Poutine on the Ritz: Dan’s Canada Beercation

Canada, our friendly maple syrup-loving neighbors to the north. They love their beavers, Tim Horton’s, and beer! I am finally venturing to Canada to investigate their craft beer scene. I am going to be gallivanting around Ontario with my friend Tiffany Martin, a Canadian beer writer and woman about town. She has been writing about the craft beer happenings for years on her blog, The Travelling Pint and has graciously offered up her home in Paris, Ontario as a place for me to stay. Tiffany will be showing me what the Canadian craft beer scene is about.

I first met Tiffany (@thetravellingpint on IG) at the Beer Blogger and Writers Conference in Milwaukee back in 2017. Since then, we have become fast friends due to our mutual love of craft beer, Star Wars, and Halloween. She visited me in the fall of 2019. I told her when she left that I would come and visit her the following summer. Well, the pandemic had something to say about that. So, here we are, summer of 2022 and I am ready to have some fun north of the border.

How to Talk Minnesotan in the Airport Check-In Line. . .

I am flying Air Canada and arrive at the airport several hours before my flight since I am flying internationally. I keep hearing horror stories about people being stuck in airports for hours, connecting flights canceled mid-air, and passengers being forced to watch the collected works of Steve Gutenberg as their only in-flight entertainment options. With all that information swirling around in my head, I remain optimistic that I will be able to get on my flight without too many hiccups.

The Air Canada check-in is at the United Airlines desk at MSP International Airport. My Lyft ride to the airport is smooth, and I get in line to check my bags and get my ticket at the United Airlines counter. I am feeling pretty good because the line is short and there are only a handful of people ahead of me.

It soon becomes abundantly clear that the gentleman ahead of me is going to be a bit of an issue. His behavior indicates that he has not had to really deal with a ton of adversity in life. I say this because he is reacting to the wait in line, which is not bad, mind you, as if he is being charged with war crimes. His body language indicates that his fragile sensibilities are being given a wedgie with each passing second he spends in line.

Settle Down, Francis…

When he gets up to the counter, this aloof asshat has the audacity to ask, in the most Minnesotan way, what the problem is. He wines, “It is really concerning to me that that took a really long time, and I am curious what the problem is.” Ok, before we call in a clergyman to administer last rites it is important to note that he had to wait for roughly seventeen minutes. The party that went before him was 3 adults and 4 children with enough baggage to outlast a medieval siege.

The United Airlines check-in worker explains, with all the grace and calmness of the bedside manner of Florence Nightingale, all the things that I am guessing are common knowledge to anyone with common sense and a television. Undeterred, this jackwagon suggests that maybe the airline needs to hire more people. Eureka! The answer to the 64 million dollar question is revealed! Just hire more people, he says! Dear god, at this point my burning desire to pay whatever fee will ensure that this stooge has to ride the plane in the luggage compartment is hotter than a thousand forest fires.

Now, after watching all this and waiting patiently, I am provided evidence that proves the presence of a higher power watching over things. The woman working at the counter informs him that he has to check the bag he is planning to carry-on. This buoys my spirits way more than it should. It takes every ounce of strength not to burst out laughing at this point. He argues, to no avail, and soon both of his bags are body-slammed onto a conveyor belt with all the tenderness of a constipated person working a double shift at the Department of Motor Vehicles. He can do nothing but watch as his bags now make their way to their next destination. At this point, I am praying that they show up in Botswana.

Just a Spoon Full of Sugar Gets You an Exit Row For Free

It is my turn and the first words out of my mouth to the woman who had to endure that goofball are, “Thank you for everything you do!” She smiles and says, “You are most welcome. I am going to suggest that we hire more people, now.” We both chuckle and my process takes about 3 minutes.

As I make my way to the gate I find that my flight is now delayed an hour. It could be a lot worse, and I have plenty of things to keep me company. Remember, I was mentally preparing for some type of snag in the plan unlike Chucklehead from the check-in line. The nice thing is that airports are awesome places to kill time and people-watch. I am quite content to read my book and watch people walk with purpose from one gate to the next. Time passes quickly and it is finally time to board.

Wheels Up!

To my surprise, I am magically put in an exit row with a ton of legroom. However, that higher power didn’t want me to get too happy about life so they saw fit to put a person next to me with raging body odor. Thank goodness masks are required on flights to Canada so the stench is minimal, and I am still able to enjoy myself. Sensing my disdain for my neighbors odiforous nature, the higher power sees fit to dial up some white knuckle-inducing turbulence to get my mind to focus on something else. Thankfully, before I am done writing out my final will and testament in my head, I hear the captain announce our descent to Toronto.

So Close but Yet So Far…

We land safely and I begin messaging Tiffany that I’ve landed and that we are just waiting for a gate to open up. This winds up taking 45 minutes. The entire time, I am telling myself that it could be worse. Finally, we are at a gate, I am grabbing my bags and see the jackass from the United Counter zooming down the aisle with nothing because his bags were sent to Botswana.

