Beer Road Trip: Nickel Brook

Nickel Brook was our fourth (and final) brewery stop in two days and took every last ounce of endurance to get through. It may not sound like drinking a lot of beer samples in two days is arduous work, but it is when you consider that most of our other time was spent driving or drinking in Buffalo. Walking through the breweries was all the exercise we got and eventually it just feels like your body is being punished, albeit in a delicious way. It didn’t help that Nickel Brook probably had the most beers to sample out of all of the stops.

In many ways, Nickel Brook is emblematic of what is happening to a lot of craft breweries in Ontario right now. Demand has increased so much in recent years that they are now undergoing construction to another brewing system and get a new bottling line, all the while trying to meet current demand during a hot, dry summer. Their Gluten Free beer has been so successful that they are installing a dedicated system for it, which will be easier than the intense clean their current system has to go through whenever brewing up a batch to ensure that there is no contamination. During our tour we saw someone labeling bottles by hand, so it should be obvious why a new bottling line is needed. Nickel Brook isn’t a big brewery by any means, but they are aided by the fact that they have a basement that fermenters can fit into.

Much like Cameron’s, Nickel Brook has been expanding its product line with new beers that offer more exciting flavours than their standard lineup. This summer has seen a number of excellent beers from them, including the Green Light Berliner Weisse, Le Payson Saison and the Naughty Neighbour Pale Ale. Add in the Headstock IPA (available in cans through the LCBO) and this is another great example of a brewery experimenting with different styles. Seeing a number of barrels down in their basement was no surprise, because you’re not really a craft brewer anymore unless you’re doing some sort of barrel aging. (A lot of the barrels were dated from last fall and winter, which seems like a lot of time for barrel aging. Those could end up being some potent beers.)

Our tour guide made an interesting observation that I’d never heard before – it is easier for Nickel Brook to experiment with new beers outside of the summer season because the summer is the busiest time of the year and the fermenters are all full of their standard beers. (I don’t think Nickel Brook has a pilot system, which would obviously use less space for fermenting.) Makes sense, but I had never heard those comments before.

I had tried most of the Nickel Brook beers sampled at the brewery except for their Marzen, which I didn’t even know they made. It was the last bottle of the season and I could see why this was a popular beer. The Marzen was  a complex red lager – bready, nutty and refreshing. The Naughty Neighbour was just as I had remembered and the bottles have been a hit at home. We also sampled the non-alcoholic root beer and ginger beer. If you’re ever touring Nickel Brook, have the ginger beer last – it’s a spicy blast of ginger that takes a while to leave your palette.

Nickel Brook is just another example of how craft breweries are being forced to modernize and keep up with an increasing demand for local beer. The Green Apple and Gluten Free beers will always be big sellers for them, but their recent seasonals have proven that this is also a brewery that can compete with the rest of Ontario. They definitely have a lot of fans in Burlington – people will constantly coming into the brewery store and picking up beer. Hopefully that love will spread throughout the province in the next couple of years.

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