I don’t live all that far from Ottawa – about 5 hours driving, depending on the route. I’ve been to Ottawa a few times – grade 8 trip, grade 11 music trip, with Argonotes for Grey Cup and playoff games, and then in grad school for research. I thought I’d seen all the highlights already – I’d done the Parliament tour, been to the museums (but only on the school trips), toured the Byward market, and explored the National Archives (for research in grad school). It turns out I’d barely scratched the surface of what the Capitol Region has to offer, and even after a 5 day solo trip, I still have a lot more on my Ottawa bucket list. Solo travel is great because it gives you the flexibility to see what you want, linger if you choose, and change plans as needed. I had a few things I really wanted to do, one being a REDBLACKS game since I hadn’t been in Lansdowne since the Argos’ 2004 Grey Cup victory and it’s been redone quite nicely since then, but otherwise my plan was to meet up with friends, tour some museums, and drink good beer.
One thing with solo travel is that if you’re driving, you need to remember to stop and stretch your legs, and give yourself a break during the drive otherwise it gets monotonous. I stopped for lunch on my way into Ottawa, and then some severe weather made me make an unplanned stop that turned out to be an awesome experience. I took Highway 7 instead of the 401 because I knew there would be more places to stop on the way and I figured it would be a nicer drive all around. I was right – the leaves were just starting to turn, there are some really neat small towns, and the scenery is pretty great too. The weather was quite nice for the first 3.5 hours of the drive, but then it took a turn for the worse, and I got caught in a downpour so severe I felt it was best to pull off the road and wait it out. Luckily, I happened to pull off the road in Perth, Ontario, across the street from the Perth Brewery. Since one of the goals of my trip was to drink good beer, I took where I was stopped as a sign and headed into the brewery for a peek and a sample or two.
The Perth Brewery looks pretty standard from the outside, and if you’re not paying attention and don’t know it’s there would be easy to miss as you drive down Highway 7, but once inside you can see the beer being brewed, there is a gorgeous bar with all of their beers on tap, and a nice seating area where you can sit and have a pint. I was impressed with the variety of beers on tap – naturally I tried the amber since they’re my go-to beer style. The Easy Amber was quite nice but surprisingly wasn’t my favourite beer at the brewery. That honour went to the Bonfire Black Lager. The person manning the taps was extremely knowledgable about all the beer styles and told me how the black lager is made (since lagers are tradtionally much lighter colour-wise). She asked me about beer tastes and recommended a few other beers that I might enjoy. Since I was driving, I limited my samples to three, and bought the variety pack to take home.
Beer safely stowed in a cooler in my hatch, and the rain having slowed down considerably, I continued on my way to my Air BnB in Gatineau. I was originally going to get a hotel in Ottawa, but I left it a bit late and there were almost no rooms available anywhere for the first two nights of my stay (at least none under $450/night and I wasn’t going to pay that for a room I was going to be in for at most 9 hours a day). I ended up finding a cute little apartment, about 40 minutes walking time to the Ottawa side of the river. An apartment ended up being the best option since the beer had to be kept in a fridge and I was planning on buying a 2kg bag of cheese curds at Costco which would need refrigeration. It was my first Air BnB experience and while I liked it, I do quite enjoy the amenities hotels have – like coffee shops, transit information, and pools or gyms – so I won’t be abandoning hotel stays any time soon.
The storm that I had been forced off the road for in Perth had made its way to Ottawa, and there were trees down along the roads I was driving, a little unusual for September storms but nothing that I haven’t seen before. I had my GPS helping me navigate, and was driving along – when I noticed the trees almost swirling. “Uh oh, here’s round two” I thought. Turns out it was a downburst associated with the thunderstorm and the sudden wind knocked over some trees that had been damaged in the earlier storm – including one that was maybe 25 feet in front of me. Thankfully I was going slowly because it was an unfamiliar area and there were a lot of branches down so I was able to stop in time (as was the person behind me). I was more than a little shaken up, but the police and city workers were very close by and had the road cleared within minutes. While I was waiting, I messaged both my friend who I was supposed to meet for dinner and my Air BnB host, telling them I was going to be a little late because of the storm and a tree almost falling on my car. My friend agreed to pick me up at the Air BnB to save me walking to the restaurant which was awesome. Once I navigated over the bridge and into Gatineau, it was a really quick drive to the apartment. I got the keys and a brief tour of the apartment, grabbed my purse out of my car, and went off to Les Brasseurs du Temps for dinner and a well deserved beer.
The atmosphere at Les Brasseurs du Temps is pretty special. It’s not like a lot of brew pubs where either the food or the beer takes a back seat, both are equally important. The restaurant also has a beer museum within it, and it was a joy to wander through and learn about the 160 year old history of brewing in the region. We started off with the deep fried cheese curds. There wasn’t even much debate – as soon as I saw that on the menu, I knew I was going to try them. They were served piping hot, and while they certainly won’t qualify as health food, they were delicious. A little firmer than a mozzarella stick, but with a similar breading. I’m still drooling over them two weeks later, they were that good. I decided to go with beer battered fish and chips for dinner – they use their own beer in the batter and fish and chips is a good, allergy safe option for me. Again, it was delicious. I could taste the beer in the batter but it wasn’t overpowering the way some are. I started with a glass of water, and checked out the fully bilingual beer menu trying to decide which one to try. When I couldn’t decide on one beer, my dining companion helpfully suggested trying the clock. I have awesome friends.
The clock is exactly as it sounds – a sampler tray of 12 beers, arranged in a clock pattern. The beer menu is in the order of the clock so the first beer listed is at one o’clock and so on. The samples are 3oz each, so it was a good thing I wasn’t driving anymore. I tried every one, and finished all but three. The three o’clock beer had lavender and chamomile and my throat started to get itchy after my second sip so I abandoned it even though I did quite like the beer. The seven and twelve o’clock beers were both stouts and while I can appreciate a good stout, I don’t generally enjoy drinking more than a sip or two of them. Of the rest of the beers on the clock, I quite enjoyed L’allumante – a nut brown ale that was very smooth and had a hint of caramel in the aftertaste – and though I’m not generally a pumpkin spice kind of girl, La Scie Trouillarde pumpkin ale is the kind of pumpkin flavour I can get behind. Truth be told though, any of the beers on the clock would have gone well with the food and the wait staff were certainly knowledgeable about both the food and the beer list and happy to help. I suspect that Les Brasseurs du Temps is going to be a must visit every time I’m in the Ottawa area because it’s just that good.
Full of good food, great conversation, and delicious beer, my friend dropped me off at my Air BnB and I unloaded my stuff from the car, chilled out in the apartment, and went to bed happy, but exhausted. In my next post I’ll talk a little less about beer and more about my first taste of poutine and exploring in and around the Ottawa area.