Beer Around the Bay

By Jane Muller

Beer is the new wine when it comes to tasting tours and the Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, Clearview ‘triangle’ has put five breweries on the map as destinations for the Beer Around the Bay adventure.

The breweries add to the reasons that the Southern Georgian Bay area is attracting a growing number of tourists.

Each brewery, three located in Collingwood, another in Wasaga Beach and the most established in its namesake Creemore, offers its own tours and distinct brews. Experiencing all of them in one day is made easy by booking an outing with a tour operator like The Beer Bus Company, that now offers a day-long Beer Around the Bay tour for selected Saturday and Sunday dates over the course of the summer.

Our Beer Around the Bay preview experience expanded over two days, providing time to taste more than the area’s beer.

Saturday mornings, the Collingwood Downtown Farmers’ Market features 70 open air stalls with vendors offering fresh local produce, baking and crafts. It’s where visitors discover “marshmallows are the new kale”, according to Marsh Street Sweets, purveyor of fantastic homemade gourmet marshmallows.

Collingwood Olive Oil Company has a market stall but the downtown shop offers even more varieties of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sampling makes purchases irresistible especially with summer salad-friendly raspberry or mango balsamic vinegars made with fresh fruit puree.

Also a market offering and a downtown retail outlet, Chef Patrick’s Gourmet Foods include heavenly chocolate croissants that honour the chef’s Parisian roots. We skirted the booth as we had already experienced his incredible pastries as part of a bountiful breakfast served in the beautiful dining room of the sprawling Victorian bed and breakfast, Joseph Lawrence House. Downtown Collingwood is about a 20-minute walk through an established residential area where historic homes, mature trees and lovely gardens make it a pleasant stroll.

Our destination is Northwinds Brewhouse and Eatery for creative food featuring locally sourced ingredients and a flight of beer from the extensive menu. We opt for the four-glass test flight but a larger group might want to sample a 14-glass flight served on a customized skateboard.

This small brewery goes for variety, brewing 40 different beers in a year. A second location will open in the nearby Blue Mountain Village this fall featuring a second, smaller brewery that will allow for even more beer options.

While it doesn’t have a local brewery yet, Wasaga Brewery has a distinct local presence in this beach community. Set back from the beachside boutiques and eateries at Beach One is Wasaga Brewery Beach Bar where its own Beach One Cerveza provides light refreshment. David Cubitt, president and co-owner describes the 4.5 per cent brew as “the kind of beer you feel like having on a hot summer day” but contends it tastes great any time.

Brewed under the guidance of its brew master at a facility in Etobicoke, Beach One Cerveza is available at 10 LCBO stores in the area and is on tap at Boston Pizza in town. A local brewery is in the plan but there is no better place to taste this beach beer than at the tiki bar with a view of the bay.

Replica vintage travel trailers that serve as food concessions stand in two rows just in front of the beach bar that’s a popular spot for karaoke on Tuesday nights. The Beach Bar is the first stop on The Beer Bus tour, followed by Collingwood Brewery that boasts a comfortable, rustic style tasting room as well as a patio where flights and pints are served. This brewery claims to have a beer for every occasion. The bright blue, red and green tall boy cans contain its Downhill Pale Ale, Kingpost ESB (Extra Special Bitter) and Rockwell Pilsner respectively. There’s also a tasty selection of seasonal brews, including the award-winning Saison Farmhouse Ale.

The Brewery conducts tours every Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. on the hour but other dates and times can be arranged. While we’re enjoying a Saison on the patio, The Beer Bus pulls in and releases its cargo of young men sporting Hawaiian shirts. The tour is a bachelor party for these guys who’ve come from Sarnia for Beer Around the Bay.

A group of women have made Side Launch Brewing Company a stop on their cycling tour. Collingwood and area offers an impressive network of groomed scenic trails that link adjacent communities. The cyclists sip their beer at a table in the industrial-style tasting area of the former warehouse that features towering floor-to-ceiling windows across the front.

Michael Hancock, founding brewer and business partner has been in the beer business for years and brings his knowledge and experience to Side Launch. He explains that the rows of shiny stainless steel holding tanks continue to multiply as demand grows for the award-winning, largely German-style craft beer. Production has tripled in the three years since Side Launch began with product in approximately 300 LCBO stores and pouring from about 400 taps.

The granddaddy of all bay breweries is Creemore Springs, located a short drive from the rest of the brewing family. Established in 1987, the brewery now takes up an entire block of the small town’s core and is its largest employer. The brewery was purchased by Molson Canada in 2005 but stays true to its roots. Still using the traditional copper kettle and fi re-brewing method, Creemore, produces 45,000 bottles, 55,000 cans and 400 to 500 kegs a day.

The range of light lagers to hearty ales can be tasted for free at the tasting bar or on the pretty patio. Tours are offered from Monday to Sunday on the hour from noon to 4 p.m. with additional hours as needed.

While the brewery is the main attraction, it’s surrounded by a number of boutiques, and across the street, Creemore Kitchen. Home-made, locally sourced food including favourites like crisply fried chicken, burgers and schnitzel all get a signature treatment at this casual, vibrant bistro.

Local historian Chris Raible took us on a walking tour, pointing out the new series of historic plaques around town. The highlight was a look inside North American’s smallest jail where he says hobos and drunkards were housed overnight.

There are connections to the War of 1812 in Creemore as well as in Wasaga Beach where the visitor center was officially opened in 2012 to commemorate the bicentennial. The centre also serves as the gateway to Nancy Island Historic Site which features a theater, a museum and a replica of a Great Lakes lighthouse.

It’s possible to get around the bay in a day but there’s so much for which to stay