By Michael Lowe
There’s no better way to enjoy spring than quaffing a frosty pint of beer on a warm sunny day. The start to patio season has been a bit slow this year but a recent visit to two Niagara breweries unveiled a few brews that will get you into the swing of spring.
A recent tasting at Niagara College Teaching Brewery reminded me just how focused the brewing program is and the broad spectrum of beers you can expect from the crew there (photos below).
My tastes tend to lean toward dark, full-bodied and complex beers, more suited to cooler months, and there is no shortage of that style at the college. A brew called Blizzard Brown, a brown ale with 4.5% ABV, expresses nice roasted nut and caramel balanced by a pronounced hop bitterness (30 IBU). Their Bock 101, a dark German lager, shows lifted raisiny, plum-like notes on the nose and rich malty, fruity flavours on the palate. It goes down easy, contrasting the 7% ABV and the score of 24 IBUs.
One of my favourites during the tasting is the Strong Ale 101. Look for notes of toffee, bread/biscuit and fruit on the nose, sweet malts on the palate with low carbonation and light hop bitterness. It weighs in at a respectable 7.5% ABV. Since I tasted it the beer took a bronze medal in the Scotch Ale category at the 2019 Canadian Brewing Awards.
On the lighter side, and perfect for that warm patio session, is the Wheat 101. An unfiltered wheat ale, it expresses ripe banana and clove spice notes, and goes down smooth — refreshing on a hot, sunny day. The college’s “beer lessons in a can” brews are always available with any number of small batch beers on a rotating basis. There is also a Growler Club — sign up here — which will fetch you a growler of the monthly brew plus discounts and other perks.
During my tasting at the college I learn of Niagara’s newest brewery, Counterpart Brewing (photo above), located in Niagara Falls. The tip, from local beer aficionado Jill Currie, includes high praise for their food too. It’s near lunchtime so my next stop seems logical enough. My visit to Counterpart is during their opening week and it was notably busy for a Wednesday. After ordering a flight of four brews, the server hands me a food menu (photo below), a number to indicate my order, and directs me to take a table anywhere.
My beer flight consists of (left to right- photo below), Hindsight Stout, Concept Hazy Pale Ale, Dreamwork Hazy IPA, and Greater Good, a dry-hopped sour made in collaboration with Merit Brewing. Sours are very much a trend right now and I’m still warming up to them.
However, I did like the pairing of the Greater Good’s lemony, yeasty character with the sweetness of the cauliflower taco (photo below), the tartness of pickled onions and heat from the jalapeño—a delicious match. The beer is quite refreshing and clocks in at 5.7% ABV.
My favourite brew of the flight is the Dreamwork with its tropical fruit aromas of papaya and mango and good hop balance. It’s very easy to drink, but watch out for that 7.1% ABV. My next plate is a tremendous beef crude with pickled chili, black pepper aioli and parmesan on toasted sourdough (photo below). The beer pairing here was more interesting. I found the citrusy, ginger-spice note in the Concept pale ale (5.4% ABV) and the lemony tartness of the Greater Good both contrasted the richness of the dish beautifully.
Honourable mention goes to the Hindsight stout. Although a bit heavy for my dishes, it was impressive. It’s a slightly sweeter, stronger style stout with 6.2% ABV. It shows sweet coffee and caramel with a rich, full-bodied weight. With respect to both beer and food, Counterpart really impressed me on this first visit—and it won’t be my last. We are fortunate to have so many new craft beer options in Niagara. Please note that some of the beers mentioned here may no longer be on tap due to rotation at the respective breweries but rest assured there will still be something interesting when you do visit. Cheers!