Northern Exposure: The craft beer coming out of Ontario’s most northerly breweries

Northern Ontario is a place where people where camo for moose hunting, not for fashion. Majestic pine and cedar forests blanket a gently rolling, rocky landscape criss-crossed by rivers and streams all feeding into some of the coldest, freshwater lakes in the world. It’s a stunning region home to outdoor enthusiasts who drink a lot of beer, and also to almost 20 craft breweries, most of which opened up in the last five years.

The autumn—bug-free, crisp and awash in ambers, yellows and reds, is the best time of year to visit. These craft breweries are farflung—it’s a 17-hour drive from North Bay to Thunder Bay, but Porter Airlines flies to Thunder Bay and Timmins on the regular.

All you need now is a plan to harness that inspiration. Here’s a snapshot of what to drink and what to do for beer lovers up north this fall.

Lake of the Woods, Kenora

Think of Lake of the Woods as the Muskoka of the North. It’s full of cabins and lodges and is a playground for Winnipegers, Minnesotans and Ontarians alike. The friendly craft brewery of the same name is at the heart of it all, recently opening a new brewery in Warroad, Minnesota, and about to open another in Winnipeg.

Drink: Forgotten Lake Blueberry Ale is a legend among Northwesterners for its wild blueberry aroma and deceptive easy drinkability for a 7.1% ABV count. Or try the new Channel Marker Lite, a citra lager clocking in at a respectable 4%.

Do: This isolated region is chock-full of wildlife and tranquility. Book a local cabin and get thee in a canoe. Celebrate Oktoberfest at Lake of the Woods’ own street party October 5.

Sleeping Giant Brewery, Thunder Bay

Named for the tabletop mountain jutting out into Lake Superior that looks like, you guessed it, a sleeping giant, Thunder Bay’s first craft brewery is a social engine of the city.

Drink: Northern Logger golden ale, voted Thunder Bay’s Best Beer 2019 by culture magazine Walleye, this bready, kölsch-style ale has subtle stone fruit notes. Brewer’s Pick: Beaver Duck session IPA, which is now rolling out to LCBO locations and Beer Stores across Ontario.

Do: Wake the Giant Music Festival celebrates a movement to make Thunder Bay welcoming and inclusive to Indigenous people, it’s on September 14 and features July Talk, Metric and electro-pop artist, Wolf Saga. On October 5, raise a stein in the brewery’s packed taproom at its 7th Annual Oktoberfest.

Dawson Trail Craft Brewery, Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay’s second craft brewery was opened in 2016 by two homebrewers who named it for the nearby Old Dawson Trail, a trade route from Thunder Bay to Manitoba.

Drink: Locals love Border Run, a balanced cream ale. The owner’s pick: low-IBU IPAs like Out Bae’s Haze, a double-dry hopped beauty.

Do: Play pinball and arcade games in the taproom.

Full Beard Brewing Company, Timmins

Opened in January 2017, Full Beard is already cranking out a mix of IPAs, easy-drinking pale ales and classics at full capacity. One block down from Main Street, the steel and wood taproom has board games, a chalkboard full of rotating beers and friendly, down-to-earth service.

Drink: Master of Beta, an unfiltered session IPA explodes with tropical and citrus fruits on the nose, and finishes brisk and clean. Don’t miss The Banks of Mattagami, a smooth, nutty brown ale with an espresso finish.

Do: Take to Mattagami River for the 11th Annual Great Canadian Kayak Challenge & Festival August 23-25th. Or pack a picnic lunch and head 45 minutes east to Kettle Lakes Provincial Park for a day hike.

Compass Brewing, Timmins

Opened a few months after Full Beard, Compass Brewing was founded by four Timmins miners and long-time homebrewers, Kevin Patriquin, Corey McLister, Mael Girard and Joel Bradette who built the brewery on their time off from their mine shifts. The beers nod to the lumberjacks and miners at the heart of the city. The trio makes beers they couldn’t easily find in Timmins like grisettes, IPAs and sours.

Drink: La Grisette Belgian Blonde—a unique beer style for Northern Ontario with a lightly fruity Belgian yeast strain and a bready backbone.

Do: Hit up Kapuskasing Beer Fest September 13-14 to sip brews from a dozen breweries, cideries and distilleries. Or grab tickets to a Timmins Rock NHL Junior A Hockey game at the McInytre Arena and head to the mezzanine for a pint of Compass.

Stack Brewing, Sudbury

One of the first breweries to open in northern Ontario, Stack launched in “The Big Nickel” (a former nickel-mining town with the iconic tourist attraction) in 2013 and has been steadily expanding, opening a second location in July. The new location is home to the main brewhouse and a smokehouse restaurant run by award-winning chef duo, Nicolas Gignac and Jessica Roy.
Stack offers a mix of easy-drinking brews like Nickel City, a light lager, and Saturday Night cream ale which are complemented by the bolder flavours in its Sour Series.

Drink: Last Bite pumpkin porter, a roasty, spiced porter made with tons of pumpkin. Or try an altbier, Stack’s Impact is a crisp, earthy brown ale with whispers of toffee.

Do: Visit the new brewery and taproom for lunch or dinner. Say hello to beavers and learn about how Sudbury is reforesting scarred mining lands at Science North, before taking a deep dive underground through old mine shafts and a guided tour of the Big Nickel (wear a sweater!).

Outspoken Brewing Company, Sault Ste. Marie

This charming brewery opened in a 1930’s building downtown in the Soo, helped revitalize historic Queen Street. Local thirst led them to expand within three years of opening—that means more tanks, a canning line and tasting room in 2017.

Drink: Split Shot extra pale ale, the brewery’s biggest seller and a gateway craft beer for Bud-Light-loving locals.

Do: The Soo is a big hub for cyclists—check out Crank the Shield, a massive three-day backcountry bike race in August where Outspoken beer will be flowing.

Northern Superior Brewing Company, Sault Ste. Marie

You’ll find the town’s second craft brewery in the Bushplane Heritage Centre. The brewery pays tribute to the 100-year history of brewing in Sault Ste. Marie, the last brewery in town, the Northern Brewing Company, operated until 2006.

Drink: Try the Northern Superior, a clean lager that veteran brewers from the old Northern Brewing add a dash of salt to before drinking, like in the old days. Or try Northern 55, a toasty Marzen lager perfect for fall.

Do: Visit the cozy taproom and then head next door for a Beaver Tail.

New Ontario Brewing, North Bay

Housed in a bright, busy red taproom along the Trans-Canada Highway, New Ontario Brewing was named for North Bay’s former brewery which operated from 1907 to 1915. Opened in 2015, the brewery is a hub of the city thanks to its support for local fundraisers and businesses.

Drink: The popular Treetopper red ale has subtle notes of toffee and caramel with bold citrusy hops, and the Edwards Pumpkinhands brown ale is eagerly awaited by locals every fall.

Do: Party on Main Street in August for the city’s Block Party headlined by The Dirty Nil and featuring a number of Northern Ontario craft breweries.

Gateway City Brewing, North Bay

Founded in 2018, brewmaster John Palko brings years of experience to the tanks as former head brewer at Jasper Craft Brewing.

Drink: Twiggs Fire Tower, an English dark mild conditioned with coffee from local roastery Twiggs. It’s only available in the taproom or at Twigg’s four coffee houses. Brewer’s Pick: Lookout IPA, a single-hopped series — #4 will employ New World German hops and be out this fall.

Do: Take in some open-air blues on Sept. 6 at the Gateway City Brewery Bluesfest on Main Street. j

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