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Photo courtesy of Gainsbourg Bistro-Brasserie.

The Year in Beer: Highlights of the craft brewery business in 2017

By Jordan Duff on December 29, 2017

Late this year, Apt613 sent a survey out to 36 craft breweries in the region. It really was late. Right before most reasonable people take off for the holidays. In all, we received 16 survey responses and a handful of vacation auto-responders. So while the sample size isn’t quite large enough to make sweeping statements about the state of our craft beer union, their responses are a deep supply of fun facts about the Ottawa brewery scene:

Which is each brewery’s most popular beer? What new did they do in 2017? What’s the most exciting innovation in the brewing industry? Did business grow? (Yes. Across the board.) Can Ottawa brewers agree on a favourite local beer? (It’s tight, but we have a winner.)


Openings

It’s been a wild year, and the industry shows no sign of slowing down. Six new breweries launched in Ottawa. As far as we can tell, that’s more than any other year.

Vimy Brewing Company opened next to Happy Goat Coffee in the Hintonburg area. The Sirko brothers, formerly reservists, have opened a brewery that invites an atmosphere akin to a legion hall—big TVs, sports memorabilia, an inviting bar and food. I was there this week and it was packed.

Flora Hall Brewing put a brewery into a former garage at Bank and Flora. That space has been wanting to be a brewery for years—mostly because I’ve walked past it for years and thought: “If I could open a brewery, it’d be here.” Owner Dave Longbottom has leaned heavily on his experience visiting watering holes around the world in the design of this space to create the perfect area for people to gather, drink beer and be social. Takeaway beer, a full kitchen and a full bar provide all the options you need.

Conspiracy Theory Brewing in Barrhaven and Orléans Brewing Co. help bookend the city’s suburban breweries that opened in 2017. Also, Stray Dog Brewing Co.—named one of the 5 best new breweries in Canada by Sharp Magazine—opened at St. Joseph Blvd. and Trim Rd. in Orleans. They are making the ‘burbs cool again.

Small Pony Barrel Works announced its opening a long time ago but, as its barrel aged brews take time to mature and develop their complexity, the brewery has only just officially opened. Funky, complex and sour beers are so trendy right now.


Notable releases

Dog and Pony Brewlab knocked it outta the park this summer with their Dandy Lemon Sorbet Saison. Refreshing and fruity, it was one of the best beers of the summer season.

Dominion City Brewing Co. brought Sunsplit IPA into regular rotation. This hazy Vermont-style IPA is fruity without being bitter—a great beer for anytime of day, even/especially breakfast.

Invigorator and Streif by Tooth and Nail Brewery both medaled at the Canadian Brewing Awards. The ceremony was held, for the first time, here in Ottawa! At the same award ceremony, Calabogie Brewing Co.’s Grassy Bay Farmhouse Ale and Downstream #1 were also winners.


The Ottawa 2017 Series

Beau’s was named the official brewery partner of Ottawa 2017. So they set out to unite our country in beer with an Ottawa 2017 Series which released a beer a month to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Each was conceived and brewed in collaboration with partners from coast to coast. It was the highlight of a successful year for independent craft breweries.

The final beer in this series, Glacial Gruit, will be featured at the popular Nature Nocturne party tonight (December 29).

The project raised $18,000 for charity and not-for-profit organizations. In 2017, Beau’s donated nearly $600,000 to charity, community organizations, and the independent arts.


The most popular beers

Whether it’s #1 for sales volume or the fastest-selling seasonal, every brewery names their most popular:

Beau's Brewing Co.Lug Tread Lagered Ale
Bicycle Craft BreweryVelocipede IPA
Brown Van Brewing Corp.Brown Van Kolsch
Calabogie Brewing CompanyFront Porch
Cartwright Springs BreweryMaple Porter Seasonal
Cassel Brewery Company Ltd.Franco
Covered Bridge BrewingEternally Hoptimistic
Dominion City Brewing Co.Sunsplit IPA
Flora Hall BrewingNorth East IPA
Halcyon Barrel HouseInfinity Mirror Brett IPA
Kichesippi Beer Co.1855
Nita Beer CompanyTen12 and Pineapple Express
Small Pony Barrel WorksOrange Whisper
Stray Dog Brewing CompanyThis One California Common
Vimy Brewing CompanyCream Ale, Red Ale, and Pale Ale
Waller St. BreweryTiger Milk, Juice Joint and Blind Pig Brewer's Blend

Brewers pick Vim and Vigor

Tooth and Nail’s pilsner was the clear, crisp winner when Apt613 asked brewers to name their favourite Ottawa beer. Vim and Vigor received almost one third of the vote.

That’s remarkable considering Ottawa breweries put out hundreds of beers in 2017. No other beer received more than a single vote from our survey respondents.

The region’s largest brand, Beau’s, distributed nearly 50 labels alone. The others are brewing anywhere from a couple to a couple dozen new releases annually.

Honourable mentions go to Beyond The Pale (Pink Fuzz, Aromatherapy) and Big Rig (Alpha Bomb IPA, Disturber Imperial IPA), who each had two beers receive a vote.


Special mentions

  • Beyond the Pale Brewery turned five (!) this year and celebrated with a classy affair at the National Gallery of Canada.
  • Big Rig Brewery became the official craft beer partner at TD Place, allowing Redblacks, 67’s and Fury FC fans to enjoy a quality local beer while cheering on their team.
  • The Canadian Brewing Awards being hosted here in Ottawa was a big deal. Breweries from across the country visited our city and enjoyed Ottawa beer. Big Rig’s Lon Ladell organized a huge 613 collaboration by brewing a large simple ale, inviting all the area-breweries to his brewery and giving each brewer a keg of the beer to flavour and make their own. Their creations were served at a large pre-awards ceremony party.
  • Bar Lupulus opened on Wellington in the space formerly occupied by the Flying Banzini. The upscale menu and cool decor are only topped by the beer list, which lists Ontario brews found nowhere else in Ottawa.
  • Stray Dog Brewing in Orleans did a real cool fundraiser for the Gord Downie Brain Cancer fund through taproom sales of Been A Pleasure IPA. Great beer for a great cause.