It’s been around for more than two decades, yet like the good beer it serves there’s nothing stale about the Bushwakker Brewpub. In fact, as bar and promotions manager Grant Frew says, Regina’s favourite drinking hole is only further emphasizing its commitment to craft-brewed beers.
“We grind our own hops, we hand cap each bottle of beer, we recycle as much as we can, including giving our spent malt to farmers to use as fertilizer,” Frew told Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi in August. “And we’re very focused on keeping things local and about the community. We recently made sure all of the music we play here is from Saskatchewan.”
Think the list of those home-grown musicians would be shorter than a shot glass? Think again. Among the musicians who have called Saskatchewan home are: Joni Mitchell, Feist, Colin James, Wide Mouth Mason and the sensational Sheepdogs, who won three Juno Awards in April, including for New Group of the Year and Rock Album of the Year.
The craft-brew craze that has redefined how North Americans drink beer is about celebrating local as much as great taste. At the Bushwakker, Saskatchewan’s best is showcased with confidence — whether it’s the music, the art work or the beer, which is made from the province’s bounty of hops. The Bushwakker brews more than 30 beers annually, plus its Blackberry Mead that comes out once a year and is gone in minutes as thirsty patrons line-up at 4 am — in December, no less — to grab a bottle or two.
While the decor — all dark wood and outdated chairs — could use some refreshing and the menu needs more pizzazz, the Bushwakker does what a brewpub should, namely serve delicious beer crafted with care, creativity and concern for community. And it does it better than anywhere else in the country, according to Vacay.ca writers.
Earlier this year, Vacay.ca was the first publication to name the Top 50 Restaurants in Canada and now, in time for Oktoberfest, our online magazine names the Top 24 Brewpubs in Canada in the first of an annual celebration of the nation’s dynamic and rapidly evolving microbrew culture. (Why a ledger of 24 and not 25? In case you are asking that question, you may need to drink more beer to fully appreciate the list.)
Writers voted for their favourite brewpubs in the country and the Bushwakker came out on top, proving that Saskatchewan’s capital — often perceived as lacking culture and flavour from those who haven’t explored it — has more to shout about than the Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.
“We’ve been around since 1991 and the goal doesn’t change,” Frew says. “It’s about making good beer and showing people the best of what Saskatchewan has.”
The same local spirit can be found in several of the brewpubs on the Vacay.ca list. Tiny Shawinigan, Quebec, which has a population of about 50,000 people, placed two brewpubs in the Top 24, as did Peterborough, Ontario, which has close to 80,000 residents. Toronto led all cities with four entries; the newly opened Beer Academy (No. 8) ranked highest among those brewpubs in Canada’s largest city. Although it doesn’t yet have a restaurant, the Beer Academy provides a unique beer education experience that sets it apart from any other bar in the country.
Here’s the full list of the 2012 Top 24 Brewpubs in Canada. (Rankings were determined on the quality of the craft-brewed beer first and foremost, with food, ambience, service and overall experience also considered.)
1. Bushwakker Brewpub, Regina, Saskatchewan
Website: www.bushwakker.com. Phone: 306-359-7276. Address: 2206 Dewdney Avenue .
Need to know: The Bushwakker is reputedly the home of the ghost of James Strathdee, a former owner of the property in Regina’s Old Warehouse District. Strathdee was a heavy drinker who loved the building that now houses the brewery. He is thought to have committed suicide on railroad tracks close to the property, although authorities initially thought he was murdered.
You must order a pint of …: Arctic Dark ($6.95, 5% alcohol per volume), if it’s on tap. It’s a rare treat, a dark lager that’s both smooth-tasting and flavorful. Also try the MacGregor’s Wee Heavy ($6.95, 7% alcohol per volume).
Have a bite: Regina’s pizzas are deep-dish style and the Bushwakker offers a variety for pies for $13.95 each.
Note: Vacay.ca will have more on the Bushwakker later in the year, including the story about its famous Blackberry Mead and how to get it.
2. Le Trou du Diable, Shawinigan, Quebec
Website: www.troududiable.com. Phone: 819-537-9151. Address: 412 Avenue Willow.
