As I sit in the crowded tap room at Sawdust City Brewing Company waiting for Sam Corbeil, brewmaster and co-founder, the space buzzes with a mix of locals sitting at the bar and a large group of tourists behind me; the flashes of their cameras light up the darkly lit... > READ MORE

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Sawdust City Brewing Company

Sawdust City Brewing Company

As I sit in the crowded tap room at Sawdust City Brewing Company waiting for Sam Corbeil, brewmaster and co-founder, the space buzzes with a mix of locals sitting at the bar and a large group of tourists behind me; the flashes of their cameras light up the darkly lit room as they capture memories of their trip one flight at a time.  A portion of the 24 hL brewhouse and a few fermentors are visible from the windows in the tap room and from my seat and I can see head brewer Aaron Spinney getting a glass of water.  Compared to the tap room, the brewery looks quiet – much of the activity presumably taking place in the space that’s not visible from my seat.

As Sam sits down I ask if we’ve met before – we conclude that we haven’t but rather that I likely recognize him from a past interaction that took place at a beer festival.  As Sam notes, ‘he does love beer festivals’, a comment that at first might seem trivial.  As Sam re-counts the story of how Sawdust City came to be it becomes clear that beer festivals played an important role – and although he likely only meant that he enjoyed the experience and beer offered at festivals, one could be forgiven if they thought he was being more sentimental than that given their impact on the Sawdust story.

In 2005, Sam was travelling through France and Belgium on a trip that would end up having a significant impact on his life.  While attending a beer festival in Brussels, Sam’s view of beer and what it meant to him changed dramatically.  Before this trip, his admiration for beer was generally straightforward: he thought of beer in terms of a vocation only once before – jokingly when fresh out of university, he wasn’t a homebrewer, he simply enjoyed consuming beer.   At the time he had a good job buying and planning advertising for movies, although he wasn’t completely satisfied – “I was creating advertising for awful moves that should never have been made.”   It’s a familiar context for many, I’m sure – for Sam, the culmination of that moment in Brussels and the office life he returned to sparked the realization that he wanted to work with beer.

“I went to school for sports administration and business management because that’s what I thought I wanted to do but I was 18, I was basically an idiot.  And now I was almost 30 and I think everyone kind of gets to that point when they are approaching 30 and they get their first mid-mid-life crisis and you [have to decide] what do you really want to do.”

Anyone who has developed a more thoughtful appreciation for beer has likely had similar moments to the one Sam experienced in Brussels, but like most vacation-related epiphanies, the realities of our lives kick in and we talk ourselves out of it.  That moment in Brussels and the reality of his job was enough to convince Sam, though; there was no internal struggle, just the task of convincing his wife that logistically they could make it work.  I pushed on this because I thought for sure there had to be some hesitation – and not just because of logistics – but Sam was adamant that overall it was an easy decision – “It was easy outside of convincing my wife that I had to leave to go to another country for 6 months…In my mind I knew I had to go do this….”

In January of 2006, Sam was off to Berlin having enrolled in the 6 months Certified Brewmaster course at VLB.  After a short apprenticeship in Germany he returned to Ontario and a day later was interviewing at Magnotta Brewery, maker of True North beers, where he would stay for about 5 months.  Following Magnotta he spent nine months at Robert Simpson’s (Now Flying Monkeys) in Barrie, and then was off to Mill Street in Toronto where he worked for four years – four years that saw the brewery grow in volume by 400%, an experience that taught Sam what it takes to keep up with a growing beer scene.  Although appreciating the experience gained at each brewery, the ultimate goal was to brew his own recipes on his own equipment in his own brewery – “I got into this because I wanted to do something of my own…I wanted to start from the ground up…”

Moving forward, another moment at a beer festival would mark the beginning of Sawdust City.  Sam and Rob Engman shared some important commonalities – they both had a connection to the Gravenhurst area, they both wanted to open a brewery, and they both attended the first Sessions beer festival in 2010 (additionally, they were both involved with TAPS magazine but didn’t really know each other at this point).  At the festival, Sam and Rob approached each other and, how this happened Sam still isn’t sure about, asked each other the same question about wanting to start a brewery.  The conversation wasn’t complicated and continued shortly after at Rob’s place in Gravenhurst; they had a shared philosophy for the brewery and each brought something to the table that the other needed to make it a reality.

