The Hamilton Spectator
Brewery is crafting beers in wine casks with heart
Barrel Heart Brewing and Blending is open in Ancaster Industrial Park
A new Ancaster brewery has cultivated the past to create a unique drinking experience for the future.
Barrel Heart Brewing and Blending opened its doors in the Ancaster Industrial Park recently, providing oak-aged beer served in green 750 millilitre bottles in the traditional saison style of farmhouse beer.
“This is a more thoughtful brewing process,” said Mark Horsley, a veteran brewer, who opened the brewery with his partner, Elaine Mitropoulos, recently.
While speaking, Horsley popped off a bottle cap with a handmade bottle opener from an elk antler from British Columbia. The brewery serves a refreshing bottle of Oubliette of Staves aged saison.
The larger green bottles, Horsley said, help the beer age better, lower the volume of oxygen that “ingresses and stales” beer over time, and encourage the beer to be shared around a table.
There are many ways to make a saison, as has been proven for more than 100 years in Europe where every farmhouse had their own version of a beer, Horsley said. Any fruit or natural ingredients that needed to be preserved were used, such as plums, grapes, cherries or buckwheat, for an everyday drink on the farm, he said.
Horsely, who is also a professor at Niagara College’s brewmaster and brewery operations management program, uses seasonal fruits locally sourced from the Niagara Region for such impactful drinks as the Raspberry Pack, Blackberries Shine Like Stars, Night and Day, Both Sweet Things made from grapes, the tart Cherries Aged like Grace and the refreshing Oubliette of Staves. All the ingredients are locally sourced, except for the hops, which are from Australia, New Zealand, France and Germany. Canada’s hops are “just not there yet,” he said.
The Oubliette of Staves, served in a Barrel Heart tumbler, has, like all the other beers, been aged in oak barrels secured from area wineries since 2020 and 2021.
It's a “very clean” drinking beer, said Horsley, who has developed several award-winning IPAs and stouts.
“It is the drink of the field workers after they have been harvesting in the fall. We make it a little bit stronger than what they make it.”
The Cherries Aged like Grace is a bit more acidic with a “rose vibe to it,” he said, with sour cherries and buckwheat.
The Washed Away by Sea Gose is a beer modelled from its origins in Goslar, Germany, that is brewed with sea salt, coriander seed and lemon grass.
“Our version is a little bit more laborious than what they did back in the day,” he said.
Horsley, originally from Australia who now calls Dundas home, has taken notes from various breweries in Europe, including France, Belgian and Germany, and incorporated the ideas into his brews. He worked at Nickel Brook, developing unique brews, including a bourbon-inflected, chocolate beer after “falling in love” with bourbon during a trip to Kentucky. He then moved on to Bench, a brewery in Beamsville, before venturing out into his own beer enterprise in January 2020. When the pandemic hit, Horsley adapted, since the beers needed time to age.
“This is what we want to drink,” said Horsley, who has been brewing beer for about 12 years. “Brewing now tends to go to the loudest beers. We want to do things on balance. We are not going to be bombastic.”
With only two staff, with Horsley and Mitropoulos overseeing the advertising, marketing and everything else, the labour costs are low and there are no investors looking over his shoulder, pressuring him to increase production. So far, the maximum number of bottles he can produce is about 10,000 annually, which Horsley said sounds like a lot, but they can be packaged in one day.
“I can allow an additional three or four months for the beer to age and no one will be out of a paycheque,” Horsley said. “Hopefully, we can grow the brewery. It may be idealistic but people have made it work in Belgium and France.”
Horsley said the plan is to expand to the point within two to three years the brewery can relocate to a piece of property he purchased off Dartnall Road, and fully emulate that farmhouse milieu of 100 years ago.
“This is a more thoughtful brewery,” Horsley said. “I like that patience and the ability to educate a willing public about what we are doing. This type of work comes from the heart. And anyway, I would rather drink this beer.”
‘‘ Brewing now tends to go to the loudest beers. We want to do things on balance.
MARK HORSLEY BARREL HEART BREWING AND BLENDING