Brewtripping Brantford

Only one city in all of Canada can claim to be the birthplace of both the telephone and the greatest hockey player of all time

That’s right, this week we made the short drive from Hamilton to brewtrip in Brantford, Ontario!

Brantford is a city we haven’t visited much, despite it being only 30 minutes away. Thankfully, craft beer is breaking us out of that bubble!

The beer scene in Brantford is small, but growing. And as much as we’d like to say otherwise, it’ll never overtake the prominence of Alexander Graham Bell or Wayne Gretzky in this small city of 94,000 people.

Bell invented the telephone while living in Brantford and made the world’s first long distance phone call in 1876 between Brantford and the nearby town of Paris. The Bell Homestead is a National Historic Site on the outskirts of the city and is on our list for the next visit.

Brantford’s other great claim to fame is being the hometown of some guy named Wayne Gretzky. To put it lightly, Gretzky is a hockey icon. There’s nothing we can write about Gretzky that hasn’t already been said.

We arrived in Brantford with a simple agenda: Explore the downtown, find a couple cheap/free activities, have a meal and visit one of the local breweries.

We started in the downtown, which is small and has free two- and three-hour street-level parking within a couple blocks of almost everything.

There is one thing any visitor to Brantford notices: The architecture is beautiful. We parked near Victoria Park and found ourselves surrounded by beautiful buildings. The Carnegie Building, Brant County Court House, Bell Telephone Company building and a few churches form the square that encases the park. And in the centre is the beautiful Joseph Brant Monument. If you visit Brantford, grab a coffee and take time to relax on one of the park benches.

The Joseph Brant Monument in Victoria Park.
The Joseph Brant Monument in Victoria Park.
The downtown itself offers the standard mix of restaurants and storefronts you find in many smaller Ontario towns and cities. Maybe Saturday mornings are a slow time, but we were surprised by how little activity there was in the downtown. The sidewalks were nearly empty.

We walked down a few side streets and found some amazing old houses and a few more monuments and memorials, including Bell Memorial Park. The Bell Memorial was designed by Walter Seymour Allward, the same sculptor who designed the Vimy Memorial.

We decided to grab lunch at The Piston Broke gastro pub, which offered classic pub food (you’ll notice that’s going to be a theme for us). The draft options were dominated by the big three breweries, with Mill Street being the only Ontario craft option. So we decided to save the beer for our brewery visit.

Draft list at The Piston Broke
On tap at The Piston Broke
We decided to aim for completely free activities before a brewery visit. This is where Brantford really delivered! Glenhyrst Gardens were a great find for us, and you definitely need to visit. Entry and parking to the gardens is free. The gardens themselves are very well cared for and have sculptures to be found throughout. Given the ongoing federal election, we thought the Continuous Portrait of Stephen Harper by Jane Hook to be especially interesting. It was also disturbingly accurate. Regardless of where you stood, there was an easy to see profile image of Stephen Harper!

Stephen Harper from every angle!
Stephen Harper from every angle!
Glenhyrst also has an art gallery and tearoom, making this a very affordable option for anyone looking to get away and relax.

From Glenhyrst, we drove across town to the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre. Another free option that surprised us! We expect to take a picture of the Gretzky statue and leave, but once we saw the building we had to go in. As a sports complex, it’s impressive! But it also houses the Brantford and Area Sports Hall of Recognition. The hall is another free admission option with nice exhibits, unique Gretzky memorabilia and interactive trivia games.

True respect is reserved parking at a hockey rink!
True respect is reserved parking at a hockey rink!
We loved Glenhyrst and the Gretzky Centre, but it was time for the brew portion of the brewtrip!

From what we can tell, Brantford has two main craft breweries.

  • Bell City Brewery opened in February 2015. You may recognized the name from their Eureka Cream Ale that can be found in the LCBO.
  • Mash Paddle Brewing Co. is a nano-brewery that also opened in early 2015. They’re a couple years from making an LCBO debut, but you can still support them by visiting the brewery.

We decided on Bell City for this brewtrip and didn’t regret it!

The space is small, but has everything you need. Six taps for tastings, a cooler well stocked with Eureka, Session IPA and Lenoir Belgian Wheat Ale, some merchandise and a window into the brewery itself.

We had small samples of those three beers, along with a Red Rye and a Sour Cherry Brown Ale.

Eureka is a five star cream ale. We love it! The Session IPA is a great entry level IPA (although we heard the next IPA batch was coming in at about 60-70 IBU). The Lenoir is up there with Eureka for enjoyment. It’s very nice. The Red Rye was okay, but didn’t have a lot of depth to it.

Then came the Brown Ale. Wow. Delicious! The cherry was very subtle at the end, unlike a few other cherry options available this summer. This one left us both smiling.

After talking beer, the brewery and some exciting developments to watch for in the coming months, we stocked up on Eureka, Lenoir and IPA.

And then something was said that really summed up what we love about the craft beer scene. We made a passing comment about the number of breweries opening up. The response?

“Some people might think competition is bad, but I hope there are more craft breweries that open. The more craft beer available, the more craft beer being drunk!”

These brewers just want people drinking real beer. It’s their business, but it’s also their passion. You taste it with every sip of their beer.

Brantford was an adventure. From areas needing some TLC, to bustling suburbs, to great free activities, we saw a bit of everything.

One thing was undeniable though. Bell City Brewery is serving up brews that are worthy of The Great One’s birthplace!

Jenn’s Edit: There were a couple other great things about this trip to Brantford that may have escaped Sean’s notice. I’ve been here a few times before to check out Laurier Brantford, a campus of Laurier University that sprawls over the entire downtown and has given new life to many of Brantford’s gorgeous old buildings. Since it was a Saturday when we made our brewtrip most of the buildings were closed, but we were able to admire them from the street when we weren’t taking photos of statues. If you get the chance (and enjoy exploring university campuses) stop by Brantford on a weekday during the school year and take a campus tour. The Carnegie Building on George Street has an especially beautiful interior that probably makes doves cry, and there are plenty of stairs to leave you gasping for air and clutching your hams. Just kidding, I’m out of shape. 

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