WORDS BY DANI KUEPFER; PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
SURE, SUMMER’S OVER – THE WARM PATIO NIGHTS ARE BEHIND US, THE LONG WEEKENDS SQUEEZED OF THEIR JUICE, THE BLOOMIN’ ONIONS CONSUMED AND REGRETTED – BUT THAT’S NOT TO SAY WE’RE DONE EXPLORING THE REGION. WINDOWS-DOWN DAY TRIPS BECOME PHOEBE BRIDGERS-FUELED DRIVES, AND I’M NOT READY TO GO HOME YET. I’M LOOKING FOR A COZY PLACE WHERE I CAN TUCK INTO A TASTY PINT AND, LUCKY FOR US, WE’VE GOT A FEW SWEET SPOTS CLOSE TO HOME.
SHORT FINGER BREWING CO
20 HURST AVENUE, KITCHENER
Right off the Iron Horse Trail, Short Finger Brewing Co (SFBC) holds its ground in an industrial building on the outskirts of downtown Kitchener. It’s a moody late summer day and I stroll past a few folks on the unpretentious patio, through the open garage door into what is a pretty massive space and, impressively, it’s fully utilized.
I wander past a pop-up bakery set up by neighbours after they were rained out of a local market (another reason to keep an eye on Short Finger’s social media, if dad jokes and dorky puns aren’t reason enough). Inside the towering space, rows of bins and fridges fill out the brewing supply shop – a sort of bulk-barn- slash-toy-store for home brewers. Up a set of stairs is an uncomplicated bottle shop and tap room space filled with a tight selection of unquestionably killer beers.
Kitchener’s only sci-fi punk brewery (a sought-after title proudly clinched by the folks at Short Finger) frequently doubles down on their impressive space, hosting events like dog talent shows, Golden Girls- inspired beer tours, and, of course, punk shows. ‘We’re not everyone’s cup of tea,’ shrugs Rob Hern, the mastermind behind the puns, as well as head brewer and owner of SFBC, ‘but those who do visit usually get our vibe pretty quickly.’
That’s the great thing about Short Finger: they’re not cranking out colossal amounts of beer to be gobbled up by the masses. Instead, you’ll find uncommon yet
accessible styles like ‘Katharine the Mild’, a malty, low ABV dream that’s perfect for an afternoon pint in the tap room’s old leather armchairs.
The real gold, though, as evidenced by the dozens of barrels stacked in rows and filling the brewery space to the far corners, is the mixed fermentation brews. Funky, tasty, tart ales, aged in a variety of barrel and fresh ingredient combinations, like ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, a peach cobbler-inspired sour matured in whiskey barrels with peaches, vanilla, and cinnamon.
‘Is anyone else aging beer in gin barrels?’, I prod, eyeing a bottle of golden ale with chamomile, lavender, and beets, aged – Rob informs me – in the spunky, spicy oak barrels that previously held gin from our friends at Willibald. ‘No,’ he muses, ‘not around here, anyways.’
While the craft beer scene feels at times like a revolving door of trends, Rob is out here brewing what he loves, experimenting with new ideas, and making brewing accessible to anyone with a similar thirst for cool beers. It’s a special thing and I’m certainly not the first to take notice. A dedicated following from across Ontario shows that if you fly your flag, your people will find you. And when they find you, you can bet there’ll be a few pints to share.
DON’T SLEEP ON
Lando: SFBC’s darling, a mixed-ferment sour saison available in ever-evolving varieties. Grab a pint to sip and as many bottles as you can carry home.
TOGETHER WE’RE BITTER CO-OP BREWING
1-300 MILL STREET, KITCHENER
I love a good hodgepodge – a non-intuitive coming together of different pieces that, as a complete thing, just works. It’s what makes potlucks so great (six dips and a shrimp ring, baby). And that ‘more than the sum of its parts’ outlook is where TWB thrives.
Together We’re Bitter is an owner-operated, democratically-run microbrewery specializing in bringing the community together in a really brew-tiful way. (Yea, I said it.) Cranking out collab after collab on their brewing setup, the folks at TWB are building roots in the region beyond the food and bev world.
‘I think people seek us out when they have weird ideas,’ co-owner Amanda tells me across the gathering table that serves as the heart of the taproom. The table is plastered with beer labels that corroborate her story: collabs with the local Hydrocut trail network, DTK’s AOK beer bar/arcade, and London Brewing (Ontario’s only other co-operative brewery), to name a few. During my short visit, chefs from two local restaurants, Wooden Boat Food Company and Lancaster Smokehouse, drop by about projects they’re working on with the TWB team.
