While Niagara Falls is the world famous tourist attraction that draws millions of visitors a year, there is much to see and do just a short 30 minute drive away.The quaint town of Niagara on the Lake provides a wonderful side trip from the Falls. Arriving in Niagara on the Lake the challenge is deciding on how to spend your day. One could easily spend three or four days in this region, taking advantage of the famous Shaw Festival, hosting thirteen plays this summer season on three stages, visiting historic Fort George, or dropping in on a variety of tasting rooms in the rolling vineyards of the area. We opted to bike and enjoy the local microbreweries in our one day in the region.
Renting bikes at ZOOM, was a breeze. The helpful staff outfitted us with excellent cruising bikes in record time. There are a variety of rental options ranging from the hourly rate of 12 CAD (9 USD), half day 20 CAD (15 USD) and full day 30 CAD (23 USD). Because we were paying with a US credit card, we benefited from a 30% reduction on our half day rental turning 20 CAD into about 15 USD. Bike were outfitted with helmets and locks as well. Excellent instructions and a clear map were provided and we chose to bike the “Popular Route” covering 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) and many points of interest. The route pointed to Old Town, continued with a ride along the river on a dedicated bike trail, and then looped back to the starting point biking on country roads through rolling vineyards. Choosing brews over wine, three microbreweries were marked on our maps, sidestepping the abundant tasting rooms located in the area vineyards.
Brewery #1: The Exchange
Our first stop was at the Exchange, located on Queen Street in the heart of the Old Town. This microbrewery started in 2016 and is housed in a building that was once home to the local telephone exchange, back at the turn of the 20th century, and thus the name of the brewery. This craft brewery takes advantage of local hops and other ingredients. Numbering their beers in addition to naming them, is a nod to the historic roots of this building. It also simplifies things for first time visitors when they choose among the eight beers on tap, and the many more in bottles. The lower the number, the easier the drinking; the higher the number the more flavorful and intense. Picking among so many beers was difficult, but luckily a tasting flight was on offer, so we enjoyed sampling small amounts of four different beers before continuing on our way.
Fort George - Living history
As we cycled out of Old Town and continued on to the bike trail, we saw Fort George looming on our left, situated directly on the Niagara River, but decided to save this for a future visit. Fort George was an important military installation in the War of 1812 between the USA and Canada, and has recently been refurbished. It functions as a living museum, reenacting famous scenes from the battle and providing an in depth perspective on exactly what happened, where and why. Admission is approximately 10 USD, and free for those under 17. Continuing along our biking path which ran directly alongside the river, we enjoyed a stop for a picnic lunch. The bike path which winds alongside the river all the way up to the Niagara Falls, 15 km (9.3 mi) away, is another possible day excursion to consider. Our chosen route veered off of the bike path and continued on country roads to Breweries #2 and #3.
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Brewery #2: Silversmith Brewing Company
Pulling up to park our bikes under the sign for the Silversmith Brewing Company, we were surprised to see what looked like an old church. Where was the brewery? We entered what looked to be a church, complete with stained glass windows, and to our surprise found ourselves in a brewery and pub house serving up local brews and food. We enjoyed the house specialty, an unusual black lager which has garnered many well deserved awards for the brewery. There were many other tempting choices but we knew that we had to save room for Brewery #3, located just down the road. Imbibing spirits in such a spiritual venue was an experience not to be missed.
Brewery #3: Niagara Oast House Brewers
Moving on from the church to a red barn, circa 1800, home to the Oast House Brewers you will discover an unusual setup. The Beer Shed, located indoors offers up tastes of their home crafted draft beers. Due to local liquor law regulations, they do not serve pints of beer, only tastes, but one can buy beer to go in growlers, pints or cans. For more serious drinking and eating, The Patio located in the backside of the barn features the Oast House brews along with homestyle cooking. Since this was the final brewery of the day, we enjoyed two beers that are standard at the brewery, the Barnraiser Ale, and the Pitchfork Porter, forgoing the more exotic, bottle aged ales and seasonal beers that rely on fruit grown in the region.
Biking and breweries that Can't Be Beat
Biking the Niagara region and stopping in at local breweries that use only the freshest of ingredients grown in the region was a treat to all the senses. Noting how the three breweries each repurposed an existing building, added to the sense of discovery and wonder of this exceptional day.
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