Niagara-on-the-Lake: Canada’s Growing Beer and Wine Destination

By: Alyssa Andres

Over the past few decades, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, has become known as one of Canada’s premier destinations for wine. The historical region of Canada sees thousands of tourists each year who come to experience the tastes of Niagara. While there is no shortage of spectacular wine tasting to be done in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the newest phenomenon to hit the area is the craft beer movement. As tourists continue to flock to the area each year, thirsty for the latest and greatest in food and beverage, local breweries have become a spectacle of their own. Now beer lovers can visit the region for a tour of the local craft brewery scene. On these tours, brewers are offering an array of small-batch beers that you are unlikely to encounter anywhere else.

  One of Canada’s oldest towns, Niagara-on-the-Lake was established in 1792. Located where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario, the region experiences more mild winter temperatures than its neighboring cities and a much longer growing season. Local families have farmed the land for generations, and, for over two hundred years, the town has been home to extensive fields of fruit trees and grapevines. Only in the past decade have tourists, who already flocked to the area for a glimpse of the world-famous Niagara Falls, started to recognize nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake as another must-see destination. Now, a bustling tourism industry has begun to take form in the little town.

  Straying from the large scale, big batch production of modern-day brewers, Niagara-on-the-Lake breweries are producing small-batch, handcrafted beer, which allows them to experiment more with their unique personality and flair. Focusing on natural and more traditional production methods, Niagara craft brewers are taking us back to the roots of the region. The breweries tend to focus on seasonal ingredients, traditional brewing methods and sustainable business.

When it comes to style, the region knows no bounds, producing styles ranging from classic and traditional to completely out of the box. Better yet, most tasting rooms offer an array of rotating taps that change regularly, so you can sample an Eisbock made with skins from icewine grapes on one day and a milk and cookies porter made with actual chocolate chip cookies on another. This rotation keeps tourists and locals on the lookout for the latest and greatest of Niagara beers.

Setting a Path

  The first craft breweries started opening up in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2011, back when the tourism industry was still growing. The Niagara Oast House was one of the first craft breweries to open their doors to the public. Since then, they have become a hub in the community and a prized destination for tourists.

Set inside a historic barn built in the 1800s, Oast House creates seasonally inspired beers using on-site well water. Upstairs, the barn has been converted into a German-style bierhall that overlooks fields of grapevines and hosts events of up to 80 people. In the back of the brewery, Oast House has an incredible patio complete with an outdoor bar and a stage set atop a farm truck for live performances. S

Staples like the Oast House Barnraiser Country Ale and Pitchfork Porter can be found across Canada, and new, innovative beers are being released constantly. You will find an array of unique offerings, such as their Oast House Verjus Sour, the first of its kind, made from pressing under-ripe pinot noir grapes and combining them with three different malts and a unique yeast strain created in-house.

That’s just one example of Oast House’s original recipes. The brewery is continually concocting new and innovative methods of production, releasing new beers regularly. They are a must-visit when touring Niagara’s craft breweries. When visiting, be sure to enjoy the offerings of the brewery’s restaurant, Brushfire Smokehouse. Their menu is well known to be some of the best BBQ in the area.

  The other brewery that paved the way for craft beer in Niagara-on-the-Lake is Silversmith Brewing Company, which poured its first beers in 2012. Silversmith Brewing is housed in an old Anglican Church built in 1884 that’s been transformed into a brewery and restaurant space complete with vaulted ceilings and incredible stained-glass windows. It also boasts live music and community events. The brewery’s signature Black Lager has been the star of the show since the brewery first opened its doors. Their traditional Schwarzbier is a local favorite with notes of coffee and chocolate on the nose and a smooth, crisp finish. It is a must-try when doing a beer tasting in the area. 

  This year brings on an expansion for the Silversmith Brewing Company, an indication of its continued success. The brewery has been working hard to complete renovations on a new event space and larger brewing facility, set to open this year.

Creating a Legacy

  These two businesses made way for others, and, since the early part of the decade, Niagara-on-the-Lake has seen close to a dozen new craft breweries open their doors to rave reviews. Bench Brewing Company is one of the newer craft breweries in the Niagara region that is especially thriving. They are taking the idea of local and bringing it to a whole new level.

