There’s Beer in Them Thar Hills!

It’s been five days since Bob had his right ankle taken apart and put back together again (for the second time) and we decided to get out of the house and shake out the cobwebs, creaky joints and the creeping cabin fever.  I don’t know why Pakenham popped into my head but it did.  I’d grown up knowing about it because of the ski hill but had never actually visited it.  So I looked it up, wondering if there was anything worth seeing, other than the heritage five-span bridge.  Lo and behold, it’s a tiny gem!

Pakenham is home not only to a heritage bridge but it also has a beautiful church called St. Peter’s Celestine Church (of Roman Catholic denomination) and a cheery general store.  This tiny village of just over 2000 people is also home to Cartwright Springs Brewery, a young, locally-sourced and environmentally-sustainable craft brewery.

I’m from a small town an hour outside Ottawa.  Our cabin is an hour outside of Ottawa in a slightly different direction.  I’ve been to many, but not all, of the villages and towns in and around the Ottawa Valley.  What some people new to Ottawa (or never having left Ottawa) don’t know is that the tiny towns, farming communities and cottage hubs only a short drive from the Nation’s Capital are home to a wealth of local colour, creativity, eco-stewardship, time-honoured traditions and some really great micro-breweries.

So, I grabbed my bag, Bob grabbed his crutches and off we went.

Pakenham is about a 25-minute drive from the west end of Ottawa.  Take the 417 until you see the exit for Kinburn Side Road.  Exit, turn left and drive a few minutes until you cross the very narrow heritage bridge.  Stop just before it or just after it for a good view of the historical stone spans.  At the stop sign after the bridge, turn left to go into the village.

The bridge was built in 1903 and while it’s had to be reinforced with concrete, public pressure has kept it from being entirely replaced.  This is actually astounding considering it’s a main thoroughfare and needs to withstand quite a bit of traffic.  It is the only one of its kind in North America.  There are parking lots on both sides and it is a beautiful place to cool your feet, have a picnic, take photos, paint or just sit and relax.  While the water doesn’t look that deep, a word of caution to those interested in walking across to the other side.  The current is quite strong in places and the moss quite slippy.  Be warned.

Pakenham Bridge
The Pakenham five-span bridge was built in 1903.

After that, we went to St. Peter’s church, which was locked so we did not get to see the inside, which is also apparently quite beautiful.

And then we headed to the brewery.  It’s a short drive out into the countryside.  Take Waba Road (Hwy 20) and you will start to see signs for the brewery, pointing you in the right direction.  But don’t look for a building or a house.  Tucked into the side of a hill, is a steel, domed structure.

We happened to arrive just as a tour was starting (Saturdays and Sundays at 1 pm).  Brewmaster André was installing a new fermenter with some of the other guys in the back while Eduardo, his business partner, was leading the tour.

The first thing I should mention about the tour is to make sure you don’t have anywhere else to go after.  This is not a factory tour; it’s not a 45-minute, hold-your-questions-until-the-end tour.  Eduardo invites you to sit at the hand-made bar and tells you about every aspect of the brewery as if you were guests in his home.  He fills your glass with samples of their draughts, hands out grains of malted barley for you to taste, and takes you outside to the spring to show you where the water they brew with comes from.  Ask any question you want.  If he doesn’t know the answer, he’ll shout back to André to get it.  After the guys in the back were finished installing the fermenter, they came out to the front to enjoy a few sips of brew and to join in the conversation.  The tour also goes into the back to get a lesson on the brewing process.

Cartwright Springs brew is made from a natural spring found on the land and you will get a history lesson of the land in the tour as well.  The natural minerality adds a unique taste to the beer that is brewed.  They also have another claim to fame – their Maple Porter – a beer made entirely with maple sap instead of water.  Bob is not a fan of maple anything (this makes me seriously doubt his Canadian birthright) but because the beer is made with sap (not syrup), there is only a hint of maple and it wasn’t overpowering as it can be when used as a flavour in other fall brews – or anything maple flavoured, for that matter.  Other house brews are Smash, I’d Tap That Blonde, Five-Span APA and Pakenham Bitter.

Another note worth mentioning is that because of my gluten allergy, we came to the brewery for Bob to enjoy an outing.  I was not expecting to have any.  I enjoy beer but I’m predominantly a wine drinker due to the scarcity of gluten-free beers.  But I was met with a happy surprise when Eduardo told me the Cream Ale is 99.9% gluten-free. Yippee!

The brewery is located where it is because the owners wanted to be as close to the source as they could be in order to reduce their carbon footprint.  This location allows them to pipe the water straight into the brewery without having to truck it in.  Not only that, because the two of them have engineering backgrounds, they figured out their own eco-friendly water treatment system, which allows their waste water at the site to be broken down and metabolised and then leached back into the ground.

All of these points make this local brewery worth supporting.  Their brews are available at restaurants in the area on a rotating basis so keep your eyes open for it!

Pakenham is a great way to spend an afternoon.  It’s only a short drive from Ottawa, bring a packed lunch and relax with a view of the bridge.  Stop at the general store for a sticky bun or buy a home-made chicken pot pie to take home.  See the church and then spend a couple of hours with André and Eduardo at the brewery.

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