Winery of the Month: Blueberry Hill Estates Winery

Also located on St. Williams’ Front Road at Norfolk County’s oldest commercial blueberry farm is the beautiful Blueberry Hill Estate Winery. It is family owned and operated, the farmhouse converted into a charming, rustic retail store. Inside the farmhouse, there is a wide assortment of products to browse through. Here, you can browse through their selection of fruit and grape wines and ciders, followed by farm preserves, locally-sourced artisanal goods, and Hounds of Erie ciders. Beyond the store is a cute cafe, offering homemade baked goods (the blueberry crumble is to die for), coffee, and tea.

Winemaker Nick Vranckx’s winemaking philosophy is to let the fruits true character speak out through minimal intervention in the cellar. Their signature Blueberry wine embodies his vision perfectly with its peppery flavour and blueberry notes. The Vidal-Blackberry Fizz is a fun and refreshing sparkling wine, perfect on its own or to mix into a cocktail or sangria. It has a enticing berry aroma, sweet fruity flavour that finishes crisp and citrusy from the vidal in it that leaves you wanting more.

Aside from the winery, there is a flourishing seasonal farm market for visitors to purchase farm fresh or locally-produced goods such as baked goods, blueberries, blueberry honey, maple syrup, salsa and relishes, jams and jellies, pickled vegetables and more! In the summer they also have a pick-your-own program, a popular activity among visitors. Whether it be a relaxing in their cafe or patio, taking a golf cart tour of the vineyards or orchards, or leisurely browsing through the farm market, there is always something to do at the winery.

Brewery of the Month: Blue Elephant Craft Brew House

Right in the heart of Simcoe is the Blue Elephant Craft Brew House. Since Heather’s return to Norfolk county in 2012, she has transformed the Blue Elephant from a Thai cuisine restaurant into the craft brewery that we all know and love today. It is modeled after European pub houses, offering great food and drink, and a cozy and intimate atmosphere.

It’s always busy at the brew house, Sarah, the new brewmaster, is constantly coming up with new ideas and experimenting with different ingredients and beer styles. She follows a scientific approach to brewing, beginning with intense research about ingredients and different aspects related to brewing, create calculations to estimate results, and constantly revising the recipe with each tweak done to the brew. With such a thorough brewing process from start to finish, you can expect no less than perfection in each glass of beer.

At any given time, 9-10 beers are available to try, with 4 mainliners available year round. Last summer we sampled Wizard’s Butter Brew, a Harry Potter inspired lager, and Rhubarb Saison, a golden hazy beer with balanced bitterness and tart Rhubarb finish. Now, we can’t wait to see what seasonal brews will be on tap this summer.

Meanwhile, the mainliners are classic styles perfect for any occasion. The Gentlemen’s Pilsner is a European style pilsner with a nice hop and malt undertone. It was also the official beer for the Mumford and Son’s Festival in 2013, a great source of pride for the Blue Elephant. The Red Devil is an auburn ale created for easy drinking because of its balanced hop, malty, and crisp taste and nose. Lastly, the hugely popular Strawberry Lager is made with local strawberries, and a silver award winning brew!

There is always something brewing at the Blue Elephant, we can’t wait to try what’s going to be on tap next or create our very own beer through their Brew Camp program.

Winery of the Month: Inasphere Wines

St. Williams’ Front Road has become a booming region for winemakers, which is currently home to three wineries. Located at the Bosgoed Family Farm, Inasphere Wines opened its doors in 2015. It is perfectly situated on the top of a hill, overlooking the many acres of the farm, vineyards, and reclaimed Long Point marshlands that gives Inasphere its unique charm.

When you first arrive, you are welcomed by an adorable vegetable stand stocked with farm fresh produce sits at the end of the driveway and barking of the friendly family dog. The retail shop is small yet welcoming, featuring a small, but growing selection of wine. Chatting Ryan and Shantel Bosgoed, you can tell how the farm and the winery are their pride and joy.

Not quite a rose, or a white wine. The Grey Area, is made with a blend of white and red pinot noir grapes. When bottled initially, the wine is white, but as it ages it gains a beautiful red colour. Like a sunset in a bottle, it is the perfect wine to sip on while watching the sun set over the farm in the patio or reclined in the adirondack chairs. It has a sweet aroma with hints of honey and a smooth finish. This wine has been extremely well received, selling out in about a month after its first release. Hopefully we will be able to enjoy this beautiful wine again!