Need to know: The name means “The Devil’s Hole” and the brewery has recently collaborated on beers with Brasserie de la Senne of Belgium. Le Trou du Diable’s inventive beer labels add even more enjoyment to drinking its craft brews.
You must order a pint of …: L’amère Indienne ($6.50, 6% alcohol) translates to “bitter Indian” and is a hoppy IPA that also has a pleasant fruitiness.
Have a bite: The Bison Steak ($26.74) is marinated in beer, garlic and rosemary.
3. Dieu du Ciel, Montreal, Quebec
Website: www.dieuduciel.com. Phone: 514-490-9555. Address: 29 Avenue Laurier West.
Need to know: Dieu du Ciel celebrated its 14th anniversary in September and its reputation only continues to build. Close to 20 of its beers, made from brewmaster and co-owner Jean-François Gravel’s recipes, are on tap daily.
You must order a pint of …: Peche Mortel ($5.50 for a 14-ounce glass, 9.5% alcohol) is a delicious Imperial coffee stout whose name means “mortal sin.” And you would be committing one if you went to Montreal and didn’t try a glass.
Have a bite: The cheese platter ($15).
Note: Watch for Vacay.ca’s feature on Dieu du Ciel coming up later this month.
4. YellowBelly Brewery, St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador
Website: www.yellowbellybrewery.com. Phone: 709-757-3784. Address: 288 Water Street (at the corner of George Street).
Need to know: It took owner Craig Flynn five years, three months and 11 days to transform a historic downtown building into the YellowBelly. He counted the days until he finished his massive undertaking, which has been a major success since it opened four years ago. Inspired by the beer culture Flynn experienced while visiting Germany, the YellowBelly can hold 700 people — and in party-happy St. John’s, it often seems like it does.
You must order a pint of …: The St. John’s Stout ($6.75, 4.5% alcohol), which is creamy and smooth.
Have a bite: The brewery has a wood-fired pizza oven that turns out good pies. Try the Sicilian ($14.95).
Note: Vacay.ca’s video team will take you behind the scenes of the YellowBelly in November.
5. The Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company, Squamish, British Columbia
Website: www.howesound.com. Phone: 604-892-2603. Address: 37801 Cleveland Avenue.
Need to know: There’s an inn on the premises — shouldn’t all brewpubs have one? And Squamish is worth a visit in itself. It’s halfway between Vancouver and Whistler and has stunning views of Howe Sound and the Coastal Mountains.
You must order a pint of …: The Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout ($6.75, 5% alcohol) won a 2011 silver medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards in its category.
Have a bite: Pacific Cod & Chips ($10 for two pieces of fish; $14 for three pieces) uses the brewery’s Garibaldi Honey Pale Ale in its batter.
6. Lion Brewery at the Huether Hotel, Waterloo, Ontario
Website: www.huetherhotel.com. Phone: 519-886-3350. Address: 59 King Street North.
Need to know: Lion Brewery is housed in a building that dates to 1842. It claims to have Ontario’s oldest tap lines, has a private dining cave and a wall leading to tunnels that may have been used to move liquor to the United States during the Prohibition era. In other words, this is one gem of a spot.
You must order a pint of …: Adlys Ale ($5.25, 5% alcohol) is a red ale named after the Huether Hotel’s charming owners.
Have a bite: Along with the Lion Brewery, which serves typical pub food, the Huether Hotel is home to the Barley Works restaurant, which has a more refined menu that includes a satisfying Warm Goat Cheese and Spinach Salad ($12.75).
Read Vacay.ca’s report on the Huether Hotel
7. Clocktower Pub, Ottawa, Ontario
Website: clocktower.ca. Phone: 613-233-7849. Address: 575 Bank Street.
Need to know: At 16 years old, the Clocktower is Ottawa’s oldest brewpub. Adam Pines recently joined the team as a brewmaster and says the water in the Capital Region is the cleanest he’s ever worked with.
You must order a pint of …: The bold Clocktower Red ($6.75, 5.3% alcohol) has five different types of malts and two kinds of hops.
Have a bite: The Bytown Meat Loaf ($14.25) is wrapped in bacon and served with a mushroom gravy made with the Clocktower’s Bytown Brown Ale.
