Brewtripping Cambridge

Brewtripping with a baby changes everything.

If we had to sum up our experience in one sentence, that would definitely be it!

As some know, we added a tiny little Brewtripper to the family back in January. Even before that, we had taken a small hiatus from blogging. So it’s been awhile since we got out exploring towns and their breweries. To get back at it felt great!

To say we had a long list of potential destinations is an understatement. The number of towns that feature a craft brewery is exploding in every province. From Niagara to Oshawa to London, we had a lot of day-trip options available to us. But we went with the cozy city of Cambridge. And the choice was made almost exclusively because of the social media photography from Barncat Artisan Ales (yes, your Instagram posts matter!).

The Town

Cambridge is a city of almost 130,000 people that has the Grand River cutting through it. From what we understand, the amalgamation of three towns in the 1970s that created Cambridge was a controversial move to say the least. We won’t dive into political history, but the identities of those towns are still clear to this day. It can feel like you’re crossing borderlines as you drive down a street from one former town into another.

Like many growing Ontario cities, Cambridge is a blend of urban sprawl and rustic charm. The city is located in a part of Ontario where large population growth is just part of life. The research and technology hub of Kitchener-Waterloo is a short drive from Cambridge, with both Toronto and Hamilton being commutable distances too.

The Beer

As of April 2017, Cambridge has two craft breweries. But with how fast craft beer is growing, that number could be higher by the time we hit publish. There is a really nice diversity in styles and approaches between these two breweries.

Barncat Artisan Ales

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It was Barncat’s Instagram pictures that drew us to Cambridge. They post beautiful, simple pictures that make even the most casual beer drinker drool.

If you are planning a trip to Barncat, take note that they are open only Friday evening and all day Saturday. Barncat has a staff of two. They do all the brewing, marketing, frontline sales, etc. Plus, they have full-time jobs outside of beer. That’s a busy schedule! Sunday is brew day, they post the weekend lineup on their website Thursday and then you jump in your car and get there as fast as you can on Friday. Everything is sold in growlers (feel free to bring your own) and there is often a special 750mL offering too.

This is where brewtripping with a baby changes things. At Barncat, I ran in for a few quick samples, had a short conversation and then bought some beer while Jenn fed our daughter. She (the baby) was getting cranky and needed food. To be fair, Jenn was also getting cranky and needed beer. Oh, the sacrifices we make as parents.

Barncat really mixes up their style offerings, but the IPAs and pale ales are pretty much always there. And damn, the IPAs are delicious. We walked away with:

  • Double the Juice – Double IPA
  • Eminence – New Zealand Hopped IPA
  • Cat Reactivator – Coffee Barleywine (using coffee from nearby Monigram Coffee Roasters)

Barncat has only been around a year, but they are making amazing beer. Well worth the trip just to try their lineup!

Grand River Brewing

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Compared to brand new Barncat, Grand River is a trailblazing veteran of craft beer. At over 10 years old, Grand River was brewing beer before if was cool to be a craft brewery. It’s breweries like this that we can thank for kickstarting the local beer revival that we all enjoy now.

Anyone in southern Ontario will know the Grand River brand from the LCBO. Their offerings like Plowman’s Ale and Russian Gun Imperial Stout have likely made it into a lot of beer drinker’s fridges whether or not they’ve ever visited the brewery.

The brewery itself, located just outside the Galt area’s downtown, pays homage to Cambridge’s deep industrial heritage. For 100 years before Grand River made it a brewery, the building was home to the Galt Knife Company. In restoring the building, Grand River has done an excellent job preserving its character and charm. The small retail shop leads into a really nice event space and taproom. If not for the again cranky baby, we would have taken some time to relax in there.

The parking situation was a little difficult for us as there is limited space available. But that was a minor inconvenience.

One thing that we really like about Grand River is their commitment to brewing beer with an alcohol content of 5% and under. This makes Grand River a great beer to have in the fridge for when you get home from work.

Our visit was short, but we left with a nice sampling of their style range:

  • Dogstalker Bock
  • Galt Knife Old Style Lager
  • Curmudgeon IPA

The Restaurant

Interior of Beertown Cambridge.

Whenever we visit a new town we want to experience the tap list at a local restaurant. Again, this is where Baby Brewtripper makes things interesting. When you’re pushing a stroller around, trendy little restaurants are not ideal. So, we needed a spot with more space.

Thanks to feedback from the wonderful beer community on Twitter, we decided on Beertown. Located on Hespeler Road, Beertown is in the middle of Cambridge’s urban sprawl area. The road is a gauntlet of shopping complexes, big box stores and fast food restaurants. Beertown was like an oasis in the desert (and it’s about a two minute drive from Barncat!).

First of all, Beertown is large. There was a ton of space to park a stroller. Second, the customer service was excellent. Thirdly, the beer list was extensive and wonderful. And lastly, the food was really good.

The highlight was definitely the service. Right away they gave us a corner booth so the stroller wouldn’t be in the way for us or them. They knew the beer list well, were eager to give suggestions and were quick in getting things to our table. And when the manager saw me wearing a Collective Arts shirt, he grabbed us each a sample of the newly released IPA No. 2; huge bonus marks for that!

Beertown offers a rotating cask, rotating draught specialities, core draught options and an extensive bottle list. I went for the cask option which was The Train Has Left the Station from Great Lakes Brewery. Jenn went with a flight of Innocente’s Dubbel Vision, Cowbell’s Abbey Braggot, Sawdust’s Lone Pine and Bench’s Twenty Mile.

There are several great options in Cambridge for getting a taste of Ontario craft beer, but we highly suggest you check our Beertown!

The Experience

Cambridge benefits from being located in a beautiful part of Ontario. Rivers, waterfalls, rolling fields and thick forest give you a lot of outdoor adventure options.

For us, we needed to relatively stay close to the car for diaper changes and feedings (only some of which were for the baby). Cambridge features several downtowns because of amalgamation, but we decided to visit Galt. The free two hour parking will make any visitor smile. The walking paths along the Grand River are pretty, leisurely and free (hooray!). Plus, you’re only a block or two away from shops, restaurants and parks.

Monigram Coffee Roasters is very close by and has great coffee and snacks. Old City Hall and the armoury are both worth a look if you’re into architecture.

For a Saturday afternoon, the streets were pretty quiet. Those of us out and about were simply enjoy one of the first warm days of spring, so there were lots of smiles.

Scattered around Cambridge are several conservation areas and parks. We heard great things about Shade’s Mills, but there is an entrance fee, so we opted for those that were free. Churchill Park, just a short drive from Grand River Brewing, was a nice alternative. The park is great for families, with trails, playgrounds, splash pad and duck pond. The caged area with a very tame deer was unsettling, but it certainly drew crowds of kids.

Overall, Cambridge was a great return to brewtripping. Having a baby will forever change this experience for us, but that isn’t a bad thing at all! And now that we’ve survived our return to craft beer tourism, we’re especially excited to get back out on the road exploring towns, tasting beer and enjoying our time together as a family!

Jenn’s Edit

It’s amazing how trekking along with a baby can change your perspective. Back in the days Before Baby, we could do pretty well whatever we wanted without worrying about things like noise or accessibility, and only minimal toilet and food disruptions. This time around, though, we had a lot more to consider, like buildings and stores we couldn’t enter because of stairs or tiny spaces, and our trip ended up being a lot quicker than we’re used to. There was probably a lot more to Cambridge than we saw, since Captain Cranky-Baby limited the number of stops we could make. If there’s anything we missed or stops you’d recommend, let us know! Cambridge was a really nice spot and we’d love to return for a sequel!

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