Five beer destinations to check out near Georgian Bay

Make a weekend trip to these Collingwood-area breweries and bars


Plenty of Torontonians hear “Collingwood” and immediately think “Blue Mountain,” but the area’s booming beer scene is becoming a tourist draw in its own right. Next time you’re looking to head out of town for some quality suds, consider putting these spots on your itinerary.

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Natalia Manzocco

Side Launch Brewing

To many Ontario craft brew heads, Michael Hancock needs virtually no introduction. Formerly the brewmaster at Denison’s Brewing, where he created a standard-setting weissbier recipe, he poured his years of experience into this gleaming Collingwood brewery, which opened in 2014. The brewery, named for the local practice of launching ships sideways into the harbour, has since become a beacon in the Ontario beer scene, taking home the Canadian Brewery Of The Year title in 2016.

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Some breweries bank on wild experimentation, but Hancock sticks to tradition, focusing on a core lineup of four beers that adhere to a 16th century purity law limiting beer ingredients to water, hops, yeast, and malted barley. (Side Launch Wheat is the sole exception – wheat malt brings the ingredients list up to a whopping five.) 

Guests can taste those brews fresh off the line in the Side Launch tap room, in full view of the brewing operations. You might also find the odd one-off brew available – currently, it’s their easy-drinking Man Overboard Session IPA. Brewery tours are offered on weekends and can be booked by calling 1-844-293-2337.

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200 Mountain (Collingwood), 705-293-5511, sidelaunchbrewing.com


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Northwinds Brewhouse

Of all the beer offerings in the Collingwood area, this cheery brewpub is the least-known down in the Big Smoke. That’s somewhat understandable – aside from a few local bars, they don’t distribute too far past their own tap room. But given the range, diversity and quality of their brews, Toronto beer nuts should be sitting up and taking notice.

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Northwinds’ Collingwood location (a second, in Blue Mountain, is in the works) features a 15-barrel brewhouse and 16 taps pouring a kitchen-sink mix of styles. The indecisive can invest in a “skate flight”, which packs samples of the entire draught lineup onto a skateboard deck (Instagram bait level: 100). My top pick of the bunch is the stellar Crowded Camper IPA, which rolls in gently with delicious, almost desserty citrus, and peels out on a refreshing hop finish.

Oh, yeah, and don’t skip the menu of excellent pub grub – duck fat fries and jars full of warm pretzel bites are a must-order if you’re rolling with a group.

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499 First (Collingwood), 705-293-6666, facebook.com/northwindsbrewhouse


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The Collingwood Brewery

City slickers probably know this three-year-old brewery for its three staple beers – Downhill Pale Ale, Kingspost ESB and Rockwell Pilsner, which have all reached reasonable levels of saturation (and appreciation) in Toronto. But those who venture north to their brewhouse and tap room off a country road in Collingwood will be rewarded not only with the core pours, but a whole whack of impressive seasonal and limited draughts.

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The star of the summer lineup is the fruity, dangerously crushable Farmhouse Ale Saison if you’re lucky, you can catch the last dregs of their annual 1854 Anniversary Brews, released in May to commemorate the founding of the original Collingwood brewery. (This year’s was a rich red barrel-aged Belgian ale.) And though the beer is the main attraction, we’d be remiss not to mention their marvellously chill, airy tap room, which features a garage-style door to bring the outside in, plus a sunlit patio with Crayola-hued umbrellas. Brewery tours are offered hourly on Saturdays and can be booked on alternate days email retail@thecollingwoodbrewery.com for details.

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10 Sandford Fleming (Collingwood), 705-444-2337, thecollingwoodbrewery.com


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Creemore Springs Brewery

Creemore Springs was owned by a big beer conglomerate before that was cool. The 30-year-old brewery, the biggest business in the tiny town of Creemore, was snapped up by Molson in 2005, making them an early case study for what happens when a craft brewery becomes a part of a larger machine.