The colourful barn, surrounding greenery, and vast fields are a sight to behold. Norfolk County’s small town, rural charm can be felt throughout from their friendly and down to earth staff to the vegetable stand at the end of their driveway. Described wonderfully as a hidden gem by customers and visitors, Inasphere Wines is certainly worth another visit.

Winery of the Month: Frisky Beaver | Smoke & Gamble

Just minutes away from the beaches of Port Dover, Richard of Rapscallion Wine Company presents Frisky Beaver and Smoke & Gamble Cellars, two award winning wineries showcasing different sides of wine that many love and enjoy. The interior of the winery is grand and beautiful, with chandeliers, harvest table, and decor that brings out a chic feel.

Frisky Beaver was inspired by how Canadians get frisky after drinking. They also strive to showcase the fun and flirty part of wine. Witty names like their Shades of Grey Chardonnay and Blushing Beaver Rose never fail to crack a smile as you browse through the large selection of wine. Now we kind of know what you’re thinking. The movie and book series 50 Shades of Grey became insanely popular over the past few years, but the staff didn’t even know of the movie and book series’ existence before naming the Chardonnay Shades of Grey! If you’re a fan of the series, this frisky wine now has a whole other meaning to it now. Also from Frisky Beaver is their Crappy Wine, a satisfying red wine made for the person who doesn’t know a thing about wine. A stark contrast to the Smoke & Gamble label, this wine still holds up on its own against its darker counterpart.

For those who wishes to explore a deeper side to their palette, Smoke & Gamble pays homage to the three vices: drinking, smoking, gambling. Here, barrel-aging is the key to build body, tannin, and form a richer, more complex flavour that perfectly complements a newly opened box of cigars. Smoke & Gamble are also innovative in their winemaking, being the originator of the Dry Ice process. Their Dry Ice is a unique icewine made from this process. First, the grapes are dried appassimento style in re-purposed tobacco kilns. Then, long after the temperature has dropped below freezing, the frozen grapes are then pressed.  This results in a less sweet than traditional icewine with hints of portlike flavours, smokey character, and hints of spices and nuttiness.

Richard has big things planned for the wineries… From relabeling efforts, patio events, to Norfolk County events, and more, we hope this winery makes it to your summer bucket list.

Brewery of the Month: Railway City Brewing Co.

Right in the hustle and bustle of St. Thomas, Railway City Brewing Co. combine the basic building blocks of beer –water, malt, hops, and yeast– with the goal of producing a pint of beer that is harmoniously balanced and highly approachable. Entering the brewery, it is bright and lively. To the right is Railway City merchandise full of clothing, railway spike bottle openers, and drinkware followed by fridges full of a large assortment of beers. Throughout the year, 9 mainliners are offered along with a minimum of 3 seasonal specials.

The brewers are especially inspired by St. Thomas’ history. Their Iron Spike brews inspired by the railway tracks the run through the city and their famous Dead Elephant IPA inspired by Jumbo the Elephant, who passed away in a railway accident. As a tribute to Jumbo’s death anniversary, Railway City releases the Double Dead Elephant IPA every September 15th. This IPA has double the hops, with aromas of peach, cantaloupe, and cotton candy. Ingredients also serve as a huge source of inspiration for the brewers, resulting many experimental beers and releases throughout the year. For example, even though they do not grow their own hops, the brewers work closely with Elgin County growers and even brew one-off Farmhouse ales.

 

Aside from the creative brewers always at the drawing board, the brewery is also very involved with the community. Frequently hosting yoga and beer nights, wood fired pizza every Friday and Saturday with Elgin Harvest, games nights, paint nites, and “Social Taps”, in which proceeds goes towards a different local charity each month. In addition to all these activities you can often find Railway City in some beer festival, near or far.

To top things off, Railway City Brewing Co. hosts a Platform Competition every May, celebrating the art of homebrewing and love of craft beer. Many breweries began from homebrewing hobbies, which is why Railway City  provides a platform for homebrewers to create something special to keep the creative process alive and well throughout the craft brewing industry. As a result, the winners of the competition will receive cash prizes and have their signature brew bottled and released as a seasonal offering later in the year.

For the love of craft beer and the community, the engine is always running at Railway City Brewing Co. We hope this is a train you’re willing to hop on as well.

Winery of the Month: Burning Kiln Winery

Part of a booming winemaking region along St. William’s Front Road, Burning Kiln is perfectly situated on top of the escarpment overlooking the Long Point Bay World Biosphere Reserve. Formerly a former tobacco farm, the original tobacco pack barn has been repurposed into the winery. Much of the historic building has been preserved, while contemporary glass walls allows visitors to observe the winemaking process. The tobacco drying kilns have also been repurposed to create appassimento style wines.

