My special someone and I were in search of a romantic night out. The wonderful thing about living in Niagara is that there is no shortage of things for couples do. We are fortunate to live in a region that is filled with beautiful scenery, fun activities, delicious restaurants, and world-class wineries and breweries. As we are both lovers of good beer and were in search of something new, my girlfriend and I chose to visit the Exchange Brewery’s tasting room in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Old Town.
Our night out was a dark and cold Friday in winter. We arrived after the sun went down (which, of course, takes place pretty early at this time of year) and were lucky to find complimentary parking on King Street west of the Prince of Wales Hotel—a rarity during any Friday in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The stroll to the Exchange Brewery took us past 200 year old homes and storefronts, which conjured up a romantic feeling as the imagination drifted to thoughts of a time gone by. We passed dozens of tourists and locals alike wearing winter coats, making the best of a cold night with people they loved. We were greeted by many friendly “hellos” as we passed. A reminder of how open and hospitable people in a small town can be.
The Exchange Brewery occupies an old building at the northeast corner of Queen and Kings Streets that once housed the first telephone exchange in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Celebrating the history of this site, the Exchange Brewery has chosen to allocate each of its beer products with a number or a symbol from a telephone dial. While the bones of the building are old, the tasting room inside is completely modern. A white interior creates an open and airy feel. A floor-to-ceiling display of dark, 750mL beer bottles adorns the wall across from the tasting bar, and large glass windows at the back of the room showcase fermentation tanks, giving patrons a peek at where the magic of beer-making happens. High stools sit around a white bar where a friendly and knowledgeable beer enthusiast pours colourful brews into sparkling clean beer glassware. Additional seating is available upstairs and there is more seating on a roof top patio, seasonally. My girlfriend and I opted for two seats at the bar on the main level so we could chat with our host and enjoy watching him serve the other guests with an expert level of attentiveness that only a seasoned food and beverage professional can offer.
When visiting any brewery for the first time, one should sample the gambit of beers on offer before committing to a pint. This will offer acquaintance with the brewmaster’s style while giving you a chance to find the beers that speak to you and avoid committing to any beer that is not to your taste. Our host poured us a flight of 8 samples in glistening sample-size glassware, set out on a round, wooden serving tray designed to look like the spinning dial of an old-style rotary phone.
Move over lager and ale—the Exchange Brewery is offering up some very unique micro brews! Most of the beers are high in alcohol and have flavours that are particularly funky in character. The Exchange Brewery uses fruits local to Niagara and particular varieties of yeasts and hops, as well as old wine barrels for ageing. The result is unique, place-specific beers. The Exchange Brewery is truly serving up products like nothing the average beer purveyor has ever tried before. And to complement its beers, the Exchange Brewery also offers a small menu of shareable food items. A variety of bar nuts, and cheese platters can be purchased to be paired with your brew.
My girlfriend is a big fan of Saisons and was taken by the Peppercorn Rye Saison. A higher alcohol beer at 7.2% abv with a spicy, earthy character and a distinct hit of peppercorn on the finish. I am drawn to dark beers, and it was the Breakfast Stout that stood out to me. Coming in at 8.4% abv, this beer was very balanced and boasted an unmistakable taste of cold-brewed coffee which was surprisingly refreshing. After enjoying our sampling tray, we each ordered one of our favourites to be enjoyed as a 12oz pint and toasted to good times spent together.
We found the Exchange Brewery to be a wonderful modern brew house in a community oozing with old charm. A great choice for a night out for you and your favourite beer lover. Just one of the many microbreweries in Niagara that we at Bootleggers are proud to partner with. For more information on Bootleggers’ partner breweries, our tour packages, or to book a tour, call our friendly guest services agents today at 1-866-628-5428.
By: Michael Twyman, Sommelier and Wine Smart Guide for Niagara Vintage Wine Tours and Bootleggers.