The Beer Brewed in Wine Country, From Wine Country
Sure, many people know Niagara region for its wine, but far fewer know about the area’s hopping ‘ale trail.’ Take a quick detour off the QEW, and amongst Ontario’s best orchards and vineyards, you’ll be sure to spot what locals knew for decades as Maple Grove Public School.
Today, the striking façade of the historic schoolhouse makes it hard to miss, but on the inside a beer lover’s paradise awaits. Welcome to Bench Brewing Company, where beer and wine collide.
Located in Twenty Valley, one of the many sub-appellations of Niagara’s wine-producing region, the brewery sits at the base of the Beamsville and Twenty Mile Bench. The 20,000-square-foot-craft brewery is a dream turned reality for Founder Matt Giffen.
After 25 years spent working in big cities, Giffen was drawn to follow his passion for farming and agriculture, a lifestyle he knew and loved being raised in London, Ontario.
With this, Giffen envisioned creating a unique craft brewery in the heart of Ontario’s wine county, and had a feeling that Niagara was where he was destined to see this vision through.
“My wife Erin, our 3 daughters and I have been part of Twenty Valley for years as part of the local farming community,” reflects Giffen. “At the end of the day, it was a feeling in my gut that this was the perfect place to create a farmhouse brewery. The people are the nicest and most authentic people that my wife Erin and I have met in our travels, I knew this was the place.”
So, what is a farmhouse brewery?
“The farmhouse style is actually a broad spectrum of beers, pioneered by farmers who would use the ingredients from their land to make beer,” explains Giffen.
Bench strives to use as many local ingredients as possible in their brews. “We’re blessed to be situated in the tender fruit and grape belt in Ontario that’s producing some of the best cherries, peaches, strawberries and grapes across Canada,” says Giffen.
“Our home inspires us in each and every beer we make. We really get to work hand-in-hand with our farming neighbours every season to showcase some of the best fruit grown right here in our home through our beers,” continues Giffen.
It is clear Giffen and his team emphasize “connecting to place,” paying homage to their local roots (quite literally), while brewing quality beer.
As a result, he shares,
“It’s not just a beer that’s brewed in wine country, but a beer that’s from wine country. It’s singular and indigenous to the area.”
Highlighting the fact that Bench Brewing lives in wine country, Giffen and his team are all about creating “beer with personality” by integrating the terroir into their brewing process. This is the inspiration behind Bench Brewing and what makes its offerings truly one-of-a-kind.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the influence climate and soil have on growing wine grapes, so I started wondering why only a few beers were focusing on the concept of terroir in their brewing process,” Giffen says.
This is achieved through the use of a coolship, an open-top stainless-steel vessel in which 5,000L of wort is cooled and inoculated with wild yeast and bacteria from the surrounding Twenty Valley area, thus creating a unique and tasteful terroir component to their brews.
Craft Beer Coolship
“Beer made with our coolship is unique to our valley and different from any other beer in the world,” he continues. In all of Canada there are less than a dozen coolships, with the largest being at Bench Brewing—the epitome of old-world tradition mixed with new age technique.
Also unique to Bench is their barrel cellar, the heart of every winery in the region. Carrying on the brewery’s theme of fully connecting to their surroundings, it features warm wood sourced exclusively from their winery neighbours in Twenty Valley. Outside of the brewery. You can stand and awe over their three-acre hops field, where the team grows four varieties of hops used in their beers.
For beer aficionados and those new to brews, their Community Range Series of beers are staples in their portfolio and are available year-round. Their beers are playfully named after moments in history and landmarks in the Twenty Valley area that they wish to pay tribute to. These tasty brews include the Vineland Station Pale Ale made from ripe local cherries, peaches, apples and pears, or the more bitter Ball’s Falls Session IPA, both of which Matt jokingly points out aren’t beers you’ll find at a hockey rink. Not yet at least!
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The brewery itself is the best spot to give their one-of-a-kind offerings a taste, as currently only a handful of Bench brews can be found in the LCBO and on tap at bars throughout southern Ontario. Perhaps even more reason to visit the brewery itself? Who better to share a beer with, than the very team who dreamed up what’s on tap and can whole heartedly share the story behind.
It is this very team that Giffen credits for making him feel so passionate about Bench and what they have worked to create to date. Noting he is not only grateful for what they have all achieved, but for what they continue to strive for through teamwork and resilience.
“I am proud that we are accomplishing what we said we were going to do at the beginning. That sounds simple but a lot can happen between business case and activation. We are walking the walk and I couldn’t be prouder of the team and what we have accomplished in such a short time,” says Giffen.
Of course, having a team behind your dream helps make their operation so special, but Giffen emphasizes there are a few key components that come together to make up the heart and soul of Bench Brewing: the people, the place, and the brewing process.
“If you take away any of those three distinct but equally important pieces, Bench just wouldn’t be Bench.”
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3991 King St, Beamsville, ON L0R 1B1
3991 King St, Beamsville, ON L0R 1B1