Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Ah yes, finally we arrive at the most important member of the Guelph triumvirate: beer. When I travel, beer is pretty much always lurking in the background. Guelph is a pretty good beer town, all things considered, and really had a lot to offer a young beer enthusiast from the US.

First off, Ontario, and Guelph in particular, are really quite British. There was a Woolwich St., a Suffolk St. and a Norfolk St., among others. But the beer and pubs also betrayed this Anglo-ancestry. There were lots of pubs that were 'The Something Arms'. I only went to one pub however, the Woolwich Arms and Arrow. Check out their website here.

It was really British.

The building was probably at least 80 or 90 years old, probably older (?), and had three smallish rooms: the bar, which was only 12' x 12', and two dining rooms, the biggest of which wasn't more than 18' x 14'. A narrow hallway seemed to take a more-circuitous-than-necessary meander to the 'washrooms'. Dark walls, at least one fireplace. There was a very nice front porch in the front and a very nice patio area out back. There wasn't any air conditioning though, which really sucked, I'll be honest.

But they more than made up for the hear with the brew. I really didn't even look at their fairly large draft menu, maybe 14 beers. I flew to the real ale. They had three handpulled real ales on. All of which were really tasty and very British. The bar also kept them in great condition. I wonder if they have a cellarman? Two were from a local Guelph brewery, the Wellington (more Britishness), and I can't seem to remember the brewer of the third beer, unfortunately. But it was great. Actually my least favorite of the bunch, but I still liked it a good deal.

A pale ale (maybe they called it a bitter?) of perhaps 4-5%, it had the most carbonation of the three cask ales, but it was still quite flat. Showed a real nice fruity aroma and flavor. Seems like a really expressive British strain, like white lab's Burton strain, was used. I got mostly strawberry actually. Also just more than a hint of caramel malts. Was really enjoyable. Definately a detectable hop bitterness in the finish. Pretty dry, but I would have preferred it even more attenuated.

I want to talk about the Wellington beers as a whole group because I also got to sample some of their beers in bottles as well. Their Arkell bitter I had from the hand pump at the Woolwich Arms was by far my favorite of those three real ales. Incredibly light, crisp and endlessly quaffable, this beer also had a substantial perceived hop flavor and bitterness. Also some really nice English yeast notes in the aroma, just a touch fruity and a nice mellow bready quality that was also there on the palate. The least carbonated of the three, with a single jet of carbonation escaping the liquid phase every couple seconds as the beer warmed. But this is really the ideal beer for cask conditioning. The body was so light, any significant carbonation would have made it seem thin. Altough at 4%abv, it's on the high side for a traditional cask bitter.

The other Wellington that was on cask at the Woolwich Arms was their County Ale. A 5%abv brown ale that was in good condition in the cask. More carbonation than the Arkell bitter, but definately still pretty flat. But I think the combination of slightly higher condition and final gravity lead to the formation of a really nice and persistant head that left some decent lacing on the glass.

Definately the sweetest of the three cask ales, it was by no means 'sweet' and twice as far from cloying. A fairly dark brown ale, it showed some nice caramel flavors and, if I'm remembering correctly, a decent hop bitterness. Definately also some nice English yeast notes in the aroma and on the palate.

I also had Wellington's Special Pale Ale in bottles. It is a fairly light brew where the hops are the focus. It weighed in at 4.5%.

My second favorite Wellington's behind their Arkell bitter was the Iron Duke Strong Ale. Had this in bottles, only 10$ Canadian for a 6 pack. If the dollar was in better shape, that'd be a pretty good deal. This beer is a very traditional English strong ale. It was a fairly dark brew with a substantial body but still finishing on the crisp and dry side, good attenuation. Rich caramel and fruit flavors dominated on the palate. Definately a beer in the tradition of beers like Adnam's Broadside and the Olde Suffolk Strong Ale, two beers that are widely available in indiana.

I also had a really nice 2003 bottle of Niagara Falls Brewing Company's Eisbock. An 8% brew that was not quite as heavy and sweet as I would like in an Eisbock, but on the other side of the coin, it was a remarkably rich beer for how clean and dry(ish) it was. I certainly don't mean to say it was a dry beer. Big Munich malt notes on the nose and on the palate. Very nice carbonation level, medium to high. Maybe that's why it seemed not quite as thick and sweet? This bottle, a 25oz, was a really good deal at 6$ Canadian!

Here's a pic of some of my Canadian haul. Did I take pictures of other stuff? No. That would have involved clear common sense thinking, something I definately was lacking on the trip.

The banquet for our conference, the one where I got to sit with Michael Ruse and David Hull, was sponsored by Sleeman Brewing Company, which is also based in Guelph. Now Sleeman is a huge brewery. They've gotta be one of the biggest in Canada behind Labatt, Moosehead etc. And they've been on the craft brewer's radar since they purchased Unibroue, one of the most successful and popular Belgian-style breweries in the United States (if not in the world).

What's cool about Sleeman is that they don't brew mainly macro style lagers. Yes they brew a low crab beer and a pils, but their other flagships are a 'honeybrown ale', a 'cream ale', a steam beer and an amber. Incidently, that was all they had at the banquet, no Unibroue, but it was definately better than BMC. I had two cream ales. They were ok.

No comments: