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Ontario's Craft Beer Culture is a Collaboration Nation

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I haven't always been a beer lover. My relationship with beer has been one that's evolved over the past decade as my career in culinary tourism has afforded me the opportunity to be exposed to the craft brewing industry. In my travels across the province of Ontario I have found some real gems: the Dead Elephant Ale of St. Thomas's Railway City Brewing Co., the Summer Weiss from Muskoka Brewery and my favourite: Beau's All Natural Brewing Co. Lug Tread Lagered Ale. So, when recently asked if I wanted to participate in a Collaboration Nation brewing project I jumped on the opportunity! What's Collaboration Nation you might ask? It's a key element of the programming for the annual Session Toronto -- an event that showcases the one-off brews of the collaborative efforts between 20 of Ontario's craft breweries and "celebrities" of sorts.

My co-collaborator was Black Oak Brewing Company located in Etobicoke, ON. In my brief correspondence with Sonja North, the Brewery Coordinator, I was taken through the concept of the developing a recipe for a single cask brew. I was asked what type of flavour profiles I liked in my beer. Did I prefer something "hoppy" or subtler? In thinking about what I would bring the brew and as "Ms. Ontario Culinary" I needed a key Ontario ingredient that would likely pair best with a wheat beer. I set off on my research to prepare.

On the day of our brew, my spouse Andrew Mackenzie, and I headed up to Mississauga to grab our secret ingredient -- peaches! Peaches in May you might ask? Lucky for us in Ontario, we have passionate local food suppliers such as 100 Kilometer Foods, who have a source for many of the great tastes this province produces -- they carry frozen Niagara peaches.

With our 16-pound bucket of peaches we headed to Black Oak Brewery for an early morning start, not entirely sure what the experience would hold. Already in full production mode, President Ken Woods took us through the brewery to introduce us to his team, all of who were super excited that the peaches had arrived. We met Jon Hodd, a self taught home brewer who works under the mentorship of head brewer Simon DaCosta (in fact the two have partnered to develop their own brand "Radical Road" and are releasing their Wayward Son Ale which is aged in Pinot Noir barrels in June at the LCBO). There was Aaron Spinney (a graduate of Niagara College's Craft Beer program) who is the head brewer for one of Black Oak's contract brewing partners-Sawdust City and Amber Dawkins (their summer intern who's currently taking the Niagara College program).

We were immediately put to work, oddly enough, grilling our frozen peaches. Jon and the crew informed us we would be making a German Hefeweizen style beer (noted for its low hop bitterness -- a quality I prefer in my beers of choice) and that they wanted the peaches to be caramelized to activate the natural sugars in the fruit and add flavour character to the brew. Once our peaches were perfect we help Jon pull together the batch. Heating the water to 67 degrees, stirring in the milled grains (40 per cent wheat, 50 per cent two-row, and 10 per cent caramunich) and then squeezing in the grilled peaches. The vat was sealed to spend 45 minutes mashing, then boiling before it would be transferred to a cask to continue on the life cycle of becoming our beer.

So, how'd it taste? We don't know! The really exciting part that we get to find out on June 22nd during Session Toronto at Artscape Wychwood Barns where the 20 collaborators tap their casks for the droves of craft beer loving fans! If you're a beerliever and want to come try my first kick at the brewing can, come and ask for a pint of our "Son of a Peach"!