Last night at beerbistro the 2015 Golden Tap Awards were revealed in front of an audience of Ontario’s brewing industry and beer lovers.  The Golden Tap Awards are Ontario’s most democratic beer awards event, as all awards are voted upon by the general public.  A special set of Editor’s Circle... > READ MORE

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Golden Tap Awards Announced

Golden Tap Awards Announced

Last night at beerbistro the 2015 Golden Tap Awards were revealed in front of an audience of Ontario’s brewing industry and beer lovers.  The Golden Tap Awards are Ontario’s most democratic beer awards event, as all awards are voted upon by the general public.  A special set of Editor’s Circle awards are determined by a small group of beer writers to recognize achievements that fall outside of the general voting.  The 2015 Golden Tap Awards are as follows:

  • Best Brewery in Ontario: Great Lakes Brewery
  • Best Brewery for Cask-Conditioned Ales in Ontario: Granite Brewery
  • Best Brewpub or Tied House in Ontario: Bellwoods Brewery
  • Best Cidery in Ontario: West Avenue Cider Company
  • Best Regularly-Produced Beer in Ontario: Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale
  • Best Seasonal or One-Off Beer in Ontario: Great Lakes Brewery Thrust! An IPA
  • Best Cask-Conditioned Ale in Ontario: Granite Brewery Hopping Mad
  • Best Bar for Draught Selection in Ontario: Bar Hop
  • Best Bar for Packaged Beer Selection in Ontario: Bar Volo
  • Best Bar for Cask Ale Selection in Ontario: Bar Volo
  • Best Beer Event in Ontario: Cask Days
  • Best Beer Writer in Ontario: Ben Johnson
  • Best Staff in Ontario: Bar Hop
  • Best Newcomer to the Beer Scene in Ontario: Rainhard Brewing Co.
  • Most Innovative Brewery in Ontario: Bellwoods Brewery
  • Best Beer Design and Branding in Ontario: Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company
  • Brewmaster’s Choice – Best Beer in Ontario: Sawdust City Lone Pine IPA
  • Editor’s Circle Award: Charles MacLean
  • Editor’s Circle Award: Brux House
  • Editor’s Circle Award: Indie Alehouse Beer Events
  • Editor’s Circle Award: RunTOBeer
  • Best Beer of the Fest: Shillow Bitter Waitress Black IPA
Toronto Beer Week Begins Tonight!

Toronto Beer Week Begins Tonight!

TBW_2015_White_Logo_250Toronto Beer Week, a nine-day celebration of craft beer in the city, officially begins tonight.  Featuring over 35 breweries and 75 bars, Toronto will be awash in delicious beer from today until September 26th.  There are over 125 events and counting coming up, including beer festivals, tap takeovers, beer dinners, pairings and more.

This year sees the debut of Six Boroughs, the official beer of Toronto Beer Week.  Six Boroughs is a bourbon barrel-aged rye porter, which will be available at select LCBOs across Toronto as well as at select events during the week.

You can pick up a free passport at participating venues, which includes a directory of the bars, breweries and restaurants of Toronto Beer Week, partner information and more.  Toronto Beer Week has received generous support from both Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory, signifying the stature that craft beer holds in the city and province today.

Select bars across Toronto have also received 4am liquor license extensions for Toronto Beer Week – find out more details on that in the passport on online, and at the venues themselves.

Happy Toronto Beer Week, and we hope to see you out at some great events!

The Bar Towel is a proud supporter of Toronto Beer Week.  The Bar Towel’s Golden Tap Awards will be taking place on Wednesday, September 23rd at beerbistro with over 25 breweries participating in an all-Ontario craft beer festival.

Vermont Beer 2.0 : Burlington, VT

Vermont Beer 2.0 : Burlington, VT

Before Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders began making headlines, Vermont’s best known names were perhaps Sean Hill (Hill Farmstead), John Kimmich (The Alchemist), and Sean Lawson (Lawson’s Finest Liquids). Indeed, three solid reasons to make the trip to Vermont, yet with some 39 craft breweries and a population of just over 600,000 people the Northeast Kingdom continues to shape beer culture through an incredibly dedicated local population base as well as innovative brewers. On a recent trip to the Vermont’s largest city, Burlington, I decided to bypass many of the usual brewery stops and explore a few of the breweries representing Vermont’s next wave of craft beer.


