a peek inside the fishbowl

11 Mar, 2016

The story of a Canadian company that grew, part 1

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

This past weekend I had the opportunity to learn more about the story behind the Mill Street Brewery. How much do you know about Mill Street? All I knew before this could probably be summarized in four points:

  • I know and like the Mill Street Ottawa Brew Pub. In fact, it’s high on our list of favourite family restaurants in Ottawa. The setting is gorgeous and the food is consistently good. There’s something for everyone on the menu too, which is important for our family.
  • My beverage of choice when we go to Mill Street is their Organic Lager.
  • They brew beer on site, as well as root beer. (!)
  • Mill Street used to be a Canadian company before they were bought by Labatt. The resulting backlash was substantial.

This is where I have to confess that when I first heard the news about the buy out I was disappointed. I prefer to support the little guy. Besides, wouldn’t everything change now that Mill Street was owned by Big Beer? I was curious to learn the story behind it all, and so with that, and the promise of some beer sampling, I boarded a plane to Toronto on Friday afternoon.

About to land at Billy Bishop airport in Toronto

We've landed! Hello again Toronto

Erin Blaskie and I, the only other Ottawa person on this trip, made our way to the Distillery District after we landed. I seriously regret that I have never been to this part of Toronto. It’s gorgeous, and for a history/architecture nerd like myself, it’s a really special place indeed:

Distillery District at sunset

The love locks, in the Distillery District.

Pretty soon we were enjoying some fine brew and conversation at Mill Street:

Mill Street

There was a special dinner arranged in which a different Mill Street beer was matched with each course.

I was thinking about how pairings do a real number on your taste buds because what happened that night was something akin to TASTE ALCHEMY. Imagine that the flavour of a meal is like a road. You’re cruising along, everything is more or less fine. Then you add some expertly matched beer to the meal. Suddenly the potholes on the road are filled and it’s the smoothest drive you’ve ever had in your entire life as the beer melts into the food, creating one perfectly smooth surface. In fact, it makes you realize that you didn’t know how bumpy the road was beforehand. (How can you go back to the ordinary road without this level of perfect pairings? This, my friends, is the question.) ;)

I’m sure some of you are curious about the food and pairings. We started with Bob’s Bearded Red, which is an Irish Red Ale. This was followed by a baby arugula and roast beet salad with local burrata (a fresh Italian cheese) and microgreens served with the Master Class Amber Abbey Ale that is brewed in Ottawa. Next up was a dish of sea scallops with saffron coconut broth and basil. This was served with a wheat beer called Don Valley Bench. This was followed by a smoked beef rib roast but as a non-beef eater they served me an amazing smokey chicken dish instead. This was served with their Rauchbier. Rauch means smoke in German, and the beer tasted like the memory of a campfire with a touch of sweetness. Perfectly paired!  Everything was truly delightful but the most interesting pairing for me was the last one: dessert. I never consider pairing a beer with dessert, especially ice cream, but here we were, enjoying sweet and salty ice cream (salted caramel and banana) with their Weizenbock brew. In a word: I was amazed. And stuffed. Oy.

The next morning we regrouped at Mill Street again. This was just before they filled up for brunch:

Mill Street Brew Co in Toronto, just before it filled up for brunch.

On the agenda, more food, brewery tours and a Segway tour of the Distillery District. That, in the background, is a beer mimosa.

March 5 #dailylunches - breakfasty flatbread at  the Toronto Mill Street Brew Pub. Beer "mimosa" on the side. (!)

The tour of the brewery was pretty cool. It was given by Joel Manning, the Mill Street brewmaster. We got the scoop about the brewing process and how it works at Mill Street as well. I think Joel would have talked to us about it for the entire day. I asked a question about water differences between Ottawa and Toronto and he launched into a 20-minute tangent (and seemed pretty excited about it too). This guy positively burns with passion for beer, right down to its molecular level. No joke.

Joel Manning, brewmaster at Mill Street.

Tour of Mill Street Brew Co. in Toronto

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They are doing some pretty cool stuff at Mill Street, not only experimenting with new and seasonal brews, but using their brewing know-how to create new stuff, like beer schnapps. (!)

I learned a very important lesson this weekend. I learned how to drink a beer properly. (I wish I was kidding.) Do you like drinking a bottle of beer on a hot summer day? I do. Bad news is that if you do too, you’re drinking it wrong. According to brewmaster Joel, the better way to drink it is to pour it aggressively into a beer glass that has a larger capacity than the bottle so the foam doesn’t overflow. Let the foam settle, then drink. This method discharges the CO2, which would otherwise end up in your belly (hello beer burps). This way, you are also tasting the beer the way the brewmaster intended as well.

After the Mill Street tour, my group and I went on a Segway tour of the Distillery District. The site was once home to the Gooderham and Worts Distillery and was the biggest distillery in the world. (Read more about its interesting history right here.) It was neat to see it on the Segway. Amazingly I didn’t hurt myself OR any innocent bystanders!

On a Segway while wearing a special helmet with wings!

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Before too long it was time to settle in for a Q&A and get the big scoop. In preparation I ordered a cider, which I enjoyed so much I’m officially making it part of my life:

Brickworks Cider

Read part two of this post right here.

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3 Responses to "The story of a Canadian company that grew, part 1"

1 | Molly van der schee

March 11th, 2016 at 10:02 pm

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I loved reading about your trip to Toronto and Mill Street – have to admit – my favourite part was reading Joel Manning’s name and actually hearing in my head “Hi! I’m Joel Manning” from the ads!!! Har!

2 | andrea tomkins

March 15th, 2016 at 12:30 pm

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Ha! Thanks Molly. Joel has a lot to say in part two of this post too. Stay tuned!

3 | lacoop

March 18th, 2016 at 5:43 pm

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I agree…it is beer that fills the potholes in my life :-)

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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