Brewery of the Month: Blue Elephant Craft Brew House

Right in the heart of Simcoe is the Blue Elephant Craft Brew House. Since Heather’s return to Norfolk county in 2012, she has transformed the Blue Elephant from a Thai cuisine restaurant into the craft brewery that we all know and love today. It is modeled after European pub houses, offering great food and drink, and a cozy and intimate atmosphere.

It’s always busy at the brew house, Sarah, the new brewmaster, is constantly coming up with new ideas and experimenting with different ingredients and beer styles. She follows a scientific approach to brewing, beginning with intense research about ingredients and different aspects related to brewing, create calculations to estimate results, and constantly revising the recipe with each tweak done to the brew. With such a thorough brewing process from start to finish, you can expect no less than perfection in each glass of beer.

At any given time, 9-10 beers are available to try, with 4 mainliners available year round. Last summer we sampled Wizard’s Butter Brew, a Harry Potter inspired lager, and Rhubarb Saison, a golden hazy beer with balanced bitterness and tart Rhubarb finish. Now, we can’t wait to see what seasonal brews will be on tap this summer.

Meanwhile, the mainliners are classic styles perfect for any occasion. The Gentlemen’s Pilsner is a European style pilsner with a nice hop and malt undertone. It was also the official beer for the Mumford and Son’s Festival in 2013, a great source of pride for the Blue Elephant. The Red Devil is an auburn ale created for easy drinking because of its balanced hop, malty, and crisp taste and nose. Lastly, the hugely popular Strawberry Lager is made with local strawberries, and a silver award winning brew!

There is always something brewing at the Blue Elephant, we can’t wait to try what’s going to be on tap next or create our very own beer through their Brew Camp program.

Brewery of the Month: Railway City Brewing Co.

Right in the hustle and bustle of St. Thomas, Railway City Brewing Co. combine the basic building blocks of beer –water, malt, hops, and yeast– with the goal of producing a pint of beer that is harmoniously balanced and highly approachable. Entering the brewery, it is bright and lively. To the right is Railway City merchandise full of clothing, railway spike bottle openers, and drinkware followed by fridges full of a large assortment of beers. Throughout the year, 9 mainliners are offered along with a minimum of 3 seasonal specials.

The brewers are especially inspired by St. Thomas’ history. Their Iron Spike brews inspired by the railway tracks the run through the city and their famous Dead Elephant IPA inspired by Jumbo the Elephant, who passed away in a railway accident. As a tribute to Jumbo’s death anniversary, Railway City releases the Double Dead Elephant IPA every September 15th. This IPA has double the hops, with aromas of peach, cantaloupe, and cotton candy. Ingredients also serve as a huge source of inspiration for the brewers, resulting many experimental beers and releases throughout the year. For example, even though they do not grow their own hops, the brewers work closely with Elgin County growers and even brew one-off Farmhouse ales.

 

Aside from the creative brewers always at the drawing board, the brewery is also very involved with the community. Frequently hosting yoga and beer nights, wood fired pizza every Friday and Saturday with Elgin Harvest, games nights, paint nites, and “Social Taps”, in which proceeds goes towards a different local charity each month. In addition to all these activities you can often find Railway City in some beer festival, near or far.

To top things off, Railway City Brewing Co. hosts a Platform Competition every May, celebrating the art of homebrewing and love of craft beer. Many breweries began from homebrewing hobbies, which is why Railway City  provides a platform for homebrewers to create something special to keep the creative process alive and well throughout the craft brewing industry. As a result, the winners of the competition will receive cash prizes and have their signature brew bottled and released as a seasonal offering later in the year.

For the love of craft beer and the community, the engine is always running at Railway City Brewing Co. We hope this is a train you’re willing to hop on as well.

Brewery of the Month: New Limburg Brewing Co.

New Limburg Brewing Co. began as a family hobby brewing project between Mischa, the head brewmaster, and Jo, his dad. Having moved from Limburg in the Netherlands to Limburg in Belgium, Mischa looks to bring Belgian style ale and European brewing culture to Norfolk County through New Limburg Brewing Co. No one ever expects an old school building when arriving at the brewery, it certainly is a unique concept that plays a role in their designs and wonderful in terms of repurposing old buildings. Entering through the main entrance, there is a nostalgic atmosphere around as it feels like you’re back in grade school. However, it quickly changes as you get to the retail shop with beer and beer-related products on display in shelves and fridges.

Next to the shop is the Tap Room, which is modeled after beer cafes in Europe. It’s a beautifully decorated cafe, following the school theme. The bulletin boards and walls are decorated with beer coasters, the blackboard is full of writing and doodles, the shelves stocked with books (both educational and fictional) and board games, and a grand piano free for all to play. Another wave of nostalgia hits you again as it brings you back to the classrooms in elementary school, when play time during school hours was encouraged.

 

At the bar, all their beers are available on tap, with Dutch bar snacks and locally made cheese available to complement the beers. Their flagship beer is the Belgian Blond, which has a citrusy, pear, and pepper flavour. It starts sweet and ends dry. With such unique character, no wonder why it’s an two time award winning beer.

After completing the Trappist beer series, Mischa looks forward to brewing more Belgian style beers. This includes oak aging, incorporating fruits such as cherries, peaches, and raspberries. With so many wineries nearby, they’re also looking to experiment with aging in wine barrels. However, even though New Limburg focuses predominantly on Belgian style beers, they do want to provide something with a North American influence, which is how the Petit Blond came to be.

New Limburg’s brewhouse is small, but the small batch process allows greater experimentation and more seasonal batches of beer. However, with their recent renovations expanding brewing capacity, we’re definitely excited for new things to come!