In June of 2010, Sam, Rob, and Karla Dudley (Rob and Karla are husband and wife) targeted an opening date in 2012 for their brewery that was to be located in Gravenhurst.  Anyone who knows Gravenhurst can likely see why owning a small brewery there would be tempting (it’s a place I would love to eventually call home).  It’s a little town of about 12, 000 people, although the population in the Muskoka region grows significantly in the summer months, the centre of the town is surrounded by two lakes, Lake Muskoka and Gull Lake, and it serves as the ‘gateway’ to the Muskoka district.  Home to cottages, scenic water fronts, and a main-strip that looks like one might imagine it did 75 years ago.  It’s one of those places that makes you want to move a bit slower and appreciate what’s around you.  Gravenhurst was where the brewery was going to be – there was no doubt – and so they decided to name the brewery in a way that anchored it to this location.  In the 1870s, the town was home to an extensive logging industry which led the adoption of the name, Sawdust City – a fact Sam came across after extensive research (i.e. Google).

Regarding location, Gravenhurst was also home to a boat-building industry that was situated on Lake Muskoka.  In 2005, the Muskoka Wharf was constructed; it includes a boardwalk, retailers, restaurants, and a venue for summer events.   This is where they envisioned the future home of Sawdust City Brewing Company and so they purchased a plot of land and starting working on the plans to build the brewpub there.   It was a perfect situation – a shared philosophy, a great little town, a beautiful location on the water and a name that tied the brewery to the city and its history…but as anyone who has opened a brewery will tell you, there will always be unexpected challenges.  One major challenge was the realization that the land they purchased on the Wharf was too small – a difficult decision was made and the opening of Sawdust City was delayed for 2 years as they sold the waterfront property and searched for and eventually purchased a different location – “By the time we were ready to build, we were already in the LCBO and we realized that by the time the space was built we would be too big for it.”

Golden Beach Pale ale (2)

During this time Sam and his team kept busy; the first test batches of Sawdust City beer were brewed at the Niagara Brewing College – including the Great Weiss North, a collaboration brew that was designed with the Niagara College students and staff which contained ingredients from every Canadian province.   After 5 months at Niagara, they started brewing at Black Oak under a model that was a little different than other contract situations.  Black Oak housed Sawdust’s fermentors and unlike some other contract situations, the Sawdust team were present at the brewery when their beers were being brewed.  Sam credits Black Oak’s hospitality for helping Sawdust get to where they are – “They let us build our company in their backyard.”

On Nov 18th 2011, Sawdust tapped the first keg they ever sold at the Griffin in Bracebridge (Golden Beach Pale Ale).   Despite the odd additional challenge, including having to dump a batch of Lone Pine IPA that was already on LCBO shelves because it didn’t meet internal expectations – “It wasn’t terrible it just wasn’t as good as it should have been…it wasn’t as tough as a decision to make as you think…it was harder to find a place to dispose of it” Sawdust City continued to move towards their ultimate goal and as Sam notes, once you start seeing progress, the challenges you faced are easily forgotten.

“Some days were harder than others…you’re two and half years in and you’ve haven’t seen anything, it can be hard to hold on to something for that long.  But the next day something great happens and you forget you were upset the day before.  The thing is, once you’re open and that day has passed you just get further away from it and you forget what it was like.”

Golden Beach Pale Ale

On June 27th 2014, Sawdust City opened the doors to a 20,000 square foot building that was formally a Canadian Tire.  They decided against the brewpub and instead went with a brewery, tasting room, and retail store.  This upcoming Labour Day weekend will mark the one-year anniversary of the grand opening and over that first year most things have gone as they expected, while there has also been some pleasant surprises.  The brewery looks and functions just as the plans indicated it would – efficiently and logically, additionally, it is a show-piece brewery which invites people to tour and see what is going on – something that was very important to Sam.  One surprise is that the tap room has ended up feeling and operating more like a local bar than what was originally expected, which prompted the creation of the Mug Club – an exclusive club for regular customers which includes $5 beers in their mug, and some other special access to events.

“We never expected the bar to be such a ‘bar’ – it was a tasting bar – but thank our lucky stars we got the full-bar license because it has been great…it gives people a place to come to and we never expected that.”

Sawdust has five core brands that, through their branding, all evoke the cottage country sentiment.  They also wanted to create a portfolio that would provide an option for as many type of beer drinkers as possible: Gateway Kolsh, as the name suggests, is an easy drinking introductory beer.  Ol’Woody Alt, a nod to the Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre located on the Wharf, is the ‘Shoulder beer’.  Then there’s Golden Beach Pale Ale – a hazy pale ale that can often be found in my fridge – which is named after the street Sam grew up on.  The Skinny Dippn’ Stout is a smooth oatmeal stout that reveals roasty and chocolate notes as it warms up.  Finally, Lone Pine IPA, last year’s Golden Tap Brewer’s Choice award winner, is their American IPA.

