Brewery Bucket Lists

On my brewery tour, I like to ask my beer-lovers whether they’ve visited other breweries before. Partly to encourage comparison and contrast between large-and-modern breweries and our very small, historic one—but also, because there are a lot of cool breweries out there, and discussing them tends to unleash that excited gleam in people’s eyes.

I understand. I love brewery tours myself. It’s fun picking up tips from other guides, and I always learn something new. Then I got to thinking—which breweries are on my personal bucket list?

After some research, some reminiscing, and some conversations, I present the following five breweries. My reasons are mostly idiosyncratic—it’s kind of like the way everyone’s palate is different. Different aspects of breweries attract different people.

Without further ado: 

Alexander Keith’s: Halifax, Nova Scotia

When I ask if people have visited other breweries, “Alexander Keith’s” is a fairly frequent response. According to my beer-lovers, Keith’s also has guides in 1860s costume—and they sing and dance!

I approve of the mutton chops (
I approve of the mutton chops (

Well, I think we should all be happy that I don’t dance on tour, but I must admit: this notion of interweaving story and song into a brewery tour intrigues me. Plus, visitors get to walk through Keith’s home and brewhouse, play games, and sample ale. Beer and a highly interactive, theatrical tour? Sign me up!


Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis (Achel Brewery): Achel, Belgium

Of the ten currently approved Trappist breweries, this one is the smallest. The site itself dates back to 1648—originally, it was a Dutch chapel, but became an abbey in 1686. Beer was brewed onsite starting in 1852, and by 1871, it was a Trappist monastery.


So why Achel? Mostly, I’m not as familiar with Trappist beers as I’d like to be, I like monasteries, and Belgium is gorgeous. Over the past year, I’ve been making a concerted effort to expand my palate. Given the importance of the Trappist monasteries in brewing history, it only seems right to include one. Besides, the history geek in me revels at the thoughts of walking through cloisters and partaking in a tradition stretching back to the 1600s.

Plus, the monastery is the beautiful Belgian countryside, close to several biking/walking trails.


Guinness: Dublin, Ireland

The granddaddy of stouts. Okay, so I’ve also been nursing a desire to visit Ireland. Technically, you can no longer visit the brewery itself. Instead, Guinness receives visitors in the Guinness Storehouse, which opened in 2000. Tours start in the world’s largest pint glass and touch on everything from Guinness history to interactive displays on responsible drinking.

Like most of the breweries here, this intrigues several sides of my personality.

  1. I’m growing very fond of stouts. I want to taste a Guinness actually brewed in Ireland.
  2. Let’s see how the really big breweries do tours!
  3. Did I mention it’s in Ireland?


Dogfish Head: Milton, Delaware 


A sentimental choice for me. Whilst traipsing around Virginia earlier this year, I became acquainted with Dogfish Head Ale. It’s a delightful—and rapidly growing—American craft brewery and a dear friend’s favourite. Which means I would have a pal for the free tour, which hits the brewhouse, cellars, and bottling line. I’ve heard nothing but positive comments about Dogfish Head’s enthusiasm and passion, and it’s a brewery that will always bring a smile to my face.


Speight’s Brewery: Dunedin, New Zealand

Speight's brewery

Ah, the pride of the south. Speight’s was founded in 1876 by James Speight, Charles Greenslade, and William Dawson. Besides the original brewery in Dunedin, there is another in Auckland. The Dunedin brewery stands on Rattray Street above a natural spring; the brewery has a free tap where the public can fill their own bottles with spring water. Despite Speight’s branding as a “Gold Medal Ale, thanks to two wins at the 1880 Melbourne Exhibition, Speight’s is in fact a lager.

I have actually visited this brewery before. I include it primarily because I am homesick for New Zealand. And also, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there: with our perky guide, we walked through the history of brewing from Ancient Egypt through to 1800s New Zealand. The brewery is big, and we got to see a significant portion of it. And to cap it all off…

Twenty minutes in the taproom, with free access to the taps.