First, the periphery of Burlington VT. Winooski is to Burlington what Brooklyn is to Manhattan, or at least locals like to joke. Yet, Winooski, like south Burlington, does have a slightly more creative and expressive vibe. Rents are cheaper, and breweries are growing. Down by the river sits Four Quarters Brewing. Situated in what appears to be a converted garage, Four Quarters is as relaxed a place as I have ever been. With the sound of the Winooski river in the background: patersbier, lightly smoked concoctions, and sour beers are dispensed; records and free range eggs are for sale; and the crowler is king. To some degree, the crowler, a 32 oz can filled and sealed on demand, is a bit of a gimmick, but it works. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a large can filled, sealed, and given to them? Of course it doesn’t hurt that Four Quarters is making some fine beer. We were particularly fond of the patersbier and sour beer offered during our visit. Patersbier is a style referring to the lower alcohol beer consumed by monks while preparing the trappist beers we love like Orval or Chimay. At 4%, Four Quarters’ Opus Dei patersbier was reminiscent of the trappist standards, while being refreshing and sessionable. The sour offered during our visit was inspired by a classic mojito. Flavours of lime and mint worked well with a standard sour profile. The brewhouse at Four Quarters is small, maybe 7 hec, but the effort by head brewer and owner Brian Eckert is large.


A short 15 minute drive from Winooski and we arrived at Burlington Beer Company. Located in the Burlington suburb of Williston, the Burlington Beer Company is comprised of “17.5 bbl frankenstein brewhouse,” as described by the owner and head brewer Joseph Lemnah, as well as a large production space and tap room in what is almost a hanger like structure. The tap room is full of games and is very child friendly. The beer offered is not entirely standard. Yes, there is porter, but it is a mild porter(Mason Jar Mild); yes there is a IPA, but it is a Rye IPA(Light in the Window); yes there is a saison, but it is a hoppy saison(Surfing Waves of Dopamine). Taps and cans are also accompanied by one-off 750ml special releases such as the ‘Brettanomyces Incident,‘ a double IPA fermented exclusively with Brettanomyces. Canning runs and the one-off releases seem to sell pretty quickly, but they are still slightly easier to attain than some of the harder to acquire Vermont standards.


While Four Quarters and Burlington Beer Company have branched out from the hop forward Vermont DIPA’s of the region, Matt Cohen’s Fiddlehead Brewing has entered the DIPA ring ready to fight. Second Fiddle, their limited canning run DIPA, is sold out if you don’t line up before doors open. Second Fiddle ranks among some ahead of Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine and even the lauded Heady Topper. Second Fiddle is certainly a great DIPA, and worth the wait, but the brewery’s other offerings are nothing to scoff at. Situated just outside of Burlington in the town of Shelburne, Fiddlehead encompasses half of a large barn like structure with the other side inhabited by Folino’s pizza. Grab a few growlers and head across the hall for some delicious food. Fiddlehead’s IPA and APA were both well-crafted high quality examples of the styles, but their American Wild Ale, Brett on the Dance Floor, delivered a mild brett taste with a refreshing citrus note, and certainly stood out for me. If you hope to score some Second Fiddle be sure to check the boards located in the taproom for release times. As I understand it, some releases do not get announced on social media, evidently increasing your chances of success.


Within the confines of Burlington proper is Pine Street. This north-south corridor penetrates downtown, but really gets interesting the more south you go. Dubbed the South End Arts District, Pine Street south is chalked full of breweries, restaraunts, and galleries. Older breweries like Magic Hat once defined the area, but have been quickly overshadowed by newer entries such as Queen City Brewing, Citizen Cider, Zero Gravity’s Pine Street Brewery, and Switchback. For me, Zero Gravity is a definite stand-out. Zero Gravity’s Pine Street Brewery is the culmination of years of experimentation by masterbrewer Paul Sayer. Paul has been the brewer at Zero Gravity/American Flatbread’s co-restaraunt/brewpub in the city for some time. The Pine Street location is a full-on production brewery offering the onsite sale of cans, as well as a nice taproom and patio. Currently, their Green State Lager, and Conehead Wheat IPA are available to-go. As their site states, Conehead “might just be your rushmore.” Indeed, it is a nice take on the style with a (citra)hop-forward profile.


