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.
Niagara Brewing Company
4915-A Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls, ON.
What Makes People Come Back: Creative beers, locally sourced ingredients and traditional brewing methods
The Niagara Brewing Company has big plans for downtown Niagara Falls. Opening its doors to the public this May right in the middle of the carnival fun of Clifton Hill, this latest addition to Niagara’s craft brewing route offers a varied roster of innovative and smooth drinking brews created with traditional practices and locally sourced produce.
Residing in the former site of the legendary Foxhead Inn – one of the first luxury hotels in Niagara Falls – and the once WWE store, Niagara Brewing Company says they plan to honour the spirit of the fox by employing daring processes, bold flavours, and a strong desire to create the perfect beer. The multi-level on-site brewery will also offer a comprehensive craft brewing experience with a stand up tasting bar, outdoor patio, retail store and seated restaurant – featuring beer paired sharing plates like charcuteries and small plates including fan favourites like sliders and tacos.
Guiding the team is legendary Brewmaster Gord Slater. An avid member of the craft brewing industry since 1969, he has held an essential part in the design and commissioning of more than 60 breweries in North America; lending his wealth of experience and passion to breweries worldwide for over 35 years.
“I came out of the University of Guelph from the Agriculture program and one of my professors that I got along best with was in research with Molson,” says Slater. “So he forced me into their business straight out of school. In 1984 when the craft brewery business was legalized by the Ontario Government, that’s when I swung into developing brew pubs, breweries and brewing premises as a consultant.
“[Niagara Brewing Company’s Team] was thinking about craft beer because it is a growing market segment in the alcohol business,” said Slater. “And so they brought me down to look at two potential properties and get things going.”
Slater says the company will focus on traditional brewing practices to produce canned, kegged, bottled, cask-conditioned and barrel-aged beer. Focusing on four established brands – their Honeymoon Peach Ginger Radler, a premium blonde Lager, a versatile Amber Ale and a high-hop IPA – along with four floating taps that will feature seasonal and inspirational brews crafted on whim. The brewery plans to produce 15 cans per minute and 20 kegs per hour – an incredible volume for a new craft brewery.
“Our beers are not going to be your ordinary beers; they are going to be clean, smooth and easily drinkable,” said Slater. “The Radler will be a ginger peach instead of your traditional citrus base; the IPA will be more East Coast than West Coast. Some will say it’s too much of an IPA while beer geeks will find it not enough. “
The floating taps will focus on promoting Niagara flavours, drawing inspiration from the areas diverse and lush agriculture.
“One of our missions here is to try and pull the regional agriculture into our plan in order to promote both the region and our brand,” said Slater. “We are using a Summer Wheat beer as our base. It’s a great base beer – it could be run either as is or have local fruit added to it depending on the season. We could add strawberries, cherries, pumpkin, whatever we decide and whatever the season permits.”
Along with clean and balanced beers, Slater plans to bring new concepts to the Niagara Brewing Company in the forms of eco-friendly brewing and an established water conservation system.
“There is a great concern generally in the industry, by the Ministry of the Environment,” said Slater. “The breweries are asked to partake in consulting work in order to check their discharge into the atmosphere. And some people say that is being fostered by the large breweries – which tend to be a controversy among craft brewers. So what we are doing is that we are going to take technology involved in condensing vapours. It is fairly common in many industries but not so common in the craft beer industry. So we are taking that technology and advancing it as much as we can here so that we will not be discharging into the atmosphere outside of our doors.
“With the cost of energy and water and heat, we are trying to be a
little more ecofriendly in conservation of our water use as well,” said Slater. “Whenever we cool anything, that heat will be recovered from the cooling process and put back into the system to be reused. Anytime that we can minimize the discharge down the drain we will have a process put in place. Water is a precious item and beer is 95 per cent water. So we have to be conscious of it.”
Niagara Brewing Company hopes to grow not only as a tourist favourite but as a favourite amongst locals and fellow craft brewers in Niagara, with the goal of promoting the local brewing industry as a unit.