My one regret about my visit to Speight’s (and the other reason I want to go back), is that I went before I had learned how to really taste beer. To be blunt: I didn’t like beer yet. I just thought it was interesting.

What I’d give for those twenty minutes now…

What is your brewery bucket list? (Besides Black Creek, I mean!)


Out of the Cold: Does Beer Keep you Warm?

Well! It seems winter has caught us in its icy grip! The Village looks beautiful with every grove and roof sparkling white, but it is just a touch chilly.

Cold, but worth it! So beautiful!
Cold, but worth it! So beautiful!

In circumstances like these, some people may well reach for a beer; alcohol has a long and vibrant reputation as a warming agent. After all, think of Winter Warmers: they are usually brewed to a higher alcohol level to take the edge off the cold. Or St. Bernard dogs, carrying brandy to travellers lost in deep snow.

But does alcohol actually protect you from the cold?

Alcohol can make you feel warmer, but as it’s a deceptive warmth. Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, bringing blood to the surface of the skin. This is why people who have been imbibing looked flushed. Extra blood close to the skin’s surface raises the body’s external temperature; you feel warm, and the skin is warm to the touch.

Unfortunately, dilating the blood vessels is the exact opposite of what the body usually does in the cold. You know how your fingers and toes get pinched after time outside, or how people can sometimes have a waxy, pale look? That’s because the body reacts to cold by constricting blood vessels. By bringing blood away from the skin and extremities, the body can keep it close to the vital organs and maintain core body temperature.

When blood is close to the skin’s surface, that can’t happen. So, while the face may appear flushed and warm, core body temperature is actually dropping. And the story doesn’t stop there. The superficial warmth created by blood vessel dilation makes you sweat, which lowers body temperature even further. But because you feel warm, you may not realize. Add in impaired judgement after a few drinks, and you have a potentially dangerous situation.

Oh, and there’s one more thing: alcohol is a depressant. It slows down the nervous system. That means it reduces your body’s ability to shiver, depriving you of another means of staying warm.

So really, given all of that, alcohol is about the worst thing for a body in the cold. It’s like a domino chain of negative effects.

Bundle up!
Bundle up!

Although popular opinion celebrated whisky and beer as a means of fighting off the cold, Victorians were aware of alcohol’s effects on the body. In his Temperance Lesson Book, Dr. Benjamin Ward Richardson cautions, “It is a sense of warmth that is felt, not an actual warmth that is given to the body” (147). He claims that alcohol weakens the small blood vessels. In their enfeebled state, they can’t resist the force of blood being pumped from the heart – and so, the blood is carried closer to the surface of the skin.

Which is pretty much it, really. He also states that the drop in core body temperature can be as much as 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit, which means it can exacerbate and complicate hypothermia (onset of which can begin between 90-9 degrees Fahrenheit).

Fortunately, our brewery is warm and cosy; and in 2014, we usually don’t have to walk several miles through cold and snow to get home. As with many things, knowledge is power – enjoy those special seasonal brews, but stay safe!


For more…

Richardson, Dr. Benjamin Ward. The Temperance Lesson Book. New York: National Temperance Society and Publication House, 1880.

No Bad Beers

Has this ever happened to you? You’re having a lovely discussion about beer, getting all excited and sharing which beers you’ve tried and which you’ve yet to track down, when your conversational partner asks what your favourite beer is. Even more excited now, you tell them…only to be met with a wrinkled brow, a slightly curled lip, and an incredulous, “Why that? Don’t you know that’s a bad beer?”

And then there’s the awkward silence and maybe the conversation eventually gets back on track, or maybe it doesn’t, but either way, you don’t feel so good.

It’s okay. I’m here to tell you a little secret. Well, it’s not really a secret, because all four of us (Ed, Blythe, Doug, and myself) say it all the time in the brewery, but regardless: 

There is no such thing as a bad beer.

And I can hear the howls now. “What?” some corners of the internet scream. “There are plenty of bad beers! Why, I had one just last week; it was a drain-pour!”

