Although many Canadians, particularly those living in the nearby cities of Montréal and Toronto, tend to take our nation’s capital for granted, there is actually much to recommend the city of Ottawa and the surrounding region. For winter aficionados, Ottawa boasts the world’s longest skating rink in the form of the frozen Rideau Canal, while the spring and summer months bring forth a profusion of floral beauty in the 2.5-kilometre Downtown Garden Route, which includes Parliament Hill.
And those famous pathways are just the tip of the proverbial touristic iceberg. Additionally, there are museums aplenty, numerous charming and very walkable neighbourhoods, festivals seemingly every weekend and, of course, more about Canadian history and governance than you might ever care to learn and experience. All in all, for a growing metropolis still dogged by its reputation as a sleepy government town, it’s a pretty happening place.
What it did not have until very recently, however, was good beer. Or at least it didn’t have much of it.
In the Ottawa of the 1990s and well into the early 2000s, a visitor determined to go to all of the city’s breweries would not have found much of a challenge. In one snapshot of time around the turn of the century, after the respectable Clocktower Brew Pub, one would swing quickly by the short-lived Abe & Roscoe’s before being deeply disappointed by the offerings at the long-since-closed Master’s Brew Pub & Brasserie. The closest thing to a production brewery — and one without a taproom, at that — was the now-shuttered Hart Brewing, an hour’s drive southwest in Carleton Place.
And after that, nothing.
This sad state of affairs persisted for quite some time, the players changing but growing and improving little (save for the Clocktower, it needs to be noted, which has endured, expanded and improved). Then, at the end of 2010, the contract-brewing company called Kichesippi bought out the brewery where its beer was being made, and Ottawa’s bleak brewery vista began to change.
As Kichesippi sorted out its new life, bringing in veteran brewer Don Harms and adding a stellar Heller Highwater lager to its lineup, among other moves, Big Rig Brewery came to town with first a brewpub, then a production brewery and finally another pub. At the helm of Big Rig was and remains Lon Ladell, who, like Harms, boasts a brewing pedigree that stretches clear across the country.
Others soon followed. Dominion City Brewing took advantage of Kichesippi’s move to a new location and set up shop in the company’s former digs in an industrial park in east Ottawa, while the west side saw the arrival of the second location for the hobby brewery turned growing business Beyond the Pale.
Along the way, what Canadians know as the National Capital Region developed one of the best brewery walks in eastern Canada.
It begins at Tooth and Nail Brewing, an up-and-comer par excellence, fronted by Matt Tweedy, who earned his stripes at such breweries as Cantillon and The Lost Abbey. Thursday through Sunday, the sleek, stylish taproom opens at noon, allowing for the enjoyment of one of Canada’s best first-of-the-day beers in the form of Vim & Vigor Pilsner, which, along with Heller Highwater, forms a duo of perhaps the best lagers in eastern Canada, if not the entire country.
Hang around for another beer or two, including the lovely four-grain saison, Valor, plus a charcuterie and cheese or veggies and dip board for lunch. Then it’s off on a 10-minute stroll to Beyond the Pale.
As of mid-2017, the taproom at Beyond the Pale was still in development, but the somewhat industrial-ish brewery founded by two childhood friends still had much to recommend it, such as Aromatherapy, a massively aromatic IPA that will appeal even to those who typically dislike the style, and eight oft-changing taps featuring recipes culled from a catalogue of over 160 beers and counting.
The third and final stop on this short but oh-so-sweet brewery crawl is almost certainly one of Canada’s most atmospheric breweries, Les Brasseurs du Temps. As its French name suggests, it is located just across the river in Québec. From downtown Ottawa, it’s a fairly short walk, but from Beyond the Pale it’s closer to a 45-minute hike, allowing plenty of time for the development of a sizable thirst that will be best quenched by BdT’s refreshing, dryly malty ESB, 1821.
As night falls, the almost idyllic creek side location of Les Brasseurs du Temps only grows prettier, so the wise beer traveller will hang around for dinner and, since the day is winding down, indulge in a few of the brewery’s stronger beers, like the marvellously fruity-spicy and warming Trois Portages Triple. Sightseeing in the nation’s capital, after all, can wait for another day.