Backyard Brewtrip: North-End Hamilton

Ah, a day to myself. To the introverted these words are magic, and the idea of spending a day by myself doing exactly what I wanted was more than enough encouragement to get out and explore the city. It was also a happy coincidence that last Saturday was chock-full of fun (and free!) events and plenty to see and do. I was lucky enough to embark on my own personal backyard brewtrip, exploring yet another part of the thriving beer, food, and hipster paradise that is Hamilton. For this brewtrip I was visiting a very specific part of the city’s north end, along with a special trip downtown for one of HamOnt’s newest events.  From a pop-up flea market to a brewery opening to a killer cup of hot chocolate, it was a perfect way to get another taste of Hamilton – and a great day to spend alone.

Like most of Hamilton, the north end of the city has gone through a bit of a revival over recent years. A burgeoning arts scene, a young population, a gorgeous bayfront, and a proud sense of community have made the area a bigger destination for food and shopping, and as the weeks and months pass the area continues to grow and develop. Helping this revitalization is the recent addition of Collective Arts Brewing, who took over the old Lakeport brewery nearly two years ago and have been working hard to repair the damage Labatt left behind. This weekend they and Nickel Brook celebrated their grand opening with an open house that featured their fabulous craft beers, food, and music. The open house was the focus of my brewtrip, but I had a few other great stops along the way.

Hamilton Flea

The first stop on Jenn’s Brewtrip Bonanza was the Hamilton Flea. What in the sweet heck is a flea? I had wondered the same thing, and after following a past event on Twitter and growing increasingly more curious with each post, I had to find out more for myself.

Essentially, Hamilton Flea is a pop-up flea market that takes place in a historic and otherwise unused building and features only the coolest local vendors. It’s a project that’s organized by Hamilton store Girl on the Wing and the Academy of All Things Awesome and celebrated by people like local architecture guru Rebuild Hamilton in an effort to bring new life to beautiful old spaces, giving the city a great event as a result.

This month’s flea was at the old Brown’s Tire Building, a gorgeous downtown building which dates back to the early 20th century. Overseeing the corner of King William and Wellington, the Brown’s Tire Building is three stories of brown brick, big windows, and today, tons of people. I lucked out by snagging the closest (and only?) streetside parking space on King William, which was free because it was Saturday and Hamilton’s cool like that. (Protip: If you want good parking and want to beat the crowd, arrive early! The early bird gets the parking, after all.)

The Brown's Tire Building facing King William Street
The Brown’s Tire Building facing King William Street

Inside the building, it was heaven. Although I got there just a few minutes after it opened, the place was already packed with an interesting mixture of shoppers and vendors, great music by Young Lions Music Club, and the delicious smell of coffee. Vendors ranged from vintage clothing (I bought a dress within the first two minutes, because, duh) to records to quirky art, and it was a perfect way to get a taste of the quirky shopping and artistic side of Hamilton. My only regret is arriving too early to experience Donut Monster, a newer and much-talked-about donut supplier who continues to evade me. Someday…

The highlight of the flea was the building. Oh, the building. It was gorgeous. I don’t pretend to know anything about architecture but even I could tell this building was a gem. The beams, the exposed brick, the hardwood floors… It was a beautiful, magical space that was well-served by the flea and is deserving of a new life and a permanent inhabitant. Can I live here?

Crowds of people filled the building -- and it had only just begun!
Crowds of people filled the building — and it had only just begun!

Hamilton Flea was also another example of adventure on a budget. There was no admission fee for the event or any cost at all, really, unless you bought something from a vendor (and you should!). It was just a chance to explore a unique space and feel cool, even for just a short time. I’ll be patiently waiting for news of the next pop-up event and I definitely recommend checking it out when it’s here.

Collective Arts

After the flea it was time to head over to the north end. Collective Arts is located on Burlington Street, an area known more for industry and the factory-heavy skyline visible from the Burlington Skyway. People often hate on this area of town, but these people are wrong. For years and years steel manufacturing was the backbone of Hamilton’s economy and the factories are a representation of industry and development. They’re also pretty cool looking and badass, and that’s an okay thing in my books.

