Capital Pint by Travis Persaud is generally published every second Thursday at OttawaMagazine.com. Follow Travis on Twitter @tpersaud.
Ottawa’s beer explosion has resulted in incessant chatter.
“Woah, Cassel made a beer without using water?!”
“Big Rig is going to open a massive production facility!”
“Wait, Kichesippi is making soda?”
At least that’s what I hear the beerdy (beer nerds!) folks talking about.
But with all the expansion, excitement, and overwhelming enthusiasm for the capital region’s craft beer movement, it feels as if the city’s relative old-timer has been left out of the conversation.
Don’t feel bad for The Clocktower, though. The brewpub, which was established in 1996, has four locations in the city, and every afternoon as I crawl along Catherine Street cursing the abomination that is Ottawa’s ridiculously outdated road system, I see their Glebe location jam packed.
But, have you heard their name mentioned amongst the city’s beer hoopla? They’re not shiny and new. They don’t produce crazy triple IPAs that top 10 percent ABV. And in most of my conversations with people about the Ottawa’s growing beer scene, The Clocktower is usually an afterthought, if a thought at all. They’re just…there.
Patrick Fiori, The Clocktower’s brewmaster, however, is slowly moving the brewery into the limelight. He recently collected four medals at this year’s Ontario Brewing Awards; released six incredible barrel-aged beers in collaboration with Beyond the Pale; and has consistently (and quietly) been releasing excellent one-offs and casks. (Recently an oyster stout for The Whalesbone, and some other quality brews like their white stout. “There’s no such thing as a white stout,” Fiori says. “We just had fun with it. It’s a white beer recipe, but we threw in oats and lemon peel, and plugged nitrogen through it.” It was tasty).
Fiori joined The Clocktower in 2007, armed with a Masters in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot-Watt in Scotland, and methodically spent his first two years perfecting the brewery’s five house beers. “It wasn’t until the summer of 2009 that the standards were actually where I wanted them to be,” he explains. “These were really small tweaks that most people don’t notice, but tweaks that made the beer better.”
As he put the final touches on the house five, the Ottawa beer market was expanding — and quickly. Fiori forced himself out of his natural brewing style to meet the coming demand. “I tend to favour British styles,” he says. “As we’ve done seasonals and one-offs, I’ve been pushing myself out of that box. The West Brew we did [which won Gold at the OBAs this year] was based on a Belgian saison. We have open-top fermenters, though, so it limits what type of yeast we can use. I had to get really technical playing with temperatures in order to get closer to the saison flavour. I was proud of it because we pushed the yeast out of its element to create flavours we hadn’t really done before”
It’s a big departure from when Fiori first joined The Clocktower — when they were brewing roughly 435 hL a year, compared to the 2500 hL they made in 2012. At the time blonde ales ruled, and only Beau’s and now-defunct Heritage Brewing existed in the area. He remembers people were still getting used to Lug-Tread; the barrel-aged goodness he recently released, would have been lost on most. “Now, the only way forward is to be closer to the leader, rather than being the follower,” he says. “I don’t think we need crazy one-upmanship, we just have to look to areas that haven’t been touched.
“There are a lot of styles that are innovative, but aren’t as big of a leap for most drinkers. I care more about converting the 20 percent of the population who are tired of drinking Labatt, but aren’t ready to drink an oatmeal stout. There’s still that big area that’s still fun. For example, I’d love to try that crazy raspberry maple-infused oatmeal cardamom stout that someone might make, but I’ll pick an extremely well-made pilsner over that every time.”
Today The Clocktower is at max capacity. Fiori contends that if the brewery wants to continue to grow there has to be some sort of investment. His focus right now, though, is to push their cask ale program. “We’ve been doing it the whole time, so it’s time to promote it more,” he says. “Cask is becoming a bigger thing so we have to make it more noticeable.”
And he’s also taking The Clocktower into the retail business. The plan is to sell growlers, and eventually four-packs, right from the brewpub. “We’ll have them filled in advance and stockpiled, so you can come in and grab some wings and a growler to go; or after your meal you can grab more of the Kolsh that you were enjoying.”
Fiori originally planned to open the retail store earlier this spring, but he’s still waiting on the last bit of red tape to disappear. “It will open this year, or I’ll be crying!” he exclaims. “We’ll also be doing some straight to bottle releases as well. I’m scared we won’t have enough beer for all that we have going on!”