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The Weather Network
Oct. 17, 2019 | Thursday
Local News
Boats and Brews tour gives thrill seekers a wet welcome
The Boats and Brews tour offers a uniquely Niagara experience. (Supplied)

Roaring down the Niagara River, icy cold waves pummel the hull of the Whirlpool Jet Boat, sounding like a thunderous storm laced with exuberant shrieking.

But the roar and the power of those waves is mild compared to the incredible force of the water scooped up by the front of the jet boat and mercilessly shovelled onto passengers as the boat carves its way through class 5 rapids that send a shock through the system.

It’s difficult to catch your breath. The boat repeats the scooping and shovelling of water several times before taking a break to carve its way back up the river toward the Falls for another go.

Whirlpool Jet Boats has teamed up with Oast House Brewers for a uniquely Niagara experience: the Boats and Brews tour offers extreme excitement and casual brews as it aims to seamlessly blend two elements of Niagara’s tourism industry together.

Walking up to the dock of the Whirlpool Jet Boats, apprehension begins to take over – but there’s no turning back. The jet boat rides are well-known in Niagara – and have had their share of controversy – but the experience is said to be exhilarating, wild and unlike anything you might experience elsewhere.

Those sentiments are all true, and then some.

Adventurous passengers are asked to arrive 45 minutes before boarding time to check in, sign a waiver and to listen to a safety demonstration. The mixed group of tourists, couples out for weekend getaways, and a solitary reporter, are ushered toward the dock where mandatory life jackets and optional plastic ponchos are dispensed to the crowd.

“It’s going to be cold,” one of the guides advises. “You’re going to want a poncho.”

Children and anyone with heart or medical conditions are also asked to sit near the back, for their safety.

“If you’re not able to hold your breath for a few seconds at a time while being hit in the face with water, then the front few rows aren’t for you,” Asia Sharp, the guide for this excursion, warns the group.

Of course, thrill seekers and enthusiastic journalists wanting the “full experience” ignore the helpful tip; plopping down eagerly in the front, not knowing how much water is about to be thrust up nostrils and into faces; they have no idea what’s about to hit them. Literally.

While some passengers seem to love every second of the excursion, like the five men from CK Framing Inc. in Guelph celebrating a summer of hard work by sitting in the front row, others were a little wary. Georgette Morfis from Long Island, who surprised her husband Glen with the trip to Niagara for a retirement getaway, was asking to move to the back of the boat after the first run through the rapids.

“It was so much more intense than I was expecting, but it was great,” Morfis says.

But with Sharp’s perky and informative guidance, everyone on board leaves the boat with a big, if not completely drenched smile, many saying they would do it all again.

The jet boats have been running in Niagara since 1992, with eight custom-built vessels. There is one jet-dome boat, which holds 40 people, for those wanting a less-soggy experience. Five Wet Jet boats accommodate 48 each and two others can hold 54. Trips can run as often as every half-hour.

One of the largest of the fleet is a beast with three, 600 horse-power diesel motors to propel the vessel through the rapids. Our trip took the group up the Niagara River, through the Devil’s Hole Rapids, toward the whirlpool – pausing to admire the class 6 rapids from a safe distance; those waves are too dangerous for the captain to traverse.

After the thoroughly doused passengers ease off the boat, they’re encouraged to change into dry clothes and check out videos and photos captured during the trip, which are available for purchase at the retail area.

Those who opted for the Boats and Brews upgrade then make their way to Oast House Brewers on Niagara Stone Road for their sampling of four five-ounce glasses of the brewery’s flagship Barnraiser, the Farmhouse Ale, and two seasonal beers on tap.

Inside the brewery’s retail space, tour-goers are easily spotted by their semi-soaked appearance, and are met by friendly and knowledgeable staff. Chatting about the history of the brewery, confessing how the connection between wine technologies and Texan influences had a hand in shaping the vibe of the business, and walking through ale-making steps from start to finish, brewery staff pour samples and answer questions along the way.

The warm atmosphere is a complementary shift from the cool trip on the boats, ending the entire experience on a relaxed and tasty note.

The brewery’s event’s specialist, Ashley Salfi, led this tour, walking through some of the unique features of the space – such as the Hay Loft event space upstairs and the outdoor kitchen by Brushfire Smoke BBQ,  and bar, which is accented by a stage built on the back of an old branded pick-up truck for music performances throughout the week.

The small Centennial Hop Yard is an added touch to a brewery in the middle of NOTL’s wine and farm country, solidifying the authentic country vibe that Salfi says the company aims to achieve.

After the tour, guests are offered a bottle from the Farmhouse Ales collection, which are created using all local ingredients.

Tours and packages can be purchased online at whirlpooljet.com and the beer tour for the Boat’s and Brews upgrade can be enjoyed before or after the boats.

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