Fans of craft breweries have to add Newmarket to their list of haunts to visit.
With three establishments in town – The George Brewhouse and Old Flame Brewing Co. on historic Main Street and Market Brewing Co. on Leslie St. – Newmarket is somewhat of a mecca for local brews that pack a flavourful punch.
‘We’ve discovered that we (the town’s craft breweries) would all rather help people experience a new taste and introduce our guests to a variety of new flavours,’ said Mike D’Angela, owner of The George Brewhouse.
‘We actually support each other. They (Market Brewing and Old Flame Brewing) make brews that we don’t and vice versa.
‘I think all of us have the same goal – do what we can do to contribute to the growing legion of craft brewery supporters.’
A local landmark for more than two centuries, The George continues to be what its original founders envisioned – a place where folks could congregate, get to know one another and enjoy a round of cold beverages.
Inside the venerable establishment, the original red-brick wall sports a massive beer menu; an ancient boilermaker that has been converted into a bar tap sits behind the bar; high ceilings and the stained-glass portrait of the bar’s namesake are all warm and homey touches that only begin to tell the story of what is one of the region’s oldest social halls..
‘This was the original farm-to-table, grain-to-glass operation,’ said D’Angela. ‘Everything was done from scratch. We’re still doing that, except we’re a little more efficient than they were back in the day.’
A similar story is being played out down the street at the Old Flame Brewing Co.
A working fire station until the early 1970s, Old Flame is a gathering spot for those who are looking to share a unique experience, according to Kyra Dietsch, general manager of Old Flame.
‘Folks who are coming here are looking for a new taste experience in addition to a great time out,’ Dietsch said. ‘They know they can come in, enjoy a variety of brews, do some people watching, enjoy some live music and maybe meet some new friends. It’s a community and I think that’s the common element we all share.’
Building a community of craft beer drinkers seems to be working. Each of the breweries has a loyal following – many of whom are hooked on the centuries-old tradition that’s being kept alive in these most modern of times.
And, just as it was done hundreds of years ago, every brew starts from scratch, something that allows each of the town’s craft breweries to be intimately involved in every step of the process – from selecting the raw ingredients to creating the names to canning and packaging.
‘With craft beer you don’t have to stick with one thing,’ said Piers Simpkin, general manager of Market Brewing Co. ‘We have two brewers here – Josh Uttley and Lee Cooper – and each of them has a completely different approach but their styles complement each other. They’re the artists – the chefs – and we let them do their thing. We don’t have any rules for them.’
That freedom and creativity is seen and felt at every stage. The unique flavour pairings; the brew names and the packaging – everything is custom – nothing is cookie-cutter or corporate.
‘Each batch is quite specific and we are aiming to create the best flavour that we can,’ said D’Angela. ‘Just like music, art or anything else creative, each flavour finds its own audience.’
Those flavours can come at you with some pretty interesting names.
They say naming a brew is a lot of fun but the goal is to create a name that captures the essence of the brew.
You can see the logic at work – The George offers Wuzzy Fuzzy?, Tropic Wave, Apple Jack Frost, Cherry Overlord and B’limey Key Lime Sour. Down the street at Old Flame, No Regrets, The Little Things and Brunette stand out as memorable.
Over at Market, Bear Hug, Arctic Anna, Beswick, Metropolitan Porter and Let It Ride are only a few of the many flavours offered.
Once you’ve settled on a moniker, you have to release it and get folks to try it – not an easy hurdle.
‘I would suggest the biggest challenge is education,’ said Piers SImpkin, general manager of Market Brewing Co. ‘A lot of people only have experience with the major breweries’ products. I like to ask them what they like and then give them extensions of what they already know.’
D’Angela and Dietsch echo Simpkin’s sentiments.
‘We get a lot of folks coming in who aren’t regular beer drinkers,’ said D’Angela. ‘Some of them are wine drinkers who are looking for something new, something different. They’ll want something a little fruitier, a little lighter.’
All three craft brewers recommend newcomers experience new tastes via a flight – a selection of craft beers, often four, served together in flight glasses, which are between four and seven ounces as opposed to the traditional 16 ounce pint glass pull.
Going the flight route is a journey of taste discovery. With small samples, consumers can go from dark oatmeal stout to light, almost clear wheat based ale in one serving.
‘Flights are a great way to get to know and experience new flavours,’ Dietsch said. ‘If you find one you like, you can get more. If you taste one that doesn’t fit with your palette, no problem – you move on to the next one.’
And that, in essence, is the secret of craft brewing – there’s always a new recipe to try and a new brew to discover.