Located in the Twenty Valley, also known as “The Bench,” Bench Brewing Company sits in the heart of Niagara fruit and wine country. Surrounded by orchards and vineyards boasting everything from cherries to peaches, this craft brewery decided to embrace its landscape and create beers centered around the local produce that so abundantly surrounds it. Here, they use everything from elderflowers to spruce tips to craft an award-winning line of beers.

  Bench Brewing not only ages their beers in French Oak foeders previously used to house Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but they even age their beer on the skins of the grapes themselves. Their Folklore Dark Sour Ale is aged on Cabernet Franc skins taken locally from the Twenty Valley. The sour ale earned Canada’s country winner in the Experimental category at the 2019 World Beer Awards, an annual competition that sees thousands of beers from all over the world.

Bench Brewing placed in several competition categories, including awards for their Clean Slate Pale Ale and their Plum Grove Sour Ale. Acknowledgments like these help to support the region’s growth and development as well as the international reputation of Canadian craft beer.

  As the region’s wine and beer industry continues to grow, the local Niagara College has developed programs to support the education of skilled workers in the industry. The college now offers several full-time programs on winemaking, brewing and distilling. Niagara College Teaching Brewery is honing in on the next generation of Niagara brewers, who will continue the tradition of craft brewing in Niagara. The two-year Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program started in 2010 and has since seen over 150 brewers graduate with almost 100% employment rate. The college works to drive a growing number of young people to the area who will be the next leaders in the industry and help build more local businesses.

  The teaching brewery has an impressive facility with an on-site hop yard and the capabilities of producing 1000L of beer at a time. Students cover everything from brewing and evaluating beer to packaging and selling it. The college also sells the beer to the public at its tasting room. The line of beer is fittingly named Beer 101, and each can has a label that comes with a lesson on the corresponding style of beer.

The label includes the flavor profile of each beer, its history, ingredients and proper food pairings. Beers from lagers and IPAs to Saisons and sours are available for tasting and purchase in the retail store. You can also find them at several bars and restaurants in the area.  

From a little farm town to a bustling tourist hub, Niagara-on-the-Lake and the surrounding region has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Now home to almost 100 wineries and nearly a dozen craft breweries, Niagara-on-the-Lake has an opportunity to change the way people think of Canadian food and beverage.

Through standing by traditional values, practicing sustainable approaches to business and putting out diverse, quality products, the town continues to nurture and perfect the art of craft brewing and winemaking. Whether you’re a wine lover or you prefer the tastes of a quality craft brew, mark Niagara-on-the-Lake down on your list of the next must-see travel destinations

New & Notable in Canada: Crickets, Craft Beer Superfans and a New Seal of Authenticity for Craft Breweries

By: Briana Tomkinson

At the end of 2019, Canada reached a new milestone with over 1000 craft breweries and brewpubs in operation from coast-to-coast. Not surprisingly, the year also saw the launch of a new national federation of craft brewers associations to lobby the federal government on na-tional policies that affect the industry.

  Here’s a summary of some of the notable news and craft beer trends in Canada right now, in-cluding insights into craft beer consumer preferences from British Columbia, and more on the new Canadian Craft Brewers Association. But first, we’ve got to share news about a truly ex-perimental new brew produced in la belle province …

Cricket Stout Anyone?

  There’s nothing new about novelty brews, but a unique stout produced by a pair of Quebec microbreweries is sure to get folks chirping.

  Just as the name implies, the Stout aux Grillons, a collaboration between La Baleine Endiablée and the Lion Bleu, gets its thick mouthfeel and foamy texture from the addition of thousands of roasted … crickets …

  Crickets and mealworms, which are more environmentally sustainable to farm than meat and very nutritious, are beginning to appear in insect protein products on supermarket shelves, everything from pasta to dog biscuits. Loblaws, one of Canada’s largest grocery chains, even began selling its own line of cricket powder in 2018. Yet, for many people, the thought of eat-ing the stuff triggers an instinctive shiver of revulsion.

