is where we stopped by this round and it did not disappoint! The location, being an ex robot restaurant from the 80's, makes it the perfect place to host this quirky and successful brewery in Sarnia, ON. With only some of their brews being available at LCBO, grocery across Ontario and some outlets in Michigan your really must visit the source to get a feel of all they have to offer in many styles, great taproom and of course their welcoming hospitality.
They have brewed 99 beers since opening you are bound to like more than one.
After getting kicked out of their wives book club for eating all the food the group of 5, turned to brewing beer in the garage and between the interesting backgrounds of each owner to the hilarious titles of each beer and the equally stand up product in each bottle I'd say they've done quite well. They have a kitchen in the London Rd space being run by Burger Rebellion so you can order one of the many fine choices off their menu to indulge in as you sip away the day. From plain burgers to spicy creations they are delicious and complement a cold beer well and with a mission to to free you from the tyranny of low-brow burgers they are succeeding.
In my glass that day was "Terry's Obnoxious Windbreaker" Breakfast Stout with the bottle striped in the colours of an 80's Windbreaker it poured a dark brown with a tan foam and was filled with aroma and flavour of coffee (from local Ground Up Coffee Roasters) making it very coffee forward with still some notes of chocolate of course and at 7% it was smooth and delicious... If you like coffee.
**What I learned here is if you open a craft brewery and build a solid community around it you may just be able to open a second location in the same town and have it work. Refined Fool is living proof of this and though they have slowed production at the smaller original space they have created a great place for the community to gather for fun events, great burgers and some fantastically entertaining beers.
4) After a few brewery stops we found it time for dinner and were excited to check out the Limbo Lounge downtown as I had read up about their great cocktail menu and equally great menu of food with a variety of cultures and tastes. They also serve local craft beer! Though at first glance the menu may look a little fancier than some it is a casual dining restaurant which offers exceptional food while maintaining a warm, inviting atmosphere.
Now I am not usually one to order a steak when out for dinner for one reason… I am fussy when it comes to a perfect to me cooked steak. I like medium rare but more rare than medium and not rare. Many places overcook, over salt and over dry them so I felt like this was a great opportunity to test out that open concept kitchen and order the steak.
It came out and was perfection and I ate every last piece … I was impressed. Accompanying my steak I went for something a little different than beer and chose one of their signature cocktails an Earl Grey Old Fashioned that contained; bourbon, earl grey tea, orange zest and bitters.
Equally delicious and made me feel fancy. I of course followed it up with a Gin Tonic Star that had a tasty addition of cucumber and star anise that they lit on fire at the bar, on purpose of course, for some additional aroma.
Overall the service was great, fun atmosphere, $$$ rating for price but well worth the value. You are getting well prepared creative food that is made fresh and not frozen. My only down point is I regret not getting the Crème Brule for dessert!
**What I learned besides re kindling my love of gin. That Sarnia is a great example of supporting local and with all the choices a restaurant can be bombarded with from beer reps they still choose to carry some local choices. This is one of the main things we look for when going to a restaurant, local craft beer. Also that there is something to be said for a well created cocktail as it is just as satisfying to look at as it is to sip away at.
5) With our bellies full and adventure needs met for the day we were ready for rest and relaxation. So we headed to our destination for the night, Sheboane BnB in Dorset jsut outside of Sarnia. We fell in love with staying in Bed & Breakfasts a few years ago while in Vermont and just love the atmosphere, food and experience they all have provided! Sheboane was another wonderful example as the room was beautiful, the Jacuzzi tub soothed our still aching muscles from the weekends baseball tourney, the breakfast was fresh and delicious and the in room fridge kept our craft beer cold!
We were greeted by Alan & Gayle who showed us to our room with beautiful views of the river. We happened to stay the night of a wild storm and watched the lightning and sheets of rain from our patio it was quite something. As we awoke refreshed and ready to start another day of fun we descended the stairs to the dinning room and were greeted by Alan with fresh coffee, fruit and tasty quiche for breakfast. We finished up coffee down on the dock taking in the view of the St. Clair river and headed on our way back to town. Thank you again Alan & Gayle for sharing your beautiful home with us it was just what we needed.
**What I learned. Why don’t more places have fridges in rooms?! Especially with the beer tourism growing haha I was thrilled I could safely keep some special ciders and beers cool in the room as our cooler was starting to overflow. Also if you have never stayed at a B&B and perhaps are hesitant, as we once were, I highly recommend giving it a try. You meet the kindest people, share stories if you want and often taste fresh local food alongside great hospitality.
6)When we are on road trips #1 on our list is to find the best coffee and we hit the jackpot with Blackwater Coffee Co. downtown Sarnia. I honestly don't know where to begin here as our conversation with the owner was inspiring to say the least and the coffee was one of the best cups i've had lately great stories aside. Dave has been roasting coffee for 30 years and really applying the farm to table concept at Blackwater with his coffee. So much so he has travelled around south america to visit different plantations and even assist with their place in ways to
make there plantation better. As we learned a little about the roasting process and how different blends are created and altered I couldn't help but think about craft beer. It was cool looking at the coffee bean labels and seeing the tasting notes and some similarity in words as well. He has too done some collabs in the past where local breweries have used his beans for their beer.
