Thursday, January 18, 2018

Beer O'Clock: Riding on a Brew Donkey

Alcohol and weapons: what could possibly go wrong?

Absolutely nothing. In fact, everything went right, thanks to the friendly folks who organized this beer tour, which included a stop at an axe-throwing venue.

Brew Donkey has been operating for four years to whisk craft-beer-loving and adventure-seeking folks as far away as Whitewater Brewing, up the Ottawa Valley, to Beau's Brewing, in Vankleek Hill, to try new beer or solidify their love of favourites. Recently, this brew-touring company has expanded into the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and offers tours to Guelph, Elora, and other neighbouring towns.

I tagged along, last weekend, to see what many people have enjoyed over the years.

Brew Donkey's Web site is extremely easy to navigate and find the tour that suits your schedule and needs. A typical tour includes two or three breweries, with as many as four, if the breweries are in close proximity. The tour provides lunch, water, and snacks on the bus, and includes beer samples at the breweries. Prices range from about $72 to $98, plus tax, depending on the package.

It is highly recommended that you don't drive to their Wellington Street location: first, there is limited street parking in this Hintonburg neighbourhood, and you risk a ticket and possible tow, when you exceed the two-hour time limit; second, there is potentially a lot of beer samples, plus any pints you purchase, and it would be unwise to try to drive home when you return from the tour.

Get a lift or take public transportation, and enjoy the tour responsibly.

I joined the Sip, Axe & Relax tour, which took us to Dominion City Brewing, in Beacon Hill, to BATL Ottawa, near Walkley Road and the 417, and finally, to Stray Dog Brewing, where we wrapped up.

Our bus left Hintonburg at 12:45 and make a stop along O'Connor and Sparks, to pick up more folks. Our tour guide, John, handed out tasting sheets and explained some simple rules about where we were going and expected conduct. Basically, leave the bus clean and treat each other with respect. We didn't want to be the tour that made future tours at peril.

Our group was far from one of those tours.

John explained to me that many tours included folks who were already craft-beer lovers, but also included companies that were taking employees on team-building excursions, folks from out of town, and even those who would take their fathers on a tour.

Keep that in mind for Fathers Day, folks.

We had 23 people in our group, including myself but not counting John or our driver, Don.

At Dominion City, we sampled four different brews: their wet-hopped ale, a gorgeous IPA (I'll be reviewing it, next week), a Yule ale, and a delicious milkshake stout (again, see my next review). We also were taken on a tour, where we were shown how the brewers crafted their beer.

The next stop was to BATL Ottawa, where we were shown how to throw hatchets at wooden targets, about 12 feet away. There is a definite skill in throwing these axes: you must stand in a particular way and move your whole body as you follow through. the axe is held at the bottom of the handle, and you must bring it right behind you, with your arms fully bent. You must also release the axe when your arms are fully extended.

It's a lot to think about but when everything works out, the axe will find its way to the target.

After we had some practice time, we started a competition. We had three rounds of three attempts, with five throws for each attempt. You would be paired with an opponent, where you would throw your axe five times, adding your points before you moved to your opponents spot, and throw five more times. Finally, you would go back to your original spot and throw your last five axes.

I won my first round, lost the second round, and tied my third. In a tie, things change. You are provided a firefighter-sized axe and must stand further from the target. Half-points are awarded if the axe lands outside the target but sticks anywhere on the board.

On my opponent's first toss, the axe hit the floor, as did my first throw. Again, on the second toss, my opponent failed to get his axe to stick. On my second attempt, the unthinkable happened: my axe found the target and landed in the bullseye circle.

This activity is a lot of fun and I'm determined to take my family for an outing sometime soon.

Lunch was provided, while we threw axes, courtesy of Farm Boy and Suzy Q. Tasty sandwich wraps and decadent donuts kept us energized.

By the time we left the axe-throwing venue, it was dark and bitterly cold outside, but our bus was warm and waiting for us. We climbed aboard and headed for our final venue.

I had visited Stray Dog when they held their grand-opening party, last summer. I was already a big fan of their brews and have kept a supply of Shaggin' Wagon and Jeanne D'Ark in my basement. It was good to chat with brewers Marc Plante and Justin MacNeill, and sip a few more samples.

One of the reasons that I chose this particular tour was because both Dominion City and Stray Dog are outside of my general driving zones. To visit these breweries is a major detour to my work route. It made sense to go where I rarely get to go, especially since I like both of these breweries. Brew Donkey was the best solution to getting out to the east end of the city.

The magic of Brew Donkey is that they offer great tours to all of Ottawa's emerging breweries while keeping you fed, hydrated, active, and—most importantly—safe. And all of this at an extremely reasonable price.

Would I do Brew Donkey again? Absolutely. In fact, as I said earlier, it sounds like a great way to treat my father on Father's Day. But Brew Donkey is something that you should do at any time.

Thanks to Brad Campeau for inviting me to join the tour, to my friendly and knowledgeable guide, John, and to our safe and sober driver, Don.

Alcohol and weapons: a perfect combination when you're with a group that knows what it's doing.

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