You needn't have fallen under the spell of the hit movie Sideways to appreciate that wine tourism is big business. But last year's other booze-and-travel film, the documentary American Beer, showed how microbreweries have become destinations too -- and not just in the United States. From coast to coast, Canada has much to offer the traveller who prefers barley to grapes.
While a brewery may lack some of the romance of the vineyard, there's still plenty to see and taste during a brewery tour -- from the overview of raw ingredients to the fragrant, steaming kettles and inevitable sampling at the end of the line. Some brewers have even been known to draw a glass or two off the fermenters for a taste of beer that's as fresh as it gets.
It's important for the beer tourist to remember, though, that breweries -- unlike wineries -- are intensely active, often cramped places, and so full tours may simply not be possible. The best bet is to call in advance and try to visit at times, like weekends, when no beer is being brewed. At brew pubs, where the making and serving of beer are given equal importance, scheduling can be looser and the experience more intimate, with brewing often taking place within sight of the table at which you're enjoying your meal or pint.
Here, then, is a tour-friendly, regional breakdown of Canada's top microbreweries:
A perfect beer tour is one you can walk, and that's what you get in the heartland of Maritime brewing. A 10-to-15-minute stroll from downtown is the Propeller Brewing Company, where proprietor-brewer John Allen crafts a line of traditional British-style ales, including a mocha-ish London Porter fashioned from a two-century-old recipe. Kids can sip Propeller's lineup of artisanal soft drinks, from root beer to all-natural orange soda.
A walk along the southern perimeter of the Halifax Citadel and Royal Artillery Park brings you to Spring Garden Road and the Rogue's Roost brew pub, a second-floor perch overlooking the bustle of one of the city's busiest streets. Affable brewer Lorne Romano will show you around, after which a casual lunch may be accompanied most deliciously by a glass of his fruity, bitter IPA.
Continuing your walk toward the water, expect to arrive first at The Granite Brewery & Ginger's, the East's original brew pub, now in its third downtown location. Plan a little extra time in case owner Kevin Keefe is around, since he has been known to talk the ear off visiting beer aficionados, and treat your taste buds to his dry, leafy Best Bitter -- surely one of the finest cask-conditioned ales brewed in Canada.
Still closer to the waterfront is one of Canada's most curious brew pubs. John Shippey's is located in what could best be described as a food court, the Harbourside Market, and laid out with the brewery looming above the bar. Rest assured, however, that there's nothing odd about the brewery's toasty, tasty Bootlegger Nut Brown Ale.
Montreal and the South Shore
The beer tourist seeking to explore the Greater Montreal Area faces two hurdles: the fairly tight control on tours imposed by most commercial breweries, and the fact that almost all of the city's brew pubs remain shut until late afternoon. Still, that needn't discourage you from experiencing one of the continent's great beer destinations, since a little planning allows you to skirt around both issues.
From downtown, it's about a half-hour drive to Chambly on the South Shore, home to the Belgium-inspired brewery Unibroue. There, a "tour" is more a visit to the cinema, with a sharply produced film offering a thorough overview of the process, followed by a look at the bottling facilities and, of course, a tasting.
Cap your visit with a leisurely lunch at Fourquet Fourchette, the brewery's own restaurant, where a caribou ragout may be both accompanied by and flavoured with the richly malty, spicy Trois Pistoles ale.
Back in the city, you can take your time exploring Montreal's three must-visit brewpubs: Cheval Blanc, L'amère à boire and Dieu du Ciel! The first, housed in an updated tavern, was the pioneer among the city's brew pubs and is still one of the best (try its light and quenching, coriander-spiced Blanche), while its around-the-corner neighbour, L'amère à boire, pours a lovely Czech-style pilsner in an atmosphere completely at ease on the St-Denis nightlife strip.
For Quebec's -- and arguably Canada's -- most inventive brew pub, however, you must climb boulevard St-Laurent to avenue Laurier and install yourself at Dieu du Ciel!, where brewer Jean-Francois Gravel concocts such offbeat seasonal delights as stout flavoured with vanilla and cocoa, and dark ale spiced with peppercorns.
Southern and Central Ontario
The recently formed Ontario Craft Brewers have made planning an Ontario beer tour easy, with routes mapped out in Toronto, from York Region to Muskoka, across Southwestern Ontario, around the Golden Horseshoe and through the Ottawa region. For the best results, a two-day beer odyssey should dip into a couple of regions and end with a step off the OCB trail.
It's a three-hour drive from Toronto to Neustadt, the Grey County hamlet that is home to the Neustadt Springs Brewery, which allows enough time in a beer tourist's day for a stop en route in Guelph, home to three brewing companies. It's a Goldilocks-esque choice, but perhaps the industrial Sleeman Brewing is just a little too big and the more modest F&M Brewery simply a bit small. Ontario's second oldest operating craft brewery, Wellington Brewery, seems just right for a visit. Tours of the 20-year-old brewery always end at the rustic Iron Duke House, where a sip of the substantial, chocolatey Iron Duke Strong Ale will brighten anyone's day.
