Donkey Riding – Bringing You to Ottawa’s Best Beer

At Cassel Brewery

In my view, there are notably few good reasons to wake up early on a Saturday morning. Saturday mornings are sacred to me – one of the few times I can revel in the awesomeness that is stretching out in a fresh morning’s bed and put off the day’s agenda for a few glorious hours of extra sleep. Yet, when I was recently asked to be the MC on Brew Donkey’s Eastern Ontario Tasting Tour, which I knew meant no sleeping-in until noon that day, I excitedly accepted.

For those of you beer-lovers unfamiliar with Brew Donkey, you’ll want to become acquainted very soon. Owned and operated by local craft beer fan, and enthusiastic host, Brad Campeau, Brew Donkey is helping to make Ottawa-Valley craft beer more accessible, by bringing the beer to you and you to the beer. Started as a home delivery service, Brew Donkey now lists over 50 different beers from 6 local breweries (and growing), most of which are only available at the breweries themselves. Because of this, you can sample some of the best that the Ottawa-area has to offer, without the massive amount of driving required to visit all the breweries. Although, if it’s a visit you’re interested in, Brew Donkey has you covered there too.

The Brew Donkey bus arrived at the second pickup location, the LCBO at Rideau and King Edward, around 10:30, where I had been waiting along with some of the other participants. There was a sense of excitement in the group, consisting of beer lovers and non-beer lovers of all ages, though few knew what to expect from either of our destinations that day; first Cassel Brewery, in Casselman, and then Beau’s All Natural, in Vankleek Hill.

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I stole this photo from Katy’s (who writes the great blog Sheltered Girl Meets World -check it out) Instagram. Thanks Katy!

My role on the tour was to give a bit of an overview of the history of beer and the process of brewing while we were en route to Casselman. I half expected my talk to be lost in a clamor of rowdy passengers getting ready for a wild day when I set out. To the contrary, there seemed to be a lot of genuine interest in the subject matter, which continued through many conversations as the day went on. With a great deal of support from Brad, who is a natural on the mic, it felt like we reached our first stop in no time at all.

Cozy and very welcoming, Cassel Brewery made up for their limited space with their friendly and passionate staff. We were split into two groups,  with one half ushered into the brewhouse while the other perused the storefront. Whether you were learning about Cassel’s brewing process or checking out their glassware, there was no shortage of samples. From what I could tell, their Caboose #3 IPA really won over the crowd, and few of us left there empty-handed. I picked up some of their Sleeper Car Double Chocolate Porter and another glass for my own obsession collection.

After a great start to the day, it was time to go. Thankfully for those among us who sampled more thoroughly, lunch available on the next leg of the journey – and what a lunch it was. The folks at Murray Street prepared a fantastic meal using some delicious house-made ingredients. No matter if you chose the vegetarian or omnivorous option, their grainy mustard was well worth the price of admission.

Next stop Beau’s – and on a Saturday in FeBREWary, no less.

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If you’ve never been to Beau’s brewery before, your first words upon entering might be something along the lines of “woaah”. I saw more than a few people in our group standing with looks of wonder or childish grins as we entered. I was even a bit taken aback, having not been to the brewery in over three years. This place is to the beer lover as the ball room at IKEA is to a kid – alive with noise, colour and so much to explore. On the left as you enter is the brewery, where small-group guided tours were running all afternoon, with lively and knowledgeable guides. On the right, there’s all the Beau’s swag – from clothing to glassware. And then there’s straight ahead… the beer fridge and the taps. Can you guess which one most people hit first?

As I mentioned above, it was a Saturday in  FeBREWary, which meant that Beau’s was releasing a new beer. This weekend was Ellsmere’s Regret, a chocolate-marshmallow and hemp Milk Stout, for which they also organized a good old-fashioned bonfire and marshmallow roast (which I regrettably didn’t get a chance to try). I really enjoyed the beer, in particular the cask version that they tapped for the occasion. On draught, Ellsmere’s Regret was served a bit too cold to discern a lot of the flavours, but the cask version was tremendous. Supported by another dozen taps and a few specialty bottles from the Greener Futures Project, you really couldn’t ask for much more.

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As we headed home, I sat back all warm in my new Beau’s toque and fought off sleep, while the party continued in the back of the bus. This Brew Donkey tour had been a memorable experience for me – a day filled with great people, great, local, craft beer and great experiences.

Brad’s witty and energetic personality creates a fun atmosphere on the tour that seemed to resonate with everyone. I admire his dedication to, not just supporting local craft brewers, but also to giving his customers the opportunity to appreciate and learn more about craft beer.

If you’re a beer lover or you know one, or maybe you’re just beer-curious, I would highly recommend taking a ride on the Brew Donkey bus. It really is worth waking up before noon on a Saturday. For more info about tours visit Brew Donkey’s website or follow @brewdonkeyOTT on twitter.