Mark Rashotte, realtor, owner of the Empire Theatre, and entrepreneur extraordinaire who has made Belleville a centre for avant garde movies and highly sought after musical acts was a little out of his comfort zone when he organized an outdoor craft beer festival March 12.
“Four days ago we only had 400 tickets sold, and if it rained only four people would likely show up.” he said. Instead the event surpassed his wildest expectations, over 3000 people were crammed into Empire Square, next to his theatre.
The line-ups for tastings were so long that it was almost impossible to see which breweries were on site. I caught glimpses of signs for Highlander, MacKinnon Brothers , County Road, Barley Days, Church Key, Railway City, and Muskoka Brewery but there were others. Interspersed were several County wineries like Huff Estates and Casa Dea.
Among the wineries were Potters Settlement Winery from Tweed. It is owned by Sandor Johnson, an actor and leading male model for Hugo Boss and Calvin Klein, who works in the US but has local roots. With his cocoa brown tan, and stunning looks, he was in a class of his own among the crowd of pale beer lovers in their winter jackets and touques. The winery has been a family effort. Several of his wines are well worth a visit to the winery including a golden late harvest Frontenac Gris that had all the sweet notes of baklava. An earlier vintage of this wine was poured for President Obama in 2012. He also had several reds but the inky dark red Marquette that screamed to be paired with medium rare steak, was certainly the best.
Jonas Neuman is the County’s version of Dr. Jekyl and Mr Hyde. By day he is the Couny’s leading authority on Traditional Method and Charnat sparkling wines at Hinterland winery making lovely bubbly for all your black tie occasions but at night he morphs into a brewmaster for County Roads Brewing, with a range of beers from County Rd 1 Blonde to County Rd 49 American Dry Stout. The County Road 18 Belgian style wheat beer was a favourite among people I chatted with. The winery / brewery now boasts a beer garden serving lunches..
The ad for Quinte Craft Beer by the Bay had promoted street food vendors as part of the attraction. I’d expected some of the really great food trucks you see at many County events but like Jonas Neuman, Belleville’s fine dining restaurants including Dinkels, Capers, and L’Auberge de France as well as Burger Revolution had changed their prestigious personnas to street vendors with samples of great take away meals for $4.00 to pair with beer. For the sweet tooth The Pink Lunch Pail from Picton was on hand with donuts and cupcakes made with beer and cider jellies.
Usually downtown Belleville is kind of quiet in the winter on a weekend but today, March 12, happy crowds thronged the streets and several business had even put out sidewalk sale displays. Now if only Belleville would host a repeat of Terroir in May that would be amazing!
Mark Rashotte is already looking ahead to an Oktoberfest beer and wine event in this fall at Zwick’s Island Park when there will be plenty of room for everyone and an even larger crowd.
This could be the start of something big!
Photos by Colin Leonard
How did you enjoy Quinte Craft Beer by the Bay? Please leave a comment.