I was honoured to have the opportunity to attend a Brew Donkey tour this past Saturday. This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so this was an exciting opportunity that I couldn’t miss! I am a beer fan, not a connoisseur, by any means, but I do enjoy beer….I mean really, what’s not to enjoy? I also like social outings and meeting new people, so this tour was a perfect combination. I asked my dear friend Hilary to come with me, as she, too, is a fan of the fine suds, and she also happens to be the semi-official photographer for Covert Ottawa Guy. She owns/runs/is Chaiton Photography, so check out her stuff, she’s amazing! You can see her work on her Instagram Page.
But I digress-back to the tour! Brew Donkey has 3-5 tours each weekend that run on a rotating schedule, while also making themselves available for private events such as bachelor/bachelorette parties. Many of their tours incorporate some sort of fun activity such as axe throwing at BATL Axe, Escape rooms at Escape Manor, or archery games at…well… Archery Games. The tour that we went on however, was just the basics….beer! The tour is cleverly named the Y-East End Tour focusing on the east end of Ottawa. The five-hour tour brings attendees to three different breweries: Bicycle Craft Brewery, Dominion City Brewing Co., and Stray Dog Brewing. Each stop features 4-5 sample sized beers, lunch, and to top it off, a Suzie Q Donut! The tours’ main pick up location is the Brew Donkey site, located inside Maker House on Wellington Street West, with a second pick up location at Bier Markt on Sparks Street.
I have to say, what an amazing store Maker House is! I’ve never been inside before, but what an incredible collection of merchandise they have for sale there! When I have more time, I’m definitely going to go back to see all the great items, and I highly recommend you do the same! Once inside Maker House, patrons confirm their registration with the Brew Donkey staff, and wait for the bus to depart.
Brew Donkey has their own awesome fun-bus! Our tour had 18 people, which seems to be a pretty common size. We fit comfortably on the bus, which has been configured to offer a few tables in between seats so that people can sit and socialize together. Our designated driver for the day was Sean, who did an excellent job chauffeuring us around the city to the different breweries. We left on time, picked up the people at the second location and continued on to our first stop.
Our tour guide, Jamie, was amazing. He prefaced the tour saying it was his first time guiding a tour, and claimed to be a bit unsure of himself, but he did an outstanding job, truly a natural people person and very easy to communicate with. He had some great stories and is a true lover of all things beer. (Plus, you have to love his great beard!!) On our way to the first stop, Jamie enlightened us with his knowledge of the brewing process with a show and tell of the main ingredients (barley and hops) and an overview of the beer making process.
After a 30-minute drive, including the second pick up, we arrived at Bicycle Brewery. This small brewery was located in an industrial park right on Industrial Avenue. When we walked into Bicycle, there were three Flyers fans, sporting their ugly orange jerseys, who were in town to see the Sens/Flyers game that afternoon. They were having a great time during the pre-game warm up! Really nice guys, and a great social start to the day. The format of the samples was simple: the brewery had four different beers selected, and you simply tell them which number you’re on and you get your 4-5oz glass filled.
The first sample was their cornerstone beer, Frequency APA. This fruity 5% alcohol content beer was quite good, with a hint of what I believe to be pineapple, but definitely not overpowering. It was reasonably hoppy but not bitter at all. A very good start to the day. Next up was “On the Lam IPA” which was also quite good, and my favorite from this brewery. It’s a 6.6% alcohol content and 56 IBUs so again, a little hoppy but still quite smooth. The third selection was the Viternat Liquorice Stout which was a light stout, and at first had a subtle liquorish taste but quickly grew to be quite strong after a few sips. It’s a good springtime day stout, but not my favorite of the day. Finally, our fourth sample was the Velocipede IPA. This hoppy beer, with an IBU of 70 was a little too much for me, as I’m not a fan of stronger hops (I know….weird), but I still drank it happily. After a short tour of the brewery and some chatting, we were on our way to stop number two.
This bus ride was slightly louder than the first, with the participants getting to know one another more, and it was also lunch time! The wraps that were handed out were delicious! I had a chicken something or other, and I loved it! I would have probably purchased another one, but I had no idea where they were from (I probably should have thought about asking that, considering I was there for a review).
Stop number two was at Dominion City Brewing Co. just off of Montreal road in the Canotek business park. I’m more familiar with this Brewery, as they host a lot of events that you’ll find on my events calendar. Their setup was bigger than Bicycle, as they’ve been around longer and are simply a bigger brewery. The seating area was pretty full with patrons, in addition to our tour of 18 people.
Dominion City offered a brewery tour as well which was led by their brewmaster, Josh McJannett. It was a great tour with more to see in the larger brewery. The process for making beer is pretty much the same from one place to another, and they recognize that you’ve probably seen that process already on the tour, so no time was wasted on repetition, which was really nice. One thing that really stood out for me is that Dominion shows off (and rightfully so) their waste treatment facility for all the liquids that get spilled and need to be disposed of. They have a sophisticated system to capture all the used material and make sure that nothing goes back into the environment that may be deemed unhealthy or toxic. The process was really impressive and I think it should be noted here that they’re making a great impact on the environment, and it’s noticed.