Wine-Inspired Craft Beer in the County

North America’s beer industry began when immigrants brought their own traditional style of brewing, but after a long period of Prohibition, Depression, and World Wars, many breweries shut down or consolidated. At the same time, North Americans grew to prefer light lagers, further decreasing the variety of beers available. By the late 50s-60s, homebrewing enthusiasts began brewing beer to bring back more flavours and traditions to American beer, as it was the only other way to experience other beer styles. To separate themselves from the view of North American beer as a mass-produced commodity with little culture, character, and tradition, craft brewers sought to distinguish themselves.

So, what makes craft beer so distinct? The answer lies within innovation, creativity, and experimentation. Just like winemaking, craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists using traditional and untraditional ingredients, and develop new styles with no precedent. The craft brewery members in the Ontario South Coast Wineries and Growers Association are no execption. New Limburg Brewery focuses on traditional Belgian beer styles such as blond ale, wheat beer, and Trappist styles. Their inspiration comes new and old favourite Belgian beer brands, and including North American influences in their beers. Initially, the brewery was hesitant to produce non-Belgian style beers, but when a competition for brewing a Belgian style IPA with local hops came up, the Petit Blond IPA was born. Likewise, the Black Sheep milk stout was also produced for a similar reason. Food also serves as an inspiration, be it creating a creating a beer to pair with a dish or bring certain flavours into their beer, or using local ingredients. Moving forward, New Limburg plans to age their beers in various barrels such as oak and wine to experiment how new flavours and character can be imparted to create unique beers. They will also experiment with cherries, peaches, and raspberries (which aren’t uncommon with Belgian beers) in the brewing process.

Meanwhile at The Blue Elephant, Sarah the brew master, follows a scientific approach to making beer. Once she has an idea for a recipe, she researches the style or ingredient she wants to emphasize the most, allowing her to figure out which approach she wants to take before making it. Then she calculates the math to achieve the optimal final product. By comparing the brew with her calculations, Sarah is then able to adjust the next batch as needed or repeat the process for a consistent beer each time. When it comes to what inspires her, she draws inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. Ingredient use and beer styles are two main sources of inspiration. When it comes to ingredients, she looks to compliment the flavours when adding fruits, vegetables, spices, or tea to a beer. If she has an excess of a certain ingredient or want to use them before they expire, she also creates recipes around them. Aside from experimenting with the brewing process, she also enjoys making a beer true to style while using the most traditional ingredients possible.

Out in Elgin County, Railway City Brewing Co. combines the basic building blocks of beer–water, malt, hops, and yeast – with the goal of producing a pint of beer that is harmoniously balanced and highly approachable. Main sources of brewing inspiration comes from the history of St. Thomas and experimenting with flavour profiles by using fruits, herbs, and spices. Their Dead Elephant and Double Dead Elephant IPAs are both inspired by the death of Jumbo the Elephant, who died in a rail accident in St. Thomas. With the Orange Creamsicale, they were inspired by ice cream parlours and pastry chefs: whole vanilla beans play with the bready, pastry-like sweet malts, while orange zest adds a citrus twist reminiscent of a classic ice cream treat. While uncommon in day-to-day operations, the brewers at Railway City do branch away from traditional beer brewing by using the technique of blending barrels  to create their specialty barrel-aged Barrel Reserve line and Bourbon barrel-aged Stout.

As craft beer culture grown, it has grown more intertwined with wine culture. Modeled after the Sommelier Certification Program, the Cicerone Certification Program was launched in 2008 to ensure proper beer service, particularly food and beer pairing. Certified and Master Cicerones are then able to help beer lovers match their food with the perfect beer choice. Despite sharing the same blue collar stigma as large, industrial beer producers, craft beer isn’t so different from wine after all. There is so much more depth and complexity than meets the eye.

For further reading, click on the links below:
https://www.foodabletv.com/blog/2015/7/22/wine-culture-inspires-rising-craft-beer-movement
https://ithinkaboutbeer.com/2012/06/20/glassware-a-victim-of-the-beer-vs-wine-culture-clash/
https://www.brewersassociation.org/brewers-association/history/history-of-craft-brewing/

Brewery of the Month: Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm

Driving down narrow, winding roads of La Salette you stumble upon Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm, Norfolk County’s first brewery that is also a farm and grows its own hops. Inside the brewery, it has a homey and cozy feel, with a small retail shop to the left and a sturdy bar to the right. There is a wide variety of merchandise ranging from clothing to beer related accessories to Picard’s Peanuts and house made Extreme Kettle Chips.

Touring the brewery is a fun and eye-opening experience, as we learn how local ingredients are incorporated in their beer and food. The brewhouse is overwhelming with the large liquor tanks towering throughout the room. Moving on to the chip machine, we learn about how the Extreme Kettle Chips are made. The chip making process is fascinating. Potatoes are washed, cut, and then bathed in their Dakota Pearl Potato Ale before being fried, seasoned, and packaged. It’s a hectic time when the chip bags get filled and packed into boxes just fill the room during the 5 to 6 week production time.

At the end of the brewhouse and chip production tour, it’s the perfect time to sip on a glass of Dakota Pearl Potato Ale and take a tour of the field of hops, an activity highly encouraged by the staff at Ramblin’ Road. Infused with Dakota Pearl potatoes grown on Picard’s Peanuts Farm, this beer is light and crisp with a frothy head. The earthy tones of the potato blends nicely with Ramblin’ Road’s floral and citrusy hops, delivering a satisfying finish to this cream ale. All in all, taking a leisurely stroll through the sandy soils through rows upon rows of hops while the sun peaks through the tall vines definitely ends the tour of the brewery farm nicely.

Next visit, it will be worth to head up to their aptly named restaurant, The Roost, to grab a bite to eat for lunch.