“It’s not our intention to be the lone wolf over here,” said Slater. “The trouble with a growing industry is that you have a lot of people who are great brewers that don’t have management experience. I have been in the industry long enough to gain some of that so I am open to answering questions from anybody.
“During the summer months our focus will be whoever comes through the doors and in the fall we already have plans in on how to draw people from the local area: Special dinner nights, brewmaster dinners, events and educational seminars. All of those to encourage both the home brewers and the people who want to learn about the brewing industry to come down here.”
TAPS On QUEEN BREWHOUSE & GRILL
4680 Queen Street, Niagara Falls, ON.
What Makes People Come Back: large variety of beers, live music & inexpensive daily specials
Located in the heart of Niagara’s tourism and wine country, Taps on Queen is a custom crafted micro-brewery meets brew pub hybrid in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Taking clean drinking very seriously, Taps is known for strictly using only the most natural local ingredients, hops, malted barley and yeast to build their unique and refreshing craft beers.
Founded in 2004 as a unique craft brewery, Taps quickly became known amongst the locals and tourism sector as a top producer of fresh and distinctive craft beers. As popularity grew, so did business in tandem; expanding their locations and acquiring Niagara’s Best Beer company along with their brewer Ian Watson to the team, expanding their Syndicate restaurant chain to open two new locations in St. Catharines and Grimsby and outgrowing their previous Taps location in Virgil, choosing to make the move to Niagara Falls.
“They wanted a restaurant so they took their production brewery and made it into a restaurant,” said Phil Everett, head brewer at Taps on Queen. “The tanks are huge compared to a normal brew pub set up – about four times the average size. This allows us to produce more of our flagship beers that people come in for.”
Amongst this wide range of ales, stouts, lagers and seasonal beers on tap is Taps’ three signature pours; Logger Lager, Light Lager and Niagara’s Best Blonde Ale, one of the only beers that is bottled and distributed in local Beer Stores.
Everett said that it is their pure ingredients and lack of filler that makes their beers so much better than the common name brand variety.
“Sixty per cent of conglomerate beer can be made from corn and rice, which is essentially filler,” said Everett. “So in a sense, most of those brands are more not beer than beer because beer is defined as malts and barley. All of our ingredients are natural and if we make a special season brew, the flavours generally come from local farmers and their produce.”
Though the seasonal beers are never a guaranteed feature, these flavoured beers when available have become the most popular amongst regulars. When brewed, the flavours stem from fruit and spices grown in Niagara, including the peach and pumpkin purees both most recently used for culinary experiments and beer production.
“The pumpkin beer we bring out every fall and it is a little like a zombie apocalypse when we release it because people come swarming,” said Everett. “We come in early to pre fill growlers because we know we won’t be able to keep up. No one wants to cook a pumpkin pie to bring to turkey dinner – just bring a growler of pumpkin beer.”
Everett said Taps is the creative site for their exceptional beers – with experimentation always at the forefront – including unique barrel aging projects.
“We did an imperial stout in the barrels not too long ago and it was pretty popular,” said Phil. “The craft brewers brought back this style of beer production. It is very heavy, very vinous, and it works really well with the Jack Daniels style of flavours.”
Other specialty brews are derived from team brainstorming and voting process called the Growler Club; a fun spirited social gathering that invites local beer lovers to meet every third Monday of the month to eat, sample new brews and discuss ideas for great beers.
“I am usually presented with a few ideas and then I either run with it or create a beer inspired by one of the suggestions” said Everett.
Though craft breweries still maintain only a small percentage of the beer market, Everett said it is this style of community involvement and collaboration that has helped craft breweries on their continual rise to popularity.
“As craft brewers, especially in this area, we all work together,” said Everett. “Majority of us went to school together or learned together, so we all work together in a collegial sort of atmosphere to carve a chunk out of the bigger brewers. Beer overall is losing market share and we are taking what remains of that market share from the bigger brewers via education and getting people to understand why we make beer like we do.”
Taps also features daily food specials and live music on both indoor and outdoor stages, showcasing music from every genre along with open mic nights, karaoke and cover bands to appeal to a more diverse crowd.