Their first beer sample was Town and Country. This blonde was refreshing with a clean crisp flavour. It’s a good quality standard beer that can be enjoyed on any occasion. Although not included as part of the tour, Hilary and I were able to sample the Gomatose Ice Cream Stout! This is brewed in partnership with Moo Shu Ice Cream and is a very unique, delicious beer. How can you go wrong blending ice cream and stout?? The second official sample at Dominion City was the Earl Grey Marmalade which is described as “…brewed with fresh zested oranges and Bridgehead organic Earl Grey tea, …pours a distinctive rusty copper colour with a delicious bergamot aroma. Flavours include contrasting fruity, spicy and tart notes with phenolic and fruity esters complementing a dry, moderately bitter finish.” This was my favorite beer of the day (Hence the detailed description)! It’s smooth and delicious. Next-up was the Julesberg; it’s nutty and delicious and good for any occasion. Their fourth offering on the tour was Spliten. This double IPA was made through a mashup with Sawdust City Brewing and Dominion City. It was quite hoppy, boasting a powerful 8% alcohol content. As with most hoppy beers, it was not a favorite of mine, but I did still enjoy it. Next, while trying to decide what to buy on the tour, I was able to get a sample of the Earnscliffe Brown Ale. This English style ale was also incredible, and took second place in my list of favourites. Between this and the Earl Grey Marmalade that I purchased, I’ll be set to go at home for a while.
Also, worth noting, Dominion offers delicious chorizo sausages as well as a charcuterie board that you can purchase and enjoy there with your drinks. I didn’t have time for the full meal, but that sausage was something else! When you go, you’ll see them at the cash in a jar, and don’t think twice, just get one!!
The next stop, and I’ll call it that because my heart stopped for just a moment, was the distribution of the Suzie Q donuts! SO GOOD!!! I honestly don’t even know what I ate, but it was breathtaking. Hilary had some fruit loop concoction and mine had what appeared to be coconut or almonds, or both on it. I just ate it and loved every bite. I’d fail the food identification taste challenge that the chefs do on Hell’s Kitchen, I just know what I like and don’t like!
The actual next (and final) stop was at Stray Dog Brewery in Orleans, just off of Trim Road. This brewery has only been open to the public for 6 months, and has a distinctive modern feel to it. When arriving at the front door, you can see the brand-new construction and decor and appreciate how nice, and almost elegant it feels. When we entered the brewery, we were greeted by two people at first, who were later joined by a man who appeared to be one of the owners, and his “stray” dog. I found that the two people working the counter when we arrived didn’t have the same passion and excitement about beer that our first two stops had, with one of them telling us that she was a wine drinker and chose her favourite beer due to the higher alcohol content. The impression of the staff is only an observation and definitely not a deterrent for returning. The Sens game was playing in the small seating area, and everything was clean and well prepared. The look of this brewery was different than the first two, as it is more of a modern feel than industrial. Both environments have their pros and they both clearly work for their respective breweries. I’m not aware of any actual brewery tour that took place at Stray Dog; if there was one, it wasn’t well announced, and we spent the whole time in their front reception/seating area socializing.
I’ll preface the remainder of my evaluation of these beers with the fact that we’d already had 8-10 samples so our flavour descriptors were beginning to become less ingenious. Trying to stay on target for this review though, I made a sincere effort. To the surprise and delight of the tour goers, Stray Dog went outside of the norm, offering up FIVE different beers. The first beer at Stray Dog was “Anytime Pale Ale”. This beer was simple and safe, and lived up to its name of being appropriate for “anytime”. I enjoyed it as it went down smoothly with little aftertaste. Their second beer was called “This One,” named after the process of identifying which beer you’d like off a menu to a server… “I’d like THIS ONE” (while pointing to a menu). This is their flagship beer and can be found in the LCBO. It was another good, easy to drink beer, but also didn’t stray far from the “safe” side of brewing. Their first two were not controversial and both easily enjoyed by most patrons.
The third beer they offered was called the Shaggin’ Wagon, a New England IPA, and was quite hoppy, to the point where I couldn’t drink it as it was just too bitter for me. That description also fits their fourth offering of “Quit Your Job,” where it was simply too hoppy for my enjoyment, despite the added citrus-y flavour found in this beer. Their fifth and final offering was the Jean D’ark. This Oat infused Stout was delicious, and can definitely compete with the industry leaders in this category for best beer. We both really enjoyed this one. It’s not as thick as Guinness or Cobblestone Stout (Mill Street) but has just as much taste and would compare to the St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout. It was really good!
Once done at Stray Dog Brewery, we made our way back to the city. There was a great deal of singing and the atmosphere had changed dramatically from when we first left 5 hours prior, as expected after this type of tour. The demographic of the people on the tour was not definable, as there were people of all ages, genders and interests, and I think that’s what made it so fun.
Once back at headquarters, the bus parked in front of Suzie Q, and everyone rushed inside to use the bathroom. The whole trip was a great time! I will admit that I had some hesitations about the length of time that this tour consumed, but it never once felt like we were killing time or bored. The beer was excellent, Jamie and Sean were professional, yet fun the entire trip, and the people were all hilarious! This tour is extremely well priced and well worth the money; I would highly recommend it to anyone! As mentioned, there are different versions of the tour that include different breweries and activities. You’ll find all the Brew Donkey events promoted on my website, (and probably on theirs as well). You can scroll through and plan for which one you want. Enjoy!!!
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