Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Brewery, distillery tours have come a long way, baby

"Brewery Tour!" Almost as good as "Road Trip!"  (Or better).
Back in my university days, the words "brewery tour!" were like a magic phrase that, translated
loosely into student-ese, meant "free drunk!"

Essentially, that's what they were, at least when I attended the University of New Brunswick.

Part of the reason for that in that particular province was the result of a total ban on any kind of advertising on TV, radio, or print media for any kind of alcohol. So the breweries had to come up with some different schemes to promote and market their products.

For university students, it was great. It meant we got a lot of free stuff - posters, hats, mugs, etc. with beer logos on them. The Schooner Van could always be seen at campus events. Not all the beer was free, but I do recall getting some great deals.
We also got to go on brewery tours.

The first time I went on one of these my freshman year, it was organized by the social committee of our UNB residence, MacKenzie House, back then a men's dorm (now I guess it's co-ed). We signed up, piled into a bus and drove from Fredericton to Saint John, the location of the Moosehead Brewery.

I was a bit surprised. We didn't actually tour the facility; they took us into a hospitality room, showed us a 20 minute film about making beer while drinking it and eating an endless supply of peanuts. The drinking continued for another two hours, then we got back aboard the bus in various states of inebriation and drove back to the campus.

Who wants a Kichesippi Natural Blonde with lunch?
I didn't go on another one until I toured the Granville Island Brewery during a visit to Vancouver in 1988. This really was more of a tour. Guides took us through the facility, and at the end, we got to sample a few of their brews in small glasses. I think I still have the logo beer mug from that trip - but unlike the ones at university, I had to pay for this one.

As I began travel-writing, I found myself on more and more of these: a visit to Columbia Brewery (makers of Kootenay Mountain Ale and Kokanee Lager) in Creston; the Alexander Keith's Brewery in Halifax (where I enjoyed beer pairings during a three-course meal); Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto; Ottawa's own Kichesippi Beer Company; and, most recently a tour of Big Spruce Brewing in Cape Breton.

The last one is a fairly new company, and it's a craft beer, made in small batches at one site. Like the others mentioned above, an actual tour does take place, one where you go behind the scenes at the facility, see how it's made, find out details about its young history, and learn about possible plans for future endeavours.
Getting ready to sample a bit of Big Spruce beer.

I'd actually sampled their brews throughout the first week of my fortnight's visit to the island, and it was nice to finally see the place where they were brewed (and sample a few more, as well!)

Let's head for some whisky at Glenora Distillery.
Less than a week later, I was sampling a different kind of product: single malt whisky, at the Glenora Inn & Distillery on Cape Breton. I'd never been to a distillery before. It was a nice visit, we stayed overnight at the inn that's part of the facility, and enjoyed some of their whisky-enhanced meals during supper.

The next day, we were sipping single malt during a tour of the facility, learning about their battle with Scotland over the right to call their product Glen Breton (not Scotch - and Glenora won), and about the nuances of enjoying a single malt with or without water.

By the way, Glenora is not only the first single-malt whisky distillery in Canada, it's the first in North America.

Flash forward a few more weeks and I'm on the opposite coast, enjoying a similar experience at Shelter Point in Vancouver Island's Comox Valley. This distillery is the second single malt producer in Canada, and in fact, it's so new, their first offering of whisky has only been available since the late spring, now.

Time to sip some Shelter Point whisky.
They also distill vodka at the facility - plain and in several flavours.

Yes, I'm really starting to enjoy the pleasures of single malt whiskey.

As for comparing the two...

I'm not copping out, but the fact is, my palate is not refined enough to really determine the difference between one single malt and another (especially when separated by two weeks between tastings.)

I'd drink either in a pinch. Or even if I was not in a pinch.

Needless to say, these tours are certainly different from the ones I experienced during my UNB days. Probably just as well. While there is a certain amount of tolerance for young 20-something drunks staggering around full of beer on campus, I don't know that a group of drunk travel or food-and-drink writers would be as acceptable.

Besides, we have to have somewhat clear heads to shoot photos/videos and write stories.

Now (and even though it's Irish whisky) - hand me that bottle of Writers' Tears.

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