In addition to the core brands, Sawdust also has about 40-50 barrels (mostly wine) and a new beer series called the winewood series – the next beer released in the series  will be ‘1606’, a barrel-aged raspberry version of Skinny Dippn’ Stout which will be available at the one year anniversary party on Labour Day weekend.   Recently they started a ‘Big Bottle’ series – the first of which being the release of 400 bottles of a barrel-aged cranberry saison called ‘Until Tomorrow Ingrid’.   There’s also a good amount of seasonals, one-offs, and collaborations to keep the 12 taps in the tasting room constantly changing.  Twin Pines IIPA will be returning on October 26th (fittingly) and another Back to the Future themed beer is coming soon; also, keep an eye open for upcoming news of a Sawdust City x Cigar City collaboration.  As mentioned, there will be a One Year Anniversary party on Labour Day weekend, and a few weeks later on October 2nd and 3rd Sawdust will be hosting an Oktoberfest event at the Gravenhurst Curling Club.

Summer Saison

It has been almost 10 years since Sam returned from Berlin and took his first job brewing, in that time he has learned a lot about brewing beer and the business of beer – it’s not just malt and hops, there’s a lot of paper in there, too.  I think paper is the 5th ingredient in beer.”  Since 2006 the beer scene in Ontario has grown immensely – and although his excitement for beer has been redefined over that time, Sam is very proud of what he is seeing in the Ontario beer scene.   When you think of the timing of Sam’s choice to leave advertising in the context of the growing beer scene in Ontario, it seems almost serendipitous – It’s not often you see people make difficult decisions about their career and have it work out so perfectly – it almost sounds like the script to a cheesy movie, and for whoever writes that movie, please don’t approach Sam about the advertising for it.

Words and pictures by dennis talon: you can follow dennis on twitter and instagram

Visit the Sawdust City Brewing Company website here

Beer Branding and Sexism

Beer Branding and Sexism

Recently I came across a picture of a few cans from Old Flame Brewing for their Blonde, Red, and Brunette, and the comment accompanying the picture asked people what their ‘favourite’ was.  Most replies to the question all played along – participating in the obvious underlying theme in the designs.  If you go on Old Flame’s website ( you’ll see that they also have a ‘Dirty Blonde’.  It should be noted that not all of Old Flame’s branding follows this theme as they do have other names that simply play on the notion of strained relationships (which I think is somewhat original).   When I saw the picture, I was curious whether other people had similar questions to mine – that is, are they crossing a line?

Given my non-confrontational manner I wasn’t quite sure how to go about addressing this question, so I sat on this for a bit and gave it some thought – which led me back to university.  While majoring in sociology I learned the principles contained in the idea of teaching controversy: that is, when approaching topics such as sexism it is integral to do so in a way that encourages open dialogue.  Often our instincts are to attack, resulting in defensive and anger-filled reactions that impede any potential for ‘unlearning’ (I say unlearning because sexism is learned through interaction – knowledge is constructed by us about us).  I think sometimes this instinct to attack also happens in our everyday lives – we witness something we feel is sexist and lash-out rather than engage in an honest conversation, and this is a missed opportunity for us.  I’m saying this because I want this to be an invitation to engage in an honest conversation about sexism and beer; I don’t want this to be about finger-pointing.

Given this, the Blonde, Red, Brunette, and the Dirty Blonde caught my attention because they utilize a common mechanism – images of females are reduced to attributes associated with preferences in beauty and organized by these associations, and the cans are then sold and purchased as commodities.  Yes, the labels are elegantly designed but they are also a pretty clear example of objectification; the type of objectification that exists within the dichotomy of subject and object.  That is, in a male-centric culture the subject is typically the male and its possession, the object void of volition, is the female.

To be fair, Old Flame is not utilizing extreme sexual objectification: the labels are not violent and they don’t have ‘rapey’ undertones.  There are certainly worse examples out there – e.g. Pig Minds’ PD California Ale or Le Corsaire’s La Tite Pute (which has since been renamed).  When compared to these examples, it is clear Old Flame’s branding is definitely on the milder side of the spectrum – but does that make it okay?  Shouldn’t the goal be to avoid being on this spectrum?  Is the spectrum not all born out of the same misogynist and sexist discourse?

