22 March 2018
Day One - Polkapolooza 3 : Rise of Polk
Any time we hit the road in search of great craft beer, we are always on the lookout for the new and interesting. We seek a taproom with personality and the stories we find when we stop and take a seat at the table. We want to talk beer with the people who make make it and those who drink it. We are not purveyors of a fine lifestyle, but rather your regular working folk who do some things with a little more enthusiasm than your average person would require. Live large and explore isn't just something we say, we live it everyday and Polkapolooza is that special time of year when we shed the coils of work and home to celebrate Ontario Craft beer.
This year's tour kicked off on Sunday March 11th with an early morning 230 kilometre drive to the northeast of Toronto and the beautiful town of Bowmanville. Manantler Brewing was our destination and we arrived just as the doors opened to sidle up for a flight to kick things of for the week. Often we stop in and grab some bottles to try at home, sometimes a few samples to split and others, like this one, we are joined by distant old friends and new ones we just haven't met yet. First through the door was Josh, a young guy who is quickly building a name for himself in both the craft beer and woodworking worlds with his beautiful creations. Our old pal Glenn was next to show up as we were close to his hometown and it was a welcome sight to see a fellow beer writer settle in across from me. Jen and Shannon were last to arrive but would remain with us all day as we raced the clock of early closings to make all of our stops on Day 1 of Rise of Polk 2018.
We ordered our flights and that's when Manantler's own beer saint Matt showed up and the bottles started to appear from behind a magic wall. Samples of past, present and future creations were doled out and the chat turned from where Manantler was, to where they are going in the context of a burgeoning scene in the region. Finding your voice and keeping the ball going forward is never easy in any business but when it comes to craft beer, the fickle nature of humanity is in full play.
The taproom has grown since our visit last year and you can feel the vision becoming a vibe as Manantler grows to fill and respond to the needs of their community. Laughing and joking while discussing his own journey, Matt was the epitome of a good host as we reluctantly said our good byes after what was supposed to have been a half hour stop gone on 4 times that long. A common theme this week and one we will be addressing at the conclusion of these look backs. I'm not one to stop a good time so we threw the timetable out the window for the sake of just that.
Ringing up a solid amount of beers to go with some lovely gifts, we turned next to a brew pub beneath one of my favourite smokehouse restaurants in the province. Sir Monty's Brewing is located underneath Stuttering John's Smokehouse in Courtice, Ontario and has an English pub like feel to it as you descend the stairs. Jen, Shannon and Josh made the trip with us and as we walked in I was greeted by a couple of other beer loving pals we had met briefly a few weeks before at Left Field in Toronto. Out for a bite and a pint, they wanted to say hello and welcome me to their region as the tour kicked of on day one. I loved being able to chat with people who love great beer as much as me and was greeted warmly as we headed for our table by another fellow beer lover who was following along on social media. Extolling the virtues of both the food and drink, he was an example of something that became a theme more and more as we travelled. People are proud of their local craft brewery and want nothing more than to share that with you. Local is quickly becoming a watchword and something we will encounter as we look back and then forward on this week.
Feeling the press of time, we split a few flights and found that the beer was promising with the Irish Red being the standout for both Kat and I. Only growler fills available, so we left with nothing but memories of meeting great people and a new brewery we will revisit when we can to see what changes as they grow.
Saying goodbye to Josh at this stop, we next made our way to two breweries in Whitby that we had spent considerable time in last year on the Beer Saints tour with our friends from all over Ontario. Brock Street Brewing is still awaiting their new downtown location as construction continues with it's usual delays and complications but their original location was full and rocking for a Sunday afternoon and we grabbed a few more cans to add to a generous gift Josh had delivered on their behalf earlier.
A short drive down the road led us to 5 Paddles Brewing and we once again stayed a little longer than planned as a few samples of their recent wares were tasted and discussed along with the purchase of some very anticipated IPAs and stouts. They have increased the space in the taproom by putting some retro movie seating and couches into the brewery proper and it was buzzing with folks enjoying an afternoon among the bright tanks and fermenters.
