Monday, April 29, 2013

Oast House Brewers: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Oast House Brewers
What is an Oast House? A few weeks ago I went to Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Oast House Brewers to find out for myself. Nestled in NOTL’s wine country at 2017 Niagara Stone Road is one of Ontario’s new craft breweries. I had been dying for a visit and when I showed up I was lucky enough to receive a private tour by Kevin Somerville, the brewmaster and one of the owners. Having studied at the World Brewing Academy, Kevin knows the world of beer inside and out and was able to break it down for me in a way that any non-science major could understand.

Painting of an Oast House
The Sampling Bar 
An Oast House is a type of barn that was popular in the 1800s in Kent, England and was used for drying hops. The whole idea of using that as the inspiration for their name was to keep a rustic, barn-like, rural feel, consistent with the area and with their brewery. They are located in an old red barn and used scrap copper and barn board inside and along their bar. With a big open space and beautiful wood floors, they have given themselves enough room to host events for up to 70 people with a small kitchen to boot. The staff are all extremely friendly and helpful and full of information about their unique products.

Oast House Brewers in

Oast House is using primarily Canadian hops that are grown in the prairies and get malted in Montreal. They are also planning on growing some of their own hops in the summer in collaboration with local farmers. Unlike most beers, their products take about 2 months from start to finish – 1 month to ferment, 3-4 weeks to referment and 5-7 days in a cooler to let the yeast settle. The refermentation of the beer is a significant step for Oast House because it both makes the beer bubbly and traps some of the esters, adding subtle flavors to their brews. They have a year-round refermentation room and are one of (if not the only) brewery in Ontario doing this year round.

Oast House Brewers on Tap
These efforts on the part of their brewmaster go a long way in producing unique, quality beers that have already received high praise in the region and beyond. They are currently putting out four products and I had the pleasure of tasting each (including a sneak preview of Bière de garde, the newest member of the Oast House family).

Bière de Garde: Darker, maltier and fermented at a cooler temp to essentially “allow the ester to take a step back and the malt to take a step forward” (according to Kevin).

The Finished Product
Saison: Belgian style farmhouse brew – farmers in the Bologna region of Belgium would make this style of beer during the colder months so that it would be available for their day labourers (“saisonniers”) in the summer. Originally it was just used as a thirst quencher when beer was safer than water and eventually became a beer used in celebrations and other special occasions.

Barn Raiser: A really floral nose with bright citrus flavors. While fruity and perfect for Spring/Summer, the complexity of the flavors that linger after each sip puts this beer in a totally different category. This was my favorite beer.

Smokey Irish Stout:  Equally distinctive, using chocolate malted hops and smoked hops to produce a dark, smoky brew. While I am not typically a fan of stouts, the smokiness really rounded out the bitterness and I quite enjoyed it.

The Oast House is a great addition to the craft brewery scene and I would recommend it to any beer enthusiast or to anyone visiting the area. The atmosphere, the people and of course the beer are exceptional and I can’t wait for their product to hit the shelves at the LCBO!