Where to sip locally brewed craft beer in Ottawa

Not that we have anything against Bob and Doug McKenzie and their two-fours of Red Cap, but sometimes you want to step beyond brewskies and savour craft beers. With nearly two-dozen microbreweries in the Ottawa area – and more on the way – there’s never been a better time to enjoy the wide range of tastes that dedicated beer makers can concoct. Here are some leading servers of locally crafted beer.

Clock Tower Brew Pub

422 MacKay St, Ottawa, ON K1M 2C4

Sure, there may be other Clocktower pubs around town that are newer and shinier than this one, but this is the city’s first brewpub, opened in 1996, and it’s where Clocktower’s brewing takes place. Among the five regulars on tap is Kolsch, a sweet, light brew that’s a good starter for craft beer novices. Seven additional taps rotate through seasonal brews such as traditional Vienna ales and a hearty IPAs. Much of the pub’s food incorporates its brews. For example, there’s brown ale in the house gravy and ESB in the braised cabbage.

Les Brasseurs du Temps

170, rue Montcalm, Gatineau, QC J8X 2M2

Quebec has a vibrant beer scene. There’s no better player than Brasserie du Temps (known hereabouts as BDT). It serves 16 of its own in-house brews at any given time, including Brett de Hull (a sparkling double wheat beer aged in Pinot noir casks) and Midnight Mass (with flavours of anise, orange and grape). Can’t decide? Try the “horlage,” a 12-brew sampler. The boisterous venue, which serves creative dishes prepared using local ingredients, features a small museum on the history of brewing in the area. Its patio overlooks Brewery Creek, where capital-area brewing began.

Beauty Beer

2750A Iris St, Ottawa, ON K2C 1E6

This brewpub-cum-sports bar has a great pedigree. Brewmaster Lon Ladell once helmed the brewhouse at Victoria’s Spinnaker Gastropub, Canada’s first brewpub. Owners include Ottawa Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, whose nickname “Big Rig” is the pub’s name, too. The newcomer of the year at the 2013 Ontario Brewing Awards, the pub makes a black IPA that topped its category at the Canadian Craft Brewing Awards. Flagship ale Big Rig Gold is made with hops grown on Phillips’s farm. And over the din of a busy night at this 300-seat hot spot, enjoy decent pub grub (moist fish tacos, savoury meat loaf).

Mill Street Brew Pub

665 Albert St, Ottawa, ON K1P 1C5

The first outpost of Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery is well situated: a 140-year-old grist mill near Chaudière Falls on the Ottawa River, where a huge summertime patio offers an appealing afternoon getaway. The place is perennially packed and serves its own beers, including a couple by brewmaster Adam Rader different from those available in Mill Street’s Toronto pubs. Credit Ottawa’s softer water. Portage Ale is a light, crisp cream ale; Ambre de la Chaudière carries hints of fruit and spice. Beer flights are available; so, too, are Saturday brewery tours.

Lowertown Brewery

73 York St, Ottawa, ON K1N 5T2

Opened in 2014 in a former Hard Rock Café, Lowertown offers two lagers and two ales of its own, as well as products brewed by Clocktower, which has an interest in the business. The place has consciously tried to connect to the history of this one-time, rough-and-tumble area, with industrial decor that recalls a 19th-century logger’s home and locally sourced foods of yore. The menu features meats smoked in-house and juicy rotisserie chicken. Upstairs is a rooftop patio with a retractable roof for all-season use, a first for Ottawa.

Brother's Beer Bistro

366 Dalhousie St, Ottawa, ON K1N 7G3

There are six gluten-free choices on the beer menu at this quietly upscale ByWard Market spot. Also find seven stouts, 13 Trappist ales and Canadian craft beers by Sawdust City and Dieu du Ciel, widely considered Montreal’s best brewpub. The 16 taps – many of which are locals such as Ashton and Dominion City — change frequently, so you’ll always find a surprise. Knowledgeable staff will walk you through the menu, and flights are available. In the kitchen, chef Darren Flowers prepares in-house-cured duck, guanicale and terrines, perfectly seared halibut and a vegetarian take on spaghetti and meatballs.

Central Bierhaus

650 Kanata Ave, Kanata, ON K2T 1H6

If a giant German beer hall is your idea of suds-drinking perfection, then this Kanata stop is your best bet this side of Munich. With communal seating at picnic-style tables, you get to chat up strangers over a large selection of German, Belgian and other imported beers. Local crafts selections include Covered Bridge, Perth Brewing, Broadhead and even Beauty Beer, made by a hockey apparel firm (one of the owners is Ottawa Senators assistant captain Chris Neil). German and Belgian cuisine – think sausages, pretzels, mussels – is especially popular.

Pub Italia

434 Preston St, Ottawa, ON K1S 4N4

You’ve never worshipped in a church like this. Plopped in an old pew at Pub Italia, you’re surrounded by stained glass, arched windows, religious iconography, thuribles dangling from the ceiling. The theme continues when you’re handed the beer menu, piously titled “the Beer Bible.” You’ll find 13 Canadian drafts that include locals like Hog’s Back and a specially crafted ale from — where else? — Church Key in Campbellford. There’s also a grand range of Abbey and Trappist beers from Belgium, a couple of which are on tap, as well as bottled choices from other parts of the world. Hallelujah!

Irene Pub Restaurant

885 Bank St, Ottawa, ON K1S 3W4

A Glebe institution since Irene Corey opened this neighbourhood watering hole in 1985, Irene’s attracts an eclectic crowd from aging hippies, university professors and punks barely of drinking age to local politicos and musicians. Patrons enjoy regional drafts (Beyond the Pale, Kichesippi, Ashton) as well as taps from big boys like Keiths and Creemore. Thursday to Sunday, a wide range of live music is presented in the back room. The veggie burgers and daily specials here are remarkably good.

Bistro L'Autre Oeil

55, rue Principale, Gatineau, QC J9H 3L4

For a tiny space, Bistro L’Autre Oeil packs in a lot of beer – reportedly the largest selection in Quebec. Its 25 taps pour beers by several in-province breweries (among them, Brasseurs du Nord, Castor and the Gainsbourg microbrewery) as well as other parts of Canada and abroad. And the bottled brews – some 500-plus – hail from exotic places (by national capital standards) like the Yukon. The food menu is limited: nachos, olive bowls and other such snacks. But knowledgeable staff and a detailed alcohol menu will educate you as to why folks come here – the beer.

True enough, Ottawa ain’t the city that never sleeps, but that’s not because of a caffeine shortage, especially in Lowertown where coffee shops abound. If you can’t find something to give you a java jolt among these options, you really are sleepwalking.
Hotel bars aren’t a mere convenience for hotel guests. Some of Ottawa’s best are grandly sumptuous: perfect venues for a milestone occasion. Other bars are stylish and sleek, ideal for a dress-up date night. There are those where friends meet after work, and a couple that are perfect for the T-shirt-jeans-and-bottle-of-beer set. One thing our favourite hotel bars have in common, though, is decent drinks and nibbles.
Maybe it’s because our summers are short that all Ottawa citizens flock to restaurant patios as soon as the snow melts, and stay till it falls again. Some eateries plop down a couple of tables just about anywhere outside, abutting busy roadways where they snarl sidewalk traffic. But we’ve found great al fresco dining – from gourmet fare to burgers ‘n’ beer – that eliminates both sunstroke and exhaust fumes.
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