There are a few breweries who vie for the title of the oldest craft beer operation in Ontario. Wellington, Great Lakes, Waterloo and Amsterdam were all founded in the 1980s, and all participate in the writing of these lists. But if you look at the ones that were started this century and try to pick who has grown the fastest and been the most successful, across Ontario, Beau’s has to be a clear favourite.
Tom Green stout, Full Time IPA, Dunkel Buck and Strong Patrick are all recognizable names from the Beau’s lineup of organic beers. Obviously, Lugtread is really the stud that built the stable and spread its name to points from the Vankleek Hill Curling Club to the Sovereign Room in Thunder Bay. They’ve covered dozens of styles, including many experiments under the gruit umbrella, but mostly stayed away from funky options.
Or that was true until Halcyon Barrel House, the spinoff brewery launched last spring with Bryce McBain at the helm and Beau’s as an investor and marketing partner.
Halcyon landed in the four spot on Ratebeer’s 2018 list of the top 10 new breweries in the world. The roundup came out in January 2018 and names the ten with the highest average ratings from the 6,400-ish new entrants to the online beer rating system since June 1, 2016. Ratebeer has come under fairly wide criticism since Anheuser-Busch InBev became an owner last spring.
Supporting local makes sense when it comes to a variety of beer styles that depend on freshness or carefully-monitored service standards. But sour ales are more forgiving of long journeys and time spent on the shelf, so Ontario breweries have to do a really good job to justify a price premium over world-class standards.
Halcyon’s Gravity Well falls into the Flanders red style. For Ontario drinkers, that means the familiar points of comparison will probably be Rodenbach Grand Cru, Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge, or Duchesse de Bourgogne. Because it’s more delicate, refined and has less of the challenging apple-cider-vinegar acid flavours, I’d take Gravity Well if given the choice of those four.
My understanding is that Gravity Well is matured in much smaller barrels than the Belgian prototypes. (It would be nice if Halcyon were more explicit about the aging times.) That means the oak (vanilla, woodsy sweetness) is more apparent, but to my palate, that is a fine addition. This is a remarkable beer that I expect will improve further with a year or two of cellaring.
Halcyon Barrel House’s (Beau’s) Gravity Well (9.0% ABV)
Appearance: Deep, cloudy brown at the centre, edging to ruby. A thin cap of tan foam.
Smell: Dark cherries, plums, oak barrels and a touch of raspberry vinaigrette. Lingering floral note.
Taste: More cherry, lightly tart and balanced with a thread of oak-y tannins that also incorporate vanilla.
Mouthfeel: Low-medium carbonation without any pucker and a lasting sense of sweet-sour balance.
Pairs with: Easy does it here, slugger; this is a tightrope act of delicate beer balance that could be thrown off by too much salt, smoke, sweet or fat. Whipped goat cheese on minimalist crackers; pan-seared whitefish; fries and mayo.
Availability: LCBO (including online) $16.95, brewery, some restaurants & bars.