It’s about time that this Lux raised a glass to toast the new Oast House microbrewery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Located in the “Big Red Barn” on Niagara Stone Road this microbrewery has been getting a lot of attention of late. I first flirted with their beer at the Kristlemas Market hosted by their next-door neighbour and winery – Stratus. Since then I’ve been itching to get myself there for some brew. Greeted and shown around by the “Marketing Man” and co-owner Cian MacNeill I got to see the ins and outs of running (literally) this “hoppy” joint.
When I, and my beer loving gal Mel, arrived on that Sunday afternoon we were expecting it to be, well, not quite as crazy busy as it was. Although it came in waves – busloads of people that is – I still managed some time to pop away with Cian up the stairs (out of the public eye) to see the renovations going on for their soon-to-be lounge and party space. The bathrooms are framed in, windows installed and purple spray-foam sprayed generously into the rafters to keep the cool Niagara winter temperatures at bay. Overlooking Stratus vineyards and the (hopefully) beer patio that Oast House is crossing their fingers for out-back – what a grande space it will be.
For now, the upstairs houses three desks on one side (one for each owner) while the other side sits idle in wait of becoming a place where locals and tourists alike will make some great brew-related memories. That said, Cian is one of three active owners at Oast House. He is joined by Brewmaster Kevin Somerville (founder of the Niagara College Brewmaster Program) and Mike Berlis who Cian described as the “Finance Guy”. I should also mention that Cian took the time to walk me through their sparkling clean production facility and how their craft beer is made and so I am now a pro (not), but I figure that we can leave the science lesson for another day.
Downstairs – in the public eye – the Oast House is a sight for sore eyes. It’s crisp and clean and full of colour – and beer. Right now, when you walk in, on your left you will see bits and pieces of a kitchen. That kitchen used to belong, in part, to Niagara’s renown Italian Chef Tony Deluca. This summer the Oast House hopes to serve up some tasty grub on one end of the brewery so that you can grab some eats with your empty hand (the one without a beer in it).
That said, to your right – amidst the shelves of Farmhouse Ale – you will find an impressive, what looks like refurbished, brew tasting bar. On tap will be four beers for you to choose from:
- The Oast House classic and beloved wheat beer – Saison
- The Oast House pale-ale constantly scooped by local restaurants – the Barnraiser
- The Oast House (yet to be released) – Biere de Garde
- The Oast House feature beer of the season – which right now (and for a limited time) is their Irish Stout (DELISH!)
Dani Cini – the Oast House Retail Manager – was quick at the tap to pour us some mini’s of each of the above (minus the Biere de Garde). We also had the opportunity to take a look at and sniff the four different malts used at the Oast House. There is the base malt which is the most common and will – hopefully one day soon – be stored in a silo outside the “Big Red Barn”. Then there is the Crystal (aka. Caramel) Malt which is a little sweeter than the base because of the naturally occurring sugar-crystals inside the pods. Next, and my favourite, is the Montreal-made Cocoa Malt that you will find in their Irish Stout and last, but not least, the Smokey Malt.
Of all the beers I tried that day, here are just a few highlights. First, I was incredibly impressed by the difference that bottle conditioning makes on a beer.
Oast House bottle conditions all of their product – this means that just before bottling they add a little bit of live yeast to munch on the sugar in the bottle creating natural carbonation instead of adding all of it in the tank.
What you’re left with is a truly authentic ale taste and a million micro-bubbles (much like the mark of a good champagne). And, to celebrate this bottle conditioning you’ll find a pretty fantastic cork topper atop their Saison and Biere De Garde bottles.
Speaking of the very near future, a birdie told me, (but this hasn’t been confirmed by anyone at the Oast House) that this summer there will also be an up-and-coming Farm-to-Truck Food Truck called The Yellow Pear parked in the Oast House parking lot. Like I said, this cannot be confirmed but what great fun that would be!
In closing let me say this – regardless of rain, sun or snow – spring has sprung which means that P-A-T-I-O season is upon us. If you, like me (and my friend Mel), are a fan of patios then you need not delay adding an Oast House Saison, Barnraiser and growler of Irish Stout to your beer fridge any longer. Me – I left with a bottle of Barnraiser, a growler of Irish Stout and two Oast House branded glasses to round out the experience.
Do yourself a favour and pop by the Niagara Oast House as soon as possible – their craft craft will either establish or re-spark a love for brews and is sure to have you “T-OASTING” this fabulous microbrewery again and again!