“Traitor!” others are shrieking. “You drink craft beer! How can you say that there are no bad beers, when you compare independent microbreweries to the impersonal macro conglomerates? The macrobreweries use corn syrup and adjuncts! How can you say that there are no bad beers, when I’ve had beer that tastes like fizzy yellow water?”


*innocent whistle*
*innocent whistle*

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down, Sparky. This is the thing about beer.

It is entirely subjective.

Are there beers that we dislike, down here in the brewery? Absolutely, because beer is entirely subjective. Take the Apricot Ale we did in May; Blythe loves it, I can’t drink it. Same beer, different opinions. But guess what?

I don’t like apricots. Stands to reason, then, that I wouldn’t like the Apricot Ale. So, is it a bad beer? 

Nope. It’s just not a good beer for me.

We often draw a comparison with food. You expect people to like different foods; we all have that one unusual thing that we crave and can’t get enough of (three words: Mince. On. Toast.). It’s the same with beer. Actually, the analogy does break down, because you can have bad food. I think we can all agree that “pink slime” is worse for our bodies than organic meat. Similarly, I can imagine people saying that beer made with corn syrup and adjuncts is worse than beer made with organic barley, hops, water, and yeast.

Except…pals, it’s not the nineteenth century. We don’t drink beer for nutritional reasons anymore. Plus, since our bodies consider alcohol a poison anyway, it seems kind of silly to me to argue about which poison is better for us.


Seriously. We've moved on. (Courtesy
Seriously. We’ve moved on. (Courtesy

Now, sure, there are beers that are made with less attention and care. And that is a shame, because brewing is just as much an art as it is a craft. But if people like those beers, I’m not going to judge them. If someone likes a mass-produced beer, than that beer is good for at least one person.

“But that demeans and devalues the work that hardworking indie microbrewers do!”

Okay, yes, I see the logic in that argument. And believe me, I feel the emotion behind it, I really do. I will take this opportunity to be completely honest and say that I infinitely prefer craft beer. For me, personally, beer from macrobreweries just doesn’t work. I value the time and effort indie and microbrewers put into their product. For me, it is a noticeable difference and one I immensely appreciate.  

Again, though, our thesis is that beer is an entirely subjective field. Some people really value the artisanal qualities of a beer; for others, it’s less important. For the people who do value care, attention, and detail in brewing, the work of microbreweries is certainly recognized. Some people read classical literature; other people read drugstore romance novels. Do we judge?

Maybe, but we shouldn’t. Our unique tastes are part of who we are. I think the most important thing is to keep an open mind. By all means, admit to disliking this beer or that one – since it’s a matter of personal taste, we should recognize that there is no offense meant. And of course, it’s a good general rule not to knock something until you’ve tried it!



Brews and News

Hello, beer-lovers!

Just a quick update today to share some brewery news. For those who missed our Say Cheese, Say Cheers! night back in October, never fear! Expert Julia Rogers returns next Thursday, November 13th for another cheese and beer pairing. Our evening starts at 7:00 and includes a tour of our historic brewery. For more information and tickets, please click here.


We hope you had a safe and spooky Halloween! If you’re still in an autumnal state of mind, we do have a few Pumpkin Ales left in the fridges. The frost is on the pumpkin (sorry, couldn’t resist), but who said trick-or-treating is over? Drop by the brewery to snag a growler of this seasonal favourite—before it’s gone for another year.

Speaking of seasonal favourites, don’t forget that our first Christmas By Lamplight celebration is only a month away! The brewery will be open all three Lamplight evenings, ready to sling beer and make merry. So, business as usual, really! Book early to avoid disappointment; it’s one of our favourite events!


And finally: it’s getting cold, we’ve set the clocks back, and I just mentioned Christmas…but far-thinking planners that we are, we’re already thinking about our spring beers for the LCBO. The four of us have been batting around names and ideas, but if there’s a beer you would like to see in the LCBO, let us know in the comments below!

We’re in the homestretch, friends. Here’s to Queen and country!