When I contacted Old Flame they replied that they had not received any criticism or push-back to the labels and that the branding is supposed to have a “very playful and respectful tone.”  And this brings up a question that needs to be explored: is it possible for this type of branding to be playful and respectful?  In the more extreme cases the answer is obviously no – with Old Flame I’m not sure what the answer is and my hope is that this piece will lead to a good conversation exploring this issue.

As I discussed this with different people I received some very good questions.  First, is there anything inherently bad about using an image of a female on a label?  No, but execution is critical.  In the case of Old Flame I think the use of objectification in the design and naming conventions, effectively removing personality and agency, has the potential to lead to some very sleazy conversations.  Which leads to another question – whose responsibility is it?

To borrow an example, if I place two melons on a counter and a group of men see the melons and start objectifying women, is that my fault?  No; and Old Flame can’t control the type of conversations their branding elicits.  That being said, they also can’t claim to be unaware of the industry they are in – and although I am completely guessing here, someone at Old Flame had to have known what types of conversations their branding could start.  And even if they didn’t?  Going back to the melons, if I hear the conversation those men are having do I walk away or do I remove the melons?  So yes, perhaps I do expect Old Flame to take some responsibility for what they put out there – even if their intentions were not explicitly sexist.

Normally when thinking about sexism and beer branding we think of historical examples or of certain big breweries and their outdated advertising, but as witnessed with many beer labels that are adorned with passive female figures or ‘witty’ names, perhaps beer culture hasn’t evolved as far as some of us would like.  How does beer branding that perpetuates and contributes to a social discourse of female objectification continue to exist?  Why do some breweries continue to make these branding choices?  Is it because beer as a category is mostly populated by men (as producers and consumers)?  Is this why we accept justification/reasoning such as ‘it’s just light-hearted fun’?   If this is the case it speaks to a very serious issue – that despite claimed progress in equality, when left on our own, boys will still be boys.  Or is this simply a lack of creativity which results in the reliance on old formulas and approaches (which doesn’t make it okay) – if this is the case, well then that’s just lazy.

There’s also the issue of assuming that just because a female deems potentially-offensive branding as okay, it gives the brewery a free-pass.  Firstly, all females do not think/feel/react the same way.  I showed the Old Flame branding to many female colleagues and friends – some thought it crossed a line and some didn’t – not that I needed to qualify this statement.  Secondly, this isn’t about offending females; it is about progress.  If it is only females that are concerned about sexism we are further behind in our thinking than we like to portray.  This is where I think it becomes very important that these topics are discussed in the most open way possible.  The point can’t be to ‘call out’ those brands who you feel are being sexist; the point has to be to engage them in a conversation about their branding choices.  I don’t want a brewery to change their branding because it offends someone – I want them to change it because they genuinely believe that it needs to be changed, and that this new thinking becomes a part of their ethos as a business.  That is progress through unlearning.

Which brings me back to the Old Flame branding…I don’t think their actions were sexist when they decided to go with these labels but their intentions don’t necessarily matter.  How these labels will be perceived and whether they will perpetuate a sexist culture that makes it okay to objectify and de-value women matters.  Although the intent might not be there (and I truly believe that it wasn’t), I think we should all take responsibility for what we contribute because it is important – knowledge is constructed by us about us.  The other reason I brought Old Flame into this discussion is, as noted earlier, their branding is not absurdly over the top – so hopefully the conversation won’t become too heated and we can have a worthwhile dialogue about this.  I really do want this to be a conversation because I am still working through my reactions, and I realize the issue might not a simple one to tackle,  and I am curious to hear what others including Old Flame think.

You can follow Dennis on Twitter and Instagram or send him an email at

Cover Photo by Sean Atkinson

Vote for the 2015 Golden Tap Awards

Vote for the 2015 Golden Tap Awards

The Golden Tap Awards, Ontario’s most democratic beer awards event, has launched its voting for 2015.  Now in its thirteenth year, the Golden Tap Awards is the only major beer awards event in Ontario predominately determined by public vote by beer lovers in the province, recognizing the following achievements:

