Growing amongst Niagara’s acres of grapes is a brewing community that has beer drinkers flocking to the Niagara Region in search of creative small batch microbrews. But these are not your typical mass-produced, found in a frat’s keg style beers. Focused on creating strong unique beers that mirror Niagara’s home grown produce, these small independent breweries are converting the once wine dominated region into a hot-spot for exceptional Ontario craft beer.
Silversmith Brewing Company
1523 Niagara Stone Rd, Virgil, ON.
What Makes People Come Back: Crisp draft and bottled beers and great local food.
Living and brewing by the motto “We make beer that doesn’t suck,” small batch brewery Silversmith has become a favourite amongst both the locals and tourist crowd since opening in Virgil, Ontario. Known for brewing crisp, original brews with a dedication to local flavour, the modern brewery believes that as Niagara attracts more attention for their growing culinary culture, beer lovers deserve a locally produced, high quality beer to accompany it.
Silversmith’s co-owners Matt Swan and Chris Pontsioen decided to build a brewery just as unique as their craft brews; the 19th century church just outside of downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake was the perfect property.
“We like things of high quality and appreciate nice esthetics so we wanted a building that would fit that model,” said Swan. “We deliberately wanted to keep the character and esthetic of the church, but add features that would encourage people to stay and interact while enjoying their beer. “
Maintaining this idea that beer is inherently social, Swan and Pontsioen set to creating a modern beer hall atmosphere that would encourage people to not only enjoy beer, but relax and have fun with their friends and others visiting the brewery.
“We do not operate like a winery,” said Swan. “We do not have a tasting bar but we have a full on beer hall. In a tasting room you are expected to stand, taste and purchase and leave where we encourage people to come in here and socialize and enjoy beer in the traditional beer hall feeling. We believe that beer is social and that you really can’t enjoy beer properly if you are simply tasting.”
But what makes the Silversmith experience truly unique is their less traditional methods of brewing; having begun a few years ago to experiment with a traditional European barreling program which focuses on aging beer in French or Canadian oak barrels that have previously held wine.
“We leave the beer in these barrels for anywhere from six months to a year,” said Swan. “We let it sit and mature and turn into something interesting. One of the great things we get to do with that is we can add different fruits or spices or hop them differently.”
“It is a different beer from what most people are expecting,” said Swan. “It is a very kind of old school European way of brewing and bottling beer, it hasn’t caught on hugely in Ontario yet. It isn’t really mainstream yet but we like to do it – it’s fun and successful thus far.”
Featuring four flagship beers and monthly limited edition brews, Silversmith’s brewing team, led by brew master John Legassicke, a graduate of the Masters of Brewing and Distilling program at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, brews approximately 16 beers annually and up to 3,000 litres a day.
All of their beers are offered in either 650 ml bottles or in growlers – a large bottle that holds close to 4 pints each, to help conserve on waste.
“If you know you’re going to have four pints, or have a party, [Growlers] are way more economical,” said Swan. “There is a lot less waste.”
When possible, Silversmith uses local produce to support Niagara farmers, resulting in seasonal brews like their Oyster Stout, a traditional dry Irish stout and a collaborative brew with the Tide and Vine Oyster Company.
Though their beer is what brings people in the door, it is the food that helps keep them in the building. Partnering with Mike Langley for more than just collaborative brews, the co-owner of the Tide & Vine Oyster Company, has made a home at Silversmith brewery, serving food five days a week from Wednesday to Sunday and working diligently to build a menu designed to complement Silversmith’s beer. Featuring traditional menu items from global beer cultures, Silversmith’s menu boasts traditional German sausages, baked chicken wings and poboys that reflect local, in season produce and of course, oysters.
“We have American influence, we have British influence and we have German influence – three strong beer cultures,” said Swan. “The culinary experience is one that is tied pretty closely to those cultures.”
Though you can find Silversmith’s brews in multiple restaurants throughout Niagara, this brewery experience is one you will not want to overlook.
“We encourage people to come with their friends, try as many beers as they safely can, eat some great food and relax,” said Swan.
Oast House Brewery
2017 Niagara Stone Road, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON.
What Makes People Come Back: Local flavoured seasonal beers and winery style tasting bar
Great beer is just down the road. No truer statement can be used to describe Oast House Brewery, the new kid on the block in Niagara’s quick growing brewery community.
Founded in 2012, this winery inspired craft brewery has taken beer enjoyment to a new level, converting a century old barn into an upscale tasting bar and modern brewery for the public. Drawing inspiration from both its European hops kiln namesake and the local Niagara farming community, Oast House has evolved their brews into an elevated flavour experience, profiling the unique produce flavours of the region and filling a niche in the wine centric community.
“Whether it is France, Australia, Argentina, you would always find in wine regions that there would be a microbrewery tied in,” said Cian MacNeill, marketing manager and partner with Oast. “After you have finished wine tasting all day, you need something refreshing – especially on a 30 degree day where you’ve been drinking red wine. When there is a brewery nearby to cleanse the palate, well it just seems to work.”
Housing a 40 barrel system and strong brewing team lead by head brew master Mike Pentesco, Oast has created a group of flagship beers that have put Oast on the map both in Niagara and the city of Toronto; including their Farm House Ale collection featuring their Barn Raiser Ale, Saison and Biere De Garde prepared in similar fashion to champagne.
“We liked the idea of a really premium beer that is made the old way,” said MacNeill. “They spend a month, sometimes two months, just in the stainless steel and then they’re not done. Then you take them out, add more yeast and sugar and then they stay on their side and go into another cellar so that they are naturally fermenting in the bottles. I just find that there is so much more complexity and depth to these beers when you do them like that because it not only traps the carbonation but the flavour is trapped as well.”
Alongside their Farm House collection is a diverse array of local brews that complement the harvest seasons and work with challenging produce to create intense flavours; including the wildly popular strawberry rhubarb beer, peach beer and Country Bumpkin pumpkin ale made entirely from locally sourced pumpkins and squash.
“In the summer we try to keep up with seasonal produce and create beers that mirror those seasons,” said MacNeill. “Our strawberry rhubarb beer has taken on a life of its own. There was a lavender company down the road and [the owner] came by and dropped off a bag of lavender and said ‘Can you do something with this’ so we made a lavender cardamom beer.”
Oast also works hard to source their hops primarily from the Niagara Region, with the rest coming from Northern Ontario farmers.
“Some local farmers have started growing us hops and we are trying to use as much of those as possible,” said MacNeill. “Which I always say is the Niagara way of doing things. If you can grow it yourself, do it.”
Another way Oast has chosen to support local is by bringing in chef Adam Hynem-Smith, owner of El Gastronomo Vagabundo food truck, every Friday as the brewery floor is converted into a modern bistro, featuring live music, great local food and inexpensive pints of beer.
“It’s Adam’s kitchen when he comes in here, he gets to make whatever he likes,” said MacNeill. “Adam is a huge beer fan and loves our beer so it came together really naturally.”
“We think beer is much more versatile in terms of pairing because of the carbonation. If you have one type of wine that pairs with everything it’s sparkling. That taste and that body and that dryness; sparkling wine has it and beer has that too. It has that carbonation and that body which pairs so well with rich foods like in a gastro pub.”
This evolving brewery has even added a new private events space to their breweries roster of entertainment value. The Hayloft, a new private events space, features harvest tables and jaw dropping views of the surrounding vineyards and is perfect for a holiday get together or corporate event.