Brewery visits are great. If I’m on a road trip and can make a small detour to fit in a brewery stop, I’ll do it. If I can fit in many stops, even better. So what about a road trip that is all brewery stops? First off, you’d need a designated driver, and really, who wants to do that?
Brew Donkey opened in Ottawa a few years ago offering to do just that. Ottawa is home to 27 “producers” making beer, wine, and spirits. Company founder Brad Campeau now hosts seven different Ottawa tours taking people on what Campeau refers to as a series of “epic first dates” to get acquainted with locally made drinks and the people who make them. Brew Donkey is expanding into Waterloo Region, and it seems like a real feather in the cap of the Waterloo Region brewery scene that Campeau saw the local growth and passion offering the potential to create a similar service here.
The company is starting out with three different tours in our region, each visiting four producers. On May 1, TCE publisher Lakyn Barton and I were invited along for a preview press tour to see what they’re all about.
Gathering at Abe Erb, we boarded a school bus and headed to St. Jacobs to visit Block 3. Campeau started the trip by going over a little brewing 101, making sure everyone was versed in the basics of the brewing process, which I thought was a nice touch. At Block 3, the pattern was established for the day — get some samples, tour the brewery, get more samples, buy beer if you want, and get back on the bus. We continued through Innocente, Together We’re Bitter, and finally Descendants. Campeau kept things fun on the bus, with stories and trivia, and food and water to keep us going.
Over the course of the day, I lost track of all of the free samples I tried, saw lots of cool shiny brewing equipment, and met some great people. The highlight of the day for me was Together We’re Bitter’s worker/owner Culum Canally’s impassioned talk about their strange brewhouse, their co-op business model and just about anything, because that guy can talk.
Barton, who is relatively new to visiting breweries, mentioned the fact that while she knew of the breweries, it was cool to get to see where they’re located, and that she hadn’t been very comfortable with the idea of checking them out by herself. As a white male between 18 and 35-years-old, alleviating the potential discomfort that some people might feel walking into a brewery is a Brew Donkey benefit I hadn’t thought of. She also appreciated two of my favourite aspects of brewery tours, which are seeing the differences between the breweries themselves, the ways they each make beer, and the people who work there — as well as getting to try a bunch of beers that you may not have tried otherwise.
We both questioned whether you need to spend $72 to $89 to visit all of these breweries with Brew Donkey. And you don’t. You could visit any of these places on your own any time. But can you visit all of them in one day, and have a really unique and comfortable guided experience with a group of other people? Not very easily. At least, not until Brew Donkey showed up.