8. The Beer Academy, Toronto, Ontario
Website: beeracademy.ca. Phone: 416-366-1786. Address: 75 Victoria Street.
Need to know: The Beer Academy takes its name seriously. It offers educational tours about beer making and plans to have a restaurant (there are two kitchens on the premises). Six Pints Specialty Beer Company, which is associated with Creemore Springs and Granville Island breweries, runs the business.
You must order a pint of …: Cascadian Dark ($5.25 for a 12-ounce snifter glass, 5.3% alcohol) is a smooth, delectable ale with complex flavours.
Have a bite: Food choices are slim while the kitchen plans are being decided upon. In the mean time, watch for one of the brewery’s culinary beer tours ($20). You’ll get some fine food and an inside look at how beer is brewed.
Note: The Beer Academy will be profiled in Vacay.ca in the coming weeks.
9. Canoe Brewpub, Victoria, British Columbia
Website: www.canoebrewpub.com. Phone: 250-361-1940. Address: 450 Swift Street.
Need to know: The brewpub is in a bright, airy building on Victoria’s spectacular Inner Harbour. It’s not unusual to see canoes and kayaks pull up as paddlers take a break for a pint.
You must order a pint of …: Beaver Brown Ale ($6.50, 5.4% alcohol), the Canoe Brewpub’s signature beer.
Have a bite: Tuna Tacos ($13.50).
10. Wild Rose Tap Room & Brewery, Calgary, Alberta
Website: www.wildrosebrewery.com. Phone: 403-720-2733. Address: 4580 Quesnay Wood Drive Southwest.
Need to know: Wild Rose Brewery began operating in 1996 in Calgary’s Foothills Industrial Park. The building used to be a military clothing supply store. Jackie Chan filmed a movie on the property.
You must order a pint of …: Of the six craft brews at Wild Rose, you’ll want to try the Velvet Fog ($6.75, 4.5% alcohol), an unfiltered wheat beer and former winner at the Canadian Brewing Awards.
Have a bite: The Taproom is open from 11 am everyday. Start off with the Bacon Wrapped Sirloin Skewers ($10.95) — four grilled bacon sirloin cubes, red peppers and onions topped with Brown Ale BBQ sauce. Several varieties of flatbreads ($9.50 each) include BBQ chicken, bacon mushroom and veggie. Main course? Try the trio of IPA meatball sliders ($13.95), spicy Italian sausage and beef meatballs topped off with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese.
Read Vacay.ca’s report on the Wild Rose Tap Room & Brewery
11. Bar Volo, Toronto, Ontario
Website: barvolo.com. Phone: 416-928-0008. Address: 587 Yonge Street (at the corner of Wellesley Street).
Need to know: If Bar Volo served more of its own beer, it might be at the top of the list. Still, it’s the finest place to grab a pint in Toronto, offering artisanal beers from several of the microbreweries on this list.
You must order a pint of …: House Ales 21 Years Deep ($6.75, 6.5% alcohol), an intriguing smoked vanilla porter.
Have a bite: The charcuterie platter ($16) is filling and a terrific complement for the many extraordinary beers you can sample at Bar Volo.
12. Broadway Microbrasserie & Pub, Shawinigan, Quebec
Website: www.broadwaypub.net. Phone: 819-537-0044. Address: 540 Broadway Avenue.
Need to know: Although it has the atmosphere of a sports bar, the Broadway pub brews some mighty sophisticated beer, including a barley wine. The pub has been an institution in this small city between Montreal and Quebec City for years and brews at least 10 varieties of beer on its premises annually.
You must order a pint of …: La Don Juan ($6.75, 9% alcohol) is a Trappiste-style Belgium triple ale with English, German and Czech hops, with flavours of chocolate, coriander and curaçao.
Have a bite: The Croque-Monsieur ($7.75) is cheesy and comes on a tasty ciabatta bun.
13. C’est What?, Toronto, Ontario
Website: www.cestwhat.ca. Phone: 416-867-9499. Address: 67 Front Street East.
Need to know: A hangout for the city’s denizens who’ve never seen a suit they like, C’est What? serves a mix of house brews and other Canadian craft beers in a cozy subterranean environment. The best time to visit is during Canadian Music Week, when the bar hosts musicians from around the world.
