Downtown pub “Hops” into new local flavours

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My latest column from the Print Edition of Peterborough This Week.

Brewmaster, Doug Warren and hops grower, Jay Schiller, show a before and after shot of the Wet Hop Ale brewing process.

 

Downtown pub “Hops” into new local flavours

Being a food writer can be a lot of hard work.

Deadlines loom. There is constant pressure to publish in order to keep a roof over your head. And people feel compelled to have you try their latest culinary creations and handcrafted beverages.

Why only last week I had to spend an afternoon in the basement brewery of the Olde Stone Brewing Company, sipping microbrew beers in order to report on the latest small-batch options available to Peterborough diners.

After a very thorough sampling I’m happy to report that the current seasonal offerings of the Olde Stone will meet – and perhaps exceed – the expectations of local beer aficionados.

It’s a tough life, I tell you. But someone has to eat and drink for a living.

It should come as no surprise that the Olde Stone’s new seasonal beers are exceptional. Brewmaster Doug Warren has been creating fine brews at the pub for the past five years – he’s been designing craft beers for 25 years in total. Before setting up shop at the Olde Stone, he honed his skills making beer for such well-renowned microbreweries as the Kawartha Lakes Brewing Company, Mill Street Brewery, and the Churchkey Brewing Company.

Warren’s regular house line-up ranges from an India Pale Ale to a Bitter to a Stout. My personal favourite is his Red Fife Wheat beer. All of these brews are popular with the pub’s diverse clientele, with discriminating local beer appreciators making the Olde Stone a regular stop and tourists flocking to the establishment on the merit of its strong reputation.

While the roster of regular house beers remains the same year-round, Warren’s limited edition seasonal beverages tend to reflect the tastes of the season.

And this autumn he has tried to keep these tastes as local as possible.

He’s serving up an “Olde Stone Pumpkin Ale” – flavoured with several varieties of pumpkin from Martin’s Fruits and Vegetable Farm in Campbellford. He has also created a “Wet Hop Ale” made with hops grown at Slow Acres Organics – a farm just south of Peterborough.

“I try to use as many local ingredients as possible,” said Warren as I explored his brewery. “But this is not always possible when you have limited local options.”

Staff at the Olde Stone serve me up a pint of Wet Hops.

 

 

The Wet Hop Ale is particularly notable in its use of local ingredients. Hops, you see, are not traditionally grown in Peterborough – at least they haven’t been in quite a while.

According to Jay Schiller of Slow Acres, the crop has only recently been re-introduced to the area.

“It’s been around 100 years since hops have been grown commercially in this part of Ontario,” he told me as I sipped the results of his agricultural experiments. “The climate here isn’t all that great for older varieties of the plant.”

Farmers, however, have been carefully breeding varieties that respond well to various climates.

“It takes quite a while to naturally produce new varieties,” he explained.

“It takes generations of plants to bring about the changes needed to adapt to growing conditions.”

“Naturally” is a word that carries great importance for Schiller. After all, being an organic grower means that he takes particular care in producing the most natural crops possible. He is careful to stress the difference between breeding new varieties through persistent selection and genetically modifying plants.

“Traditional breeding of crop plants has been standard practice for thousands of years – really, since people first started farming. And it is a technique that is a perfect fit for people who have concerns about the science of genetic modification.”

As a person who values naturally-produced, local, seasonal ingredients – and one who also values great beer – I’m excited that one of only a handful of Southern Ontario hops growers has set his sights on producing for local breweries.

It has made for a great beer drinking option.

The “Wet Hop” has a delicate hoppiness – much less so than you would normally get with traditional dried hops. Both the flavour and aroma have a floral quality. There is a notable malt taste. It is a dark amber beer that maintains its slight foamy head for the duration of the glass.

The “Pumpkin Ale” is a somewhat conventional ale that contains hints of both pumpkin and spice – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. But these flavours compliment rather than dominate the beer. It tastes like autumn in Ontario.

The Olde Stone Brewing Company has been serving up quality beer and pub food from their downtown location for the past 15 years. Their autumn seasonal beers should be available for most of October. You can find them on George Street in downtown Peterborough.

Slow Acres Organics is a 100-acre diversified organic farm just south of Peterborough. The farm is in the ‘transition’ phase from 30-plus years of conventional farming with an expectation of official organic certification coming in the next couple of years. Owners Jay and Heidi will be producing heirloom and other certified organic vegetables this coming season. They’ll also be selling organic eggs. Look for their products next year.

Because I am showcasing local beers this week, I don’t have a recipe for this column. But be sure to check out the Farm to Table blog at www.mykawartha.com<http://www.mykawartha.com>for many local, seasonal recipes and tips.

In the meantime, I plan on sampling these local brewing endeavors heartily – until the Olde Stone’s batches of “Wet Hop” and “Pumpkin Ale” run out later this month.

I’ll do so for journalistic purposes only, I can assure you.

I’ll take one – or several – for the team.

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