1 April 2018
Northern Polksposure - Polkapolooza Day 3
There was zero chance we wouldn't be heading north during Polkapolooza : Rise of Polk this year, it just doesn't happen. Our first trip up 3 years ago was one of my favourite memories and we repeat it a few times a year because it is so beautifully Canadian. I get emotional just thinking about it. Driving through the Canadian Shield, surrounded by endless forests and lovely lakes, we travelled once again to 8 breweries in 4 cities that dot the northern landscape. Our earliest start to date, as our first stop opened at 9 a.m. meant another Timmies breakfast and some car rocking tunes to shake the rust off our bones.
Muskoka Brewing in Bracebridge has long been a pal of Polk and we were once again greeted warmly by the people manning the taproom early on that Tuesday morning. Kristen and Steven made this stop memorable by inviting us to sit in on the daily sensory panel Muskoka does to ensure the highest quality beer makes its way out the door. Joining a room full of happy folks, we did a simple thumbs up or down on appearance, aroma and taste for 4 fantastic beers and while we did, I had the freshest Detour Session IPA I've ever had (hours old) and tried what may very well be the beer of Summer 2018, Tropical Summerweiss. A loaded mango and passionfruit take on their classic wheat beer, it was sunshine in a glass and a hell of a way to kick off any day. Lingering in the taproom talking about the changing landscape of craft beer in Ontario, we were struck by how much Muskoka had changed themselves in the three years since we started traversing the province. Growing from a small bottle shop to a full tasting room and outdoor space to the further plans and future for this northern light. We could have stayed hours but just a short trip down the road waited another favourite and it was time for a proper pint.
Located in Gravenhurst, Sawdust City Brewing looms large over the Ontario Craft beer world after an outstanding 2017 that saw amazing beer come out almost weekly. Solving the problem of getting those beauties late last year with the opening of their online store, a collective happy yell went up from beer fans all across the province. My purpose on this trip, as always happens at this time of the year, was the amazing Twin Pines Double IPA. Brewed with balance and bursting with big hoppy genius, I grabbed a glass for myself and ordered Kat one of the dangerously smooth 11.2% Titania Bourbon barrel stouts. As we were preparing to sit and take a picture, we were surprised to see the smiling face of co founder and brew master extraordinaire Sam Corbeil come into view. We had been to Sawdust many times before but this was indeed the highlight of any trip as his creations have delighted us so many times. Taking advantage of his offer to show us the brewery, we spent the next hour wandering the brewhouse floor, talking about his journey and all things Sawdust while we marvelled at everything we were seeing. Descending the stairs to the barrel room was out of this world as some of Ontario's most sought after beers were resting just below the bustling production facility upstairs. We peppered Sam with questions and he was too kind when it came time for us to leave, giving us a few treats from the cellar to take home. We left reluctantly but with happy hearts at a stop filled with so much fun.
We paused a bit in our search for beer to seek out an under construction new Ontario Craft brewer in the town of Orillia. Filling the void between Barrie and the northern portion of this beer run, Couchiching Brewery is poised to bring good beer to another town. While we couldn't tour the construction sight due to safety reasons, we had a fine chat with Kaylea and walked around the large building as she described what amounts to a busy place with food and entertainment when they are up and running later this year. Lots of love going to be found for this place when the locals get to sit at their own craft brewery and join the revolution.
The road next took us back south to a small town with three breweries that are also part of our annual tour every single year because of the people as much as the beer. Time was pressing a bit when we hit Barrie so we had to make a couple of quick hits in order to enjoy a flight and a pint with our good pal Brett, one of Ontario's finest beertographers as showcased on his Instagram channel(IFindBeerEnjoyable).
Flying Monkey's Craft Brewery has the funkiest taproom and a vibe that shows in their beer but this time we had but a few moments as we grabbed a six pack and looked around at the colourful and inviting room we had drank in many times before.
Collingwood was but an hour away and housed 3 more stops that would include a much needed dinner and break before the long road home. Collingwood Brewery was up first and we made it just under the wire as they were moments from the end of their day when we pulled up. A quick scan of their fridge yielded a couple of great big boozy beauties and we loaded a few of them into the already full trunk as we headed on down the road to one of our regular stops on this tout and home to my favourite regularly produced wheat beer in Ontario, Side Launch Brewing continues to lead when it comes to hitting the marks with that banana, bubblegum and orange peel beauty and I sidled up to the bar for a fresh as can be glass as is my custom. We had a great visit with the Side Launch team and despite missing our friend Kat, who is a brewer there, we were surprised when she told us she left a few treats at the brewery for us to take home in her stead. A six pack and a barrel aged stout reminded us of all the great and generous friends we had made in the last 3 years and we will be back to stay over when she finally moves out of the city and we can truly enjoy a night of beer drinking fun!
The 8th and final stop was a tasty one as Northwinds Brewhouse came into view and two weary Polkaroo's settled in for a much needed meal. A packed brewpub on a March break Tuesday meant a small wait so we hit up the bottle shop and by the time we had put them in the trunk, our table was ready and we happily plunked down for a spell. Chicken Wings done right with a flight to boot, we had wonderfully quick and friendly service that made the experience as we had remembered it. Never rushed despite to busy time, we soon said adios and hit the trail to make our way home.
There is little doubt we were very ambitious on this leg of the journey but any one section would make for a wonderful day trip for anyone to explore. There are so many more northern brewers we didn't get to or have yet to visit so plans are afoot for a summer tour that focuses solely on our friends above the granite and I think that would be a fine way to spend a week off.
The breweries we did visit are all fairly established in the Ontario scene but we noticed the changes happening at many stops as the marketplace demands more out of a visit than simply buying or even tasting the beer. We want to immerse ourselves in the ethos of the brewery, absorbing it's culture and feeling the vibe that comes with taking your time to explore everything. The beer matters and if it's your local craft brewer you may do quick stops more often than lingering, but for a road trip you want to see what goes on beneath the surface and try to understand where and who your beer comes from. The target has shifted and while the big boys of macro beer sold lifestyles that gave you the impression your life was shitty without their product, craft brewers want to tell a story and have you in it with them. This trip kept telling me this, even when I was too busy to listen to it. Lessons learned and as we progress through these posts about our trip, I am beginning to see where I want this tour to go as the years pass by. Tales to come but the conclusion is getting clearer every day.
Go North Old Polk Quick Hits
1. Muskoka Brewery
Website - https://muskokabrewery.com/
1st Impression - At the cottage
Favourite Beer - Twice as Mad Tom
2. Sawdust City Brewing
Website - https://www.sawdustcitybrewing.com/
1st Impression - Rustic
Favourite Beer - Twin Pines
3. Flying Monkey's Craft Brewery
Website - http://www.flyingmonkeys.ca/
1st Impression - Holy colours Batman!
Favourite Beer - Mythology
4. Barnstormer Brewing
Website - https://www.barnstormerbrewing.com/
1st Impression - Pizza!!!
Favourite Beer - Cocky Captain
5. Redline Brewhouse
Website - http://www.redlinebrewhouse.com/
1st Impression - Vroom Vroom
Favourite Beer - Double Clutch
6. The Collingwood Brewery
Website - http://www.thecollingwoodbrewery.com/
1st Impression - Where are we?
Favourite Beer - Whitney's Vintage Ale
7. Side Launch Brewing
Website - https://www.sidelaunchbrewing.com/
1st Impression - Tanks on tanks
Favourite Beer - Wheat
8. Northwinds Brewhouse
Website - http://northwindsbrewery.com/
1st Impression - Busy, hungry
Favourite Beer - Rainmaker