As the Ontario craft beer scene comes to a saturation point, and many breweries start to diversify, I’m drawn to TWB’s against-the-grain ethos. There’s something so delightfully organic about the way they operate: being open to new ideas, pulling from a variety of skill sets and points of view, and bringing unexpected products and experiences to the community as a result.
TWB’s origin story is unsurprisingly similar to their current-day projects: starting with a bold idea, a series of invitations, and plenty of conversation. They found and retrofitted a space (their current location, in the heart of the Courtland-Mill neighbourhood) and got their hands on a second-hand brewing setup they nicknamed Sputnik, originally from a brewery in Croatia, that looks like the kind of equipment one might use in preparation for a long journey into space.
I’m fascinated by the co-operative model, and co- owner Alex is the perfect person to indulge my curiosity about it (she’s actively involved with a variety of local businesses looking to bring the co-op model to their own ventures). The brewery in this model is run by a small group of local owner-operators, big decisions are made by an elected board, and an owner onboarding track is offered to new employees who want to buy in. The TWB team pride themselves on offering a living wage with career growth and skills acquisition at the centre of their vision. ‘This isn’t just a job; I’ve built a career here,’ chimes Amanda, one of TWB’s newest owners.
The story of TWB is one that rewrites the rules, keeping money in the local economy while offering a gathering space to the community at the same time.
‘Most things you can just figure out for yourselves,’ Alex tells me, with the nonchalance of someone who built a brewery from scratch with a few colleagues, some great ideas, and a whole lot of passion. I can only imagine.
DON’T SLEEP ON
Sunny autumn afternoons on the patio – bring the dog, the kids and a blanket, and cozy up with a couple flights while enjoying the last sips of warm weather.
COUNTERPOINT BREWING CO
4-935 FREDERICK STREET, KITCHENER
It’s a sunny September afternoon when I saunter into Counterpoint Brewing, a modest storefront sandwiched between assorted businesses, differentiated by the cozy block of picnic tables out front. The straightforward tap room – a handcrafted wood bar, seating and standing room for a few dozen folks, the wall of windows filling the space with afternoon sun – feels comfortable and familiar. And oh so stylish.
Indeed, every detail of the tap room seems to hit the right aesthetic notes. The white walls. Plants on every table and everywhere else, too. Geometric-shaped gold light fixtures. And, especially, the front of bar ‘accent wall’ featuring chevron-shaped wood bits painted teal, hot pink, and acquamarine. Indeed, this neon ‘ode to the eighties’ palette even extends to the place’s tasty-looking beer menu boards, whose chalk script is all pinks and teals and everything wonderful. Clean. Minimalist. Lovely.
‘Want a pint?’, owner/brewer Graeme Kobayashi snaps me out of my blissful reverie. I eye the lineup – a respectable six taps, with a punchy and inviting selection. A ruby-hued sorrel sour (brewed with Chef Teneile of Nyam for their Emancipation Day bash). A low ABV pale ale with a big dose of Amarillo – the sort of afternoon crusher I would lean to for a few, if I weren’t here on business, of course. A big West Coast IPA, another collab with local designer Jon Johnson of BRFC. In the end, I’m pulled towards a Belgian Stout. It’s got the satisfying roasty-ness that I chase as the days cool down, with a distinct flush of baking spice and a face-warming booze that feels like the visceral heat of embarrassment after learning a lesson you know you
ought already to have learnt. Introspection aside, it’s a tasty pint that makes the leap from summer to fall not so bad at all.
Anyways, enough about me. On the other side of the bar is Graeme, who opened Counterpoint just three and a half years ago, in that time weathering a storm or two and carving out a sweet little spot for the brewery in the KW community, as evidenced by the long list of collabs and the steady stream of regulars popping through the door.
Wide open from the taproom is the brewhouse, and when we turn the corner I’m surprised by the scale of their setup. Maxing out at three hundred litres (that’s roughly six hundred pints), Counterpoint is truly cranking out all batch, small batch. (Another benefit of their modest size: Counterpoint’s brewing operation is fully net-zero, repurposing water used by the heat exchanger for reduced waste, and offsetting use via their partnership with Tree Canada.)
Counterpoint offers a reliable lineup of drinkable styles, with the specific brews themselves swapping out on a weekly basis. Always something fresh and always something you’ll love, it’s the perfect spot for a quick pint while you’re out running errands or on your way home from work. Throw in a food pop-up and some live music here and there, and you’ve found your new watering hole
DON’T SLEEP ON
BYO Takeout – my recommendation: a pint of Treetop IPA and birria tacos from America Latina Grocery across the street.