Dave strongly believes in community and his location has seen change in the downtown over the years, moving from Toronto i am sure it was quite a change but when you can build a community around what you are doing and other small businesses in the area that is when it feels like home.
I can't finish this blurb without mentioning the staff there as that is key to our experience as a
customer and keeps the parts moving everyday. They were welcoming and so helpful as I tried to pick out something new to me in the coffee world and something that of course would still be photogenic for my Instagram ;) they inquired on what i usually enjoy and I ended up with a Cortado and it hit the spot! We sipped away by the open doors in the front and gazed at the funky art on the walls as people came and went with cups in hand to start there day.
Thanks again Blackwater Coffee you sparked something, again, inside us about what a small business is truly about and how life can be built around what you love and opportunities are always lurking if you know where to look. Look for the canoe above the door as you cruise downtown and stop by to say hi and grab some beans!
**I learned here that passion is a powerful thing to drive a business. When people do things with passion they have more success than just a lot of money to do something and not be involved. Go ahead and think of a few examples yourself in the beer world. I loved the similarity of tasting notes and how a palate can work :) and that roaster and local coffee shops are working together with breweries more and more
7) Everyone loves a classic diner and John’s Restaurant was the perfect example of this. We were stoked to have the second breakfast of the day at here of course have some of their world famous bacon! I’m taking classic Canadian Bacon along side the all day breakfast. Their website is actually famousbacon.com and not only was this famous diner packed full on a Wednesday, the service was fantastic and they serve local Craft Beer, a variety of hot sauce and my Caesar had a lemon pepper rim and pickle.
We were greeted with a smile and taking to a booth marked reserved, rumor has it many a famous musician has passed through here and the thought that I sat in the same booth as the talented Carlos Santana once sat had me all excited!!
After 45 years in business they pride themselves on making all soups, sauces and gravies from scratch and the All Day Breakfast may catch your eye but be aware their are over 50 items on the menu plus daily specials!! Don't skip this place on your trip I guarantee you'll leave full and smiling!
** What I learned. Even old school diners are seeing the demand for craft and perhaps a unique way to make a Caesar. I love that you could grab a pint of Refined Fool beer as a side to your all day breakfast at 1pm on a Wednesday.
8) After numerous coffees and two breakfast it was time to hit up Valley Axe in Sarnia, ON to see what all the hype is about. To be honest I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy this activity and was very curious about it but between the welcoming atmosphere, easy to follow instruction and helpful coaching tips these guys provided it was love at first kill shot (that's bullseye lol) and I am so glad this was on the itinerary.
Valley Axe opened up 2.5 years ago and was one of the first in Ontario to get it's liquor license. They hosted the Ontario Championships here and have a great outdoor facility too with various other activities to participate in. We started off simple as in working on some technique and throwing at the targets and ended with some fun games, competition and even threw a few knives. I truly Had a fantastic time at Valley Axe and the fact they are both licensed and sell local craft beer from and others was a bonus.
I had a delicious 8 track IPA from Sons of Kent alongside learning to throw tomahawks and I am sure it helped to take the edge of my perfectionist personality when it comes to learning new sports. I highly recommend checking these guys out to learn to throw, experience the outdoor area, join a league or just get a rad group of friends together for some “friendly” competition! Thanks Beau for the fun day and giving me yet another hobby to explore!
** I continued to learn here that Craft beer will add to the crowd and make anything a little more fun. The support Beau had for the breweries he carried was awesome and they had the education behind the beer to so cared what they were serving. In turn Sons of Kent had great things to say about Valley Axe so it is a wonderful circle.
9) When I was told my last stop was at a golf course I was intrigued. The times are changing and craft beer is expanding, am I really about to step onto a course that is committed to a craft beer focus to accompany your round of golf? Well that was exactly the case here at Widder Station Golf and Craft Beer Taphouse in Thedford, ON. So much so that they even have Craft Beer in their title. We had a unique visit here main reason being we talked a lot about their near future vision and direction as well as the present I loved being a part of that conversation.
Craft beer isn’t a new concept to the Allen and his partner as she even owned San Tan craft brewery in Arizona in the past but the concept of them making the shift on their course is. They currently have Train Wreck, their 4.8% lager, on tap and 4+ other local craft beers available but the expansion in the newly built taproom is intriguing. As we chat with a pint of Train Wreck in
hand Allen points around the newly built taproom that overlooks the course and shows where he plans to add the brewhouse next year and officially open Widder Station Brewing Co as a destination to visit. In addition to brewing on site they will have as many as 18 taps all pouring Craft Beer, both their own and others from across Ontario.
In the meantime you can join them for some golf in their Craft beer Classic October 6th.
Once again we left with our thirst for new discoveries quenched, our bellies full and a new appreciation for Sarnia. They're continuing to grow in the right direction downtown and really forming a wonderful community of locally owned businesses and places to spend your time. We met some incredibly passionate people on this trip and shared many stories about their journey to where they are today.
Another successful two days checking off the long list of sights to see and places to visit across Ontario this time huge thanks to Ontario's Blue Coast and Ontario's Southwest for you hospitality and creating a perfect 2 day itinerary to explore the area as there is truly so much food, drinks, culture, events and family-friendly activities to explore in these areas and I look forward to exploring the trails and beaches when spring returns!