Monday, September 27, 2010

Wellington Brewery's 25th Anniversary Party!

 Wellington Brewery will always hold a special place in my beer-loving heart, as it was their brews that first started my down the microbrew-loving path.  After years of knocking back the usual imported fare in Kingston pubs, soon after arriving in Waterloo I was introduced to Wellington ales and I've never looked back.  Aside from being a standup brewery featuring some fantastic English-style ales and stouts, they also happen to be some great folks.  Always ready with a keg whenever you need it.  Our campus football team is sponsored by Welly - our kits are emblazoned with 'Arkell Best Bitter.'   Even when we lose, we win.   Indeed, Wellington will always be one of my very favorite Ontario craft brewers.

Usually, around this time of year, Wellington hosts an event called the "Welly Boot Chuck", which involves drinking lots of beer and then seeing how far you can huck a size 11 'Wellington' rubber boot.  Simplicity at its finest.   But this year, the event was superseded by the brewery's 25th anniversary celebrations, and I was damned excited to be a part of it.  Very few micro/craft breweries in North America have hit the quarter-century mark - only those few breweries like Wellington who started brewing right out of the gate (i.e., when small-batch homebrewing was legalized in the United States and Canada) can boast such a heritage.  Definitely worth a party.

And what a show it was:


The weather may not have been the greatest (it rarely is in late September), but the atmosphere was fantastic.  Upon our arrival, we walked up to the main gate to receive a souvenir cup and two beer tokens to get us rolling.   A donation to the local food back was all that was required for admission.  A great turnout throughout the day, but fortunately it never became overcrowded.  A great atmosphere.


For those not adequately dressed for the fall weather (i.e., me), there was the Duke Lounge, a cheery place full of folks slogging pints in front of a roaring fireplace, with college football on the tube and a friendly face behind the bar.  Well, not so much friendly - more stern and imperious.  A great lineup of brews: Special Pale Ale, County Dark Ale, Trailhead Lager and Silver Wheat Ale were on regular draught, while the Arkell Best Bitter was featured on cask tap, which was glorious.  For the beer geeks out there, Welly also put out a special cask-conditioned ale for the occasion - Oast House Ale - which utilized local area hops (some of which could be seen growing over the entrance to the Retail Shop.  Malty and with a slightly citrus tang to the hops.  Undercarbonated, even for a cask-tap, but still enjoyable.  Not sure what its future will be.   Two noticeable omissions from the lineup were the higher ABV folks: Iron Duke Strong Ale (6.5%) and their Russian Imperial Stout (8%) - my two favorite brews, but definitely understandable given the circumstances.  Wouldn't want things to get out of hand.

  For those eager to brave the weather was the outdoor bar, which served essentially the same lineup minus the cask taps.  Decent food selection for a big event such as this; in addition to the usual beer drinking fare of pulled-pork sammies and baked beans was a Thai food stand with a fine assortment of goodies.   Souvenir shop for t-shirts, hoodies and a "Try a Welly On" toque, the latter of which I managed to snap up.  Behind the brewhouse was a large music tent featuring some fine local bands, including the Speakeasies, Minotaur and Kidstreet, as well as an act featuring one of the main Welly beer delivery lads.  As a neat little addition, photographs celebrating the history of the brewery were projected onto the music tent ceiling.   Later that night, The Sadies were set to perform, but our bunch was feeling the effects and we decided to shuffle off.  Would have been a good show though.

Throughout the day, the Welly folks led whomever was interested (i.e., me) on a little brewery tour.  The tour was led by one of the brewmasters, so he certainly knew his stuff.  For a brewery with such a small output, the tour wasn't a long one, with all the brewing is more or less completed in one large brewing room, with an adjoining keg storage room for the delivery trucks.  Compare this tour with the 45 minute, multi-room Steam Whistle adventure and one can see the differences between the various craft breweries in terms of output.  About 6 or 7 brewing tuns of varying sizes, and with a growing bottling and canning operation, it looks like Welly is able to get things done despite such a small area.  Indeed, balancing brewing time amongst a (growing) lineup of beers can pose quite a challenge for any craft brewery owner. 


Good food, good beer, good music all contributed towards an excellent afternoon.  No bootchucking, unfortunately, but the celebratory atmosphere more than made up for the lack of drunk folks throwing rubber boots. 

Cheers to the folks at Wellington for 25 great years!  

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