The booming craft-distilling industry is ripe with creative, hard-working, patient people who take a hands-on approach to making top-shelf liquor.
*Disclaimer: When I was informed of the rural theme for this article, I realized my beer-focused contribution would result in the tongue-tripping combination of “rural” and “breweries.” I’m just going to get this out in front early and advise you not to read this article aloud. I’ve already strained my jaw trying to spit out this unfortunate combination.
Though it doesn’t feel like it, Ottawa is a big place — 2,790 square kilometres ranks us in the top 10 largest Canadian municipalities by land area. This great city holds a lot of breweries, but beyond the edges of town are even more that need discovering.
One of the aspects of the growing craft brewing industry is its focus on local. Outlying communities have breweries that are sources of local pride and act as social hubs. Keep this in mind as you explore these rural breweries. Brewing and drinking local have become the new norm, and it’s no surprise it’s a good fit with small towns. Besides growing the ingredients needed for the brewing process, they share such similar attributes as taking pride in being authentic, natural, and hard-working. Cue the Bruce Springsteen song …
Here, a few places for city slickers to consider the next time the open road calls.
East: Vankleek Hill
There’s no way talk about rural breweries can begin without considering Beau’s Brewery. Nothing about quaint little Vankleek Hill screams “Ontario’s largest independent and award-winning brewery,” but it’s proudly there nevertheless. The mutually beneficial relationship between the town and the family-owned company is fantastic. Whether you are visiting for fall’s Oktoberfest or the brewery’s summer patio with chef Bruce Wood’s menu, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re looking for a different style of beer, try the gruit.
Eastern Ontario is great for practising your French, so next time you’re in Casselman, try ordering a biere from Cassel Brewery. Simply follow the train tracks to the middle of town, where the newly expanded brewery can’t be missed. The Golden Rail honey brown ale is a staple, but I’d recommend venturing off the track and sampling the Caboose IPA or, if you’re lucky, the Sleeper Car double chocolate porter.
West: Carleton Place
Stalwart Brewing Co. burst from the ashes of the former Stock Pot Ales brewery like a majestic phoenix and now spreads its fiery wings in Carleton Place. The brewery’s location just off the main street near the Mississippi River demonstrates its investment in the community. These guys are brewers’ brewers, but don’t let that deter you from enjoying their wide array of flavourful brews. Among their many incredible beers, Dr. Feelgood IPA is a surefire cure for what ails ya.
A great little tourist and recreation town lies due west. There, you’ll find the Calabogie Brewing Company. While visiting the Calabogie Peaks ski hill, be sure to swing by and enjoy the robust and toasty Black Donald stout. But if you prefer to visit nearby trails in warmer seasons, save room for their refreshing Grassy Bay saison.
Square Timber Brewing Company respects its local heritage, paying homage to the Ottawa Valley’s history of logging through its many beers, including Timber Crib pale ale and Cant Hook IPA (named after a metal hook used to grab logs). It would be hard to argue that brewer Marc Bru wasn’t destined to open a brewery. Of his many delightful creations, I’d suggest the Big Pine IPA.
Rurban Brewing opened in November of last year, reviving the community’s long dormant brewery scene after a 100-year absence. The name mirrors its environs: Cornwall straddles the boundary between urban and rural. The brewery is already gaining support from local restaurants, which are carrying its drafts. My recommendation? Try New Johnstown’s Best Bitter, and enjoy its sweet, warming depth and understated notes of dried fruit.
Located in a beautifully repurposed mill in downtown Gan, Gananoque Brewing Company is almost too urban for this list. Almost. A lineup of brews with names inspired by nature — from Naughty Otter lager to Thursty Pike pilsner — demonstrates an appreciation for the beautiful environs of the Thousand Islands. The full-bodied, malt-forward Black Bear bock would be my humble suggestion.
Really Southwest: Bath
A little far off the beaten track is MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company in Bath, gorgeous country in the summer months. You should venture through the area with the brewery as a destination or an added stop. MacKinnon’s fits perfectly with the rural theme, as the brewery is located on their family farm, where they grow the necessary brewing ingredients. Enjoy the relaxing scenery, including the expertly altered “Beets for Sale” sign. The 8 Man English pale ale is a personal fave, while the Crosscut Canadian ale is a popular choice.
Most of these breweries do serve their wares across Ottawa, but if you love drinking straight from the source, a drive is an unfortunate reality. If you don’t have anyone in your life who loves you enough to drive you on an eastern Ontario beer run and you are of the mindset that hitchhiking is passé, consider Brew Donkey beer tours. They offer a Brewers East tour that visits Cassel Brewery, Beau’s, and two brand new breweries opening in Embrun, as well as a Western Libations tour that stops at Ashton Brewing Company, Stalwart Brewing, Top Shelf Distillers, and Perth Brewing.