A Mountie and a Buffalo Walk into a Bar.
It's the name of a small-batch craft beer brewed at Brimstone Brewing Company in Ridgeway, Ont., with help from the brewers at Rusty Nickel Brewing in West Seneca.
The Belgian-style IPA is among a collection of more than 30 ambitious brewing collaborations that have taken place in recent weeks in Southern Ontario and Western New York – half of them in Canada, the other half in the States.
A maple toffee milk stout, Italian grape ale and New England-style IPA were among those brewed on the American side.
Ontario-based concoctions included a farmhouse IPA, a strong ale made with Belgian waffles and blueberries, and a German sour aged in oak with apricots.
"Beer-wise, if you turn brewers loose, they will come up with some really off-the-wall beers," said Scott Shuler, brewmaster at 12 Gates Brewing Company in Amherst, who helped plan the inaugural Canadian-American Beer Festival, originally scheduled for this weekend in Niagara Falls.
Organizers announced two weeks ago that government red tape prevented them from bringing the Canadian-brewed beers over the border.
Still, there is beer to drink. Really good beer. So participating breweries are throwing two events instead, one on each side of the border. The first event starts at noon April 8 at Pizza Plant (7770 Transit Road, Amherst) showcasing the beers made in Western New York. Brews made in Southern Ontario will be rolled out from 2 to 6 p.m. May 5 at Augusta's Winking Judge Pub (25 Augusta St., Hamilton, Ont.).
Those who attend either event are likely to rub elbows with the makers of the specialty beers from each side of the border.
"It's a little disappointing," said Clay Keel, chief brewing officer at 42 North Brewing Company in East Aurora. "I say that because this festival was two years in the making and coordinating more than 30 breweries in two countries is no small feat. With that said, I am excited about the events in both New York and Ontario that will showcase each country's creativity and brewing expertise."
Remaining product will be sold in the two venues in the days that follow, as well as the taprooms in the establishments where they were made.
"We want more people to know our beer," said Rob Creighton, brewmaster with Shawn & Ed's Brewing Company, which opened on April Fool's Day two years ago in a former curling and skating rink in Dundas, Ont., outside Hamilton. The change in plans is disappointing, he said, "but we will make the best of it and I look forward to attending both events."
Those unfamiliar with the Winking Judge will find it an "experience all in itself," Creighton said. The tavern includes 22 taps and a cask engine, and its beer festivals usually sell out.
Keel, who came from a brewery in Tampa, Fla. to help start 42 North about three years ago, had worked on collaborations with other American brewers, including Ithaca Brewing Company and Kings County Brewers Collective (KCBC) in Brooklyn, but never on one with Canadian brewers.
Last month, the 42 North beer-makers worked on a North American pale ale in the East Aurora brewhouse with Creighton and his brewing team.
Meanwhile, brewers from Community Beer Works in Buffalo visited Shawn & Ed's to craft an oak-aged pilsner, while a 42 North contingent headed north of the border to Royal City Brewing in Guelph, to help brew a light beer they called New World Saison.
Brewers on each side of the border have their preferences. On the U.S. side, where India Pale Ales are king, many craft beer enthusiasts seek beer steeped in bitter-tasting hops, often cloudy and unfiltered. Canadians, in general, tilt more toward British-, Belgian- and French-style brews that contain more balance and maltiness.
But the serious craft beer world is big. Experimentation is encouraged. Tastes vary. Differences are embraced.
Collaborative brewers on each side of the border had to make some adjustments. Batches in Canada are measured in liters and hectoliters; in the U.S., it's gallons and barrels.
"I don't really know the Celsius scale and they don't have the Fahrenheit scale, so that makes it a little tough," Keel said. "We have our unique challenges and they have theirs. Everybody's marketing is different because of rules and regulations. Otherwise, the brewing is the same, the ingredients are the same."
Building relationships count in both places.
"This is a social industry," said Creighton, a 40-year brewing veteran who began his career with Labatt. "We go to each other's breweries, compare notes. You talk. You share. Can it be better than that? This has been an opportunity to start this off."
Governments on both sides of the border share some of the blame for the complications. Regulations in Canada are so stringent that small U.S. brewers can't hope to shoulder the time and expense to export their beers into the country.
The glitch for the first Can-Am Beer Festival, however, comes in the way the organizers – the Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association and Ontario Craft Brewers – tried to import beers from Southern Ontario into Western New York.
Canadian breweries – including Flying Monkeys, which was part of the collaborative effort – use U.S. import companies to handle the process, but in those cases they regularly ship far greater quantities of beer. Because each Canadian brewery planned only to ship about 65 gallons into the American side of Niagara Falls, organizers aimed to bring them in under a diplomatic arrangement that didn't work out, said Willard Brooks, president of the Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association.
In the end, the two events will give brewers and beer lovers on both sides of the border the chance for a little more face time in advance of the first Can-Am Beer Festival, already scheduled for April 13, 2019. An official importer will be used for that.
"This is such a great idea, and not only for beer," Keel said. "We need to really look at other business, too."
CAN-AM BEER FEST – WNY BETA
Noon April 8, Pizza Plant, 7770 Transit Road, Amherst
Admission is free with special flight pricing on collaborative beers brewed in Western New York.
Beers to try
Do You Have Anything to Declare?: Rusty Nickel Brewing of West Seneca hosted Lock Street Brewing of St. Catharines, Ont. to brew a maple toffee milk stout with help from New York State malts and hops and Canadian maple syrup.
If You Must: 12 Gates Brewing in Amherst and Nickel Brook from Burlington, Ont. worked on this German-style pilsner made with New York State malts and hops. Leonard Oakes Estate Winery in Medina pitched in with Riesling grape must to give this Italian grape ale a wine-like introduction to the senses.
Canadian Standoff: 42 North Brewing Company of East Aurora hosted Shawn & Ed Brewing of Dundas, Ont. to create a North American pale ale that will be big on hop fruit, hop aromas and flavors, but balanced by English pale malt.
CAN-AM BEER FEST – ONTARIO BETA
2 to 6 p.m. May 5, Augusta's Winking Judge Pub, 25 Augusta St., Hamilton, Ont.
Those who pay $50 (Canadian) will get unlimited tastings of collaborative beers brewed in Southern Ontario, as well as food and a commemorative tasting stein.
Beers to try
A Mountie and a Buffalo Walk into a Bar: Brimstone Brewery in Ridgeway, Ont. and Rusty Nickel from West Seneca joined forces for Belgian IPA, fermented with yeast harvested from Rusty Nickel's Dubbel Polar Vortex. The sweetness of the Belgian ingredients will slightly temper the IPA hoppiness.
Slam Dunkel: Flying Monkeys Brewing of Barrie, Ont. hosted 12 Gates Brewing of Amherst to build a dark, malty German beer with a flavorful mix of chocolate, banana and fruit notes with a light caramel finish.
Angels & Apricots: Block 3 Brewing Company in St. Jacob’s, Ont. and Resurgence Brewing of Buffalo crafted a traditional German sour wheat with coriander and sea salt, fermented it with a Block 3 house culture of yeast and bacteria in an oversized oak vat called a foeder (pronounced food-er), and aged it for several months in red wine barrels along with apricots grown halfway between the two breweries.
Read more about all the beers being offered on one side or another at canadianamericanbeerfestival.com.