Grand River Brewing ("GRB") is located at 295 Ainslie St. in downtown Cambridge, Ontario. It is situated in an historical building which was the original home of the Galt Knife Company, a manufacturer of industrial knives for 100 years. The building is typical of industrial buildings built at the beginning of the 20th century...red double brick construction with many large windows. The location gives the brewery a distinct street presence and GRB is taking advantage of the windows by situating the brew house so it will be visible to passing motorists.For our first beer from GRB, we picked up a 500 ml bottle of their Russian Gun Imperial Stout ("RGIS") from the LCBO, stamped with a February 8, 2012 bottling date. RGIS was 8.0% alcohol by volume.
RGIS poured a very dark brown/black colour, impenetrable by light. An aggressive pour produced 2" of dense, caramel coloured head that lasted for roughly 5 minutes before dissipating to a frothy cap which left lots of beautiful lacing down the glass. It's certainly a good looking beer. The aroma was fairly subdued and dominated by dark malts, with chocolate undertones. Its taste began with a sweet chocolate milk flavour, transitioning to coffee...very nice. But wait...2-3 seconds after swallowing the beer it develops a very bitter taste, with a strong, long lasting bitter/burnt aftertaste that crosses the border into unpleasant. The level of carbonation was low, typical for a stout, with a creamy mouthfeel, and I would describe RGIS as medium to full bodied. The verdict...the overpowering bitterness and aftertaste ruined the experience for me...I struggled to finish the bottle. It's a shame...if Grand River could lose the bitterness I think they'd have a winner here. As it is, I wouldn't buy RGIS again and at $4.60 per 500 ml bottle, it is a bit on the pricey side.
Rating 6.20 / 10
One of six different beers purchased directly from Grand River's Cambridge Brewery, Bucky first sampled a 500 ml bottle of their Pugnacious Pale Ale (“PPA”). Bottled on December 6, 2013, PPA is a beer in the American Pale Ale style with 4.5% alcohol by volume.
PPA poured an absolutely clear copper-amber colour with plenty of visible carbonation bubbles, topped by about 1” of soapy white head. The head took about 3 minutes to dissipate, fading to a smooth cap of foam which left some modest lacing and spotting in its wake. Its aroma was dominated by grapefruit, with an undertone of lemon citrus. The flavour was dominated from the start by a strong bitter grapefruit with notes of lemon, with the bitterness mitigated only slightly by a mild caramel malt sweetness. The bitter grapefruit flavour lingered as a long-lived aftertaste. PPA's carbonation was surprisingly light considering the quantity of visible bubbles, and I would describe the beer as light-medium bodied with a creamy mouth feel imparted by the long lasting cap of foam.
While the beer's price was not individually itemized on my bill, I see that PPA sells for $3.95 per 500 ml bottle at the LCBO and that I paid an average of $3.49 per 500 ml for my collection of 6 different beers from the brewery's retail store.
Brew #2 of 6 purchased from Grand River's retail store in Cambridge, Ontario. Plowman's Ale came in a brown 500 ml bottle with a ‘bottled on' date of December 10, 2013 and was 4.7% alcohol by volume.
Plowman's poured a slightly hazy dark amber colour with notes of ruby, and plenty of visible carbonation bubbles. Pouring produced about 1” of thick, beige tinted foam that lasted for several minutes before fading to a 1/8” foam cap which left some attractive lacing all down the glass. Certainly a good looking beer. Its aroma was fairly mild, likely due to the ever present foam cap, but bitter grapefruit and sweet malt aromas were detectable. Plowman's taste began with a malty sweetness which quickly gave way to a strong grapefruit bitterness which lingered for several seconds as an aftertaste. I'm glad that there is some malty sweetness up front to mitigate the hop bitterness somewhat. The mouth feel was an interesting contrast of the creamy foam cap and what is a relatively light bodied beer…but the combination works. The carbonation was just enough to give the beer a bit of a bite. I see that Plowman's Ale sells for $3.25 per 500 ml bottle when available through the LCBO.
Beer #3 purchased from Grand River's on-premises store was their Jubilation Winter Warmer (“JWW”). It came in a brown 500 ml bottle with a bottling date of December 21, 2013, and was 7.0% alcohol. I understand that Grand River tweaks the recipe for JWW every year.
An aggressive pour produced about 2” of off-white head which lasted for 3 minutes before fading to a thin collar of foam and thin film across the beer. The head left zero spotting or lacing as it receded. JWW poured a clear dark orange/amber colour with lots of visible bubbles despite the beer's fairly dark hue. Its aroma was a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and squash??? Maybe my nose is malfunctioning because I see no squash but ‘orange' listed in the ingredients. The beer's taste is sweet malts up front, followed by cinnamon, nutmeg and squash again, with a delayed impact mildly bitter finish that doesn't linger. If you were to blindfold me I would have said that this was Grand River's pumpkin beer. The carbonation level was crisp and well suited to the beer, which I would describe as leaning toward the medium side of light/medium bodied. The squash aroma and flavour, and lack of orange despite its presence on the list of ingredients was a bit of a surprise, but since this reminded me of their of their pumpkin beer…which I like…I liked this one too. A decent brew for a cold Canadian night.
Another beer from the folks at Grand River Brewing, picked up from their on-site retail store. This time it's their Hannenberg Pils (“HP”), 4.5% alcohol by volume in their standard 500 ml bottle, bottled on December 15, 2013.
HP poured a clear yellow/gold colour, taking on more of the golden hue when backlit. An aggressive pour produced about 1.5” of bright white head which lasted for about 3 minutes before fading to a collar of foam and thin film, leaving behind some modest spotting. Its aroma was of sweet bready malts, with earthy and grassy notes as well. The sweet bready malts led off the flavour parade, followed by the earthy/grassy tastes, and ending with a mild hop bitterness. This is a nicely balanced beer, and although the flavours from the first mouth full were a bit odd, it was an enjoyable beer thereafter. I would describe HP as relatively light bodied with a crisp mouth feel and no lingering aftertaste, and the carbonation level is well suited to the brew. My favourite of Grand River's beers sampled so far…but I still have a couple of bottles in inventory.
Slowly working his way through the bottles purchased from Grand River, Bucky turned his attention to their 1913 Traditional Beer (“1913”). It came in Grand River's usual brown 500 ml bottle, with a bottling date of Nov. ?? (smudged) 2013 printed on the label. 1913 was 4.5% alcohol by volume.
A very aggressive pour produced 1” of fluffy, bright white head that left some respectable lacing down the glass as it retreated. The beer itself was an absolutely clear straw yellow. Its aroma was sweet caramel malts together with earthy and grassy hops. The beer's taste mirrored the aroma with sweet bready malts up front, followed by grassy/earthy hops and a mildly bitter finish. The hop profile reminded me very much of their Hannenberg Pils. I would describe the beer and light/medium bodied with an appropriate level of carbonation, and well balanced between the sweet and bitter. In summary, a relatively light, refreshing beer, but I would give a slight edge to their Pils overall.
The last bottle from Bucky's Grand River inventory was their Galt Knife Old Style Lager. The by now familiar 500 ml brown bottle was filled on December 12, 2013 and was 4.4% alcohol by volume.
Galt Knife poured a hazy golden amber colour, topped by 1.5” of lumpy off-white head. The head had very good retention and left plenty of lacing down the far side of the glass as it slowly faded to an uneven cap. Its aroma was of sweet malts, grass and earth. The taste began with a sweet malty flavor which quickly transitioned to grassy and earthy hops, while the finish was bitter with a hint of citrus to it. The bitterness, along with the beer's grassy and earthy elements lingered for quite some time as an aftertaste. For my personal taste the beer was a touch under-carbonated, but I understand that this may well be the norm for a “pre-prohibition style lager.” I would say that the beer was fairly light bodied with a smooth mouth feel from the ever-present foam cap. Not my favourite beer from Grand River…I could do without the long-lived aftertaste…but still a respectable brew.
Grand River Beer Tasting Visit
While Grand River Brewing in Cambridge, Ontario was not offering tours over the 2013 Christmas Holiday, visitors were welcome to drop by for tastings. We called first…just to make sure. When Bucky turned up one late afternoon with his party of 5, the brewery was fairly quiet with just two locals seated beside the bar enjoying their respective beers.
Bucky's entourage was met at the bar by Jordan who was doing double duty by covering the retail store. The bar area had no seating (the locals were seated on some sort of portable chairs), the only other furniture visible being the display case housing the brewery's awards, old school house style seating against the walls and remnants of machine tools used by the old Galt Knife Factory which currently serve as decoration. We were able to try 5 of their beers on tap including the last keg of their Highballer Pumpkin Ale, 1913 Traditional Ale, Galt Knife Old Style Lager, Hannenberg Pils and Mill Race Mild. The latter was Bucky's personal favorite being a mild dark beer with hints of cocoa and a smooth mouth feel with just a touch of hops. Bucky's brother in law leaned more toward the Galt Knife with a more hop forward taste balanced out by the malt presence. Not a bad brew among the five.
Our bartender was friendly and helpful, being able to tell us about the brewery's various year round and seasonal beers and about some of the (now) decorative machine tools which adorn the hospitality room. Despite being a bit sparse on the furniture, the hospitality room (which crucially houses the bar taps) has a decorative wood beam ceiling. After an enjoyable 30-45 minute visit, we left after picking up one bottle of each of the 6 beers available in the retail shop.