Collingwood’s brewing good

…pretty great, actually

On the way into Black Bellows Brewing Company. Mark Hajek photo

Nestled snugly on the shores of Georgian Bay, Collingwood might be more renowned for its skiing escapades and scenic hikes, but let me tell you, my fellow beer enthusiasts, there’s more to this place than just picturesque landscapes, and silken slopes. After your late morning spring ski-runs, as the noon sun sits high over Blue Mountain, it’s time to dive headfirst into Collingwood’s bubbling beer scene.

Picture this: four breweries serving a total population of almost 27,000. That’s a brewery for every 6,700 people. Considering that the national average is closer to 4.5 breweries per 100,000 it is entirely appropriate, in my humble opinion, to call Collingwood a beer haven!

Each of these breweries boasts its own unique flair and flavour. From cozy tap rooms to bustling brewpubs to major venues, this town really does have it all. As brand loyalty takes on a new grassroots definition, the Collingwood beer scene has aced the need for relaxed third spaces, and makes it really easy to enjoy a tasty beer with a great vibe.

While there are plenty of places on the way to and around the Collingwood area, let’s take a look at the four main breweries in the city.

Side Launch Brewing Company is one of four keelstones of brewing in Collingwood, launching their beers first in 2014. Mark Hajek photo

Let’s start our beer adventure with a visit to Side Launch Brewing Company. With well-versed staff, some pretty cool décor in their taproom and beer garden, and a space the size of a small shipyard housing their impressive brew house, this brewery pays homage to Collingwood’s maritime past and craft brewing history.

It’s not all about the nostalgia; their brews are as impressive as they come. Head Brewer Bernardo Zamora’s experience is extensive. With a Masters of Science from the University of Munich in Brewing Tech and a wide range of international brewing experience, Bernardo, along with brewing specialist Jasmine St. Pierre and their teammates, makes the best of science and alchemy by offering up some wonderfully balanced beers.

Side Launch Wheat is alive and, well, aged in beer history as an OG Ontario classic. First developed and brewed by the Canadian Weiss Bier Whisperer Michael Hancock, of Denison’s, in the late 80s, Side Launch Wheat is still approved and enjoyed by Hancock himself from time-to-time at the taproom bar.

Recently acquired by Equals Brewing in London, Ontario, Side Launch has remained a leader in the area with its commitment to the high standards of craft brewing. With a solid new brand identity and a renewed energy, Equals has been supporting the Collingwood team, and not ‘fixing what ain’t broke.’ Side Launch’s mission remains the same—to put the passion into every tank and make great beers, with strong commitment to community. Whether you’re craving a Helles-style Mountain Lager, the juicy haze of an Any Day Session IPA bursting with citrusy hops, or a Vanilla Porter that’s perfect on the porch on a cool evening, Side Launch has got you covered.

Just a short runway for this flight at Northwinds Brewhouse & Kitchen. Mark Hajek photo

Next up, head over to Northwinds Brewery, where the motto is simple: Beer, Food, and Community. They deliver on all fronts, and at both locations, with two brewers: head brewer Andrew Rose brews from the downtown location while brewer Alex Mullaly works her magic at the Blue Mountain locale, featuring twenty four taps of originals and local favourites.

The classic Crowded Camper APA has a great copper tone, a touch of lemon and a piney finish, making it super drinkable. Monkey Suit Irish Stout is perfect for a cooler afternoon with a slightly sweet chocolate presence and its dry, clean finish. Their menus are packed with hearty pub fare and a rotating selection of Northwinds brews. Andrew’s been brewing for years with an infectious energy that makes you want to try the whole line-up.

Cheers from Chris Freeman and the dedicated team at Collingwood Brewery. Photo courtesy of Collingwood Brewery.

No trip to Collingwood would be complete without a visit to the Collingwood Brewery. Off the beaten path and tucked away, this hidden gem is a favourite among locals and visitors alike. Their emphasis is on beer and comfort. Head brewer Chris Freeman and his team have created a unique little oasis for people to gather for beer and quality hang time. The dog-friendly, outdoor beer garden and patio bar transforms to become the largest outdoor music venue in the area.

Taproom and events manager Scott Smith really has his hands full with an impressive line-up of fun events throughout the spring and summer, including supporting the Georgian Triangle Humane Society’s Walk for Pets with their Happy Pils collab, as well as hosting Carnival North in August, which will feature an exclusive Carnival North Lager.

With all of this going on, a casual if not intimate backyard vibe is still on deck with quiet time for slow sipping. From their flagship Downhill American Pale Ale to the Backcountry Black Lager, or the Freestyle ‘Orange Ya Glad It’s Honey Wheat,’ made with local Georgian Bay wildflower honey, there’s always something new on tap at Collingwood Brewery.

For dinner and another great vibe to close out the day, make your way over to Black Bellows Brewery. Near downtown Collingwood, this brewery offers up another great experience from within their refurbished historical site. As you approach the building on the corner, you’re likely to feel a bit of déja vu. You’ll see iconic features of the building that telegraph a time gone by when steel, tools, and machinery lived large. This very cool building was once home to Dev’s Auto body, and was the site of the town’s longest running blacksmith. Black Bellows taproom pub atmosphere definitely plays on the cozy side with a great menu, easy to pair with their beers for a solid taste experience.

Head brewer Peter Braul says, “It’s not ever good enough!” when it comes to brewing their fan favourites. Whether it’s their juicy Big Buck NEIPA or the classic Helles, El 9 Wye, aptly named for the postal code. Black Bellows also makes a terrific Light Lager featuring all-Ontario ingredients. My personal faves are their Munich Dunkel, Schlossbier, and then there’s the classic homage, FAB, a Dortmunder Lager that pairs perfectly with their pretzel braids.

Don’t think that you’ll necessarily be in for a super chill evening, as Black Bellows is a hub for regular concerts, choirs, trivia nights, all with rotating art installations to keep the look fresh. You’re sure to feel good spending some time absorbing the vibe at this unique spot.

In Collingwood, the indie beer scene extends beyond the breweries’ walls. Collingwood plays host to a ton of festivals and events throughout the year. It’s a beer lover’s paradise that’s not to be missed. If you want to go deep on sampling and you’re concerned about safety, Ubers and cabs are an option. For best results, check out The BeerBus Co. for a public or private tour.

Summer 2024 events at Collingwood’s breweries

May long weekend through Thanksgiving
Northwinds Brewery at the Collingwood Farmers’ Market

June 1 & 2
Cheers to 10 years! Side Launch’s 10th anniversary celebrations.

June 15
Jax Pays It Forward. Annual fundraiser in support of Collingwood G&M Hospital.

June 18
Black Bellows – The Electric Eclectics Music Festival

June 29
Collingwood Brewery Canada Day Long Weekend Concert featuring Moon Doggy

July 13, 19 and August 9
Town of Collingwood’s Live and Original Concert Series. Side Launch is the official beer sponsor of the 2024 series.

July 20
Collingwood Brewery Stampede – The first of its kind in Collingwood

August 10 & 11
Side Launch Days Festival.  Also, attended by Northwinds Brewery

August 17
Collingwood Brewery 3rd annual Carnival North

September 7
Collingwood Brewery Beer & Cider Fest – featuring breweries and cider houses all from the Georgian Bay area, with live music all day, multiple food trucks & an artisan market to wrap up the summer

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