  According to CBC News, Baleine Endiablée co-founder, Jérémie Tremblay, got the idea to brew the buggy beer after being challenged by his friend Maxime Dionne, a local cricket farmer, to create a taboo-busting beverage that would tempt people to give insect protein a try.

  Tremblay’s first attempts at incorporating crickets were a bust. Cricket flour made the beer too gooey, while whole crickets gave it a funny taste. The trick, he found, was to roast the arthro-pods, which produced a malty flavor. The unusual additive is used in the same way as grain.

  The cricket stout is available at La Baleine Endiablée, located about an hour and a half north-east of Quebec City in Rivière-Ouelle, at the Lion Bleu, in the Saguenay region (two and a half hours due north of Quebec City), as well as through the Lion Bleu’s distribution points throughout the province.

Survey Offers Insights  about Craft Beer Superfans

  A recent survey of craft beer fans in British Columbia offers a number of insights into the be-havior and preferences of highly engaged beer drinkers, from packaging preferences and brewery tourism habits to the impact of cannabis legalization on beer consumption.

  The annual online survey of craft beer drinkers is conducted by Beer Me BC (beermebc.com), a popular Canadian craft beer blog. Not surprisingly, respondents tend to be craft beer enthusi-asts: almost two-thirds of respondents said they had visited 10 or more breweries within the past year, and 70% said they intended to travel more than 100km to visit a brewery in the next year.

  The majority of those surveyed said they drank beer three or more days per week, with 41% imbibing three to five days per week, and 18% drinking almost every day. Only 2% said they drank less beer after the legalization of cannabis, and 1% said legal weed has led them to drink more.

  For these craft beer superfans, the top factors in deciding what beer to purchase were flavor, beer style, brewery brand and reputation. Price and packaging were ranked as significantly less-important factors.

  According to the survey, the top 10 British Columbia craft beer events are:

1.  Vancouver Craft Beer Week (May 29 – June 7, 2020): https://vancouvercraftbeerweek.com/

2.  Great Canadian Beer Festival (2020 date TBA): https://victoriabeersociety.com/great-canadian-beer-fest/

3.  Farmhouse Fest (2020 date TBA): http://farmhousefest.com/

4.  Okanagan Fest of Ale (April 17 & 18, 2020): https://festofale.ca/

5.  Fort Langley Beer & Food Festival (May 16, 2020): https://www.fortlangley.beer/

6.  BC Beer Awards (2020 date TBA): https://www.bcbeerawards.com/

7.  Great Okanagan Beer Festival (May 6-10, 2020): https://gibbonswhistler.com/festivals-events/great-okanagan-beer-festival/

8.  Whistler Village Beer Festival (Sept. 14-20, 2020): https://gibbonswhistler.com/festivals-events/whistler-village-beer-festival/

9.  Clover Valley Beer Festival (Aug. 8, 2020): https://gibbonswhistler.com/festivals-events/clover-valley-beer-festival/

10. Coquitlam Beer Festival (March 7, 2020): https://coquitlambeerfestival.com/

  Over the seven years since the survey was first conducted, results have tracked several nota-ble shifts in British Columbia craft beer consumer trends, including maturing demographics and a swing in preference away from purchasing beer in glass containers. 

  Since the first survey in 2013, Beer Me BC has found the ratio of younger beer drinkers has been shrinking, while the number of respondents over the age of 43 has increased. It indicates that craft beer has staying power, as beer fans continue to choose craft as they get older. Yet it also suggests that fewer Millennials are becoming craft beer fans than Gen-Xers. Beer Me BC notes that trends researchers have found younger adults are drinking less, and are more likely to choose alternative beverages such as ciders and coolers.

  Over the years, the Beer Me BC survey has found the number of beer-drinkers who prefer to buy in bottles and growlers has dropped drastically. In 2013, bottles, bombers and growlers were preferred by the vast majority of consumers, with only 10% preferring cans. Tall cans (greater than 355 mL) weren’t even on the radar back then. Yet today, almost half of respond-ents said they prefer tall cans, and nearly two-thirds said they prefer aluminium cans to glass bottles.

