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JULIA COOK: A cross-P.E.I. brewing tour shows quality beer in each county is only hops, a skip and a jump away


It's 11 a.m. on a weekday morning, and I've just had my first coffee of the day. In about 40 minutes, I'm also about to have my first beer of the day.

Three breweries, in three different counties, in six hours. It was going to be a long day of beer.

My last year in Newfoundland, I worked at a cycling company and, as is the culture with road cycling and mountain biking, I got a taste for good beer. There is truly nothing better than coming off the trails to relax with a hoppy glass of brew. Across Atlantic Canada microbreweries have been popping up in cities, as well as remote communities. Each not only prides themselves on developing quality and original beer but also on providing an experience to their customers.

Accompanying me on my tour is Guardian photographer Nathan Rochford, who will also be my designated driver for the day.

Copper Bottom Brewing in Montague, which I've written about before, has been in business for about a year. Working out of a building with a long history in Kings County, the brewery now offers four different beers, give or take depending on what's in season. When Nathan and I enter, we are one of the first to come through the doors. Isaac MacIntyre, the business development officer, is here to greet us and take us through the tasting.

Isaac MacIntyre, business development officer with Copper Bottom Brewing, pours a sampler tray for Julia Cook. - Nathan Rochford
Isaac MacIntyre, business development officer with Copper Bottom Brewing, pours a sampler tray for Julia Cook. - Nathan Rochford

The brews on tap include the Centennial Stock Blonde Ale, Parkman Ave DIPA, Broadside APA and Rabble Rouser Red. My favourites of the four are the Rabble Rouser Red and Parkman Ave DIPA. The Rabble Rouser is a mid-bitterness beer, with a more caramel and malty taste. The other, the DIPA (double IPA), is the most bitter of the four with 70 IBU (international bitterness units). It has a mango taste and packs a punch at eight per cent alcohol.

It's easy to see why Copper Bottom Brewing has blossomed in the community. The location, overlooking the Montague waterfront, is open concept and allows you to bring in your own eats, with a food truck nearby. The owners, Ashley Condon and Ken Spears, have made it a mission to offer year-round events in Montague.

After taking a few more sips, it's time to move on to the next brewery.

It's hard to believe Upstreet Craft Brewing has only been around for a few years, considering the impressive impact it's made on the local and Atlantic Canadian brewing scene. Its main location is on Allen Street in Charlottetown, but the company also operates Craft Beer Corner and now the Upstreet BBQ Brewhouse in Dartmouth, N.S.

Arriving at the main location, we're ushered into the brewery by Marsha Gallant, the marketing manager. The interior of Upstreet boasts high ceilings, arcade games and a glimpse at where the hoppy magic happens. It's a place meant for Friday nights after work with friends.

Julia Cook samples a spread of beers with Marsha Gallant, storyteller at Upstreet Craft Brewing, during a recent visit to the brewery. - Nathan Rochford
Julia Cook samples a spread of beers with Marsha Gallant, storyteller at Upstreet Craft Brewing, during a recent visit to the brewery. - Nathan Rochford

The brewery's flagship beers include Commons, Rhuby Social and the Do-Gooder. As mentioned before, I'm a fan of the hoppier or more flavourful beers, which means I am more drawn to the Foeder Saison and Abenteuer/Adventure Altbier. Both are seasonal releases with mild to mid-level IBUs. The Foeder Saison has a sweeter taste, with hints of banana, pepper and oak. Meanwhile the Altbier is named after its artist-in-residence, Mathieu Leger, and smells of adventure, with hints of pine, some bitterness and lasting notes of caramel.

Then, it's back on the road (again), but now to Ellerslie in Prince County. Moth Lane Brewing, as its name suggests, is at the very end of a long, dirt lane. When we enter the brewery we walk almost directly into the main production room, with a bar along one side. The brewery has been in business for two years, but brewmaster Eric Wagner has been fiddling with recipes for decades. We walk upstairs and see wood tables and walls that are covered in chalkboards with messages and drawings from previous visitors.

At all the other locations we were given small glasses of beer to taste. Not at Moth Lane, where I was given full-sized beers, which is dangerous for a person my size. On the menu was Draggin' Anchor summer wheat beer, Island Born (made with Island hops), The Red Dirt Road American Amber/Red Style, The Answer DIPA and Brown-Eyed Girl Porter.

Out of the four, one of my favourites is The Answer because I love a double IPA and the extra hoppiness. I also love a good Porter, which I find with Brown-Eyed Girl, with its coffee and chocolate tastes. I get a chance to taste the newly-released 3-Mile Limit, which is a Russian Imperial Stout. It tastes like vanilla, oak and coconut, which made me think about sipping on the beer on a cold Friday night while reading Walt Whitman.

With that, we are sent off with a Moth Lane sticker and a slightly red hue in my cheeks. All three of the locations we visited had a different vibe and taste to their beer. While some I've had before, visiting the breweries and learning more about the process of making the beers made me appreciate them more.

To really get the best beer experience, you need to get out from the computer and explore P.E.I.'s brewing scene, which is growing every year. They also each paid homage to the Island in their own way, whether through ingredients or in the name.

Here's to a fall of hiking, biking, and drinking beer on P.E.I.

Julia Cook is a columnist with The Guardian. You can reach Julia at Julia.Cook@theguardian.pe.ca Nathan Rochford is a page editor and photographer with The Guardian. Nathan can be reached at Nathan.Rochford@theguardian.pe.ca .

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