<P>I spent last weekend at my girlfriend’s cottage, indulging in some relaxation. Sadly, I also had a huge exam to study for, but I was able to find a little bit of free time in there. The cottage (and it is a cottage, not one of those fancy, pretentious vacation homes), is located on an expansive, sandy beach on Nottawasaga Bay, an appendage to Georgian Bay, itself an appendage to Lake Huron. The building backs on to a small hill, punctuated by tall, windblown grasses. At the bottom of the small hill (a glorified dune, really), is the beach proper – thirty feet of silky-soft golden sand, available only to the property owners, so no crowds, no ice cream stands, and scarcely any evidence of modernity at all. The crystal waters lap against the shoreline and the sandbank stretches out dozens of meters, allowing for warm water and safe swimming. It is absolutely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
<P>I find it funny that tourists who come to Ontario choose to spend their time at tacky Niagara Falls (well, the falls themselves are not tacky, but the town is bloody grotesque), or bumming around downtown Toronto, going to the CN Tower and the like. Yippee. In truth, unless you’re here for the theatre (third only to London and New York, as the tourist brochures will tell you), it’s not much worth visiting. Decent place to live with all the distinct neighbourhoods, but for the visitor, I don’t know why anyone would bother for more than a day. A place like the cottage, however, one could spend the entire summer there quite easily. Equally unbeknownst to most people are the small towns. I was doing research for a trip idea that was kicking around my head and found a book on the best small towns in Ontario. Old favourites like Fergus and Elora were there, but one in particular caught my eye – Creemore. Of course, I’d heard of Creemore before, since it is the home of the Creemore Springs Brewery, makers of the benchmark pale lager – a classic in an otherwise lame style. Creemore is only thirsty minutes from the cottage, so we decided to make a trip of it.
<P>One daydream that has captured my imagination of late is running a farmhouse pub. I’ll serve the finest micros in the land, especially on hand-pump. I’ve already sorted out half my menu, too. It will be my statement against the banality of cookie-cutter menus found even at theoretically sophisticated restaurants, who employ supposedly creative chefs…the kind who can’t think beyond the sea bass, duck confit, angus steak paradigm. No, I will serve the kinds of things I eat – be it smoked pancakes for breakfast, flaming eggs for brunch, enyucadas for lunch or baked trout with lemongrass, shallots and witbier for dinner. I’ll have the finest in farmhouse cheeses, too, because jalapeño poppers are not going to be a my menu until I’m in the cold, hard ground. Even then they won’t – I’ll put it in my will.
<P>The point is, I also thought about how my farmhouse pub would grow hops, and herbs for my kitchen, and I’d have my own smokehouse so I could make my own chipotles and smoked malt. It’s a pretty vivid daydream at times, no time moreso than when I passed several perfect farm sites on the road to Creemore. Old brick farmhouses perched on the rolling hills with a view of the bay, houses enshrouded by trees.
<P>We came over one such rolling hill and a lush valley unfolded beneath us. It was quite a spectacular sight. I had just enough time to soak it up and then we plunged down a steep hill. A sign at the bottom welcomed us to Creemore. It is less a town than a village, with just over 700 people. The main street (Mill Street, funnily enough) was asleep late that Saturday afternoon, but I doubt very much that it ever awakens. I get the sense that the brewery’s expansion a couple of years back was the last thing of note that happened in Creemore.
<P>There weren’t any tours available that late in the day, but I’ve seen plenty of breweries so I didn’t sweat it. The brewhouse is on display in the window anyhow. They brew 30,000 hl/yr these days, and have a big computerized control panel – I was a little surprised to see that. I shouldn’t be though, given that dozens of excellent beers are made in much larger facilities – Zywiec, Fuller’s, Sinebrychoff, Guinness Nigeria, Cain’s, Moorgat, Sierra Nevada just to name a few. I had a sample – rich with spicy hops on the nose, toasty malts on the palate. It was as good as I’ve tasted it. Apparently some of the caramel notes derived from the use of open flame to heat the brew kettle.
<P>I once again forgot to bring any beer glasses so all that was at the cottage was an Alexander Keith’s glass. While I can enjoy the irony of drinking St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout from such a vessel, it would be unthinkable to drink a Fin du Monde from the same. So I purchased one of the footed Creemore quasi-tulips and a couple of bottles for the road. We decided to walk to the end of Mill Street and see what else Creemore had to offer. There is a tiny park at the foot of the road, along the banks of a stream. I couldn’t help myself – I cracked one of the beers and baptized my glass. Another great thing about Creemore Springs – they keep their beer fridge at the proper temperature for real beer, not ice cold.
<P>We walked out into the river, where I drink my glass of Premium Lager while standing on a rock, the water rushing around my ankles. The warmth of the water, the gentle breeze, the sunshine – it was magnificent. I drifted into la-la land. The stream was all childhood memories, the water was the comfort of nature. I finished my beer and had to have another. I realized, at that moment, that I would never have come to this beautiful place, and never have experienced this exquisite moment, if this town did not have a brewery.
<P>I thought back to a similar moment last summer – at the Shore Hotel in Laxey, on the Isle of Man. The hotel is home to the Old Laxey Brewing Company. I would never have gone there if I thought I could find their beer on a pub crawl of Douglas.
<P>Beer hunting has taken me to more than a few interesting cities, towns, neighbourhoods and countries – places I would never have otherwise thought to visit. In that way, beer has enriched me in ways most people never get to experience. Sure, there are many things in this world that someone could develop a passion for. Any of these has the potential to draw people off the beaten track, to those hidden pockets of spectacularity, and to divine moments like my time in Creemore. But beer is my thing, and if my passion for it brings me to moments like these, then I could not be happier that I ended up as a beer geek.
<P>I would love to hear about experiences other people have had, that they would not otherwise have enjoyed were it not for beer. I will compile them for publication in a later edition.