Beer lovers may be familiar with Muskoka Brewery’s Detour, a dry-hopped IPA. The six-pack design boasts a vibrant teal cartoon map reminiscent of those available at provincial parks.
Both the eye-catching design and the name promise an enjoyable and leisurely drink, one that led me off the beaten path and in the right direction.
I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to meet Gary McMullen, the founder and head brewer of Muskoka Brewery, over a delicious pairing of food and beer at the Hintonburg Public House recently. The food, prepared by HPH’s inventive chef, was great and the beer was amazing.
Muskoka Brewery is a product of passion, hard work and a whole lot of hops! Twenty years ago, Gary was working in Ottawa as an aerospace engineer for the military. But a penchant for craft beer was brewing in him, as he made batch after batch of homebrew in his time off. At the age of 24, he was offered a reduction package and leapt at the offer to actualize his dream of opening a craft brewery in the place he had always called home, Muskoka.
He convinced his good friend, Kirk Evans, to join him and the two of them, with the help of nearly 35 shareholders, began the nearly two year process that culminated in the grand opening of Muskoka Brewery.
In 1996, mere months after the brewery’s opening, Kirk was in a tragic accident that left Gary nearly ready to pack it in. But he quickly reconsidered, knowing that a better way to honour his friend was continuing on with the dream that they had both worked so hard to make a reality.
With the Great Canadian Beer Festival happening in Guelph only a few short weeks after the accident, Gary had to get busy. With all that had happened, he had forgotten to order enough of the hops necessary to make the beer, so he overloaded it with Cascade hops and brought it to Guelph. The beer was a huge success, winning Best Canadian Ale.
Muskoka’s brews are pure, with no additives, no preservatives, and no adjuncts. Most of their products are unfiltered. They now sell their beer from coast to coast. The brewery is also a proponent of food and beer pairing, hosting Tap-to-Table events to explore new tasty combinations for everyone’s enjoyment.
“A beer tasting event like this would never have happened when we opened in ‘96”, remarked Gary.
The first course paired Muskoka’s Summer Weiss with lobster salad, made with raspberries, fresh peas and tasty snow pea shoots. Muskoka’s seasonal Summer Weiss is a German style wheat beer, made with Noble hops, wheat and barley. A bright golden brew with notes of banana and spice, this beer is a great replacement for the OJ at the breakfast table – it’s great with bacon and eggs!
“The Summer Weiss is a chef’s dream – so many things could have gone with it”, exclaimed Phil Dennehy, HPH’s chef.
The second course paired Muskoka’s Cream Ale with chicken poutine. Stylistically, this beer lands somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The fact that it suits all seasons is a testament to its versatility. Rich and warm, Muskoka’s Cream Ale is a comfort beer, best paired with comfort food.
Next came Detour paired with a spicy beer nut slaw. Launched in January of this year, Detour has quickly become Muskoka’s number one selling session beer. It’s a crisp, fruity beer which, at 4.3% ABV, you can enjoy more than a few of. Muskoka suggests pairing it with something light, like Thai mango chicken or a shrimp cocktail.
Course number four paired Mad Tom IPA with the HPH burger. Mad Tom IPA is a West Coast style IPA, dry-hopped with Chinook and Centennial hops. The hops are at the foreground of this beer, with grapefruit and pine lingering in the background. Mad Tom is great alongside spicy or smoked meats, especially poultry or fish.
To finish off the meal, a course of blue cheese and beets was paired with Twice as Mad Tom IPA. Twice as Mad Tom is chalked full of citrus and spice and everything nice, with three different kinds of malted barley and five different kinds of hops (Millenium, Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Aurora). Muskoka suggests enjoying Mad Tom alongside grilled meats, pulled pork, or my favourite, sharp cheddar cheese.
The craft beer market has grown exponentially since Muskoka Brewery started in 1996, but they’ve succeeded in straddling the line between growth and innovation. The brewery maintains its refreshing approach, promising a commitment to freshness, purity and independence. They are unafraid to challenge your palet and this tasting session proves it.