Burning Kiln combines scenic and idyllic charm as the forests meets the lush countryside, the vineyards stretching out to join the two. Entering the winery, there is the bar to the left and seating in the room on the right, where you can see how the wines are made. Making our way to the bar to grab a glass of wine, sampling their Planter Pinot Gris. It’s crisp, clean, and tangy with citrus aromas. Lemon and lime zest persists, followed by clean, refreshing acidity — perfect to sip on while touring the winery.

The tour follows the winemaking process chronologically, beginning with pressing, fermentation, barrel ageing, and bottling. Moving on to the 26 acre vineyard,  we learn about the grapes and quality practices. Here, 8 varieties of grapes are grown inlcuding Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Savagnin, and Petit Verdot. The Vineyard Manager, Frank DeLeebeeck, and his crew tends each vine by hand for all aspects of quality control. Through their rigorous vigilance during the winemaking process and vineyard maintenance, everyone’s hardwork is reflected in each glass of wine, which is why Burning Kiln is beloved by so many.

We look forward to visiting come spring and summer, when David’s Restaurant on Tour returns to serve outstanding local cuisine from their Gourmet Food Truck and patio parties are abundant!

Winery of the Month: Quai du Vin

Located in the serene farmlands of St. Thomas, Quai du Vin is a beautiful winery that is a sight to behold. At its entrance, a beautiful waterfall of red water –like it is wine– flows from the winery. The retail shop has a classic interior design with a distinct European feel. A giant window looks out to the shaded patio, vineyards, stage, and outdoor seating area.

Jamie, the winemaker, believes wine should play a supporting role in life. His philosophy remains true as visitors come to try his wine in groups, and weekends are never without weddings or musical festivals. As people try his wines and smiles, he knows he has done his job right.

Talking to Roberto at the bar is a pleasure, his knowledge and soothing voice making the tasting experience a wonderful one. The Late Harvest Riesling is a beautiful wine, sweet with honey aromas. Their Vidal is their most popular white wine, with a tropical aroma and a delicate balance between sweetness and acidity. Out of curiosity, we try the the Maple Wine, a locally-sourced maple syrup that is slowly fermented. The end result is a dessert wine with maple syrup’s natural golden colour and sweet taste is preserved without any hint of alcohol in its taste.

Now it’s time to take a tour of the vineyards and relax on the Wine Press Terrace, the sunlight peaking through the vines and leaves absolutely divine. Mona is the friendly estate cat, keeping you company while you relax under the shade. After a short petting session, you head out to explore the vineyards, taking in the beautiful scenery around before heading back to the retail shop.

Picking up a bottle of Vidal on our way out, Quai du Vin is definitely a gem in the countryside. Until next time!

Brewery of the Month: New Limburg Brewing Co.

New Limburg Brewing Co. began as a family hobby brewing project between Mischa, the head brewmaster, and Jo, his dad. Having moved from Limburg in the Netherlands to Limburg in Belgium, Mischa looks to bring Belgian style ale and European brewing culture to Norfolk County through New Limburg Brewing Co. No one ever expects an old school building when arriving at the brewery, it certainly is a unique concept that plays a role in their designs and wonderful in terms of repurposing old buildings. Entering through the main entrance, there is a nostalgic atmosphere around as it feels like you’re back in grade school. However, it quickly changes as you get to the retail shop with beer and beer-related products on display in shelves and fridges.

Next to the shop is the Tap Room, which is modeled after beer cafes in Europe. It’s a beautifully decorated cafe, following the school theme. The bulletin boards and walls are decorated with beer coasters, the blackboard is full of writing and doodles, the shelves stocked with books (both educational and fictional) and board games, and a grand piano free for all to play. Another wave of nostalgia hits you again as it brings you back to the classrooms in elementary school, when play time during school hours was encouraged.

 

At the bar, all their beers are available on tap, with Dutch bar snacks and locally made cheese available to complement the beers. Their flagship beer is the Belgian Blond, which has a citrusy, pear, and pepper flavour. It starts sweet and ends dry. With such unique character, no wonder why it’s an two time award winning beer.

After completing the Trappist beer series, Mischa looks forward to brewing more Belgian style beers. This includes oak aging, incorporating fruits such as cherries, peaches, and raspberries. With so many wineries nearby, they’re also looking to experiment with aging in wine barrels. However, even though New Limburg focuses predominantly on Belgian style beers, they do want to provide something with a North American influence, which is how the Petit Blond came to be.