New Seal Identifies “Real” Craft Beer

  Big Beer is increasingly gobbling up small breweries and marketing faux-craft brands, making it harder for consumers to know when the “craft” beer they’re buying is truly an authentic small-batch brew.

  A new initiative by the recently formed Canadian Craft Brewers Association aims to help craft beer fans identify the real stuff through a new certification mark to be added to “real” craft beer labels.

  The Independent Craft Seal of Authenticity, a small icon featuring a stylized hop bud, is intended to differentiate beer brands that are produced and sold by authentic Canadian craft brewers from copycat brands spawned by large beer conglomerates.

  To use the seal, breweries must be members of the CCBA and apply for an annual license. They must also register the use of the seal, and comply with strict usage guidelines.

  The CCBA formed last spring to create a national umbrella organization uniting provincial craft brewers associations, making it easier to educate and lobby the federal government on issues like federal taxation, inter-provincial trade, import/export policy and growth investment, and promote Canadian craft beer nationally and internationally.

  In June 2019, the CCBA tallied the craft breweries and brewpubs operating in each Canadian province and territory. There are now over 1,000 craft breweries or brewpubs operating in Canada, or 27 breweries per million people (the U.S. has 22 per million). Ontario has the most breweries in operation (269), while Quebec has the most brewpubs (68) and also has the most breweries in planning (80) out of all the provinces.

  All members of Canadian provincial craft brewing associations are automatically members of the CCBA. While the definition of a “craft” producer varies slightly from province to province, all members are licensed to produce beer in Canada, produce no more than 400,000 hectoli-tres of beer (the majority produce less than 5,000 hectolitres), and are independently owned (no controlling shareholder is a large beverage alcohol company). 

Keeping Off Flavors Out of Beer

By: Jessica Spengler

When consumers reach out for a craft beer, they have an expectation of how that beer should taste. When an off flavor sneaks in, it can lose the brewery customers and hurt their reputation. Keeping off-flavors out of beer is not as difficult as it may seem, as long as brewers have the tools and know-how to do so.

An off flavor is a defect in beer that does not adhere to the style or ruins its taste. Some of the most common are diacetyl, which takes the form of butter or theater popcorn; oxidation, which comes across as papery; dimethyl sulfide, a sweet corn taste; and acetaldehyde, often taking the shape of green apples.

Causes

Many different factors cause off flavors, but it often boils down to the same basic concept: a fault in the brewing process.

Raw ingredients

To make good beer, you have to start with good raw ingredients. Malt, hops and yeast should be stored correctly; monitored for defects, mold, and pests; and used as fresh as possible. However, it all begins at the source. Brewers should know what to look out for when buying raw ingredients, starting with the vendor.

“[When it comes to] raw ingredients, you have to see who you’re buying it from. Are they reputable suppliers? We buy a lot of malt from the Czech Republic, I’ve been over their twice visiting the malt house and the hop house. One important thing for the brewers is to be auditing their vendors, making sure they know you’re watching, put a face to who they’re shipping ingredients to,” said Scott Hovey, owner and brewmaster at Adelbert’s Brewing in Austin, Texas.

If an ingredient isn’t good on its own, it won’t be good in the beer, so don’t be afraid of sensory analysis, Hovey said. “It’s like going to the supermarket. You should smell it, look at it, check the taste, the flavor. Every bag of malt, I usually pop a couple of grains in my mouth just to see what it tastes like, what it feels like. It’s surveying the quality of the ingredients.”

Water should be free from chlorine, taste fresh, and be clear.

“With water, smelling it and tasting it is as easy and effective as any test. You can have the best yeast, and the best malt, and go through the process, but if your water has chlorine in it, that can ruin the beer,” said Jim Matt, Chief Scientific Officer at Rhinegeist in Cincinnati.

Cory Hebert, brewer at Adelbert’s, agrees. “If you can’t drink your water because it’s so chlorinated, or any number of factors, then it’s definitely not going to be good to brew with. If you brew with chlorinated water, then you’ll get what’s called chlorophenol in the final beer which will leave the beer tasting like you’re drinking a plastic bag or bucket,” he said.