  • Best craft brewery in Ontario
  • Best brewery for cask-conditioned ales in Ontario
  • Best bar in Ontario for draught beer selection
  • Best bar in Ontario for bottled and/or canned beer selection
  • Best bar in Ontario for cask-conditioned ale
  • Best brewpub or tied house in Ontario
  • Best regularly-produced craft beer in Ontario
  • Best seasonal or specialty craft beer in Ontario
  • Best cask-conditioned ale in Ontario
  • Best craft cidery in Ontario
  • Design Award: For the best packaging design, label artwork and branding in Ontario
  • Innovation Award: For pushing the boundaries of craft brewing the furthest in Ontario
  • Newcomer Award: For the best bar, brewpub, restaurant or brewery that is new to Ontario
  • Event Award: For the best beer event that took place in the past year in Ontario
  • Staff Award: For the best (most beer-knowledgeable, friendly) staff in Ontario
  • Beer Writer Award: For the best beer writer (print, digital or other) in Ontario
  • Brewmaster’s Choice: For the best beer in Ontario, as decided by the craft brewers themselves

Beer fans are encouraged to vote now until September 15th, 2015.  Winners will be announced at a gala event at Toronto’s beerbistro on Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015 during Toronto Beer Week.

Innocente Brewing Company

Innocente Brewing Company

I knew Steve Innocente (the owner/brewer) in the late 90’s when we were both doing graduate school. I was on his ball hockey team, and although I don’t remember a lot of wins, I do remember going for a lot of beers. Since that time, Steve has done a post-doc studying Saccharomyces Cerevisiae (brewing yeast!) in Scotland, and then returned to open his own brewery. He recently won a gold medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards for his Charcoal Porter. That might lead you to think that he’s a malt man, or given his background you might expect some crazy yeast experiments, but his brews are generally hop-forward, bitter & dry.
The brewery is located on the outskirts of Waterloo, near the RIM Technology Park and Conestoga Mall. They have a ubiquitous 10 barrel brewing system, along with a number of 10 barrel conical fermenters. This small-batch brewing allows the production of a variety of brews, and is probably more similar to a large brew pub than a larger ‘micro’ brewery.
They do have a single 20 barrel conical, which they’re currently using for their Pils-Sinner. And yes, this is a real Pilsner. They start with distilled water, which they adjust to match a water profile you’d find in Northern Germany. Then they use an actual lager yeast (not some speedy hybrid) and also provide the necessary time for it to properly condition. When I had it in June, they were using the old-school U.S. Cluster hops along with Wiamea from New Zealand. I see they’ve now swapped out the Cluster for Mt. Hood, but I suspect this is still an exceptional brew (and probably outside anyone’s expectation for a North American Lager).

The other brew that really stood out for me was the Werk Avoidance. Don’t let the “Patio Session Ale” moniker fool you, this is FAR better than most India Session Ales. At only 3.4% abv, it combines Galaxy, Centennial and Palisade to pack some serious hop flavour. If Dogfish Head did a 30 minute IPA, this is the sort of thing I’d expect!

Continuing the hop theme, there’s the Innocente Fling Golden ale (Challenger & Mt Hood hops), Kazmanian Devil Pale Ale (I’d never tried the Kazbek hop before), Mike Weisson American Wheat (Centennial & Cascade), Innocente Glance Rye Pale Ale (Cluster & Chinook), Innocente Bystander Pale Ale (Galaxy) and Innocente Conscience IPA (Chinook, Galaxy & Ella). There’s also the Inn O’Slainte Irish Red Ale that’s a little drier than most Red Ales, with some Challenger coming through in the flavour.

Breaking from the hops, they have the I’m Not Hefe, Just Big Boned Hefeweizen with juicy bubblegum and underlying banana. Then there’s the Saison Graisseux which has a similar feel to Dupont (often a template for the style), but with a different yeast character and a Saaz hopping that’s readily apparent. While the Collaboration brew with Jordan St. John is also a saison, the Waterloo 1815 is entirely different. It’s lighter in alcohol, but has a little more depth to the malt flavour.

Unfortunately none of the Innocente brews are currently available at the LCBO, but they do deliver to some of the finer beer-centric establishments within Ontario.

Exploring Beer in Barrie

Exploring Beer in Barrie

Mike Gurr, who is the Operations Manager at Kensington Brewing Company in Toronto, called Barrie home until he was 18.  He still has friends and family in Barrie and visits frequently.  Back in 2012 Mike set out to get Augusta Ale on tap at as many bars as possible in his former hometown – it was a special project for him.  He likes Barrie and wanted to contribute to shifting the beer scene to something closer to what he was witnessing in Toronto.  It has been three years since Mike set out on his mission but unfortunately the only current place one can find Kensington beer in Barrie is at the LCBO (available in three locations).   As Mike notes, Kensington couldn’t afford to compete in a market that was still mostly price driven.

