Sunday, October 20, 2013

New Brewery on the Block!

Ontario really seems to be going through a bit of a craft beer renaissance over the past two years, and I couldn't be happier.  The number of microbreweries in the province is increasing every few months, with such new arrivals as Spearhead and Sawdust City getting regular play on liquor store shelves, and a good dozen others getting things off the ground in their immediate community.  To run a successful brewery one needs to also have friendly bars and restaurants willing to serve your products, and in more and more communities across Ontario, these establishments have been turning towards craft brewery offerings, whether it be simply a tap or two or as a total craft brew lineup.  Craft beer has quickly become big business in the province; microbrewery sales saw a 45% increase over the past year, and account for nearly 30% of total Ontario brewing output. Simply put, it's a good time to be drinking in Ontario, a real sea-change from the state of the industry a mere four or five years ago.   Now, in terms of craft beer, I happen to be pretty fortunate in my location.  A large community of breweries within about an hour's drive of my front door (Wellington, F&M, Grand River, Nickel Brook, Great Lakes, Black Oak), and a number of craft beer establishments nearby at which to whet my whistle (including such new additions as Kitchener's Imbibe and the Bent Elbow), offering the latest Ontario craft beer selections.  This isn't exactly the norm across the province; not all LCBOs are stocked equally with craft beer, and not all communities have these sorts of craft beer friendly establishments available.  As a general trend, however, things are looking on the up.

There's a lot of beer out there.
But how long can this renaissance last?  One of the worries with the craft beer 'revolution', particularly in the United States where industry growth has been explosive (and a few years 'ahead' of where we are in Ontario, at least in certain states), is whether we will reach a point where the market can no longer sustain the number of new breweries.  There have been a good number of recent news and blog reports that suggest that fear of an industry slowdown, or even collapse, are justified, and that we've nearly reached the point of market over-saturation (though many, like this one, seem to be merely speculative - Betteridge's Law of Headlines states that any newspaper headline that ends in a question can always be answered with a 'no.').  Not everyone agrees with this assessment, however, and nor do I.  CNBC explored this phenomenon just the other day, and concluded that while the market is getting crowded, sales are up, much more breweries are opening than closing, and volume demands remain high.  Big breweries will pick up the volume demands as best they can, while smaller breweries will pick up the local markets.  At worst, the number of new players into the game will begin to slow down to more reasonable levels, but the enthusiasm for great tasting craft beer will remain high.  As long as there are people out there who love craft beer, and their local establishments keep purchasing craft brews to keep on their tap lines, I think there will be room for even more growth, especially in this province.  Rosy view?  Possibly, but I'm calling it like I see it - and beer tends to put me in a damned positive mood.

At least around this neck of the woods, beer drinkers remain thirsty for more.  Just this past month, the KW region saw the opening of a new brewery to add to our already sizable collection, and so far (at least from this humble and not entirely-sober blogger has seen), the response has been terrific.

Block Three Brewing opened its doors on the last day of August right in the heart of downtown St. Jacob's, and so far the response has been terrific.  Tucked away just behind Benjamin's restaurant in the north end of the downtown core, Block Three hasn't eluded the attentions of either local beer geeks (like yours truly) or curious passers-by.  Just down the stairs you'll find a large room filled with local artwork and the smell of freshly sawed wood, with a fridge full of growlers and bottles, and a good-sized bar where someone is waiting to offer a free sample or two, or perhaps a full pint ($5), or a growler fill.  After a massive opening weekend in which most of the beer was sold out, (which is about the best kind of problem you can have as a new brewery, I suppose!), folks have been coming back for more. The village, a major local tourism destination known for its farmer's market and charming downtown full of art galleries, quilt shops, antiques and restaurants, was enthusiastic about the idea of opening a brewery, and so the township helped Phil Hipkiss, Derek Lebert, Graham Spence and Bryan Maher find a suitable location in which to get their brewing started.  The town's restaurants have embraced their new neighbor; as you walk down King Street, signs on the sidewalk proudly proclaim that either the King Street Saison or Sugar Bush Maple are available on tap.  Elsewhere in the region, craft beer bars have also chosen to give this new brewery some love by having their latest offerings on tap.  It's been wonderful to see.

What I particularly like about Block Three - besides the prospect of having a brewery that does growlers a mere ten minute drive from my house, and one that is generous with their free samples - is that their opening lineup of beers are not your standard lineup of brews, and instead represent a more eclectic range of styles that feature local ingredients.  Instead of a light lager, or amber ale, or even the dreaded American IPA (which every brewery seems obligated to produce), the first brews from Block Three have been a Belgian-inspired saison, King Street Saison, which weighs in at a lighter-than-usual 4.6%, and Sugar Bush Brown, which despite using local maple syrup (which this area has in spades), isn't overly sweet, and more resembles a dry English brown.

New additions to the Block Three lineup
Just this past weekend, two new brews joined the list: Blocktoberfest, a maerzen that uses kolsch yeast to produce a grainy, malty Oktoberfest concoction in honour of the region's massive Bavarian festival that just finishes up this weekend, and New Rise Pale Ale - an English-style pale ale that uses a blend of English and American hops.  In the coming months, it looks like a festive brew of some variety is in the works, which hopefully heralds a regular lineup of seasonal offerings.

It looks like it has been a great start for the region's newest craft brewery, and I wish them all the best!

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