By Michael Lowe
As a (sort of) follow up to this year’s Niagara Food & Wine Expo, I recently paid a visit to Niagara Brewing Company and was surprised by this enterprise located smack-dab in the heart of the bustling Clifton Hill tourist district of Niagara Falls.
Not sure what to expect and, admittedly, a bit apprehensive of an area many locals shun, we are immediately struck by the facade of the brewery. A gleaming, albeit ornamental, brew kettle beckons beer drinkers from far and wide. Once inside (above photo) there is a certain vibe about the place. Not the noisy, touristy mayhem that prevails elsewhere in the area – but a party-like atmosphere that just makes sense to those in search of a tasty pint, or two, and a decent bite to eat.
Having met sales manager Dan Carbonara at the expo, he graciously arranges a meeting with brewmaster Rick Neheli. I soon learn that Neheli did his master’s project while working at Molson’s. After furthering his learning during stints at Pacific Western Brewery, located at the time in the Potter’s Distillery facility in St. Catharines, and Connors Brewery for five years before its sale to Molson’s, Neheli went into the pharmaceutical business for close to 18 years.
After raising his family, and still harbouring a love for brewing, he returned to his beloved craft at Niagara Falls Brewing Company and then spent seven years at Amstel in Hamilton before its closure. Now he oversees the 36,000 litre capacity brewery that services local hotels and restaurants. Functional kettles share the bar areas, including the second floor (above photo).
I sip my way through a flight of eight beers known as The Big Bang. It features the brewery’s four signature brews as well as four seasonal, or rotating beers. Starting with light, refreshing lager and wheat beer, I work through a very drinkable cream ale and summery peach radler.
Both would make a hot, sweltering patio seem less so. Then I dive headlong into my favourite brews — Amber Eh! ale, the nutty brown ale, a dry Irish-style Hennepin stout and the not-too-hoppy, malt balanced Beerdevil IPA.
The menu at the brewery features simple bar fare that does not divert the focus from the beer. It offers a few beer-friendly snacks, a couple of “boards” meant for sharing, and some hearty sandwiches. We first tuck into the charcuterie board (above photo) laden with pickled veg, prosciutto, salami, ham and a nice, earthy white bean spread infused with sage. There is plenty for two to share but could do for four if eating light.
We next dig into a mushroom chicken melt sandwich and an andouille sausage on a bun with rapini (above photos). They are both good options for soaking up the suds before heading out to walk Clifton Hill. Speaking of which, the brewery has a second floor balcony (below photo) where you can overlook the “hill” and see the falls while enjoying a pint.
What’s impressive about the brewery is the sheer scale of the production facility housed in the space. Spread over three floors, you probably would not imagine the activity within. The brewery remains true to its identity, it is not touted to be a restaurant, but does serve decent, reasonably priced fare in an often overly priced area. Next time you want to play tourist at home for a day or spend a short staycation in “The Falls,” Niagara Brewing Company should be on your tour list.
Niagara Brewing Company
4915-A Clifton Hill
Niagara Falls, ON.