Microbreweries Are Coming of Age

Reported by Brian Preston, The Travelling Sommelier, Portland, ON

How often do we prefer to have a cool beer instead of wine just to slake our thirst on a hot summer day or to accompany certain foods which, frankly, go better with beer. These include many cheeses and very spicy foods where the wines would be blown away and the tannin and acid levels conflict rather than complement the food.

We all know that craft beer production and producers have increased steadily in Canada over the past couple of decades. Many of us believe that this has to do with increasing prices of mass produced beers which, if you blind taste them, you would be hard pressed to identify them because of their lack of distinct taste. The LCBO recently reported that craft brewers have seen a 45% growth last year with a 400% increase in sales since 2006-2007. I believe one of the main reasons has to do with the great taste and variety of beers that you can get for about the same price of premium mass produced beer! Ontario has 47 microbreweries at last count. Eastern Ontario is a hive of craft breweries with at least four or more new microbreweries opening soon according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Well, recently I had the good fortune to be over at a friend’s and he served me a Mocha Stout from a 330ml can that was labeled Perth Brewery. I had never heard of the place and I must say that I was a little embarrassed to find that it is in Perth, just 40 minutes from my place in Portland on Big Rideau Lake!

A family business run by founder Terry Steeves, his partner Cathy Brown and his son Jeremy Steeves, the Perth Brewing “u-brew” operation began producing beer and wine in 1993, and it is one of the largest facilities of its kind in Ontario.

Inspired by the growing demand for local craft beer, the company decided to expand into a commercial brewing operation and installed a 16 barrel brewhouse, along with three 50 litre brew kettles to allow them to produce their all-natural beer in small batches.

Beers produced by Perth Brewery on a rotating basis include:

  • 121 Light: Refreshing light lager
  • 121 Lager: Easy drinking, crisp and clean
  • Honey Lager: Crisp flavour with a hint of local honey
  • Euro: Clean, refreshing European style pilsner
  • Cream Ale: Golden in colour with a clean finish
  • Easy Amber: Well-balanced red ale. Smooth, rich and toasty
  • Hopside IPA: Dry hopped with whole leaf Amarillo hops for lots o’hoppy aromas
  • Wheelhouse Porter: Rich, complex brew that is smooth and full-flavoured
  • Mocha Stout: Intense with lots of coffee, chocolate & vanilla flavour

The beers are currently sold exclusively at the Perth Brewery retail store (121 Dufferin St., Highway 7, Perth), where they are available in cans and kegs. Expansion plans are in the works, but until then you can only get them at the brewery.

Jeremy was kind enough to take me on a tour of the premises and I was able to see some batches of beer in various stages of production. One was in the wort stage and that lovely aroma of fermenting grains wafted into the air. Another was being racked ready for canning which was a surprise to me as I had only ever seen bottling lines. While there is not a sampling counter, I purchased a variety of the available brews and found that I agree with the tasting notes provided above. I tasted the Euro, 121 Lager, Easy Amber and my favourite, Mocha Stout. The 121 Lager was the first bottom fermented brew I tasted and while light and crisp, it had good flavour too, unlike some lagers you try that have little or no taste. Next was the Euro which was less sweet than our North American-style Pilsners, and it left a clean and refreshing feeling in the mouth. It had a bit of that characteristic European bite, but it was a pleasing package on its own or with some semi-soft German cheese and some medium Dutch Gouda. The Easy Amber was the first top fermented beer I tried and it lived up to its billing and was far better than the mass produced ‘reds’ I’ve tried. This ale had a nice fine head and smooth texture that went down with a bit of caramel on the taste, but with a cleansing finish. Lastly, I had the Mocha Stout, my personal favourite only because of its unique chocolate and roasted coffee nose, its creamy light brown head, rich and smooth texture which was full of flavour. It pairs well with rich beef stews, chili, and even with a dark chocolate dessert!

I will be back to try some of the other brews and I encourage you to take that short 45 minute drive from Ottawa to discover this gem of a microbrewery. The prices range from $11 for 6 cans to $52 for 15 cans depending upon the beer you select. Give them a call before you head out to see if the beers you want are available for retail.

To arrange for a visit or for more information, go to www.perthbrewing.ca.