While the cottage area in and around the Muskoka area has seen a couple of thriving breweries (Muskoka and Lake of Bays), my family’s habitual summer vacation spot on the shores of Lake Huron is a dead-zone for local breweries. The closest brewery is MacLean’s Ales, located in West Grey, which is a bit of a detour either coming or going. This is one of the few Ontario breweries that I have yet to try, so a quick stop to pick up beer on the way back was called for.
I knew before going that MacLean’s was one small brewery. They are only listed in local LCBOs, have short retail hours and have a limited web presence. For all these reasons, I emailed ahead to make sure they would be open on the Saturday we were passing through. Our arrival time was unknown so I didn’t want to schedule a tour – my idea was just to show up, buy some beer and read back out onto the road. My expectation was that only their pale ale would be available, but my hope was for one other beer to be bottled as well.
Even with all this in mind, I still was surprised by the size of the brewery. It was so small that we drove by it – twice. (Their sign outside is small and the address marker was covered up by branches.) The brewery is hidden in a building that roughly looks like stables, which means that it looks that same as half the other properties. Clothes were outside hanging on a line. The only sign we were in the right spot was an Interac sticker on a door. That is something a city boy understands.
Unfortunately, our timing could have been a lot better. We were told that it was the busiest day of the year for the brewery as they were getting ready for a wedding and a tour, plus all the demands of brewing, bottling and dealing with walk-ins that don’t call ahead. Oops. My prediction was right – only the pale ale was available, freshly bottled that day with a case of twelve sitting right in front of us. Their Farmhouse Ale would have been ready in ninety minutes, but by that time we would almost be home. A tour was graciously offered, but further inconveniencing an obviously stressed out brewer is not something I like to do. And all I really came for was a case of beer, which was now nicely tucked beside me in the backseat.
The MacLean’s Pale Ale is an excellent example of a true British ale. The nose actually has a lot of butterscotch aroma, but with a bready note that makes it oddly appealing. Luckily there is only a trace amount of butterscotch in the beer, one of the rare examples I have tasted when the flavour is intended. The amber body is another big hint that this is a British pale ale. Big caramel flavour, a tinge of hazelnut, some grain. A little earthiness in the finish is the only real sign of hops. Medium bodied with a slightly oily mouthfeel. A nice session beer with a lot of flavour. It is a shame that the distribution for this beer is so small.
The brewery might be too far for a quick day-trip depending on where you live, but it can also be paired with a visit to the Neustadt brewery. Just be a little proactive than me and at least call ahead to see when the beer will be ready.