Finishing the drive to Neustadt, you should arrive just in time for a tour through the nooks and crannies of the century-old stone building at the side of brewer and co-owner Andy Stimpson. An affable and engaging Brit, Andy will keep you occupied well past the time when you should have checked into your room at The Victorian Manor up the road in Hanover, so keep an eye on your watch as you sample Neustadt's quirkily named, richly malty 10w30 Ale.
An early start the next day should put you back in Toronto in time for a noon tour of the Mill Street Brewery in the historic Distillery District, followed by a quick sampling of their Organic Lager and bitter, quenching Tankhouse Ale, before settling at one of the nearby restaurants for lunch. Complete your explorations down Front Street with a pint or two at the landmark pub C'est What?, Toronto's oldest and most fervent supporter of the local brewing arts.
The West's finest beer touring is found on Vancouver Island, where you can not only stay overnight at a brewery but actually have a choice of two: Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub and Guest Houses or Swans Hotel. Which you choose will depend on whether you prefer the artistic, all-suites sophistication of Swans or the cozy, luxurious B&B style of Spinnakers.
From either, your first stop of the day should be Lighthouse Brewing, where the tours normally begin with a beer -- perhaps the lightly sweet and malty Race Rocks Ale -- and include one of the rarest sights in craft brewing: a canning line.
The trip between Lighthouse and the Vancouver Island Brewery can be broken up with a lunch of impressive gastro pub fare at Spinnakers, accompanied perhaps by a half-pint of their Spinnakers Twenty, a perfectly balanced pale ale created in 2004 to honour the pub's 20th anniversary.
Later, at the Vancouver Island Brewery, the island's original craft brewing company, enjoy a tour that's led on occasion by brewery president Barry Fisher. Sample one of Canada's longest surviving amber-hued lagers, the crisp, lightly earthy Hermann's Dark Lager.
Back downtown and freed of the car, it's time for an impromptu tour at Swans and a sampling of their largely British-inspired ales, including the rich and warming Riley's Scotch Ale. Enjoy a relaxed dinner in either the pub or the hotel's bistro, Wild Saffron, before heading down the road a half-block to the somewhat hidden Canoe Brewpub. Weather permitting, grab a chair on the terrace and enjoy the breathtaking view of the harbour while ending your beer tasting day with a sampler of Canoe's four regular and single seasonal brews, including the off-dry, slightly spicy River Rock Bitter.
Pack your stein
Chambly, Que.:The town is a 30-
minute drive from downtown Montreal on the South Shore. For bus information, visit .
Neustadt and Hanover, Ont.: About two hours west of Toronto by car.
WHERE TO STAY
The Westin Nova Scotian: 1181 Hollis St., Halifax; 1-888-679-3784; . Within walking distance of several breweries and brew pubs in the city's downtown.Rates start at $159 a night (all hotel rates based on double occupancy).
Hôtel Godin: 10 Sherbrooke St. W., Montreal; 1-866-744-6346; . For a central location in Montreal, you can't beat the new, chic boutique-style property. Starts at around $200, including breakfast.
The Victorian Manor Bed & Breakfast: 500 9th Ave., Hanover, Ont.; 1-866-317-0563; . Starts at $85.
Spinnakers Brewpub and Guest Houses: 308 Catherine St., Victoria; 877-838-2739; . Starts at $129.
Swans Hotel & Brewpub: 506 Pandora Ave., Victoria; 1-800-668-7926. Starts at $89. WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Nova Scotia Propeller Brewing Company: 2015 Gottingen St., Halifax; 902-422-7767; drinkpropeller.ca.
Rogues' Roost Ale House and Microbrewery: 5435 Spring Garden Rd., Halifax; 902-492-2337.
The Granite Brewery & Ginger's: 1662 Barrington St., Halifax; 902-422-4954.
John Shippey's Brewing Company: 1869 Upper Water St., Halifax; 902-423-7386.
Cheval Blanc: 809 Ontario St. E., Montreal; 514-522-0211;
L'amère à boire: 2049 Boulevard St-Denis, Montreal; 514-282-7448; .
Dieu du Ciel!: 29 Laurier Ave. W., Montreal; 514-490-9555;
Unibroue: 80 Des Carrieres, Chambly, Que.; 450-658-7658;
Fourquet Fourchette: 1887 Bourgogne, Chambly, Que.; 450-447-6370; fourquet-fourchette.com.
Neustadt Springs Brewery: 456 Jacob St., Neustadt, Ont.; 519-799-5790; .
Wellington Brewery, 950 Woodlawn Rd. W., Guelph, Ont.; 1-800-576-3853; .
Mill Street Brewery: 55 Mill St., Building 63, Toronto; 416-681-0338.
C'est What: 67 Front St. E., Toronto; 416-867-9499.
Lighthouse Brewing Company: 836 Devonshire Rd., Victoria; 250-383-6500.
Vancouver Island Brewery: 2330 Government St., Victoria; 250-361-0007.
Canoe:450 Swift St., Victoria; 250-361-1940 .
Ontario Craft Brewers: