Thursday, January 26, 2012

Not The Same Old Mill

At long last, after months of anticipation, the Mill St. Brew Pub is finally open for business in Ottawa. And thanks to the Twittersphere, I had an early look at the new digs.

And because Mill St. is already my favourite Canadian brewery, I thought I'd squeeze in another review this week.

The official grand opening of the brew pub is this Friday, January 27, but the owners decided to open the doors early, in what they call a "soft open," in which the staff get a chance to serve a limited crowd and perform a test run of the training that they received. Word reached Mill St. fans through social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. As a follower of @MillStreetBrew on Twitter, I noticed the announcement about an hour before they opened their doors. I went straight from work.

The Mill St. Brew Pub is located at 555 Wellington Street, where the Ottawa River Parkway meets Wellington meets the Portage Bridge, where the old Mill Restaurant was located, which was, as the name suggests, an old mill. Mill St. has done a beautiful job transforming this building into a modern and cozy pub. Much of the original interior walls, which are stone, remain, and the main level is both open and intimate, with its large bar and private tables.

The moment you walk through the front doors you are met with two copper kettles behind glass, attesting to the fact that this pub is producing its own product. In fact, three beers are currently on offer that are available only at this pub. I sampled one of them—more about that shortly.

The staff was friendly, greeting me immediately at the front door and offering me my choice of table or bar. I chose the bar: I wanted to be able to speak with the servers easily and listen in on the conversations around me. I was taken care of by two servers at the bar: Karine and Kerri, both friendly and knowledgeable.

Kerri and Karine, busy at work
I decided to try only three of the beers on tap this evening. I know that over the months and years that I plan to visit this establishment, I'd have plenty of time to become intimately familiar with all that was on offer. I wanted to try one of the exclusive ales and then try my favourite styles: stouts and porters.

So without further ado, here's the skinny on my picks.

Beer #1: Portage Ale (5% alc/vol)

This classic cream ale is deep gold in colour with a clean, white head. I picked up a faint hint of straw on the nose and the palate delivered a clean taste with mild hops in the finish. I found Portage to be palate cleansing, especially when I enjoyed it with calamari.

According to the beer menu, this cream ale is brewed in a style that is traditional with several breweries that once occupied space on the neighbouring Lebreton Flats. It is brewed with Canadian pale malt and a blend of European and American hops, and is double-fermented.

While I enjoyed the Portage, I was eager to move on to my favourite, darker styles of beer, and so I moved on to my next choice.

Beer #2: Cobblestone Stout (4.2% alc/vol)

To be honest, I have actually tried Cobblestone once before: a couple of years ago, at Bluesfest. At the time, I was volunteering for the Ottawa Blues Society and was more interested in quenching my thirst than sitting back and giving the stout my full attention. All I remembered from that day was that I really liked this stout.

Reunited, I gave this glass my full, undivided attention. This stout has a deep ruby-brown colour with a latte head. The nose revealed a nutty aroma with tobacco and oak. In my mouth, I detected bold, roasted coffee and dark chocolate. This was a serious stout that left a bold finish and had me wanting more.

Cobblestone Stout is a traditional Irish stout that gives that famous cascading effect when poured. Being lighter in alcohol, it is one of those light beers that leaves you satisfied.

There's a reason I liked this stout so much at Bluesfest: it's one of the best stouts I've ever had. I lingered on this pint, savoured every drop. I was tempted to order a second, but I needed to concentrate. I needed to keep my head.

I was working.

Beer #3: Vanilla Porter (5% alc/vol)

Do you remember the review I wrote about the Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer? Remember how it reminded me of Vanilla Coke?

Yeah, well this beer is nothing like that.

It reminded me nothing of that syrupy soft drink. But there was plenty of vanilla in this porter. Brewed with pure, organic, Mexican vanilla extract that is undeniably present from first smell to finish, this porter is sweet without cloying. The colour is similar to root beer—a caramel red-brown with a light, creamy head. On the nose, in addition to vanilla, I noticed toffee. It left a distinct vanilla palate with a clean, light finish. The finish was a stark contrast to the boldness of the stout. It was delicious.

If you're going to try the stout and porter in one sitting, I strongly recommend that you drink the stout first. The sweetness, though mild in the porter, would spoil the full effect of the stout.

Of the three beers I tried, my clear favourites were the stout and porter, but I did enjoy the cream ale. And as I said, I have plenty of time to get to know these beers well.

The Mill St. Brew Pub is a highly welcome establishment to Ottawa. As I told Kerri, I plan to be a regular; with free WiFi, it might even be my second home, where I will possibly sit and write the sequel to my novel.

On this soft opening, the pub received the attention of the media. Sandra Abma of CBC News arrived and provided her own report. A cameraman panned around the bar area, and as I found out when I got home, I was caught in the background. You can see me here:

You can see the full CBC News story here.

Two can play at that, Sandra!
If you're in the neighbourhood on Friday, drop in and check out the Mill St. Brew Pub. I plan to make another appearance too, and plan to review the other Ottawa-only drafts for next Monday. Stay tuned.

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