I requested a week off of work so that I could decompress after many accomplishments this year (the adoption approval process, the living room remodel, my sister’s wedding, the end of the government fiscal year, etc.). I just felt that I hadn’t had time to put my feet up and really relax at all this year. I worried that we may have the adoption placement at anytime. I didn’t want to enter it, the next stage of my life as a parent, stressed.
So my leave request was approved, and I found that I had a week off. Okey could only get the second half of the week off, but that was all right as you’ll see that the possibilities of an amazing vacation in only a few days was, well, possible. This post begins at the second part of my week off when Okey was able to join me.
Day 1 – Wednesday
Laundry, laundry, laundry.
Day 2 – Thursday
We woke up early and hit the beginning stages of rush hour as we left DC. We had to leave at 5:00 am if we were going to make it to the oldest brewery in America by 10:00 am. We arrived in Pottsville, Pennsylvania around 9:45 am bleary eyed and very excited to tour the Yuengling Brewery. We easily found metered parking, but we had a tougher time finding the gift shop which is tucked deep inside the building. We perused the gift shop / museum as three more people showed up. The tour started promptly at 10:00 am.
We were first brought into the “bar” which once served as the employee’s breakroom before Pennsylvania made it illegal to consume alcohol while working. Because of this same law, we weren’t given any samples to taste until the end of the tour. We soon learned that our tour was going to be very special because it was just the five of us. Evidently, 40 to 70 people show up for these tours which severely limits questions and answers.
Our guide Lisa took us to where the beer was made, and we could actually look into the lauter tun and brew kettle as the beer was being made. We have only ever seen this process at home and never at such scale! (Also, we were told that this was the first time our experienced guide had ever been able to show her visitors this process.)
Then the tour guide brought us to where the beer was bottled and canned. Fortunately for us, we were there on canning day. We have never seen canning before. It was very noisy as the workers were bustling around the equipment. We got to see the empty cans being filled and moved along the line towards the pasteurization station and then on to the packaging station.
Although not the original building, the facility we toured was built before prohibition. It had an old industrial feel to it, but it was kept very clean. We were then brought to the cool caves where the kegging used to be done by four men. They had the most ideal jobs in the brewery as to this day it is not heated or cooled. These coveted jobs evidently passed down family lines. The caves were man made, and helped with storing the packaged beer. During prohibition, the majority of the caves were sealed by the government. What kept the business alive was the fact that the family-owned company diversified. They made ice cream, “near beer,” and porter which was used as medicine by anemic persons and pregnant women. (My, how times have changed!) I also understand that Yuengling continued to brew beer despite the ban and that everyone in town (be they clergy or policemen) helped to hide the contraband.
We ended the free tour back at the bar where we could choose two samples each. I chose their Premium – which is the first beer the company brewed back in the 19th century. Having had a sip of Okey’s sour Chesterfield Ale, I then chose their Porter as my second. Yuengling has a great history and tradition of beer making. I am rooting for the four sisters who will be taking over the family business in the near future.
After a quick bite to eat at Maroons, which reminded me of my hometown near Pittsburgh, we headed North. Around 6:00 pm we arrived in Niagra Falls, NY. We left our GPS’ route and found a parking lot near the park. We’re not sure exactly why, but there were no attendants manning the parking lot booth and the arms were raised… so our parking was free! We followed the rushing noise and at last we found the Falls. Okey sputtered, “This is it?” I agree that the site wasn’t as impressive as I had remembered the last time I went as little child. I worried that I had a grandiose imagination, but then I recalled the claim that everyone makes. I said, “They look better from the other side.”
Day 3 – Friday
We allowed ourselves to rest on Friday morning. We didn’t have to worry about letting a dog out, or feeding a meowing cat, or attending yet to a little baby. Still we were up and exploring Toronto as people were rushing to work. We knew of a few things we wanted to see; the first being a coffee shop near the art museum. The coffee shop had a homey feel to it, and the homemade quiche we had for breakfast was very enjoyable.
We eyed the CN tower, and we knew that no matter what, we would go up there. We hoped that there wouldn’t be many people as it was slightly overcast. We were right. We got our tickets and took the minute elevator ride up to the observation floor. Rochester, NY wasn’t visible that day, but we enjoyed looking at the city from above and plotting out our next move from the Horizons restaurant.
Back on the ground, we were able to easily identify the Steam Whistle Brewery. As we entered the industrial building, we were given samples of their Pilsner before we could even pay for our tour. The staff was very friendly and jovial, and our tour guide Katie was awesome!
The tour started with the building’s history. The neighboring convention centre had eyed the building’s location for its parking, but the circular building which once repaired train engines had historical significance and could not be demolished. The building was taken down, brick by brick, and a 10-story parking garage was then put underneath it. Then the building was reassembled, brick by brick, and there is hardly any evidence that it is not the same building.
Steam Whistle was founded by three young men who wanted to name it Three Fire Guys, but wisely (as the story is told) someone’s wife vetoed the idea. The name Steam Whistle originates from the notion of yesteryear when employees would work until the steam whistle blew and then they would go home to their reward. How fitting that the brewery stands in Roundhouse Park then, where train engines were repaired and are still on display!