You must order a pint of …: C’est What? is reputedly home to the first Coffee Porter ($6.86, 5.9% alcohol) in Toronto.
Have a bite: Get some island flavour with the Chicken Roti ($12.95), a wrap with spiced chicken, chickpeas and potatoes, served with mango chutney.
14. The Pump House, Moncton, New Brunswick
Website: www.pumphousebrewery.ca. Phone: 506-855-2337. Address: 5 Orange Lane.
Need to know: The Pump House, owned by Shaun and Lilia Fraser, has received numerous awards since opening in 1999, including 2005 Brewery of the Year honours at the Canadian Brewing Awards.
You must order a pint of …: Blueberry Ale ($6.25, 5% alcohol), which has a fruity sweetness, as you might expect, but also spicy hops and peppery flavours in a blonde-coloured ale.
Have a bite: Try the beer-steamed mussels ($10.99), featuring PEI mussels steamed with Pump House Pail Ale and served with beer bread.
15. Rogue’s Roost, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Website: www.roguesroost.ca. Phone: 902-492-2337. Address: 5435 Spring Garden Road.
Need to know: Thirteen years ago, Doug Johnson wanted to open a bar in Halifax that offered something unique. He chose the name Rogue’s Roost after visiting the infamous pirate hideaway located along the coast of Nova Scotia. Brewmaster Lorenzo Romano has been responsible for all the draft beer the bar has sold.
You must order a pint of …: Can’t go wrong with these house favourites – Red, Brown, Cream or Raspberry Wheat Ale — but for something with a bit more kick, try the IPA ($7; 6% alcohol).
Have a bite: You’re in Halifax, so Seafood Chowder ($6.25 for small; $7.50 for large) is a must. Try a Lobster Roll for lunch ($14.95), featuring Atlantic lobster, lightly dressed and stuffed in a garlic roll with lettuce. Friday night feature: Beer-braised lamb shank ($18.95), served in a Rogue’s Brown Ale sauce with roasted vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes.
16. Motor Burger, Windsor, Ontario
Website: www.motorburger.ca. Phone: 519-252-8004. Address: 888 Erie Street East.
Need to know: The “Deux Chevaux” was rated the No. 1 Burger in Canada by Readers Digest in June 2012.
You must order a pint of …: The Model A amber ale ($6.25, 5% alcohol) is made in Motor Burger’s “nano-brewery”, which started turning out beer this summer and has three 50-litre tanks in the restaurant’s basement.
Have a bite: Well, you’re going to have to try the Deux Chevaux ($9.75 for a single, $13.75 for supercharged). It’s made with grilled beef, dijon mustard, gruyere cheese, spinach, smoked bacon and balsamic caramelized onions. You also have to sample the Lamb-orghini ($13.95 for supercharged) just for the cool name: ground fresh lamb, sundried tomato tapenade, goat cheese and mixed lettuce.
17. Mill Street Brew Pub, Toronto, Ontario
Website: www.millstreetbrewpub.ca. Phone: 416-681-0338. Address: 21 Tank House Lane (in the Distillery District).
Need to know: The first Mill Street Brewpub is located along the cobblestone streets of Toronto’s historic Distillery District. Along with its award-winning alcoholic beverages, Mill Street also pours Toronto’s only draft root beer.
You must order a pint of …: Original Organic Lager ($6.75, 4.2% alcohol). A European-style pilsner, this brew is Ontario’s first organic lager.
Have a bite: Tankhouse Lane Burger ($18), a half-pound of Angus beef topped with ale-braised beef short rib and crispy onions.
Read the Vacay.ca article on the Ottawa location of the Mill Street Brew Pub
18. Spinnakers, Victoria, British Columbia
Website: www.spinnakers.com. Phone: 1-877-838-2739. Address: 308 Catherine Street.
Need to know: This brewpub that’s a favourite of the city’s cricket fans has its own Heritage Guesthouse and Garden Suites. Spinnakers is also the only pub in Victoria that serves a daily cask.
You must order a pint of …: Try the Nut Brown Ale ($6.75, 5.2% alcohol), an English-style amber brew with loads of flavour.
