This year is Canada’s 150th birthday, and the capital, Ottawa, is preparing a pretty intense birthday bash. The city has plans for giant robot spiders and dragons, a 10-week light show in a light rail tunnel, the annual Juno music awards and the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup—Canada’s version of the Super Bowl.
But any good party needs libations, too. And thankfully, Ottawa’s beer scene these days is another reason to celebrate.
Eastern Ontario has seen an absolute explosion of breweries over the past five years, going from a mere handful to approximately two dozen today. So whether you’re fleeing the Donald Trump presidency or just taking someone’s advice that Canada’s the world’s top tourist destination for 2017, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a place in Ottawa (or over the river in Gatineau) to get a locally-brewed pint.
Tooth and Nail Brewing Company
Open for barely a year, Tooth and Nail has swiftly rose to the top rungs of Ottawa’s craft beer hierarchy. It’s an ascent based on the fact that they’ve taken traditional beer styles and absolutely nailed them (pun intended); on any given day, you’ll likely be able to get a pint of an immaculately-designed stout, Pilsner, IPA or pale ale. They also whip up smaller batches of specialty brews—past attempts have included a holiday ale and a historically-accurate Belgian saison—and if you can match up your visit to Canada’s capital with one of their beer launch parties, you won’t regret it. If you’re on the go, Tooth and Nail also offers a rotating selection of their beers in cans. One nice local touch: the brewery’s walls are decked out with maps of Ottawa’s street grid, so you might as well use them to plot out how to get to your next watering hole.
Here’s a good way to instantly bond with an Ottawan: tell them you’ve hung out at The Manx. This casually-cool basement pub on sports-mad Elgin Street has been a favorite of musicians, public servants, downtowners and pretty much everyone else since it opened more than two decades ago. The two dozen taps are generally dominated by Ontario craft beers, including regional brewers like Kichesippi and Beau’s All Natural, and there are usually at least a couple of seasonal options available. Their weekend brunch is near-legendary in local circles—and no one’s going to bat an eye if you request a pint with your huevos rancheros or tofu scramble. While The Manx’s coziness is part of its charm, it also means there’s not a lot of real estate available—so if you’re with friends, you may be in for a wait. Luckily, there’s plenty of beer to taste while you loiter.
The Arrow and Loon
The Glebe—a leafy neighborhood south of Ottawa’s downtown that’s lined with bistros and independent shops—has a reputation for being a bit precocious. You wouldn’t know it, though, if you dropped in for a brew at the Arrow and Loon (pictured at top). Set just off Bank Street, the neighborhood’s main strip, this British-inspired pub boasts both an unpretentious vibe and an unexpectedly comprehensive list of beers from around eastern Ontario and the Ottawa Valley. Ignore the sign outdoors for Alexander Keith’s, a nationally-popular macro pale ale, and instead order up a local pint from folks like Nita, Perth or the Ashton Brewing Company. The food’s standard pub fare, but the secluded patio and casks make up for it.
Les Brasseurs du Temps
Tourists visiting Canada’s capital usually have two reasons for crossing the Quebec border into Gatineau: either to hike the stunning Gatineau Park trails or to lose themselves in the sprawling Canadian Museum of History. Les Brasseurs du Temps is worthy of becoming the third reason. Set in a century-old heritage building overlooking the aptly-named Brewery Creek, BDT leans more heavily on the Quebec beer tradition than most Ottawa establishments. So if you like dunkelweizens and trippels, or enjoy beers with wheat-forward malt profiles and the aromas of bold Belgian yeasts, this is the brewery for you. And if you’re not sure what you like, you can sample 12 of BDT’s beers by ordering l’horloge, French for “the clock.” The quaint patio is arguably the best in the capital region, there’s a local beer history museum in the basement, and the language barrier is rarely an issue.
Brothers Beer Bistro
Ottawa’s ByWard Market neighborhood, with its vibrant nightlife and its proximity to museums, art galleries and Parliament Hill, is justifiably one of the city’s biggest tourist draws. It’s also plagued by an epidemic of interchangeable Irish pubs, which is why visiting brew enthusiasts should get acquainted with Brothers Beer Bistro. Open since 2011, the Dalhousie Street gastropub boasts 16 taps, and they often pour seasonals and one-offs from local brewers like Beyond the Pale and Dominion City that can be hard to find outside of the breweries themselves. The scope of their bottle list, meanwhile, is almost overwhelming—and if you ever feel the urge to drop $40 on an obscure bourbon barrel-aged stout, this is the place to do it. The eclectic menu includes dishes like tempura pickles, Pacific salmon tartar and charcuterie from Ottawa’s own Seed to Sausage—and the staff will know exactly which local beer to pair with whatever you’re craving.
Trevor Pritchard is a freelance writer and photographer based in Ottawa, Canada.