From Rideau Red to Bytown Brown, Ottawa’s microbrewing industry is booming as tipplers’ thirst for craft beer continues to grow.
© Mark Holleron
Lon Ladell is co-owner of Big Rig Brewery.
With the opening of 10 new breweries and brew pubs in the Ottawa region over the past decade, the region’s 11 breweries collectively produce more than 50 craft beers, helping to fuel an industry-wide surge in sales across the province.
Craft beer sales at the LCBO have increased by 575 per cent since 2006, including a 33 per cent jump in sales for the 2012-13 fiscal year, according to LCBO spokesperson Heather MacGregor.
“It is truly a huge success story,” said Ms. MacGregor.
Steve Beauchesne, co-founder of Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. in Vankleek Hill, said consumers are turning to craft beer because of the global movement towards locally produced food and the LCBO’s support of Ontario breweries.
Lon Ladell, co-founder and brewmaster for Big Rig Brewery in Ottawa added there is still a lot of room for growth in the Ontario market.
“Traditionally, craft beer was something that you picked up once in a while as a specialty product, but now I feel people are looking for quality, not quantity, and looking for something interesting to drink.”
Despite the surge in demand for craft beer in Ontario, it only represents about 2.5 per cent of overall beer sales in the province, said Mr. Ladell. That’s far behind other provinces such as British Columbia and Quebec, where craft beer represents between five and eight per cent of overall beer sales.
For many of Ottawa’s breweries, the key to early success has been working with bars and restaurants before launching with the LCBO.
With the recent boom in craft breweries, many companies are at different stages of expansion, with some already selling their beer province-wide while others are currently in discussions with the LCBO.
Big Rig can currently be found at 27 LCBOs in the Ottawa region, said Mr. Ladell, explaining that the brewery is at capacity but would like to eventually expand into Kingston and Toronto once the LCBO carries its beer across Ontario.
“We’ve only been open a year,” said Mr. Ladell. “We started with getting some licensed customers before slowly entering the LCBO. Our goal is to service the LCBO province-wide and open up a couple more brew pub restaurants within the next couple of years.”
Cassel Brewery Co., one of the region’s newest breweries 45 minutes east of Ottawa, said it hopes to be in the LCBO by Christmas or early next year at the latest.
“We have to first get a bottling line lined up, but thankfully Beau’s has donated their old bottling line so we’ll get going with that soon,” said Mario Bourgeois, co-founder and brewmaster of Cassel Brewery Co.
“There is a great brotherhood within the industry. It’s a big piece of equipment and probably the most expensive piece of equipment in a brewery,” he said, adding that he approached Beau’s and offered to buy the bottling line instead of it being scrapped for metal.
“We’ll keep the philosophy of pay it forward, which is really, really strong amongst craft brewers.”
SIDEBAR: Subsidizing local suds
The provincial government recently announced it was renewing its financial support for Ontario’s craft brewers for another two years.
The Ontario Microbrewery Strategy pours $1.2 million in tax dollars annually into marketing, training and tourism development opportunities for the industry.