Like Mike, I grew up in Barrie – or more accurately I grew up trying to get out of Barrie – so my perceptions of this town are skewed; framed by my small-town experiences manifesting monikers such as ‘hick town’ or ‘boonies’.  Barrie sits only 90km north of the City and has a reputation of being a bedroom community for Toronto (although I believe this has been overstated).  Sitting on Kempenfelt Bay, Barrie’s population growth in my lifetime has been significant (around 38 000 in 1979 to a current population around 140, 000), but some would argue that it hasn’t changed all that much.   I remember a city, and this could be my jaded perspective talking, that lacked a strong identity and local culture and I’m not entirely sure if this has grown with the population or not.

Regarding beer in Barrie, when I last lived here I remember seeing Steam Whistle here and there, maybe some Muskoka or Mill St – but for the most part, like many small cities, the beer selection was macro-centric.  I recently moved back to Barrie, prompted by the birth of my son, and I was curious (i.e. worried) about how different my beer selection was going to be – especially given that I was leaving a home that was within walking distance to C’est What?, a short street car ride from Bar Hop, and a few subways stops South of Bar Volo…I was spoiled.

Interestingly though, Barrie has two local breweries and one more on the way – it also has a great little pub downtown that pours exclusively Ontario craft beer.   Given my outdated perceptions of the city, I couldn’t wait to explore the beer scene in my new/old hometown to see what had, or had not, changed.

A very – very – brief history of Beer in Barrie

There is a bit of history of beer in this town: Robert Simpson, Barrie’s first mayor, was a master brewer, the Formosa Spring Brewery opened here in the 1970s because the building in Formosa was too small to handle expansion, and in 1974 Molson purchased the Formosa brewery (the Formosa brand is currently owned by Brick Brewing).

Starting in September of 1999, the Molson Brewery started the process of moving all Barrie operations to their Toronto location and by 2000 the brewery was closed and around 400 people were laid-off.  You might recall that in early 2004 a Grow-Op was discovered in the empty brewery.  The building was eventually destroyed and the property remains vacant to this day.  Not deterred by recent history, Barrie remained a Molson town and the non-macro beer scene has been slow to develop – and no one knows this better than Flying Monkeys.

Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery

Barrie would remain brewery-free until 2004, when the Robert Simpson Brewery opened up two blocks east of 5-points on Dunlop Street, later renamed to Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery to reflect the direction that founder, Peter Chiodo, wanted to take the brewery.  Peter is straightforward, has a good sense of humour, and doesn’t take himself too seriously – “I’m really, really good at making mistakes.”   This unserious philosophy permeates their branding and beers – beers that are largely crafted outside of the BJCP style guidelines.  It is an approach that produces polarized opinions, but I think creativity should be celebrated even when the end product is not your thing.  This is not to suggest that the beers aren’t carefully constructed though – a current beer was in recipe tweaking stage for 4 years before its recent release and a few of their beers have won medals at the Canadian Brewing Awards.

Peter and his family have a farm in the area and Flying Monkeys has been open for 11 years now.  He knows this town, he is familiar with the downtown area and its reputation, and is honest about the challenges Flying Monkeys has faced here.  Perhaps because of the branding and philosophy, or maybe ditching the Robert Simpson name was perceived as a slight to the local heritage, Flying Monkeys has tended to enjoy more success outside of their hometown (I didn’t discover how solid of a beer Smashbomb was until I moved to Toronto).

With surrounding bars slow to adapt it is still more difficult than it should be to find Flying Monkeys on tap and one gets the impression that they are not exactly top-of-mind with beer drinkers in this town.   Despite this, Peter is still positive about Barrie, he has witnessed a slow transition and the number of visitors to the retail store has grown significantly in the last year.  He would love to see the downtown core revitalized and presses any relevant politician on what their legacy for Barrie’s downtown will be because he sees the potential in its location.  For those that don’t know, Barrie’s downtown runs just one street North from a very pretty waterfront – a view that would be great for a patio (unfortunately the best patio currently belongs to Hooters).

To accommodate the growing interest, and perhaps to help drive it, Flying Monkeys is currently constructing a tap room at their brewery, they have a non-brewing facility in the South end of Barrie, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a production brewery was in their future as the current brewhouse is packed into every nook and cranny of available space.

At one point in our conversation Peter noted that it is much easier to criticize than to build something, a view he clearly embraces as Flying Monkeys continues to grow, helping pave the way for the next breweries to enter this newly developing market.