Our small group 12 people were then taken up to where the beer was made. We couldn’t get as close to the equipment as we had at Yuengling, but we again could see everyone at work. Steam Whistle only makes pilsner. The master brewer that they hired from the Czech Republic had two requests. One, a bed for his office. Two, that he would make one beer only so that he could make it well.
Like the tour at Yuengling, we were taken through the rest of the brewery. However, we were up on catwalks so that we weren’t interfering with the busy workers below. As we were overlooking the bottling station, the tour guide pointed to a triangular shaped pull and asked Okey if he wouldn’t mind tugging on it once. The steam whistle sound it produced was quite loud!!
The brewery has many green initiatives. It shows that they take pride in protecting the planet. Amazingly, their customers share the same goals as they get back over 70% of their bottles which reduces waste.
There is art throughout the brewery. Hanging on a wall or resting in a loft. The brewery selects one artist a month to display and sell their work. They only ask that the artist leave one piece of the art to stay behind and be put on permanent display.
Unlike any other brewery tour we have ever done, we were taken up into the administration or business section of the building. We got to walk through the office where the marketing department sat, the sales guys worked, one of the owner made his phone calls. We were also encouraged to interact with them. Everyone was a little starstruck, and all I could say was “Keep up the good work!”
We left Steam Whistle with our souvenir pint glass and a six-pack (both from the tour) to bring home. We walked for a bit towards the Distillery District. It’s a very old industrial part of town which has been renovated and is home to artisan shoppes, boutiques and restaurants. Along the maze of red brick buildings and cobblestone ways, we passed a wedding party posing for shots. It was such a dreamy promenade.
At last we found our lunch destination on Mill St. It was called Milled Street Brewery. (Tell me you didn’t see that coming!) Even though it was getting late in the afternoon, it was still very packed. We each ordered a sample tray. I asked for an additional sample of their stout. What I’m trying to convey is that even though we had nine beers to sample with our lunch, there were still more beers we could have sampled. I don’t think that there would have been room on our table or in our stomachs!
Okey ordered buttered chicken, an Indian dish, and I had ordered a duck pear panini. Both were divine. We found that we didn’t like all of their beers, but we could appreciate the styles.
Due to a slight misunderstanding that caused Okey and me to leave our table at separate times, our camera was left behind. The hostess was very eager to help us find it, but it was difficult to track it down between our two servers and the busboys. We took the opportunity to slow our pace and explore the Distillery District some more. We found glassworkers, and needleworkers. Painters and metal workers. We poked our head into a bakery to see if they had any special French pastries, but they didn’t. As we returned back to the restaurant, the hostess was happy to declare that our camera had been found. So then we left Mill St. with an extra pint glass and 6-pack in hand and ended up across the cobblestone path at the SoMa Chocolatemaker.
SoMa had an 80 year old mélangeur on site which they used to grind the cacao beans themselves. Then this chocolate was pressed into bars, or shaped as a rare treat, or steamed with milk. I was nervous to indulge myself considering my recent reactions to chocolate, but I enjoyed a simple hot chocolate. Not overdoing it, I saved my single chocolate candy to enjoy back at the hotel and it was delicious.
We returned to the hotel with our goodies, and we put up our feet for a little bit. It was hard to imagine that we would be able to eat dinner at all, but we called for our car and off we went to the northern part of town. We found Granite Brewery and Restaurant even though it wasn’t on the street its website says it should be on… Walking in, we were apprehensive about the food. If the place wasn’t packed with people, and if their plates weren’t been empty, I might not have been brave enough to stay for a meal. It’s not that the place was filthy, but it was missing a certain ambience that we are used to. Surprisingly, the food was good! Unfortunately, the beer was too. By that time, we were full and we were both unable to finish our beers. Had we spent another day in Toronto, I would have preferred to space out our brewery experiences, but I’ll save that for the next time. 😉
Day 4 – Saturday
Before we left the city of Toronto, we had to accomplish the single most important task of our going there. We plugged in the address of the pâtisserie I had researched only a week before, and off we went to Rahier.
The online reviews said that Rahier had the best mille feuille in Toronto. (And because Toronto is much closer than Montrèal, I was able to convince Okey to go in the first place.) The pâtisserie wasn’t busy, but it had a steady flow of customers who knew what they wanted. It had been over a decade since I had last seen a mille feuille, and the woman behind the counter gladly put two in a box for me to go. As we paid for them, I noticed that there were no more left in the display. Again, Okey and I were astonished with the great fortune we had on this trip. We had simply been blessed.
Before we re-entered the United States of America, we again left our GPS’ route and found a parking lot near the Falls. We were both blown away with the majestic view from the Canadian side. Okey and I found a seat on a rock, opened our pastry box, and savoured the goodness that is a mille feuille. Ah, that was just what I needed.
Oh! Here are the obligatory vacation photos. You’ll have to forgive some as I’m not sure how to re-rotate the photos on WordPress.