Beer, bands and waterfall chasing – Hamilton’s Holy Trinity checked off all in one day


Published February 20, 2024 at 1:04 pm

The 99s at the Because Brrr Festival at Hamilton Bridgeworks. Photo Rob Rowald

It didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me to agree to a beery tour of Hamilton. In fact, it was my idea all along.

It’s not that I hadn’t gone on a few craft beer tours of the Hammer, which has always been one of my favourite beer cities. This time, with a ticket to the Because BEER Festival Brrr winter edition, I would take the opportunity to check out some Hamilton spots I have never visited before and re-acquaint myself with the city’s bustling downtown.

Right during the final weekend of Winterfest too.

Historic Dundas

First off was the historic village of Dundas and Shawn & Ed Brewing Company, which is housed in the former Dundas Curling and Skating rink, a building that has graced downtown Dundas for more than 160 years.

By the time the structure was built – it was originally a foundry before it was converted to a curling club in the 1880s (and also served many functions over the years, including a bus company garage and a crokinole factory) – Dundas was already an important town that rivalled nearby Hamilton in importance.

In 1846 the village had a population of a little over 1,700 with six churches, a post office, two grist mills, a furniture factory, a cloth factory and two foundries, four schools, a bank, six taverns and three breweries.

When McMaster University was created in 1930 Dundas became more of a bedroom town and home to a thriving arts community. One by one those breweries left town and the village was bereft of breweries until 2013 when Shawn Till and Ed Madronich – long-time pals who met at McMaster – bought the former curling rink and dropped a couple of million dollars (give or take) in renovations to convert it into a brewery while still maintaining the building’s history and character.

Shawn & Eds opened its doors in 2016 and has become the go-to craft beer place in the area, especially for its Lagershed line of German-style lagers.

Shawn Till and Ed Madronich of Shawn & Ed Brewing Co. in Dundas

Retail Supervisor Ted Dekker was on duty when I stopped in for a pint – Secret Galaxy, a six per cent IPA made with Australian hops and lager yeast – and we chatted about the history of the place, which can also be found in brewmaster Rob Creighton, a pioneer in the business who started his career at Labatt’s before becoming the first employee at Upper Canada Brewing – Toronto’s first microbrewery – in 1985.

Creighton would go on to brew at and help launch 14 different breweries around the province, from Steam Whistle to Grand River and now Shawn & Eds.

With the IPA (delicious) consumed, the ambience of the huge brewery and taproom duly noted (impressive) and the history absorbed, it was time to move on the second phase of my busy agenda.

Chasing waterfalls

Hamilton is a city of waterfalls, and I haven’t had time to see one yet. That was going to change Saturday and I stopped at Tiffany Falls, one of the most impressive waterfalls in the area and also one of the most convenient to get to, with its little parking lot right off Ancaster Road and the falls just a 300 or so metre hike (so I was told) away.

Tiffany Falls. Photo Glenn Hendry

I switched from my Sketchers to hiking boots for the winter walk, figuring they would be better suited to the conditions. I was wrong. The path, packed down by visitors, was slippery as … it was really slippery. I wiped out once and another time on I started sliding downhill at speed with my arms flapping like a bird in a desperate (and successful) attempt to remain upright while the partially frozen babbling brook and its dangerously lovely jagged rocks taunted me from below.

It was all worth it. The 21-metre cascade waterfall is truly spectacular in winter; tumbling from the escarpment into a V-shaped ravine that is surrounded by cliffs on either side, creating an experience worth remembering.

The dangerous walk back to the car notwithstanding – both of my close calls with broken hips and concussions were on the return trip – I would see this place again in a heartbeat. Perhaps in summer next time.

Bring on the funk

I am an IPA guy – I have an occasional beer blog called IPA Tales – but I have been converted in recent times to barrel-aged funky brews and a new brewery in Ancaster was brewing ales right in my wheelhouse.

Barrel Heart Brewing, located in an industrial part of town, is the dream of Mark Horsley and Elaine Mitropoulos, who opened to the public in January 2023 after barrel-aging a few farmhouse-style Saisons while the pandemic raged on.

Horsley, a graduate (and now a professor) at Niagara College’s brewing program, had brewed at Nickel Brook in Burlington and was the founding brewmaster at Bench Brewing in Niagara when the idea to start Barrel Heart was formed.

Mitropoulos is a journalist (now in communications) and her husband (who had a background in photography) had come along while she worked at various newspaper jobs around the country. It was in Comox, B.C. when Horsley told her about his dream to get into brewing. She knew then it was time to get back to Ontario.

Barrel Heart co-owner Elaine Mitropoulos

“He really fell in love with the (farmhouse) style – that’s what he wanted to do,” Mitropoulos said during my visit Saturday.