I step off the plane and walk down a maze of hallways that move me, like a clueless steer, towards customs.  The individual kiosks are slick and the process is as smooth as butter. One last hurdle is the brief Q & A session with the customs agent. He is brisk with his questioning, and I realize, in a bit of a panic after he asks me where Tiffany lives, that I cannot remember the name of the actual town. Trying not to set off any red flags what will mobilize the cavity search brigade, I answer, to the best of my ability, “I think it is Hamilton, Ontario…” Well, I think the stupidity on my face and lack of conviction in my answer made him feel sorry for me because before I know it, I am off to get my bags!

Paging Del Griffith!

I walk to the baggage claim and grab what I think is my suitcase.  Ready to head out I think maybe I should open my bag and make sure it is mine.  I am thankful I did because the first thing I see is a size 8 men’s dress shoe and a pair of Dockers. Well, I zip it up and throw it back on the conveyor and wait to for bag that is packed full of soft pants and beer shirts.  After a few more minutes, my suitcase appears and I head off to meet Tiffany.

Tiffany Martin is a dear friend of mine, and a force in the Ontario beer world.  Tiffany and her husband, Bernie, are graciously hosting me at their house in Paris, Ontario.  She has a wicked sense of humor and is waiting for me with a homemade sign that reads, “Del Griffith.”  This is a reference to John Candy’s character from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a classic 80s comedy.  I opt to skip the Covid test because I already tested negative in the states, and didn’t want my first interaction with Canadian hospitality to be a stranger’s hand to be up my nose without the opportunity to buy me dinner first.  

Before I know it, I am giving Tiffany a bear hug and heading to the parking garage.  Due to my flight being delayed, we are now in the early throes of rush hour.  It is a good thing that Tiffany and I are always busy talking each other’s ears off.  We pass the time giving commentary on other drivers and laughing about random things.  Soon we are dropping our things at her house and it is off to get some dinner and, of course, some beer. 

Tiffany’s Hospitality Knows No Bounds!

As I settle into my home away from home for the next week and a half, I see many unique touches. The bed is outfitted with pineapple sheets. There are some amazing Canadian candies on the pillow. There is also a fantastic presence of Tiffany’s love of all things Star Wars. I am so grateful to Tiffany and Bernie for welcoming me into their home. I am looking forward to having a comfortable place to rest while I am here.

Camp 31 BBQ

We head to Camp 31, a bbq place where Tiffany and Bernie are regulars.  Bernie is there seated at the bar with some friends as Tiffany and I arrive.  We grab some fresh pints of Great Lakes Brewery Canuck Pale Ale and begin to socialize.  All of Tiffany and Bernie’s friends are excited that I chose to visit Canada.  The beer is tasting great.  It is an American Pale Ale that is 5.2% ABV.  It is refreshing and easy drinking.  I wish it had more of a pronounced hop finish to make it more balanced.  However, I do appreciate the fresh and fruity tropical notes in the beer.  It is slightly hazy, but a full-blown east East Coast pale ale.  

I decide that since there are rib festival trophies everywhere the eye can see, I better go with the ribs.  The baby back ribs are fall off the bone tender basted with a sauce that is not too sweet.  I think that between the people, the beer, and the food, I am off to a great start.  Once we are done with dinner, it is off to the liquor store to get some local beers for the fridge. 

Beer in a Grocery Store?!?!

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario controls most liquor stores and as a result, the selection leans heavily into the macro-beers of large, evil empire-type brands like SAB Miller, and AB-Inbev.  We go to a grocery store that has a decent craft beer selection.  We build a few six packs, and I grab a Crunchie candy bar and we head back to Tiffany’s house.  What is a Crunchie bar, you ask? Well, it is a chocolate bar with honeycomb in the middle. To me, it totally reminds me of astronaut ice cream that I used to get at the Science Museum of Minnesota on field trips as a youth.

Since the weather is hot and humid, we crack some beers and head into the pool.  The water is cool and refreshing and offers a much needed break from the sweltering Canadian summer.  One thing I notice is the absence of mosquitos.  Like an idiot, I ask, “Do you not have mosquitos here?”  Well, that must have signaled the alarm because not more than twenty minutes later, I see and hear them flying around.  Bernie builds a fire and we sit around the flames relaxing and sipping on our Canadian beers.  Eventually, the long day of travel overcomes my will to be social and it is time to head to bed.  

Day One in the Sun

The first wake-up on a beercation is wonderful to me.  The reality of being in a new place really hits home when you wake up in another place.  I blink the sleep out of my eyes and pop on my glasses.  My room is in the upstairs of Bernie and Tiffany’s home in Paris, Ontario.  I traverse the steps down to the main level to greet Tiffany.  To my surprise, Tiffany has a piping hot cup of Tim Horton’s coffee ready for me.  No matter where I beercation, coffee is always a necessity for minimal functionality until I crack my first beer.  

