“What’s the local brew?” It’s a simple question, but arguably the one that began Thousand Islands B&B owner Bruce Davis’ mission to produce Eastern Ontario’s best local beer. Eventually, Davis decided that he’d had enough of passing off Toronto beers as ‘local’ and founded the Gananoque Brewing Company, which has been brewing heritage and specialty beers since 2011.
He hasn’t looked back. This March marked the launch of GBC’s flagship beer, Naughty Otter Lager, in LCBO stores. In June, the brewing company will crack open a cold one to celebrate another milestone: the opening of its Bell Tower brewery in Gananoque.
“It’s like a tornado,” says Davis of the last few months, which have entailed steady production of around 12,000 bottles of beer every two weeks. Earlier in the week, the GBC team made a routine trip to their partner brewery in Niagara Falls, to keg and bottle the latest batch of beer. “We delivered in Toronto ‘til 11pm, then delivered in Kingston the following day and now it’s all gone,” chuckles Davis. “Turnover is 100%. It’s a nightmare, but it’s a good problem to have.”
Thanks to the high demand for GBC’s craft beers, which range from refreshing lagers and hoppy ales to certified organic local terroir brews, the time it takes to get from the tank to the consumer’s lips is literally a matter of hours. “We’re overrun with orders, which is great, but it’s posed all sorts of challenges for a small company,” says Davis, who brought new partners on board last year, to help make the brewery a reality.
The brewery is already set to exceed expectations when it opens this summer. As a fully-fledged production facility it will brew the equivalent of 40,000 to 50,000 beers per month, but there’s a twist; it’ll also be open to the public for tours, beer sampling and events. The facility will boast a bar and a retail store, where Thousand Islands visitors and residents alike, can sample the latest brew or pick up a six pack, to ensure they can ‘get naughty’ with their own supply of Naughty Otter at home.
“We made a decision very early on that we want to support rather than compete with the restaurants in Gan that carry our beer,” says Davis of the decision not to become a brewpub. The reason? “I saw the brewery as a way of responding to the demand that tourists have, bringing more jobs to Gananoque and to the mills. We haven’t had a new manufacturer here in thirty years, so I saw this as an opportunity to create jobs and economic activity; and I think it’s going to be remarkable.”
Even more remarkable is Davis and GBC’s commitment to environmental sustainability, which involves choosing local, organic products wherever possible. The big ‘eureka’ moment, says Davis, happened early in the company’s development, after he attended a Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve seminar and realized that using local ingredients would be as much of a win for the environment as it would be for the local economy. Davis sees sustainability as a way of doing business, rather than just marketing, and GBC have teamed up with local farmers and producers who supply organic wheat, rye, hops, oats and barley in order to meet GBC’s demand. “Historically, we’ve grown barley and hops in this region, so it’s viable to develop the crops and also produce beer. I thought of it as a no brainer,” says Davis.
GBC works particularly closely with one local farmer, Chris Wooding, who lives in nearby Lyndhurst and is now on GBC’s board of directors. Wooding started a hop yard a few years ago, specifically to supply the brewing company, and now also grows a variety of grains to use in the beers. “We’re deeply involved in production, right down to the soil,” remarks Davis. Each season, he and Wooding work together, to plan the brewery and map out crops, and recently the company’s new Brewmaster has been to the farm, to plant hops side by side with the farmer.
It would seem that a hectic schedule hasn’t fazed Davis or his growing team. Along with preparations for the brewery’s summer opening, exciting plans are underway for the GBC Harvest Festival - a month-long celebration of local food and drink across the region. “We convinced the province that beer was a food group,” jokes Davis of the Local Food Fund grant, which is being used to organize and promote events. Kicking off at the end of August, the festival will feature visits to the historic Old Stone Mill in Delta, where GBC’s grain is milled, as well as brewery and winery tours, hop picking and local farmers markets in Mallorytown, Lyndhurst and Gananoque. Hotels, B&Bs, bars, restaurants, chefs, artisans and artists are all involved to promote local food and drink.
The best news? When the Bell Tower brewery opens in June, Gananoque can proudly proclaim that it is home to a truly local, sustainable craft brew.
Gananoque Brewing Company
For more information, visit the Gananoque Brewery Company’s website at: http://ganbeer.com.
The Bell Tower Brewery will open its doors to the public at 9 King Street East in June, 2014.
And … you can catch the GBC Harvest Festival from 22 August through 21 September.
by Hayley Coristine
Hayley Coristine is an environmental and communications consultant working between Brussels, Belgium and Birmingham, England. Despite living half a world away, she’s been spending summers in the Thousand Islands for the past 15 years and attributes her interest in the environment, to countless days on the River, learning about ecology, invasive species and water policy. Since then, she’s worked with the Environment Agency in the UK, the University of Edinburgh and Cambridge City Council, to promote citizen engagement in environmental issues. Hayley is happiest when underwater or taking a dip in the River at sunrise. An active social media enthusiast, she has a photography blog about nature in the city (http://www.blipfoto.com/haylo53) and you can follow her on Twitter @haylo53.