Though most of these breweries have only been open for a few months to just over a year they are all tapping into the vibrancy of the Vermont beer scene and producing largely high quality offerings, while not limiting themselves to standard styles. Vermont offers a unique beer drinking culture where incredibly high IBU DIPA’s are the norm, and arguably the public is ready for almost any flavour that comes at them. Heady, Sunshine, and Hill Farmstead are still required drinking on any trip to Vermont, but the expansion of breweries is making more great beer available in more areas, and that is certainly not a bad thing.

The Accelerating Beer Scene of Windsor

The Accelerating Beer Scene of Windsor

Things are changing in Windsor. At least it feels that way, because I’ve actually never visited the city before. From a beer perspective, there wasn’t much to draw me there in the past. The craft beer scene began and ended with the old Walkerville brewery from the early and mid 2000s, whose beers were fairly bland and uninteresting. The brewery declared bankruptcy in 2007, and it did not seem missed. That’s pretty much Windsor’s history in the craft beer movement, at least what I could tell.

The beer scene started to change a couple of years ago with news of the rebirth of Walkerville Brewery, the debut of a craft beer festival and some chatter in The Bar Towel’s Forum. But Windsor remained off my radar. It was most welcome, however, to be contacted by Ontario’s Southwest to visit Windsor to check out the beer scene there. This was a city I knew all my life and is literally just down the highway from my home in Toronto, but almost completely foreign.  This would be a most interesting visit to see if my perceptions of Windsor had changed.

My visit would comprise of a “Bikes and Beers” cycling tour, a monthly event hosted by WindsorEats, a local food and drink website and consultancy covering Windsor and Essex County. Due to timing, Adriano from WindsorEats generously offered to give me a private tour of the city. We met on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon in Willistead Park, a picturesque park located in the city’s Walkerville neighbourhood (which is the host location for Windsor’s upcoming beer festival in October, also run by WindsorEats).

DSC01801Our first stop was within the same neighbourhood, riding past some attractive historic homes to the Walkerville Brewery, located just off Wyandotte Street East on Argyle Road. The building is immediately striking, a vast wall of red brick facing you upon approach. The history of the location is an incredibly interesting one, as it was one of the original rack warehouses of the Hiram Walker Distillery, of which others remain in use across the street, and the distillery itself located only a few short blocks away.

The building gives the brewery an immediate uniqueness, as the high ceilings and expanse provides an almost hangar-like feeling. Within the main doors lies an open, airy taproom, with a long bar and numerous tables stretching to the back of the building. Within sight of the tasting room is the brewery itself, a spacious facility with numerous tanks and packaging lines. Within the brewery also lies a small barrel aging area, the only time I saw barrels in use in Windsor.

DSC01813Walkerville Brewery is, of course, named for the aforementioned Walkerville neighbourhood, in turn named for Hiram Walker himself. One cannot escape the history of Hiram here, and the residents are very proud of the history. He literally built the neighbourhood, as he owned 468 acres around the distillery and built many of the homes lived in by the distillery’s workers (although he himself actually lived across the river in Detroit). Adorning the walls of the brewery are numerous museum-like panels outlining the history of the neighbourhood, so a stop to the Walkerville Brewery provides not only a nice beer, but an interesting view into the past of Windsor.

Walkerville produces a wide range of beers – during my visit they had their flagship Honest Lager, Loophole Ale (a kolsch), an IPA, a Milk Stout and a Dunkel. A barrel-aged Scotch Ale was released shortly previously to my visit, with only a few bottles left in the to-go fridge.

Although retaining the same name, this incarnation of Walkerville has new ownership and a new outlook on beer from previous days. If your memories of Walkerville are only the original lager (as mine were), the new brewery is definitely worth investigating. This stop was my first indication that Windsorites have taste buds for the more interesting.

