When I ask Greg Knight, the owner of Torrance, Ont.’s brand-new Muskoka BeerSpa, what exactly is a beer spa, he says he’s not quite sure he even knows yet. That’s not to say he didn’t do his research – quite the opposite in fact – the 42-year-old travelled to beer spas in Japan, Europe and across the U.S. looking for inspiration. They ranged from disappointing to affecting. “In Prague, it turned out to be a tacky tourist trap storefront with a couple copper tubs with beer taps over top of them,” Knight says. “However, in the Nagano Mountains in Japan, there are spots where they’ve built picnic tables right in the Azusa River. People buy beer from vending machines and then sit in the river as the water rushes between their toes.”
He adds: “We just settled on not being any of those places, you know? The beer spa here continues to evolve.”
It’s easy to see why Knight and his friends bought the land back in 2007: 15 acres of lush, green forest sit on the edge of a calm spring-fed lake, a just over two-hour drive north of Toronto. It was originally meant to be a weekend getaway spot, but over time, Knight bought out his pals, opening Clear Lake Brewing Co. on the property in 2017 and then The Cottage, a restaurant run in partnership with vodka beverage makers, Cottage Springs, in 2021. Now, it’s a beer spa that was just granted the business silver certification by GreenStep Sustainable Tourism and provides employees a living wage plus benefits for year-round workers.
Your eyes will tell you it’s a spa and beer garden rolled into one. There are outdoor baths – think Scandinave spa, but less swanky – with hot tubs, a pool, saunas and a steam room, along with spa services like a beer-infused foot scrub and rub (beer is touted to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties), as well as massage therapy.
But unlike most spas, there’s a bar. Beers on tap include Clear Lake Brewing Co.’s honey cream ale, crisp session ale and must-try cranberry radler. There are Cottage Springs canned vodka drinks, too. Plus: music, swings, hammocks, Muskoka chairs, guest breweries and even a taco truck. In sum: it’s a lot more fun.
The spa opened in mid-May to both single-day visitors (cost: $45.20) and overnight guests. The 13 on-site cabins are more than your average cottage in the woods: each has an in-room beer tap, complimentary junk food such as chips and beer nuts, a substantial VHS collection (for extra kitschiness), and pastries delivered to your door each morning. I noshed on cheddar and blueberry scones plus lemon and butter tarts. Overnight guests also have access to a small beach on Clear Lake – take a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard out for a spin – as well as firewood for nighttime campfires.
So that’s what it looks like, but what’s the vibe? The answer: it depends. Fridays and Saturdays tend to draw a crowd of partygoers (bachelor and bachelorette parties, birthdays and brewery bus tours make frequent stops here); Sundays and weekdays are much more chill and relaxing. It’s also a great spot for those who travel for food, and are unapologetically eating at whim. There’s plenty of ale-friendly food on-site – tacos, ceviche and elotes at El Gringo’s, wings and nachos (and live music!) at Clear Lake Brewing Co. and out of the ordinary pizzas at the Cottage. One is called the Big Mack Attack topped with beer cheese, cheddar, ground beef, lettuce, onion, pickles and burger sauce. The added bonus: The restaurant scene in the local area is growing fast with dozens of comfort food options within a five-minute drive (but more on that, later).
And for lovers of the great outdoors: the world’s largest beer spa is on the edge of the world’s first permanently designated dark sky reserve, Torrance Barrens, which is full of hiking and mountain bike trails, wildlife (frogs, turtles, beavers, etc.) and is a world-renowned spot for stargazing. (On a clear night, the stars are pretty spectacular from inside the beer spa, too.)
So, what exactly is a beer spa? Maybe, it’s whatever you want it to be.
3 brand-new spots to fill up on comfort food during your stay
Although it’s been around since 1900, this general store, located just a few paces across the street from the beer spa, has new owners and a refreshed shop. It just had its grand opening in June; and in addition to selling local products and snacks perfect for a picnic, there’s also two more brand-new foodie businesses on the property: Streamliner, a coffee shop inside a 24-foot Airstream trailer, and Potbelly’s, which serves jumbo-sized peameal bacon sandwiches. torrancegeneral.ca
The Smokin’ Birds
Jennifer Dewasha – whose family is from nearby Wahta Mohawk Territory – and business partner Jane MacDonald worked together at Colette in Toronto before starting a barbecue pop-up last summer. Their month-old permanent roadside location in Bala, Ont., just a five-minute drive away, serves smoked brisket, turkey and pulled pork with sides like pineapple coleslaw and smoked beet salad. (If you’re a brisket fan, go early, it often sells out by mid-afternoon.) thesmokinbirds.com
Jack & Stella
What opened as a home décor store and coffee shop in the midst of the pandemic has grown into a full-fledged café this year with yummy brunch and lunchtime provisions like sandwiches, smoothies and baked goods, plus a dinner service will launch July 1. Also located in Bala, Ont., this café has a lot going for it: a Cordon Bleu chef in training at the helm (the owners’ son), food partners every Torontonian will recognize (Craig’s Cookies, Terroni, etc.) and outdoor seating on the lake. jackandstella.com
The writer was a guest of Muskoka BeerSpa. They did not review or approve this story.
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