Fermentation

The most common time for off flavors to develop during brewing is fermentation. The reason for this typically comes down to problems with yeast.

“An overwhelming number of off flavors can be created during fermentation,” said Matt. “A lot of the time, people don’t pitch enough yeast, or they pitch too much yeast, and they’ll get off flavors. If the yeast is contaminated with something else, you can definitely get off flavors from it. That’s where you need to use the greatest amount of care. Yeast needs to be handled in an aseptic environment, so we want to make sure that we handle that yeast free from any other contamination.”

The good news is that, often, when yeast is the problem, it’s also the solution. Keeping beer on yeast a little longer, whether in the tank or through a second fermentation in the bottle, will get off flavors like diacetyl out of the end product.

“I’d say that a good 30 to 40 percent of the bad flavors I’ve tasted in beers are just the beer was rushed through the process. They just didn’t give the yeast long enough to work on, or didn’t let it settle long enough. Time would have fixed it,” said Hovey.

Cleaning, Sanitation and Maintenance

As the old saying goes, brewing is 90 percent cleaning, and one of the reasons for that is to keep the beer as clean as possible.

“The number one prerequisite to being a brewer is an obsession about cleaning. It’s true. You’ve got to keep your plant clean,” said Phil Leinhart, Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Manager at Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York.

Rhinegeist’s Matt agrees and recommends using tools to ensure tanks are thoroughly wiped of contaminants. “Cleaning and sanitation is everything. If a tank is not clean, then by definition it’s not sanitary, so there are several different ways to determine the cleanliness of a tank. My favorite way is a thorough visual inspection, and that’s usually sufficient. We have a device here called an ATP meter. ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) is a compound contained within all living organisms. The brewers will swab a tank looking for ATP, and, if its in there, then the tank is not clean,” he said.

At Rhinegeist they use Peroxyacetic acid to keep their tanks clean, while the crew at Adelbert’s has been known to use a pH swing to purge their brewing vessels.

“Something we do here is cleaning with a high alkaline, and also highly acidic solutions, so we get what you call the pH swing. You use a caustic soda, so you have a very high pH, and then you follow it with acid, so you have very low pH, so then you’re killing pretty much any organic or inorganic compound that would be present,” said Hebert.

Proper, continuous maintenance will keep equipment running well while also ensuring that it won’t harm the beer.

“If your pump is sucking in air because the mechanical seal is bad, it’s gonna cause high oxygen in your beer and your beer is gonna go stale, it becomes oxidized. It’s all related. If you let your equipment get into disrepair, it’s going to affect the product at some point. If refrigerators and cooling aren’t cold enough, you don’t take control of your fermentation temperatures efficiently, and you can’t cool the beer as quickly. It can all eventually affect your beer,” said Ommegang’s Leinhart.

Detecting Off Flavors

There are a multitude of ways to test for off flavors. Breweries equipped with or who employ labs can “plate” samples of beer to test for organisms that may cause the brew to taste off. 

“Plating is [taking] a sample of beer from a tank and putting it on a media where microorganisms are encouraged to grow. Then we put that in an incubator, and we allow things to grow. If we see something growing that shouldn’t be, then we know something’s not right. Plating is a fairly inexpensive, not terribly time consuming, and fairly easy process to do that every brewery, in my opinion, should be doing. It’s pretty easy, and it doesn’t require a lot of technical skill,” said Matt.

More sophisticated technologies can also be implemented by brewery labs, such as a GeneDisc or a headspace gas chromatograph. These technologies require a higher level of skill to use and tend to cost more than many small breweries can afford. However, they aren’t always necessary when testing for off flavors. Nothing beats a good old fashion taste test.

“The analytical capabilities of a brewery can never compensate for the sensory tests that are required in your own sensory taste pallet. The reality is that you can’t go into a laboratory and get a complete understanding of the quality or the consistency of the beer just analytically,” said Christian Riemerschmid Von der Heide, President and CEO of Siebel Institute, the oldest brewery science institution in the United States.

Brewers will typically form a taste panel filled with brewers, servers and salespeople who have been trained to detect and identify specific flavors. Taste panels are used to help determine if an in-process or finished beer has any defects.

Siebel Institute, founded in 1872, offers flavor training kits for this purpose. Brewers can order from over 40 flavors, both wanted and unwanted, to “dose” their beers and hone the palates of their employees. The training has several purposes, most notably to find out who is particularly sensitive to certain smells and tastes, but also to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“You are not only training your people to detect, but also to identify. The difference is ‘Yeah, I can detect that there’s something different, but I cannot name it.’ We need to be able to do both so that everybody uses the same terminology; but also what is important is to know who is better at it than others. Therefore, if somebody that we know is very well trained in diacetyl and can pick it up at lower concentrations, and that person says ‘Yes, I can detect diacetyl,’ then this is the [person] that you pick [to test for it],” said Richard Dube, Director of Online Education at Siebel Institute.

“I would say sensory analysis and the taste panel is at least 50 percent of your quality control. So if 50 percent of your quality control isn’t standardized, using sensory kits, using flavor standards, then it becomes very subjective, and you have a vulnerability,” said Riemerschmid Von der Heide.

Using taste panels is highly recommended by Siebel, which offers on-site classes at their Chicago campus as well as an online curriculum. However, it’s wise to train all employees from the brewmaster to the newest salesperson in case a flavor problem comes about after the beer has reached consumers.

“Outside the plant, not only the brewers but also your sales force needs to be able to respond to a complaint at a bar or wherever that they say, ‘Your beer tastes funny.’ Because they have been trained to identify oxidation or diacetyl or other off flavors, they can pinpoint a little what the problem might be, or further educate the retailer and explain that it is actually part of the flavor profile of this specific beer,” said Dube.

Can off flavors be corrected?

Many off flavors can be corrected once they’re detected. For most, such as diacetyl, acetaldehyde, or sulfuric compound, a few extra days on yeast does the trick. When making certain beers, according to Adelbert’s Hebert, the process may be sped up, if done correctly.

“Many times too, especially back to diacetyl, in lagers and even English Ales, if you’re fermenting at say 68 F, you’ll do what’s called a diacetyl rest. You bring the beer up to 72 F towards the tail end of fermentation to force that yeast to clean up those off flavors and make sure everything gets scrubbed and is nice and neat and ready to drink,” said Hebert.

An unintended sour may work well blended into another beer in the brewery’s sour program. Even in the case of non-sour off flavors, the beer may be successful in a blend.

“When something is not within spec you can rebrand it as something else if the off flavor isn’t too bad. You can blend it. Sometimes we’ll take something that’s just not true to spec, and we’ll take it down in our sour program. Sometimes the secondary organisms can clean up those off flavors,” said Matt.

However, sometimes off flavors are impossible to correct. Butyric acid, often described as “baby sick;” medicinal flavors and hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs) are examples of off flavors that cannot be corrected, and the batch will be “dumped.” When dumping becomes inevitable, which according to Matt is not that common, don’t let it become a sore point.

“There are times you have to swallow your pride and maybe take a little bit of a hit to keep quality up. Nobody likes dumping beer, but I’d rather dump a batch of beer that is not true to brand than sell it and be subpar and get a bunch of complaints from your customers,” said Matt.

Keeping off flavors out of beer doesn’t have to be complicated. According to our experts, with knowledge, foresight and a little elbow grease, brewers can substantially decrease their chances of bad tasting beer.

“It’s a multi-disciplinary approach. Just knowing your process and knowing where you’re at risk and then controlling those risks. Be knowledgeable of defects and how they’re caused, control your process, especially those critical quality control points, and then test both in the lab and with a taste panel so that you know that you’re okay,” said Leinhart.

“Pay attention to your customers and do the absolute best you can cleaning, sanitizing and using the best ingredients possible. Don’t compromise. The cheapest test that you can do is sensory. Taste everything. Let that guide you to making a quality product.”

“Just keep your brewhouse clean, make sure your ingredients are fresh, keep your yeast happy, and know your process, and you should be 95 percent of the way there,” said Hebert.