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Brewing Up the Future in Niagara on the Lake and Beyond
by Willard Brooks
It has been a pleasure and a privilege over the last few weeks to have made new brewer friends on the opposite side of the Niagara River. A few weeks back it was great to visit with Rod Daigle at Brimstone Brewery in Ridgeway (see article “Oh Canada”). This past week afforded me the chance to visit Silversmith Brewery and The Teaching Brewery—both in Niagara on the Lake.
One of the more amusing aspects of crossing the border for beer are the conversations one tends to have with border guards after telling them you are on “official beer business.” On one occasion the border guard asked if I had ever had the 55% Brew Dog beer “End of History” sold in a taxidermy squirrel. And, on this occasion, the guard proudly announced that he had just had a spectacular lunch at Silversmith. These experiences are emblematic of the sense of friendship and local pride beer travelers everywhere experience when they meet. And this bodes well for the future.
It was a dreary Tuesday without much traffic on the road which traversed through many vineyards and well-kept houses along the way. Ten minutes from the border I arrived at Silversmith and was greeted by Silversmith owner, Matt Swan. He explained that Silversmith was built out as a brewery in 2011 but that it started as a church originally built in 1894. The outside clearly looks like a church with a brewery attached—while the interior was renovated to have a country farm feel of exposed wood and brick walls. It is really worth a visit so see the building alone. However, the brews are the real highlight. I tasted their flagship Black Lager, a Schwarzbier, which is a nicely rounded and dry beer with a pleasing chocolate finish—excellent with grilled veggies or chocolate cake. All of the other brews were very quaffable and meant for sessions with friends: Dambuster English bitter; Bavarian Breakfast Wheat Hefe; Clifford the Big Red IPA; and an inventive Horchata Porter. Definitely worth a visit to Silversmith.
Our next stop on this little journey was a bit down the road to The Teaching Brewery at Niagara College—also in Niagara on the Lake. Founded in 2011, the Teaching Brewery is Canada’s first and only brewery/school, and a practical learning environment for students. The fully modern 1,500 square foot facility allows students to brew their own craft beer on-campus and gain hands-on training in beer making, beer business, and sensory evaluation. The brewery has two batch sizes—a larger 1000 liter system and a smaller pilot system that allows students to brew one keg at a time. This allows for both the creation of experimental beers as well as larger production-scale brews. When possible, the brewery uses local products and encourages local farmers to produce malt and hops. The brewery also has a tasting room where customers can sample student batches (fittingly called “First Drafts”). Students learn their craft by brewing a full range of beers, including lagers, ales, seasonal brews, wheat beers and more—and then have the satisfaction of seeing them sold to customers and hearing their feedback. I tasted (and purchased) several brews—I recommend the Butler’s Bitter, the Brewmaster Cherry Pilsener, and the Brewmaster Strong Ale.
As a Buffalonian I was uplifted by the many students being stewarded through the program by their esteemed Brewmaster, Jon Downing, an Englishman who has been living and brewing on the Niagara Peninsula for decades. However, what many may not realize is that the Teaching Brewery has made and is making a big impact on Buffalo. Currently the Head Brewer and Assistant at Resurgence, the Head Brewer at New Buffalo are Teaching Brewery graduates. I had the occasion while visiting to chat with Vandra Ruppel, a student at the school and also with brewer Matt Redpath at Woodcock Brothers in Wilson, NY. Vandra took a few minutes to tell me about how she plans to use her degree to launch into a professional brewing career. Her enthusiasm, optimism, and gratitude are all quite infectious. Something great is definitely brewing in Niagara on the Lake—visit soon!
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