We next made our way to Whitby's newest addition and a big space with lots of possibilities. Little Beast Brewing has some very cool label art that incorporates their beast logo and will help them to stand out from the crowded sea of beer popping up in Ontario. Talking about the challenges of getting people out and visiting, we were soon joined by 3 more beer friends from the Society of Beer Drinking ladies on their way back from Ottawa and the room filled with excited chatter and raised glasses. Always good to get to see our friend Erica, however briefly, and we soon had to head out, with some tasty saisons to boot, and try to keep the day on track.
Town Brewing makes it 4 craft breweries in this town of 130,000 people and showcases the different philosophies and styles that help each stand out in the beer world. Known already for their fine beers, Town's sours and IPAs keep grabbing everyones' attention, and we took a seat to experience some samples of the beer and a much needed snack. The taproom was filled with people of all ages and the conversations were boisterous and happy as Sunday moved towards its closing. A place that would be at home in any city, we lingered to enjoy some tart treats and plan for the final leg of a 400 plus kilometre opening day.
Heading east toward home, we made an all too brief stop at Ajax's only craft brewery, the just turned one year old Falcon Brewing. Located in a strip mall like you'd find in any city, it had the feel of a neighbourhood bar with a bright, airy feel and a nice tap list. We grabbed a few bottles and made our apologies that we couldn't stay longer but our goal was in sight and the early closing times on Sundays made it impossible to sit and chat at every stop. So many people pop in and out of breweries every day and that is part of the larger story we will tell as the week goes on.
Jen and Shannon had beat us to our final destination and when we arrived at the 8th and final brewery, it was a bittersweet moment because we only had a little time left with these two who had stayed with us all day. Located in Markham, home to 329.000, Rouge River Brewing has quickly built a reputation for making great beer and pushing the envelope when it came to flavour. The Imperial Stout with coconuts was like drinking a chocolate bar through that tropical fruit and was outstanding and of course, the IPAs were spot on and deserved further reflection at home. The sun drew low in the sky and we knew the day was drawing to a close but we lingered a little at the bar having a little chat about beer and brewing with the guys from Rouge.
Hugs and promises of future trip around Lake Ontario were exchanged as our young friends headed home and we did the same. It always feels heavy when Day1 is done because you realise how much is out there and how little we can actually do with the time we are given to explore. It was a great way to kick off Polkapolooza and this growing region will be a hot spot for people looking outside the typical Toronto centric view we too often have.
Having said that, Monday would find us heading for the Big Smoke itself as I am not immune to the pull of Toronto and the 35+ craft breweries contained within. That story will come in good time but below I'll give you a snapshot of each stop and our impressions of each. Keep in mind, some of these were less than 15 minutes, while others stretched in an hour or more. Look all of them up next time you're out that way and experience it for yourself.
Polkapolooza Day 1 - Something Polk this way comes...the short and sweet
1. Manantler Brewing
Website - https://www.manantler.com/
Favourite Beer - Siesmic Narwhale Imperial IPA
1st Impression - Hanging out in a pal's rec room, but with better beer.
2. Sir Monty's Brewing
Website - https://www.sirmontys.com/
Favourite Beer - Irish Red Ale
1st Impression - A Fool and Flagon but less British
3. Brock Street Brewing
Website - http://www.brockstreetbrewing.com/
Favourite Beer - Black IPA from All Ontario Hops Competition
1st Impression - Bursting at the seems. Cramped and busy.
4. 5 Paddles Brewing
Website - https://www.5paddlesbrewing.ca/
Favourite Beer - In Your Face IPA
1st Impression - That punk bar you went to when you were cooler.
5. Little Beasts Brewing
Website - https://www.facebook.com/LittleBeastsBrewCo/
Favourite Beer - Dark Saison
1st Impression - Spacious and anxious.
6. Town Brewery
Website - http://townbrewery.ca/
Favourite Beer - Superfluos Sour Ale
1st Impression - If I had an older sister, this is where we would hang out
7. Falcon Brewing
Website - https://www.falconbrewingcompany.com/
Favourite Beer - Too soon to tell...
1st Impression - Your neighbourhood burger bar.
8. Rouge River Brewing
Website - https://www.rougeriverbrewingcompany.com/
Favourite Beer - Summer Pale Ale
1st Impression - Where the cool kids from high school ended up.