After finishing up at Walkerville, Adriano took us through the commercial area of the neighbourhood along Wyandotte. Biking past such storefronts as the metaphysical shop Smudge, old-school Tony’s Shoe Repair, vintage Harvey Lo’s Yummy House and modern restaurant The Willistead, the streetscape is authentically eclectic. Heading south of Wyandotte led us to Windsor’s Little Italy neighbourhood, to our second stop, Motor Burger on Erie Street East.

DSC01840Motor Burger is the kind of establishment that helps put a beer scene like Windsor’s on the map. Motor Burger is a brewery and restaurant, with Motor Craft Ales being their beer brand. Motor Burger has a familiar urban restaurant layout, with a long bar down the left hand side of the space, with tables lining the floor leading back to the kitchen.  As the name implies, the restaurant features an automotive theme throughout its decor and menu quite prominently.

The brewery is located in the basement, which I can only describe as Buffalo Bill-esque. A vast, multi-roomed and seemingly endless space took us to the brewery, which remarkably is all brewed on a single Brew Magic system. On the system all the Motor Craft Ales are brewed, and it was heartening to see so many unique styles on offer. They included a wide range of styles including lager and cream ale, bitter and IPA, amber (Motor A, their first beer) and brown ale and more. A couple of interesting recipes were on offer during my visit, including the refreshing Deja Blue with blueberries and lavender, and the balanced Jalopy with smoked malt and jalapeno. The food at Motor Burger is also top-notch, as their burgers have been recognized across the editorial spectrum including Reader’s Digest and Thrillist. Dig the nachos too.

Alas, one beer I was quite keen to try was the recent collaboration between Motor Craft and Batch Brewing of Detroit, which sold out prior to my arrival. Again, evidence that unique beers are popular here as elsewhere. Keep it up Motor Burger, and save me a pint for next time.

DSC01843Continuing on led towards and along Windsor’s pretty waterfront, where uninterrupted public green space spans the entirety of the downtown core. It’s from this location that the unique Detroit skyline is in full view. At this point in the tour it really hit how remarkably close the two cities are.  Being separated by only about a half a mile of river, the two cities are genuinely and intrinsically linked, both socially and professionally.

Due to Ontario’s lower drinking age and the presence of the Caesar’s casino on the Windsor side, many folks from Detroit regularly make the trip over for fun. And with Detroit’s major attractions (pro sports teams, concerts, etc.), Windsorites also do the same. It would be amiss not to say that a beer trip to Windsor is enriched with a trip across the border to experience Detroit’s dynamic scene. In fact, it truly makes a visit to Windsor even more compelling and attractive. However, we’ll save Detroit for another time. For now, let’s continue on the Windsor journey.

DSC01853Heading up from the riverfront, Adriano took us to Craft Heads Brewing, located right in the heart of downtown on University Avenue West. Formerly a blues bar, Craft Heads opened within the last year in a basement location sunken below street level but with windows above ground. A large open space holds numerous tables, and the back bar encompasses a large tap wall with beers labeled “A” to “Z”.  Similar to Motor Burger, all of Craft Heads beers are brewed on a tiny system, again remarkable to maintain a line-up that purports to be 30 beers.

Due to the inherent capacity of such a small system, a few beers were unavailable on our visit, but the line-up included a diverse range of styles including a saison, coffee stout, honey brown, hefeweizen, blackberry blonde, rye beer, oatmeal brown and multiple porters. Great to see this kind of diversity in a beer line-up.

DSC01868While in downtown we decided to check out a new addition to the scene, the Blind Owl on Oullette, the main nightlife strip in Windsor’s core. The Blind Owl, opened only a few months ago, is a tiny, attractive bar, with unique decor and a focus on craft cocktails. The beer list is a broad one that includes numerous craft and mass-market selections. It’s not the kind of place my ‘big-city’ biases towards Windsor would have expected, as it’s a definitely a cool spot and a welcome respite from the raucous and unappealing party bars located down the street.  A must stop while in downtown, for sure.

