Attaining Beervana in Ontario’s Central Counties

GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Co, beer

The bucolic countryside and rolling hills of Durham have long been admired as the perfect getaway for biking or for road trips. Now, there is a proliferation of breweries to elevate each rest stop, and unique destinations to reconnect and recharge. From the historic town of Uxbridge to the lakeside parks of Port Perry and the shore of Whitby, one can discover a veritable beerdom in the heart of Durham Region.  The rural routes that roll through Oak Ridges Moraine’s natural beauty are magnets for cyclists and hikers, with the refreshing kick of a flourishing craft brewery scene.

Durham Region

Durham Region’s first craft brewery, 5 Paddles Brewing Company, employs small batch production and premium natural ingredients. Traditional Lagers, Ales, and IPAs as well as more adventurous flavors like Strawberry Rhubarb Sour and Coffee Blonde, have beer lovers driving up from Toronto for a case. The Coconut Cream Pie Beer reminds us of a day at the beach. A flight here launches our taste buds into orbit, and the diverse range of 10 beers on tap in the tap room is also available for take home in cans via online delivery.

beer and cheese
A pillar of the beer community is Old Flame Brewing Co., known for clean and refreshing lagers from Dirty Blonde, to Red, to Brunette. A local farmer feeds his lamb and sheep the spent grain from the brewery. Herrington’s Quality Butchers then pairs that meat with Old Flame Lager for a savory lamb and lager pie.

Crossing the train tracks off the Trans-Canada Trail, we reach the Uxbridge Farmers Market brimming with local produce. Inside the adjacent The Second Wedge Brewing Co., local art is on display, and in the beer garden, Foundry Pi crafts wood-fired pizza for us to pair with our selection: alight and refreshing High Grass Saison of fresh lemongrass, ginger and bitter orange peel with a low hop; and 3 Rocks IPA, which is bright with a balance of floral and citric hops and a depth of malt flavour.

Archibald Orchards and Winery

The best alternative to beer is cider. The apple is Ontario’s quintessential fruit. Archibald Orchards & Winery offers an unparalleled range of ciders from blends of Macintosh and Ida Red with aromatics that evoke baked apples in autumn. Hard Ginger Cider is crisp with a kiss of ginger. Bottles of Spiced Winter Apple Wine and Canadian Maple Wine are a mellifluous balance of sweetness. Not-to-be missed in the fall are the pies, crumbles and an ambrosial apple caramel dumpling of scored-apple wrapped in pastry, steeped in caramel sauce and dusted with cinnamon.

Slabtown Cider Co. has become the hot spot for weekenders and the after-work crowd. There is such a chill vibe here, and each picnic table on the outdoor patio is colourized by flights of cider. There is a seasonal Watermelon Thyme Cider and a quenching Pineapple Cider Slushy on tap.

Slabtown Cider Co.
I order a flight. Founder’s Dry is so refreshing with bright intermingling notes of apple and lemon. Mint Cucumber Cool is a crisp apple accented with cucumber and mint for the perfect complement to summer. Grapefruit Mimosa is a subtle blast of sweet citrus that pairs perfectly with thick Korean cut short ribs lacquered in lip-smacking tamarind honey beer barbecue sauce and cider mustard. Honey Habanero is sweet heat in a glass that does not disappoint or deviate from expectation. It awakens my palate, opens my eyes, and gets conversations started. I pair this one with a meaty Thunder Ridge Bison Burger enlivened with honey beer barbeque sauce and a mound of crispy onions on a brioche bun. I look around and all I see are smiles. People are happy here.

Headwaters Region

Communities across Headwaters Region have quietly emerged as a smorgasbord of eclectic experiences. So much fun for families, they evoke a simplicity that inspires recognition of unnecessary clutter in our daily regimens. What we encounter here is a purity of spirit.

Spirit Tree Estate Cidery

There are fifteen varieties of apple trees at Spirit Tree Estate Cidery from which to pick our own apples and fill either 5lb or 20lb-bags. After apple picking, we relax in the Cider Gardens, but not before first ordering up a thin-crust, wood-fired Spirit Tree pizza, topped with tomato sauce, pesto, oven-roasted tomatoes, grilled chicken, roasted garlic, mozzarella and goat cheese. This begs for a cider pairing. In addition to the blended and single varietals of hard apple and pear ciders, there is also an ambrosial sweet cider blend, and even a Pumpkin Cider made from wood-fired pumpkins, fresh apple juice, and a sprinkling of spice. My personal favourite is the 2019 Ice Cider. It is similar to an Icewine, but made from pressed, late-harvest apples for a uniquely aromatic, sweet elixir.

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Starbucks Oleato

The range of cider at Heartwood Farm and Cidery is from mulled to non-alcoholic, and includes Forest Garden, a blend of six apples (Northern Spy, Courtland, Red Prince, Ida Red, Jonagold and Golden Russet) with a touch of the farm’s own maple syrup. For cider with an attitude, there is Eve Goes Badass. It’s tinged with a disarming heat of ghost and cayenne pepper and sweetened with honey. I’m enjoying a can of this while the most adorable baby pigs parade around me. You see, a visit to Heartwood—aptly named—is also about reconnecting with nature and reconnecting to animals. It’s an eco-adventure in which Val Steinmann shares with us the Food Shed Principle fundamental to her practise of regenerative farming for the future. This is an excellent place to bring a child to make them aware of something positive that is being done and that can make us proud and hopeful.

Heartwood Farm Cidery
Heartwood Farm Cidery, photo by Barry Best

GoodLot Farm & GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Co. grows a variety of hops and grains for their brewery, and maintain a carbon positive production. It’s about feeding the soil, and this is indeed a Goodlot! Phil and Gail Winters are environmentalists, and by connecting their farm to nature, they can brew a truly clean high-quality product, and can even infuse into their range of craft beer the yarrow, or wormwood, elderberries and rosehips that grow on the property. NITWIT is a light, slightly sweet and refreshing Belgian Witbie seasoned with coriander seed, sweet orange peel, and Goodlot’s own calendula flowers and hops. Their Farmstead Ale is smooth and sings of their Ontario-farmed Nugget and Cascade hops. Hop Bin Black is a veritable “Hop Bin” of Ontario hop varieties; and Trellis Hop Fizz is a non-alcoholic sparkling water made with GoodLot hops and infused with seasonal Farmstead botanicals. The patio is the place to be. This is a rustic community space of picnic tables, the occasional strolling chicken, and a thriving Bluegrass venue!

Hockley Valley

The rolling hills of Headwaters make this region a haven for cycling. We rent bikes at Hockley Valley Resort. But these aren’t just any bikes. The light aluminum frame is just 25-30lbs, and the 29-inch tires with suspension and rock shocks make us feel like we’re peddling on a cloud. It’s such a comfortable ride. The Hockley Valley Trail System winds around the resort across a variety of terrain, from open meadows to hardwood forests, and from rocky to sandy, with climbs and descents that keep us excited.

Views here are panoramic, and there are four seasons of activities from golf to skiing. It’s also renowned for its spa services and farm-to-table dining. 80% of the ingredients on the menu come from the onsite fruit and vegetable farm. At the adjacent Adamo Estate Winery we sample a crisp Pinot Blanc with notes of apple and baked bread; a very clean Chardonnay that exudes pineapple, grapefruit and pear, which we pair with a warm focaccia bomba drizzled with olive oil and sea salt. Our last tasting is a delightful Pinot Noir, like a potpourri with juicy black cherries and black currants, paired with succulent lamb chops brushed with chimichurri. A luscious ending to an enriching day in the country.

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