The heat is on, and I grab my copy of The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth and head for the deck.  I read for a bit and when I am on the verge of overheating, I head for the pool.  I secure some floaties and begin to really soak in the relaxation vibes.  Tiffany comes out to join me and we talk about beer, life, and our favorite lemon bar recipes.  Bernie is done with work at 2pm and when he gets back, we are heading for a brewery and then a float down the river. 

Paris Beer Company

The lovely Grand River runs through town and the main street itself is adorable. There are some unique stores along with several places to wet your whistle along the main drag. On my first full day in Canada, we are going to visit Paris’s only craft brewery, Paris Beer Company.

Paris Beer Company is located about a block off the main street. It shares a parking lot with access to the river. So, our plan is to drink some beers and have a few nibbles before we set sail down the Grand River. I am giddy with excitement to try my first brewery outside the confines of the United States since I went on the Heineken tour in the summer of 2000. The Paris Beer Company is quite chic. They have a nice variety of styles on tap and there are plenty of things to choose from. Just like in the states, the tap list tilts a bit hop-heavy.

Service with a Smile and an Aussie Accent

Our server is a wonderfully bubbly and friendly gal from Australia. Her accent is so fascinating and her demeanor is quite affable. I order up a flight and it comes with individual cards with info on the beers. Then we order some food. I go with a warm Bavarian pretzel and Shishito peppers. The food is higher-end than what one typically finds at a brewery. While I like upscale food, it has been my experience that, more often than not, unless the beer is absolutely stellar, it winds up being overshadowed by the food. My hope is that this is not one of those times.

As I begin sipping through the beers, I am definitely liking what they have. While I wouldn’t categorize any of the beers as spectacular, I would say that if I lived here, I would be fine spending a lot of time here. In all honesty, I find the food to be heads and shoulders in quality and inventiveness above the beer.

Food Can Elevate the Beer

The Bavarian pretzel has a nice crusty outside and a soft and doughy inside. There is just the right amount of salt to really bring it alive. There is a cheese dip and a mustard that accompanies the pretzel. The cheese dip is creamy and flavorful, but the mustard is next-level. It has a really nice kick of horseradish that automatically gets my eyes tearing up and my nose running. The intensity of the mustard is high for just a second and then calms down to make it something you can keep going back for.

Shishito Peppers: A Vegetable For Those Who Gamble

The Shishito Peppers are prepared perfectly. They are blistered perfectly and salted with just enough seasoning to balance out the grassy vegetable notes. Now, it is said that Shishito Peppers are pretty tame. However, every now and again, you find one that has a nice kick of spice. Until this point in my life, I had not had a spicy one. As I put the 8th pepper into my mouth, I got an instant hit of heat. Thankfully, it isn’t anything that sends me running for the nearest milk stand.

Tiffany and Bernie are enjoying their beers and food as well. They split a pretzel and got full pours of some of their go-to beers. After all is said and done, the Helles, Wit bier, and the Dunkel are my favorites. The IPA left a lot to be desired considering it bills itself as an American IPA. There is very little hop bitterness in the finish for balance and the result is an unbalanced sip. We wind up hanging out for about an hour until the heat becomes a little much out on the patio. I think that Paris Beer Company has the bones to be a good brewery, however, their beers need more character and boldness of flavors to really share the stage with their food. All in all, a good start to the brewery trip, but I am hoping to find better as I continue to explore.

Time to Hit the Grand River

It is time to hit the Grand River. We grab some cans of the Paris Beer Company Helles to go, and we begin our flotilla. Tiffany and I are on an inflatable raft and Bernie is on a paddle board. Bernie is an extremist when it comes to the outdoors. I have watched videos of him on a paddle board navigating fierce rapids as if he were walking in a park. The Grand River has a nice current to it for a relaxing float down the river. Every now and again, I get a little goose from a rock, but the waters are calm and the sun is shining. This is a wonderful way to beat the heat and enjoy some pristine views of nature.

Before we know it, we are at the landing and ready to disembark from our relaxation in the river. We head back to Tiffany and Bernie’s house to change and dry off. Then, we head to meet up with some of their friends whose kids have a Little League game that night in a local park. We stop by Dairy Queen first for some Blizzards. It is a perfect night for baseball and the little ones playing ball is quite entertaining. I also get to meet Ryan and Jim from Altitude Coffee Roasters. They are both really nice and it is wonderful to be able to compliment them on how good their coffee is. Tiffany had sent me some Colombian roast a year ago. Little did I know that I would be lucky enough to drink so much of it while I was in Canada.

Day 1 Did Not Disappoint

All in all, the first full day in Canada did not disappoint. It wound up being a tremendous mix of beer, nature, and making new friends. Tomorrow is another full day of a few brewery visits and a trip out to a hobby farm where there is apparently a lust-crazed turkey who doesn’t understand the word know when it comes to peoples’ calf muscles. So, I have that to look forward to. Luckily, I packed plenty Drakkar Noir cologne… Prost!

Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer.  He mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged.  If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at dan.beaubien@beerploma.com .