DSC01881Continuing along University Avenue led us to Brew Windsor, located on the east portion of the street past the Caesar’s casino zone. Brew has a unique layout, as it’s literally in an old multi-level residential building, the brewery and taproom located on the ground floor. The ground floor is a lively and intimate space, with a small side open-air area. What was quite attractive about Brew was their upper terrace, a narrow patio with a “bi-skyline” view of both Detroit and Windsor. Brew is focusing on only a few core brands at this point in time, with an unfiltered lager and a stout available during my visit. Let’s hope they expand their style experimentation at this promising spot in town soon.

DSC01896We headed back along the riverfront, all the way past the Ambassador Bridge to one of Windsor’s oldest neighbourhoods, Sandwichtown. Here we stopped in at Rock Bottom (not affiliated with the U.S. brewpub chain), a multi-tap bar with 30 beers on draught available. Rock Bottom has a classic American pub feel, with wooden bars and tables, mass-market beer paraphernalia and broken peanut shells strewn across the floors. The tap line-up was interesting for Windsor, featuring Great Lakes, Amsterdam, Flying Monkeys, Stone, Muskoka, Central City and more, but I have to admit that coming from Toronto I am a bit spoiled. Because of that, I was hoping for more local beers in the line-up, with only Walkerville making an appearance. But as Windsor seems to be a market ripe to embrace unique craft beers, brewers from other parts of the province would be wise to make the effort to distribute their beers to Ontario’s Southwest. My suspicions is they would be gulped down quite quickly.

DSC01902We headed back along University Avenue towards downtown, making our final stop of the tour at the Windsor Beer Exchange.  Here live music is common, alongside foosball, pool and a selection of some vintage video games. A small but well-curated selection of ten Ontario draught beers were available, including Craft Heads, Bayside, Descendants, Maclean’s, Railway City and others. One thing that was very interesting about this spot was their “variable pricing” for beers, where pints were priced in real-time based upon each line’s popularity, or lack thereof.

And with that, our beer extravaganza of Windsor wrapped up. My guide Adriano is clearly a passionate Windsorite, and his enthusiasm for the region shows. And through his numerous initiatives to promote the area, he is sharing this passion everyday. I’d highly recommend you take a look at his tours for a great way to see the beer scene of the city. And as Windsor is incredibly flat, it makes for a very easy and low-effort ride to get around town.

DSC01919Windsor is a city where its beer scene is clearly emerging along the trend lines seen across Ontario. Featuring four local craft breweries now, and more on the way (Rock Bottom is building a brewery next to their bar, and there’s a sign up for a Midian Brewing on Wyandotte), the appetite for good beer is evident. There is quite a bit of style variation in the scene, and hopefully the local brewers continue to push themselves to experiment further. Windsor pleasantly surprised me, a city that isn’t just about OV anymore, where your dollar goes significantly further than in Toronto, has a delicious local style of pizza, a lively riverfront and friendly residents. It’s a ride down the highway I look forward to making again.

The Bar Towel thanks Ontario’s Southwest for its generous assistance with my Windsor beer excursion. If you are thinking about taking a trip yourself, there are numerous convenient accommodation options within the downtown core and surrounding area, and with reasonably priced cabs and a city transit system, it is easy to get around. For a chance to win your own trip to experience the region’s culinary delights, enter the Dream Foodie Escape contest here. For trip inspiration, visit

B-Side Brewing Label on Bar Towel Radio

B-Side Brewing Label on Bar Towel Radio

Back in April we attended the Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, Oregon and recorded a number of podcasts with some of our beer friends.  We’re thrilled to unveil another one, this time a conversation about the B-Side Brewing Label with Steve Beauchesne of Beau’s All-Natural Brewing, Ben Love of Gigantic Brewing and Anders Kissmeyer of Kissmeyer Beer.

In the episode we chat about the history of how Beau’s started the B-Side Brewing Label, and its first two brands, Kissmeyer Nordic Pale Ale and Gigantic La Formidable.  During our chat, Ben from Gigantic also provides some insider highlights about great beer places to check out in Portland, Oregon.

You can listen to the episode below, on our Podcasts page, or via iTunes.

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 movies 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


CORRECTION: The Big Bottle series was renamed to the Winewood Series after the release of Until Tomorrow Ingrid – Until Tomorrow Ingrid was the first of the series to be released, 1606 will be the second.

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