Brew Donkey started as a craft beer delivery service in the Ottawa area not that long ago. They have since branched out and added craft brewery tours which have been incredibly popular. They offer many different Eastern Ontario/Western Quebec brewery tours, some including wineries and/or Ottawa’s only distillery, and sometimes beer-lover havens like Broue Ha-Ha). Founder/owner Brad Campeau had invited Debbie and I to attend one of his tours as his guest to check out the experience late in the summer, but we never seemed able to coordinate out calendars. In November, the stars aligned and we were finally able to partake in one of the tours. The Brewers East Tour we signed up for included stops at Dominion City Brewing, Cassel Brewery, and Beau’s All Natural Brewing. We figured an east end tour would be best as we live in the west end and have been to all of the breweries out our way.
We arrived early at one of the designated pickup spots – on Wellington behind the LCBO/Loblaws. The tour bus was a bright yellow school bus. Agreed – not the most glamourous transportation but hey, it’s all about the beer, remember? It also allows Brad to keep the costs reasonable for the day trips, at $75-90 depending on the tour. We signed off on liability waivers, grabbed a seat, and the bus was soon on its way with about 40 beer-lovers.
As we moved between breweries, we had a chance to play ‘Cards Against Humanity’ (not for prudes :-)) with the guys from Cardboard Kingdom, and enjoyed a decent bagged lunch (and lots of water) which kept the hunger at bay. It also made the time pass fairly quickly, despite traveling more than 100km each way.
The first stop did not take too long to get to. Dominion City Brewing at 5510 Canotek Road in the East End is one of the newer spots to open in Ottawa, and I had yet to try any of their beer. Brewer Josh McJannett introduced us to the kickstarter-funded microbrewery. It is quite a small operation at 800L, and the huge interest and demand for their beers means that they are often sold out. Josh explained their use of local ingredients wherever possible, including organic grains and Ontario-grown hops.
We did get to try all three of their mainstay beers, although they were sold out of just about everything that day (good problem to have I guess).
Town & Country Blonde Ale: A light, crisp, and refreshing ale with some decent malt structure that keeps it interesting. Should have wide-ranging appeal, and is a great “gateway” beer for those just venturing into craft beer.
Earl Grey Marmalade Saison: With light tea and citrus notes, this comes through as a clean, refreshing saison. It’s well balanced and makes for a great refreshing drink after shovelling snow.
Two Flags IPA: A balanced IPA with buckwheat honey, dried fruit, and a hoppy finish with fresh citrus. Makes you want another sip!
The next stop was a little further east, located right next to the rail line in Cassel. The train theme runs through Cassel Brewery, and with trains whizzing by feet from their door, one can see the connection. Cassel has an even smaller space than Dominion City, and had to split us into two groups to tour the back. The assistant brewer was on hand and explained the multiple brews (6!) they have to do with their small mash tun in order to fill the 1500L fermenters. He also told us that they are now in 39 LCBO stores and 50 restaurants.
Golden Rail Honey Brown: Nice malt and buckwheat honey notes, toffee, and some light coffee notes. There’s a slightly sweet finish to it that would pair well with many lunch ideas.
L’il Red Steamer Red Ale: This one had a lot of similar characteristics to the honey brown, but adds some dried fruit components on both the nose and palate.
Sleeper Car Double Chocolate Porter: Loads of coffee and dark chocolate. Hints of toffee and light stewed fruit as it warmed. The dark malts provide a bitter dark chocolate finish. Great winter time beer!
Hopper Car IPA: Fresh hops, citrus, wild flower honey greet the nose. The palate adds a nice caramel malt and hop bitterness. As it warmed, more tropical fruit notes came out.
The last stop on the tour was Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company. I’ve long been a fan (and sampler) of their beer but had yet to make a pilgrimage to the brewery. In a converted mill, they have a massive tasting room and production facility. On the tour of the production area they mentioned that they can bottle 16,000 bottles a day with their new bottling line (their old one ended up at Cassel brewery, where it will make a huge impact over the hand bottling they are doing now). The tour guide mentioned that a lot of their ingredients have to come from Germany as it is hard to source the quantity of organics they need for their production. They had more than a dozen beers on offer, covering the range from their LCBO-available brews like Lug Tread, to the more obscure offerings like St Luke’s Verse (a Lavender Gruit).
St. Luke’s Gruit: Gruits are beers made with herbs and spices, and I have to admit to not having tried many in my day. This one had a powerful floral (lavender) nose, with hints of rosemary. Decent malts balanced it out and I found myself going back for a second sample of this one.
Burnt Rock Vanilla Porter: With strong vanilla notes on the nose, the coffee and dark chocolate notes on the palate are almost surprising. As it warmed in the glass, the nose began to emit those same dark chocolate and coffee notes, and even a hint of caramel. Great combination/contrast in a very drinkable Porter that finishes clean.
Mission Accomplished American IPA: A very nice, balanced American IPA. Good citrus and tropical fruit notes on the nose and palate, great citrus pith cleansing finish. Another one I knew immediately was coming home with me.
Winterbrewed Coffee Amber: A collaboration brew with Bridgehead coffee company, there’s lots of coffee notes intertwined with fruit characteristics from the hops. Despite some dark chocolate and toffee malt notes, the hops gives this a clean finish. Would be great with some smoked ribs.
Rauchstack Smoked Dunkel: Kilned over a wood fire, the malts impart a very smoky flavour. There’s enough malt to balance out the smoke and balance things. There’s quite a crisp finish despite the malt and smoke. Great for sipping by an open fire!
The opportunity to taste and buy beer all day does mean that the bus could get a little rowdy on the way home…so you should expect that. They did make an unplanned stop into the McDonald’s/Tim Horton’s in Casselman on the way home, and most folks grabbed something to eat. This proved to be a good thing, although the bus was left a tad messy for the Brew Donkey team to clean up.
Brew Donkey has an ongoing tour schedule set up here. Check them out!