WORDS & PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘This sure beats our regular morning ‘zoom’ meetings, eh?,’ I grunt to my TOQUE Partner, Cai Sepulis, as we cycle up the rail trail just past Ariss. She nods in agreement and then, with a determined smile on her face, drops the hammer to catch up with her wife, Sonia, and my fiancée, Liz, who are biking together about fifty yards ahead. I coast serenely for a few seconds, giving my burning thighs a break and allowing Michael Oosterveld, Fixed Gear Brewing Company owner, to pedal up beside me. ‘This is incredible,’ he shouts gleefully as we roll up the trail together. ‘What a way to spend a Monday.’ I can’t disagree.
It’s early July, just past noon, and the five of us are traversing the Kissing Bridge Trailway towards the Cotton Tail Trail Road somewhere between Ariss and West Montrose. Our plotted destination: Elora Brewing Company for lunch and pints. ‘And not just any pints,’ I tell Michael – my voice filled with equal parts exuberance and triumph. ‘We’re going to be drinking ‘Friends Forever’ pale ale – Elora’s annual summertime collaboration brew with TOQUE.’ And the food has me almost as excited as our collab beer. ‘And tasting Chef Ryan Goodfellow’s new menu too.’ Indeed, it’s been a hot minute since the co-founder of Goodfellows Field to Fork (everyone’s favourite Rockwood bakery that’s since been shuttered) has graced this region with his culinary chops. With stints at Canoe (Toronto) and Murray’s Butcher Shop (Hamilton), Ryan is settled back here in our community as Head Chef at the brewery in Elora. Great news for local foodies, to be sure.
It’s been a few hours now since we set out on this adventure from Michael’s brewery, Fixed Gear, located in Guelph’s Junction neighbourhood. It’s really no surprise we chose Mike’s place as starting line. Fixed Gear, after all, has always held a special place in the TOQUE team’s heart – not least because our business branded the place. (Just look at those cans.) And also because of Fixed Gear’s Alma Street patio. Honestly, if there’s a more killer spot in the area to drink cold pints on a hot summer day, I’ve yet to find it.
The vintage Land Rover and classic Airstream trailer parked outside, open shipping containers that serve as a protective perimeter around the space (and double as rainy day seating too), and raised wooden decks and framework holding up canvas sun shades. The artificial turf ‘infield’ decorated with minimalist furniture and retro jukebox. The aesthetic and vibe. Fixed Gear’s patio is like an oasis wrapped in an oasis. Not to mention the fact that there’s a second Airstream set up just outside the space where Adapt Coffee serves up terrific espresso-based drinks that beautifully complement Fixed Gear’s brews.
It was on that Fixed Gear patio where we began – enjoying espressos and americanos and pints of ‘Trackstand’ APA (a new recipe and new favourite alternative to Elora’s ‘Borealis’ and Bellwoods’ ‘Jutsu’). Before long we had readied our bikes for the ride ahead. And then we set out together – in great spirits for what lay ahead. And now we’re here, somewhere between Ariss and West Montrose.
As we cycle down the gravel rail trail, farmland defines the horizon in every direction – fields of maturing corn and golden wheat, and meandering herds of cattle as far as the eye can see. Once we turn off the Kissing Bridge Trail to begin the last leg of our journey along the Cottontail Trail Road (which, in truth, is mostly road with very little trail) into Elora, we cycle uphill and down, past Homer-esque landscapes and, finally, for the last couple kilometres, along tree-covered double track into town. We pedal across the newly-rebuilt Metcalfe Street bridge – with magnificent views of East Mill Street shops and apartments (with their quarried stone structures and multi-storey balconies and pristinely-mismatched peaked roofs) and, further along, of Elora’s famed ‘Tooth of Time’ and the Elora Mill – and up the Metcalfe Street hill until, where Metcalfe meets Geddes Street, we arrive at the Elora Brewing Company.
‘Your table’s ready,’ chimes brewery host Taylor as we lean our bikes on the patio’s wooden perimeter fencing. The five of us eagerly grab seats at a shaded six-seater picnic-style table and place initial orders for cold water and even colder beer – the aforementioned ‘Friends Forever’ for four of us and, for Sonia, a pint of Elora’s newly-released ‘Mouth Party’ raspberry hard seltzer. Brewery co-owner Jon Laurencic (who was going to come along on our pilgrimage but had to cancel last minute) joins us at our table for a beer – which is fitting. After all, it was Jon who helped spearhead the ‘Friends Forever’ collab beer project between Elora and TOQUE – and who helped name the brew as an ode to the close relationship between our business and his. The beer doesn’t disappoint. ‘Reminds me of Bellwoods’ ‘Roman Candle’ IPA,’ I remark between sips. Which, in everyone’s mind, fits – and is a very good thing.
It’s not long before our table is filled with plates of food to complement the drinks and we’re sharing orders of ‘Arancini’ (fried balls of rice coated in breadcrumbs stuffed with cheese and tomato sauce on a bed of micro basil and arugula, with preserved lemon aioli), ‘Burattini’ (buratta with smoked cherry tomatoes and pickled fennel topped with micro herbs and olive oil, on a bed of arugula, served with sourdough crostini), and ‘Polenta Frites’ (grand Padano and fresh herbs, topped with toasted pepitas and micro herbs, with ramp arugula pesto and truffle aioli). And devouring personal orders of the ‘EBC Burger’ (arugula, pickled shallots and white cheddar, with roast tomato jam and tartar sauce) and the ‘Chicken Sandwich’ (brined buttermilk thigh with Boston bibb lettuce and sliced pickles, with chipotle aioli).
We spend a couple hours at the brewery – people watching, talking shop, settling into the afternoon. Over time, Jon returns to work. Liz leaves to pick up her son, Ricky. Cai and Sonia pack their bikes into Cai’s TOQUE truck – which they strategically left at the brewery the night before. And Michael and I get on our bikes and begin the ride back home. Along the way, we may or may not stop on a bench along the Kissing Bridge Trailway where we crack open a couple ‘Friends Forever’ travel buddies. Who’s to say. What’s certain, though, is that this has been a helluva fun day.
A very good way to spend a Monday, indeed.