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Straight From the Heart

Ancaster-based artisanal brewer makes beer with the seasons.

A new brewery that offers beer drinkers “an expression of love and oak” has opened its doors in Ancaster. Headed by veteran brewer Mark Horsley, Barrel Heart Brewing & Blending produces Belgian-inspired beers made in the saison style (a traditional French beer for seasonal workers). After harvest, Horsley begins aging new beers in oak barrels from nearby wineries in Niagara. Over winter, he awaits while the beer interacts with the microflora in the barrels' wood; each barrel developing its own flavours over time. In the spring, he tastes his stock and blends various barrels together to create unique flavours. In the summer, Horsley turns to farmers in the Niagara Valley for seasonal fruit, such as cherries, raspberries, plums, and blackcurrants. He then re-ferments the beer on the fresh fruit to complete dryness, with practically no residual sugar. Once bottled and left to mature in his cellar, these beers are then released ready-to-drink. The whole process takes Horsley well over a year to craft a single beer. Having worked as a brewmaster for more than a decade, Horsley is no stranger to making less time-intensive beers, with a list of award-winning IPAs and stouts to his name. When asked what drives his passion for barrel-aged beer, Horsley says: “The process is beautiful chaos. For as much control as I might have over the brewing process, each barrel imprints its own flavours on the beer in unique ways. Blending the mature barrels of beer back together into a cohesive form that complements seasonal fruit, or expresses our base beer in its best form, is infinitely exciting to taste and share.”

Based in Ancaster and led by veteran brewer Mark Horsley, Barrel Heart Brewing & Blending produces Belgian-inspired beers made in the saison style. Photo: Pat Ozols