Have a bite: If you show up for lunch, order the Spinnakers beer & cheese pot ($7): warmed farmstead’s smoked cheddars, Spinnaker’s Extra Special Bitter, monsoon coast’s spices, house-made foccacia crisps. For dinner, try the Pan-seared Pacific Halibut fillet ($24).
19. Dockside Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia
Website: www.docksidevancouver.com. Phone: 604-685-7070. Address: 1253 Johnston Street.
Need to know: Dockside is home to the best food choices on this list. It’s also next to the beautiful Granville Island Hotel, a boutique property overlooking Vancouver’s False Creek. You’ll enjoy fine craft beer in as refined a setting as you’ll find anywhere in the country.
You must order a pint of …: Cartwright Pale Ale ($6.50, 4.3% alcohol) is made with Cascade and Willamette hops and is Dockside’s most popular brew.
Have a bite: Herb-crusted Halibut ($33) pops out on the menu because of the price and the promise of a delicious seafood meal in a fabulous west-coast setting.
20. Gahan House & Brewery, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Website: www.gahan.ca. Phone: 902-626-2337. Address: 126 Sydney Street.
Need to know: The only brewery in PEI, Gahan opened its pub near Charlottetown’s popular Victoria Row in 2001. It’s a focal point for the city’s nightlife and its reputation for producing quality brews continues to grow.
You must order a pint of …: The light and refreshing Harvest Gold Pale Ale ($6.25, 4.7% alcohol).
Have a bite: Pork Tenderloin ($17.99) is served with a tasty cinnamon-spiced apple chutney.
21. Olde Stone Brewery, Peterborough, Ontario
Website: oldestone.ca. Phone: 705-745-0495. Address: 380 George Street North.
Need to know: Its name and appearance may make you think it’s older than its 16 years. But the Olde Stone combines the conveniences of a modern pub with the character of a historic establishment. A friendly place, you’ll go back for the beer and the good times.
You must order a pint of …: Or Dubh Stout ($5.35, 5.1% alcohol). This Irish “Black Gold” has seven grains, much of it roasted barley, and delivers a robust stout taste.
Have a bite: You can have your choice of four gourmet 12-inch pizzas ($13.99 each) that are made with multi-grain flatbread.
22. Alexander Keith’s, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Website: www.keiths.ca. Phone: 902-455-1474. Address: 1496 Lower Water Street.
Need to know: Home to the most unique brewery tour in Canada, the Alexander Keith’s experience includes a historical aspect that features actors in period costumes taking guests back in time to learn about the life in Nova Scotia’s capital in 1863.
You must order a pint of …: The India Pale Ale ($5.87, 5% alcohol) has roots that date to 1820 when Alexander Keith established the brewery.
Have a bite: Get a bowl of the Lobster Chowder ($12.99) at the Red Stag Tavern, which is in the same building as the brewery.
23. Saskatoon Brewery/Factory Tap Pub, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Website: See the brewery’s Facebook page. Phone: 306-664-4060. Address: 610 2nd Avenue.
Need to know: Opened for one year, this brewery that shares the same menu and owner as the adjacent Earl’s franchise features up to five of its beers on tap, including the Berry Dark IPA. “It’s made with Saskatoonberries and is our best-seller,” bartender Brendan Flaherty says.
You must order a pint of …: That Berry Dark IPA ($6.25, 5.2% alcohol).
Have a bite: The Bronx Burger ($16) is a massive sandwich made in the Earl’s kitchen next door.
24. The Publican House, Peterborough, Ontario
Website: www.thepublicanhouse.com. Phone: 705-874-5743. Address: 300 Charlotte Street.
Need to know: Located in a 19th-century building, this brewery produces seven distinct styles that can be purchased at the Publican’s retail store.
You must order a pint of …: The Publican House Ale ($5.75, 4.8% alcohol) is the brewery’s “signature” product and is also available in 1.9-litre growlers ($13.75).
Have a bite: The Publican House restaurant is still to come. Plans are in the works for an eatery in the neighbouring property that was once home to the Peterborough Arms pub.
What’s your favourite brewpub in Canada and why? Email us and you could be eligible to win a travel prize. Also, be sure to enter our 2013 Foodie of the Year contest that runs in conjunction with the 2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada List.