IMG_6823-2Flying Monkeys_1

Barnstormer Brewing Company

Despite being told that a brewpub wouldn’t work in Barrie because of a lack of a good beer scene, Dustin Norland opened Barnstormer just over a year and a half ago and initially struggled to keep up with the demand for the beer (a common issue for new breweries that start too small).  Barnstormer sits in a nondescript plaza in Barrie’s South End, a small space that includes a restaurant, a bottle shop, and plenty of gadgets, wires, and pictures conveying the aeronautical theme.  The plaza is surrounded by subdivisions and Dustin admits that the prospect of being located in such a highly populated area motivated him to choose this location.

Owning a brewpub in a town that lacks a thriving beer scene requires that you, in addition to selling beer, also do some educating.  Dustin notes that at first there were many people who came in looking for domestic light beer and were confused when they couldn’t find it – but some of those customers stuck around.   Additionally, as craft beer continues to grow in Toronto, more and more customers are coming in already curious – the task for Barnstormer has shifted from selling new customers on the concept, to now satisfying their desire to know more.

A mechanical engineer by profession, once designing brewing-control systems, Dustin has that interesting mix of technical know-how and creative curiosity that is present in many successful homebrewers – and not surprisingly, homebrewing is how Dustin originally got into the beer scene.  As we walk through the brewery, Dustin’s enthusiasm for all things ‘engineered’ is obvious – he developed the brewhouse software and can hardly contain his excitement when showing me the de-commissioned ambulance he purchased and is transforming into the Barnstormer event vehicle.

Barnstormer has rented out another unit in the plaza for brewery expansion in order to accommodate the demand for their beers.   Three of their brands are now in cans and although the LCBO is on his radar, the goal for now is to simply be able to keep the bottle shop stocked.  Dustin, originally from the U.S. where the beer scene is more mature, firmly believes that Barrie could support another brewery.











Redline Brewhouse

Walking into Redline one can’t help but be impressed with the place – opening in July, the Williams family haven’t taken any shortcuts when it comes to the construction of this space.  A 22hL system sits behind a good sized space for a restaurant which will have communal seating with additional upstairs seating above the bar overlooking the brewhouse.   There’s a retail store up front, which will have merchandise, cans, and an interesting alternative to growlers, and there is lots of room for expansion in the back.

It’s obvious that a lot of money has been put into the space but I get the impression that the Williams’ input transcends financial investment.  Doug, who discovered lots of great beer while travelling for work by always asking for something local while visiting a new bar, and Devon (father and son) have helped to build every inch of this brewery and their craftsmanship helps define the branding Redline is moving forward with.

The Williams family are ‘gear heads’ as Kari (the Mother) explains, so building things is typical in their family.  This mentality might lead one to assume that the branding is all about engines and racing but after chatting with Kari it becomes clear that it is about more than that.  Redline is about the culture and sociability of car clubs, the curiosity and precision that goes into building the cars, and the love and passion of sitting around with friends talking about their hobby.  It’s a compelling brand positioning so hopefully they are able to communicate it effectively.

Although clearly comfortable swinging a wrench, the Williams are also smart enough to know that they can’t do everything and have hired a well-rounded team to build Redline towards being a successful brewhouse.  Sebastian MacIntosh, who used to be at Flying Monkeys and graduated from the Niagara school of brewing, is the head brewer.  Their head chef, Chris Gardiner, has worked at Oscars and The Farmhouse, two places known for their food, and they have brought in an experienced restaurant manager to help oversee things.   Presently Redline has three core beers – a golden ale, a pale ale, and, more interestingly, an American strong ale (Doug’s favourite beer is Stone’s Arrogant Bastard).

When asked about whether she felt there were any challenges to being in Barrie, Kari admits that the town lacks a clear identity – but they are from Barrie and they want to build a place that can be provide a sense of community to the people who visit.  She hopes Redline can help to establish a local beer culture that creates enough excitement to get people off the 400 highway at Molson Park, taking a short detour down Mapleview Drive to stop by Redline.



The Local Gastropub

When Scott and Hollis Connor decided to open up The Local Gastropub six years ago, prompted by the desire for a good Reuben sandwich, they were told that an exclusively local beer list would be suicide.  Initially they listened but as world travellers, both had experienced the fun of trying local beers when visiting a new city and they wanted to offer that experience here.  Eventually the macros were pushed out by local micro-beers and the restaurant now has all their taps devoted to Ontario craft breweries.   Scott admits that it’s still an uphill battle but it’s getting easier – he acknowledges that Barrie is a Molson town and knows that his restaurant is still a bit of an anomaly on Dunlop Street.