Collective Arts is a simple addition to Burlington Street and officially opened its doors in early September after moving down from Toronto. Full disclosure: Sean, my other half in both life and Brewtrippers, works part-time for Collective and is therefore a bit biased. I, however, am not, and since I’d never visited the Brewery, the open house was my (free) ticket in.

A view of Collective Arts from Burlington Street. It's easy to miss!
A view of Collective Arts from Burlington Street. It’s easy to miss!

The open house let guests in to the new brewery event space which is where all the magic happens. Today there was a stage with a surprisingly good band (The Knads) playing old punk covers and an open floor where fun people were actually dancing. I was amazed by how good the acoustics were; spaces like these aren’t always perfect for music but it totally worked. It was a perfect accompaniment to the beer sampling, and sampling there was! For $3 guests could buy a tankard that held either a small or large sample, and for only a couple bucks each we could buy tokens that could be redeemed for samples of these different sizes. Sample stations were set up at various points throughout the brewery, allowing us to sample any brew by Collective Arts or Nickel Brook, including Nickel Brook’s amaaazing root beer! This time I went with two of my personal favourites: Collective Arts’ Ransack the Universe IPA and Nickel Brook’s Cause & Effect Blonde. I don’t know if it was the environment or the glass they came in, but yum! They were extra good.

I also had just a taste of Nickel Brook’s Green Apple Pilsner, which I heard other visitors raving about. Sweet drinks and cider don’t usually appeal to me so I was a bit hesitant, but the pilsner was actually really good! It was more like beer mixed with apple juice, and I would happily have another taste.

Good-looking servers added to the experience.
Good-looking servers added to the experience.

The brewery tours were self-guided with six stations set up along the way, showing the brewing process: At each station, a large sign described that step of the process and guests were able to wander through at their leisure to learn more. This was my first time in a larger brewery so I was surprised by the size of the equipment – these tanks were huge! I think actual brewer-led tours would be way better, since I was personally too focused on the music and the sampling to stop and fully read the signs. Apparently Collective Arts will start offering tours of the facility in the near future, which I will definitely do!

After my touring and sampling I checked out the Collective Arts retail store which was simple and clean and full of people. My crowd tolerance was starting to wane at this point so I quickly snapped a few photos and left, but I think it’s worth going back for a leisurely visit on a quieter day. One of the side rooms off the main retail space displays all the brewery’s beer bottles, a huge collection which deserves a good look!

Outside the brewery was a collection of big-name local food trucks and for my post-brewery meal I went with Meat Ventures, a truck I had yet to try. I chose their “Smashburger”, a ridiculous 1/3-pound burger with peameal bacon, cheese, maple mustard and cheese, and even if it weren’t good (WHICH IT WAS, OMG), I’d be raving about the truck just based on the customer service. These were single-handedly the nicest food truck people (or people in general, really) I’ve met in a long, long time, so wherever this truck goes, I will follow.

Granddad’s

At the corner of Burlington Street and James St. North sits one of the best coffee shops in the city: Granddad’s Donuts. Granddad’s was my last stop of the day, a perfect end to my mini-explorcation of north-end Hamilton. It was the best place to unwind and always, always my favourite place to pick up a fresh donut. These bad boys are made from scratch in house and feature classics like the orange twist and the ghostbuster, which is a cream-filled yeast donut with a chocolate glaze. That’s the one I went with (held back from buying a dozen, somehow) and matched it with a plain ole hot chocolate. Perfection.

The Granddad's counter and all the donuts I didn't eat.
The Granddad’s counter and all the donuts I didn’t eat.

Despite being relatively new, Granddad’s reminds me of the coffee shops of my childhood, the way Tim Hortons used to be before it went all fancypants. The staff treats everyone as a regular and you leave feeling happy and special and important, even when you’re the hundredth person to walk through the doors. This is a feeling you can find only at small shops like these, and it’s an absolute gem in north-end Hamilton that you can’t really find anywhere else.

Overall, this Jenn-style brewtrip was a fantastic day. From Hamilton Flea to Collective Arts to Granddad’s, I got a full-day taste of Hamilton and barely spent a dime. The introvert in me was tired, but it was a perfect way to spend the day alone and explore a few of the awesome things this city has to offer. I learned that you shouldn’t be afraid to go out and try something new, whether that means a new beer or a new event; you might be pleasantly surprised!

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