After all, he explains, he’s about to host a stag and a stagette party — at the same time. “Both groups know the other is on the tour, but they’ve never actually met,” he says, adding dryly: “It could be an interesting Friday night.”
It has already been an interesting Friday morning and afternoon with the three-month-old Beer Bus Co., a new arrival on the Toronto brewery tour scene and a key supporter of a new “Beer Around the Bay” tour that showcases five breweries clustered near the southern shores of Georgian Bay: Creemore Springs – Simcoe’s most famous brewing trailblazer – and pleasingly diverse craft players including Northwinds Brewhouse and Kitchen, The Collingwood Brewery, Side Launch Brewing Co. and Wasaga Beach Brewing Co.
Northwinds is an ideal mood-setter and appetite-whetter for beer enthusiasts arriving in Collingwood after work or after dark. The 15-barrel brewhouse sells most of its wares in its lively brewpub and restaurant, where 16 taps pour pints and flights of everything from the Old Baldy Farmhouse Ale and Lost Cabin Vienna Lager to collaborations with other like-minded breweries. The cuisine is as spirited as the suds and the setting – think buffalo cauliflower tacos with lime guacamole and cactus pico. As at most of the Beer Around the Bay breweries, Northwinds’ finest can also be purchased at a retail counter.
After picking up guests at Collingwood accommodations, ranging from chain hotels and condo resorts to the lovely Bacchus House B&B, the Beer Bus sets off for the six-hour tour’s first stop. The morning mist still clings to the verdant fields as the shiny white shuttle rolls into Creemore Springs’ namesake town, where stylish boutiques and galleries lure the new arrivals away from the century-old former hardware store fronting the brewery. But the airy reception area and tasting bar soon regains their attention, as does a guided tour (pictured above) of a craft brewer that has gone on to much bigger, but identically unpasteurized and delicious, things.
A 30-minute drive north, Side Launch Brewing Co. embraces its lakeside location with a lake freighter logo and a name that references ship-launching in Collingwood’s shallow harbour. The no-nonsense operation follows the stringent Bavarian purity law of 1516 that limits beer to only four ingredients: Water, hops, yeast and malted barley. This straightforward approach is paying dividends, with Side Launch earning “Brewery of the Year” honours at the 2016 Canadian Brewing Awards. A few sips of its surprisingly light and lively Munich-style dark ale reveals that these kudos are well-deserved.
Despite soaking up beer samples with a lavish lunch at the Huron Club in downtown Collingwood, three afternoon options seem viable: Nap, nap, or seek a second wind. Thankfully, the latter is easy to come by in outdoorsy Simcoe County. While the Beer Bus takes a break in Wasaga Beach — the tours are highly customizable — Free Spirit Tours hosts an hour-long kayak excursion on the Nottawasaga River. Waterfowl, kingfishers and turtles abound as the boats cut through the gently rippling current, which is flanked by towering parabolic sand dunes formed by the glacial torrents of the most recent Ice Age.
READ THE REST OF THE STORY IN THE GLOBE AND MAIL