Forget lucky No. 7.
In Niagara-on-the-Lake, 400 has all the cachet. At one time, it was the telephone exchange for the town, and all those phone calls were connected at a building on bustling Queen Street.
These days, that old telephone exchange centre has found a new calling. It’s operating as the aptly named Exchange Brewery, serving a unique line-up of Belgian and American style suds that have gotten tongues wagging since opening in January 2016.
The Exchange specializes in funky sour beers, playing with yeasts like Brettanomyces, found on the skins of fruit, and aging brews in barrels to give them bite. The brewery taps into the history of its location by numbering its beers rather than naming them. It also serves them in tasting flight paddles shaped like rotary phone dials.
The Exchange has the number of those hungry for a nosh with their pint, as well, pairing beers with cheese boards, or hummus plates and charcuterie done up by local favourite eatery, The Garrison House.
Niagara Culinary Tours recently caught up with Exchange Brewery co-managers Amy Neufeld and Nick Venneri to learn more about why this sleek, stylish spot has people talking.
What inspired opening a brewery on the main drag of Niagara-on-the-Lake?
Nick: Queen Street is the biggest tourist area in the area so it’s great to have it here. I think it’s like a million people come here in the summer, so foot traffic is really good. Being in this area really helped us out because of all the wineries. We’re able to get barrels from them, which is fantastic. The fruit that grows here, it’s all stuff we use here for our beers. The Framboise (beer), our raspberries are from Quiet Acres. We get our hops from a local hop farmer in the area, too. We get our pressed grapes for our Grand Cru from Pearl Morissette, so it’s just a really good area to be in for all the essentials we need to make beer.
What sets you guys apart from other breweries? Is it that connection to Wine Country that Niagara has to offer?
Nick: I feel like we’re a little ahead of the curve for what we want to do and bring to the craft beer scene in Ontario, just by doing sours and barrel-aging. Being in Niagara-on-the-Lake, it’s another leg up because everything is right here for us. There’s endless possibilities that you can do with the fruit and the wine in this location.
How easy a sell has beer been in wine country?
Amy: It’s not beer versus wine. It’s beer and wine, increasingly. People want a change of pace. If people can visit five wineries in a day and a brewery, I think they’ll totally take it as opposed to six wineries. We’re not against (wineries) in any way. We’re sort of branching off and meeting them in the middle especially with using wine barrels, and grape pomace from Pearl Morissette. It’s kind of looking at beer from a wine culture.
Tell us about the flagship beers here.
Amy: What we really focus on here are a lot of the Belgian styles, and with that, American styles. American styles are going to be very hop-forward… very piney, citrusy. Then going in a different direction are the Belgian styles, which are not hop-forward at all. They take a sour twist on the beer, which is really what we’re increasingly becoming known for. A lot of people have come in and have never even tried a sour, and either love it or are absolutely disgusted by it. It’s very different if you’re not used to it.
What are you looking forward to in the year ahead?
Amy: We just launched three of our huge beers. We still have a lot of beers aging, but we just released our Flanders Red, Black Saison and Grand Cru. The Grand Cru was aged with Pearl Morissette pomace in red wine barrels for about a year. The Flanders Red was also aged in red wine barrels for about a year. And the Black Saison was aged for five months in barrels with Turkish figs and then bottle-conditioned for another six months. Our first vintage (release) will be our Belgian stout. As soon as we have quite a few vintages released, it will be nice to do tastings side by side and offer verticals of that. That’s something to look forward to.
Written by Tiffany Mayer