I arrived in Ottawa an hour late meaning the anticipation of setting foot in the land of (more) hockey and poutine was both sweet and riddled with guilt knowing someone was waiting an hour longer to pick me up. Rick, my Couchsurfer from April, agreed to host me in Montreal but we decided to spend one evening west of the francophone world.
Ottawa, the English-speaking, centuries-old capitol city of all of Canada, is a very beautiful place. We bussed from the airport nearly all the way downtown and then took some time to stroll the acridly humid avenues of one particularly quaint neighborhood.
Terraces and dining rooms were overflowing, but we were content to find a table in the corner of Rick’s second choice – Sir John A. To say I was ready for my first Canadian beer is an understatement simply in terms of thirst.
I ordered a new selection, Pink Fuzz from Ottawa’s own Beyond the Pale Brewery. This beer is a bitter unfiltered (smoothie-like in color and clarity, actually) wheat beer with grapefruit added throughout the brewing process. Contrary to the menu and website’s description, the grapefruit flavor is NOT subtle, instead it is very forward and quite delicious. There is a clear tilt in the balance towards bitterness here; it is nothing like a radler. All the same, it is very refreshing and the wheat character creates the classic hefe mouthfeel.
Rick’s eyes got big over his first taste of Lug Tread from Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. Using all certified organic malts and hops, this Ontario brewery delivers an excellent selection including this Kolsch style, which earns very high marks in my book. You won’t find the word “Kolsch” in this beer’s description, but I can read between the “lagered ale” and “Cologne” lines pretty easily. Lug Tread gracefully displays a remarkable clean character as well as the hard-to-define Kolchiness better than most craft interpretations of this style.
Food, or at least pizza, at Sir John A was certainly nothing to write home about. Pesto sauce with an overwhelming amount of cheese was only elevated by very good crust. Have some beers and move on to one of the other excellent restaurants for dinner.
Next we kicked it uptown to Parliament, which was completely stunning at night.
Monuments, the confluence of several rivers, and a musical light show greeted us like a welcoming party.
We watched the lights projected on the majestic building. We watched the moon fade in and out of view behind thick clouds. We watched the people who were watching.
Walking parallel to downtown, we soon navigated to arguably the center of Ontario nightlife: Byward Market. If we thought that parliament was busy, this area was crawling with people – families, tourists, locals, couples. All sorts of languages greeted us as we made our way to Lowertown brewpub.
Only open since May, Lowertown brews in Toronto but has ample space in the basement for a large brewing operation. At this time it is unclear what the timeline is for brewing on site.
Rick and I ordered the two Lowertown beers available – a lager and a “dark”. Based on the vague look of apprehension and irritation when I inquired what “dark” means, Lowertown may have a gap to fill when it comes to enthusiasm, education, or both.
I asked Rick several probing questions about the beer scene in Ontario and Quebec. “There isn’t enough interest,” he says, speaking generally of why there are not more brewpubs in Ottawa. “I mean, some people are interested, but it is still very small.” Acutely aware of the American everyone’s-a-beer-lover movement, this irritates him.
We enjoy the lager, and what clearly amounts to a German Dunkel (although I cannot confirm this, there were no menus or further staff discussion on the topic).
Finally, we decide it is time to take a cab back towards the bus depot and our final brewery destination, but not before I derail our plans in order to experience my first Beaver Tail, something I was told I simply had to try by a fellow Minnesotan.
The beaver tail, which joins the bearclaw in the legendary animal category of pastry names, is like a flat, fried piece of pastry dough. Ok…that’s exactly what it is. Choose your toppings and move out of the way because someone else is waiting anxiously to order next. We opted for simple cinnamon and sugar. Let the calorie parade of traveling in Canada begin.
Finally, for the unforeseen flop of the night.
Clocktower had promised to be the culmination of our Ottawa microbrew experience, however, something was simply off about each of their beers. An experienced and successful brewery, Clocktower draws from the dedicated beer lovers and the sports bar crowd alike.
We attempted several tastes from the bartender who, while working efficiently, seemed genuinely interested in pleasing our palates. Each taste was more fruity and phenolic than the next, hinting at a systematic brewing issue of some kind. We were pretty disappointed, especially my Canadian traveling partner, who had actually hauled around an empty grower to be filled.
Ottawa was a wonderful evening full of unanticipated delights. I highly recommend a visit to Byward market and a stroll across the lawn of Parliament, no matter what time of day.