New Limburg’s brewhouse is small, but the small batch process allows greater experimentation and more seasonal batches of beer. However, with their recent renovations expanding brewing capacity, we’re definitely excited for new things to come!

Wine-Inspired Craft Beer in the County

North America’s beer industry began when immigrants brought their own traditional style of brewing, but after a long period of Prohibition, Depression, and World Wars, many breweries shut down or consolidated. At the same time, North Americans grew to prefer light lagers, further decreasing the variety of beers available. By the late 50s-60s, homebrewing enthusiasts began brewing beer to bring back more flavours and traditions to American beer, as it was the only other way to experience other beer styles. To separate themselves from the view of North American beer as a mass-produced commodity with little culture, character, and tradition, craft brewers sought to distinguish themselves.

So, what makes craft beer so distinct? The answer lies within innovation, creativity, and experimentation. Just like winemaking, craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists using traditional and untraditional ingredients, and develop new styles with no precedent. The craft brewery members in the Ontario South Coast Wineries and Growers Association are no execption. New Limburg Brewery focuses on traditional Belgian beer styles such as blond ale, wheat beer, and Trappist styles. Their inspiration comes new and old favourite Belgian beer brands, and including North American influences in their beers. Initially, the brewery was hesitant to produce non-Belgian style beers, but when a competition for brewing a Belgian style IPA with local hops came up, the Petit Blond IPA was born. Likewise, the Black Sheep milk stout was also produced for a similar reason. Food also serves as an inspiration, be it creating a creating a beer to pair with a dish or bring certain flavours into their beer, or using local ingredients. Moving forward, New Limburg plans to age their beers in various barrels such as oak and wine to experiment how new flavours and character can be imparted to create unique beers. They will also experiment with cherries, peaches, and raspberries (which aren’t uncommon with Belgian beers) in the brewing process.

Meanwhile at The Blue Elephant, Sarah the brew master, follows a scientific approach to making beer. Once she has an idea for a recipe, she researches the style or ingredient she wants to emphasize the most, allowing her to figure out which approach she wants to take before making it. Then she calculates the math to achieve the optimal final product. By comparing the brew with her calculations, Sarah is then able to adjust the next batch as needed or repeat the process for a consistent beer each time. When it comes to what inspires her, she draws inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. Ingredient use and beer styles are two main sources of inspiration. When it comes to ingredients, she looks to compliment the flavours when adding fruits, vegetables, spices, or tea to a beer. If she has an excess of a certain ingredient or want to use them before they expire, she also creates recipes around them. Aside from experimenting with the brewing process, she also enjoys making a beer true to style while using the most traditional ingredients possible.

Out in Elgin County, Railway City Brewing Co. combines the basic building blocks of beer–water, malt, hops, and yeast – with the goal of producing a pint of beer that is harmoniously balanced and highly approachable. Main sources of brewing inspiration comes from the history of St. Thomas and experimenting with flavour profiles by using fruits, herbs, and spices. Their Dead Elephant and Double Dead Elephant IPAs are both inspired by the death of Jumbo the Elephant, who died in a rail accident in St. Thomas. With the Orange Creamsicale, they were inspired by ice cream parlours and pastry chefs: whole vanilla beans play with the bready, pastry-like sweet malts, while orange zest adds a citrus twist reminiscent of a classic ice cream treat. While uncommon in day-to-day operations, the brewers at Railway City do branch away from traditional beer brewing by using the technique of blending barrels  to create their specialty barrel-aged Barrel Reserve line and Bourbon barrel-aged Stout.

As craft beer culture grown, it has grown more intertwined with wine culture. Modeled after the Sommelier Certification Program, the Cicerone Certification Program was launched in 2008 to ensure proper beer service, particularly food and beer pairing. Certified and Master Cicerones are then able to help beer lovers match their food with the perfect beer choice. Despite sharing the same blue collar stigma as large, industrial beer producers, craft beer isn’t so different from wine after all. There is so much more depth and complexity than meets the eye.

For further reading, click on the links below:
https://www.foodabletv.com/blog/2015/7/22/wine-culture-inspires-rising-craft-beer-movement
https://ithinkaboutbeer.com/2012/06/20/glassware-a-victim-of-the-beer-vs-wine-culture-clash/
https://www.brewersassociation.org/brewers-association/history/history-of-craft-brewing/