After his time at Bench Horsley obtained some Niagara wine barrels and started brewing. “It was the middle of the pandemic and he put some beer in barrels. He wanted to see what he could do.”

It’s a long process brewing beer in the old-world Saison style. After the beer goes into the oak wine barrels the intertwining of the oak and the house yeast start making magic over the winter.

The beer is then blended over the spring and summer and rests on local fruit, bringing a level of acidity to the already aged brew. The beer is then bottled and cellared like wine just a little longer before it’s deemed ready to drink.

The results, though, are worth the wait. I sampled two beers, A Farmhouse Near III and Each Apricot Made Gold (tart and spectacular!) and left with three 750 ml bottles of funky goodness (aged from two to three years) and a better understanding of what goes into the brewing process.

The taproom area is tiny, with the rest of the space wall-to-wall barrels, and Mitropoulos said they are planning a move to Dundas – “we’re waiting for the licensing gods” – to open a proper tasting room while keeping the Bittern Street location in Ancaster for brewing.

Hotels, downtown and sooo much walking

I was supposed to meet up with noted beer blogger/vlogger Drunk Polkeroo (Robert Arseneault) and my college pal and former insauga colleague Don Redmond but work and daddy duties, respectively, got in the way. No worries, as I would still be joined by my Brantford buddy Robert Rowald, a Prud’homme certified beer enthusiast, urban Sasquatch and home brewer. If I could just find him.

Hotel first, and my room at the nearly brand-new Hampton Inn downtown exceeded my expectations, with plenty of space, a great view and a killer breakfast the next morning to boot.

A room with a view at the Hampton Inn

More fine ales and a good meal as a base was now required so I parked the car and started walking, with my GPS telling me The Ship, recommended an hour before by my new pal Scott (who recognized me in the hotel lobby from Twitter), was just a few blocks away.

The GPS lied. I walked at least a thousand blocks before finding it on Augusta in the Durand/Corktown neighbourhood, where I enjoyed fish and ships (Lake Erie perch) and pints from Grain & Grit (Ainslie) and Indie Ale House (Toronto). A thousand block walk followed, where I met up with Rob (also walking; I thought he was driving and was anticipating getting out of the bitter cold), and we headed in the direction of the venue, Bridgeworks on Caroline Street, also, my phone said, just a few blocks away, where downtown meets the West Harbour.

I need my phone to better define “few,” because we walked another thousand blocks (with a pit stop at A&Ws for Rob) before arriving at this cool venue in a residential neighbourhood that is just oozing history.

It looks like a cross between every small-town Canadian arena and a wartime aircraft hangar (with some funky graffiti on the front), but the 152-year-old building was actually the home of Hamilton Bridgeworks, an iconic engineering company that has helped build some of the biggest and boldest infrastructure projects in Canadian history, including the Welland and Burlington canals.

They also helped build the St. Clair Tunnel – the first full-size subaqueous tunnel built in North America – lent their expertise to the Traders Bank Building in Toronto (the tallest building in the Commonwealth in its day and one of Canada’s few remaining early 20th century skyscrapers) and built the side wheel steamer Chippewa, the largest passenger steamer on Lake Ontario.

Originally erected in 1872, Bridgeworks is now a community, arts and special event space, with two rooms and standing room for 500. It’s also run by a major player in the music and event production business, Sonic Unyon.

A prominent Hamilton record label since 1993, the company has since branched out into event management and have produced numerous local, national and international events, including at least three Juno events and the 2015 Pan Am Games closing ceremonies.

Street art in Hamilton

Sonic Unyon also became the organizing force behind Supercrawl, Hamilton’s three-day free music and arts festival in September that has grown from 3,000 attendees in the first year to 275,000 by 2023, when 20 city blocks were closed off (a thousand if you’re walking) to present a diverse lineup of live music and art, as well as food, fashion, crafts, performance art and festival fun.

The Because Beer Festival? Also a Sonic Unyon project.

We got there just as the late session was opening at eight, so we had the two halls almost to ourselves for a bit before it started filling up, giving me time to do my part in supporting small business, with samples from Shawn & Ed and fellow Hamilton breweries Grain & Grit, Merit, Clifford and Collective Arts as well as a taster from Willibald, a farm brewery out the other side of Brantford in Ayr.

There were nine breweries and cideries in all and by the time The 99s, a tight and multi-talented cover band, came on at nine the joint, as the kids say these days, was hoppin.’

Sometime before the clock struck midnight and Rob turned back into a Sasquatch and I started dreaming about my comfy hotel bed, we turned back south for another thousand block walk; Rob to his ride and me to the Hampton.

In less than five months – at a time of year when the beer tastes just as good and the quest to go chasing waterfalls is much safer – Because Beer Festival’s summer edition returns to Pier 4 on Hamilton’s waterfront and I can do it all over again.

The barrels at Barrel Heart Brewing in Ancaster



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