The Local was designed to facilitate conversation (the music is kept quiet and the walls are free of televisions), Scott wanted The Local Gastropub to resemble the pubs he remembers from growing up in Scotland – social, vibrant, friendly (mostly), a place where people met for discussion – a place where talking to a stranger at a different table didn’t result in a sideways glance.  It’s a friendly and social environment that doesn’t quite mesh with its location.

The restaurant is located on the corner of Dunlop and Maple Avenue, just east of 5-points and is a few steps away from the Barrie bus station.  The west side of 5-points has been slower to change than the east side, and although both have their issues, the west side is a bit rougher – The restaurant that previously occupied the space kept its blinds down in order to distance itself from its surroundings.  From the start Scott wanted to keep the blinds open, rather than hiding from their corner he hoped the Local could be a catalyst for change.

Like Peter from Flying Monkeys, Scott sees the potential in Barrie’s downtown being so close to the waterfront but he has also witnessed an unwillingness to utilize this potential properly.  He’d like to see a more rigorous application policy for downtown business owners to ensure that they also want to be a part of transitioning Barrie’s downtown to make it more of a destination.  Although I get the feeling Scott won’t always call Barrie home, likely searching out a place closer to the ocean, I do feel that he would like to have a positive impact on the town while he is here.


Moving Forward

When I started researching for this piece I expected to hear much more frustration from the people I talked to, and although all spoke about certain challenges, I never once got the impression that these challenges were necessarily specific to Barrie.  Rather, it is simply the reality of a movement that still only makes up about 3% of the beer sold in Ontario – most of which in larger cities.  I was happy and even surprised to see how far beer had come in this city – there’s now a craft beer and BBQ festival downtown – this year the breweries are Flying Monkeys, Redline, Barnstormer, Muskoka, and Northwinds – and more and more bars are offering at least a few taps of something from someone other than a macro.  Personally, I’d like to see Mike make another push to get Kensington on tap somewhere in this city – I think he might have better luck this time.

When talking to Peter from Flying Monkeys he said, speaking positively,  ‘craft beer will consume you if you let it’ – I’m hoping this city allows itself to be consumed by good beer – but to do so I think it will take a concerted effort from all those involved.  I’ve never felt that there was much brand loyalty when it came to craft beer – exploration is part of the fun – so ultimately fighting for market share is less about your brands, and more about growing the whole category together.  For many reasons, I hope the beer scene continues to develop in the city I now call home (again).

Flying Monkeys:

Barnstormer Brewing Company:

Redline Brewhouse:

The Local Gastropub:


Words and pictures by Dennis Talon (theipamyth on Instagram and Twitter)

Join us on Lester P. Beerson Day!

Join us on Lester P. Beerson Day!

The Brewer’s Backyard returns tomorrow with Lester P. Beerson Day. On this celebration of Canada Day we’ll be welcoming the tasty beers from Great Lakes (pouring Canuck Pale Ale, Limp Puppet Session IPA, Pompous Ass English Pale Ale and special collaboration below), Left Field (Prospect Single Hop IPA, Eephus Oatmeal Brown, Maris* Pale Ale, Sunlight Park Saison), Collective Arts (Rhyme & Reason, Saint of Circumstance, State of Mind Session IPA, Stranger than Fiction Porter), Steam Whistle (Unfiltered and Regular Pilsner), Oast House (Barn Raiser Country Ale, Red Barn Bitter ESB), Brimstone (Nutmare on Elm Street Nut Brown, Sinister Minister American IPA) and Railway City (Dead Elephant, Witty Traveler, Black Coal Stout), along with delicious eats from Kanga Meat Pies, DF Catering and the Midnight Snack Co.

We’ll also have a special beery treat, as we did an exclusive collaboration brew with Great Lakes – a raspberry ale brewed with cascade hops and wild yeast cultivated from an apple orchard in the Niagara Escarpment. It should be a delicious beer for Canada Day and it will be available in limited quantities only at the event.

Lester P. Beerson Day occurs on Canada Day, which this year falls on Wednesday, July 1st from 12pm-5pm at the Koerner Gardens and Holcim Gallery areas of the Evergreen Brick Works. As always, our events are free admission, are all-ages and family-friendly. There are limited quantities of beer and food so be sure to arrive early to get the best selection. We hope to see you there!

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