Raise a glass to those small producers who work with passion and pride. There’s a reason for the craft brewery boom that’s happening across Ontario—and in our own back yard in Cobourg and the surrounding hills. Craft beer has more alcohol and tastes better! It comes with reported health benefits too, thanks to its antioxidants, protein and vitamin B complex.
Visit these five stops on our craft brew self-guided route to meet the makers—and marvel at their handiwork. Raise a glass!
Empire Cider Co.
Right in the heart of Ontario apple country, on a less-travelled road in the village of Codrington, just north of Brighton—exactly where company co-owner Jennifer Jarrell McRae grew up. As a kid, she loved to run barefoot through her friend’s apple orchard. Many years later, Jennifer and her husband, Chris, were making cider from local apples at home for friends and family who encouraged them to go into business with their first-rate recipe. So they did, on a farm close to where Jennifer grew up. They planted their own apple trees, with the help of the community, and make use of other local apples and honey, keeping the product all-natural and supporting other local farmers. There are five pounds of apples in every bottle!
Empire Cider, with the crowned crow on the label, is traditional hard cider—unfiltered, unpasteurized and bottle carbonated with local honey.
They call it liquid sunshine. Visit their tastings room and bottle shop.
William Street Beer Company
What used to be a gas station and garage at a crossroads coming into the west side of town is now producing a fine fuel to wet your whistle. Just two years in, William Street Beer Company has developed quite the following, and several local restaurants offer the ales and bitters on tap. Now the company is stepping up production volume with new brewhouse and fermentation vessels—and a commitment to use fresh hops grown by local farmer, Brandon Bickle, of Bickle Farm Valley Hops (also on the brew trail) for all of the core brews throughout the year.
It’s a long way from brewer Sean Walpole first perfecting his signature Cliff Top Pale Ale in his home. Now he’s doing what he really wanted to do: “Brewing good beer for my community.” If someone tells him that they don’t like beer, he’ll tell them they just haven’t found the kind they like. The styles and flavours of craft beer are “far deeper and more varied than anything wine could ever offer.” Come taste for yourself!
Church-Key Brewing Co.
As the name suggests, this microbrewery is situated in 1878 Methodist stone church on the outskirts of Campbellford. Their full-flavoured beers and ales are worth prayers of thanks, according to devotees of the brand.
Brewery founder, John Graham, worked as a brewer and filter operator at microbrewery in Toronto before coming to the pastoral countryside to open Church-Key in 2000.
John’s award-winning brews, including his flagship Northumberland Ale, are served in watering holes around the province—but if you make the trip to Campbellford, make sure to take the brewery tour and stop in at John’s Church-Key Pub & Grindhouse in town for great local beer, good food and live entertainment. For good measure, make sure to try a bottle of Church-Key Holy Smoke…
Northumberland Hills Brewery
For a guy who didn’t even like beer when he first tried it in high school, Rick Bailey, co-owner and the man behind the brew recipes, has found his true calling—if fans of Northumberland Hills Brewery have anything to say about it. As most followers of the craft brew movement agree, there’s a difference between mass-produced light beer, and the depth of taste from craft beers, like his personal choice, Supercontinental Ale. “It’s balanced,” he says. “Nice malt flavour finishes with hop flavour. It’s easy to drink and easily our bestseller.”
Rick’s focus is on top-notch ingredients, and promoting those made locally, like the honey for Honey Badger Wheat Ale and maple syrup for the wonderful Maple Ale. He is now producing the official beer of the Cobourg Kodiaks pro lacrosse team, new to town this year. Drink to the team!
Local author, poet and foodie, Tracey Gainforth, says Cobourg has so much rich history—and great eating—she decided to share her born-and-raised-here insights with the public. “Cobourg is a place that if you leave, you always long to come back,” she says. She spent years away in Peterborough and Ottawa, and returned to town last year.
Take one of her walking or cycling food tours and you might taste charcuterie by Chef Andrew Stewart at 92 King, brownie bites from the Dutch Oven, cheese bread from MillStone Bakery, and more. She’ll also tell you stories about some of the historical sites and glory days of the beach and harbour. Part history lesson, part sweet and savoury tasting adventure! Northumberland Culinary 613-853-3250
The Bickle Farm Valley Hops
Just north of Port Hope, where most farms grow conventional crops or pasture cattle, The Bickle Farm – Valley Hops has cultivated the old tradition of growing hops close to home. Fewer growers across Ontario, like the Bickles, are good news for craft brewers who pride themselves on diversity, rather than homogeneous products, and are keen to give fresh local hops a try. While Brandon Bickle can give you the farm tour, here are the need-toknow- essentials for beer lovers: hops are the greenish flowers on the bines that contain lupulin resins used to give the beer its bitterness and fragrance.
It also acts as a preservative. In fact, after yeast and water, the type and extent of hops used in your beer probably has the most profound impact on how it smells, tastes and feels. Here’s your chance to check out this key ingredient at the source.
As for his growing customer base, it’s 30 percent women, because a lot more women are drinking good beer. Likely right from the bottle.