They’ve certainly changed in the years since – the enormous fermenting tanks that loom within a chilled room at the back of the brewery are products of a recent renovation. But the beer is still boiled in a copper kettle sent up from the American south the water for the beer is still brought in (with permission) from the titular local spring and the brewery is strict about not accepting deliveries or pickups outside of a certain time frame so as to not tick off the neighbours on Creemore’s charming main drag.

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“It’s a balance, is what it is,” brewmaster Paul Swindall (above, left) says, on the topic of mixing big-output technology with the human touch. “No automation makes it difficult to make consistent beer. Once you get to the size of [flagship product] Creemore Premium Lager , people have an expectation. But a place like this was built up by local people, farmers, friends of farmers. Is it our goal to automate and get rid of everything? No.”

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They’ve retained that human touch nicely at the Creemore brewery, which occupies the same cute be-awninged storefront space since opening day. Inside, under a chandelier of bottles, visitors can enjoy free (!) pours of some unpasteurized, Bavarian-style brews, and get a chance to check out that big-budget brewing gear for themselves via hourly tours (offered from noon until 4 pm daily). On the way in or out of town, stop across the street at the brewery’s sister restaurant Creemore Kitchen (below) for a falafel burger or a pot pie.

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139 Mill (Creemore), 705-466-2240, creemoresprings.com


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Wasaga Beach Brewing Company

True to the rest of its touristy, bombastic main drag, the Wasaga Beach Brewing Company looks more like Margaritaville than a beer bar. Its founders, Dave Cubitt and Peter Wilkins, look like they could just as easily be running a surf school. The bar itself is covered by a thatched straw roof and is surrounded by food stalls in tiny retro trailers, and the bar area is flanked by a merch booth selling all types of wares in beach-approved neon shades.

Wasaga Beach Brewing Company makes one lone beer: Beach One Cerveza, a pale 4.5% ABV brew meant to be (if you couldn’t guess by the superfluous Spanish in the name) a northern answer to Corona. “Our beer is about a lifestyle,” Cubitt says. “We’re a tourist town, and having a beach beer is really how we promote ourselves.”

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If this all sounds a little style-over-substance, that’s because it kind of is – but Cubitt and Wilkins know exactly what they’re doing. The contract-brewed Beach One (a proprietary facility is still in the works) is available at nearly every restaurant, bar and LCBO in the area. You can’t walk more than three feet on the beachfront without seeing a trash can, bench or promotional RV bearing the company’s punchy branding and logo of a cartoon plover. The bird has become the subject of aggressive conservation efforts in the area, and when the company settled on its logo, they began donating the profits from their shirts to the Save The Plovers fund.

“Although we didn’t grow up here, we’re very entrenched in these community,” Wilkins says. (He adds he and his wife have three businesses in the area.) Big things are coming up for Wasaga, he says, with a new redevelopment slated for the spot where the Beach Bar stands. “Someone said to me, ‘If this moves forward, this beer garden could be demolished.’ I said, I hope it does get demolished, and I hope it happens tomorrow, because that means the town’s moving forward.”

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12 Main (Wasaga Beach), wasaga.beer


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While you’re there…

The Huron Club – A husband-and-wife-run gastropub that takes comfort food, like Gruyere-dense French onion soup or mussels laced with smoked trout, absolutely seriously. 94 Pine (Collingwood), 705-293-6677, thehuronclub.ca

Leuk — Its name is actually the Dutch word for “nice” and pronounced more like “lake”, but this duo of concept stores on the Collingwood main drag does indeed serve some fierce lewks. One sells housewares, while the other is a clothing store and cafe both feature stunning, high-ceilinged white interiors you could happily lost in. You’re not allowed to take photos inside, so but trust us — it’s breathtaking. 78 Hurontario and 124-126 Hurontario (Collingwood), leukbijhermas.ca

Dags & Willow — Between the drool-inducing cheese display case (including many Ontario varieties) and impressive pantry selection on the first floor, and the huge array of whimsical gift items on the second floor, you’ll have no problem filling up the space in your rental car that isn’t already taken up by beer. 25 Second (Collingwood), 705-444-9100, dagsandwillow.ca

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Natalia Manzocco

nataliam@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

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