It was lonely work being in the craft brewery business when Steve Beauchesne, co-founder of Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company, first started out in 2006.
“Anytime we talked to a brewery in Toronto they’d say, ‘You’re doing missionary work up in Ottawa’,” Beauchesne told OBJ.social at the first-ever Ottawa Brewery Collaboration Day hosted Monday by Big Rig Brewery at its Kanata location.
Since those early days, the local craft brewery market has grown faster than a hipster’s beard as more consumers are preferring flavourful, higher-quality beer over the mainstream stuff.
Craft beer continues to be the fastest growing segment within the LCBO’s beer category, increasing anywhere from 20 to 30 percent each year, according to Ontario Craft Brewers. Moreover, the industry has created thousands of new jobs around the province.
“I got into this because I love beer,” said Beauchesne. “Every new brewery has a different take on beer and they always have something I can get excited about.”
Beauchesne is grateful, mind you, that he got into the industry when he did. Beau’s is one of Ontario’s most popular craft beers and is based out of Vankleek Hill, about an hour’s drive east of downtown Ottawa.
“We got to be the brand new brewery for three years before another one opened up. Now, you get to be the new brewery for, like, three days.
“It’s one of those things, though, where everybody’s got their heart in the right place in Ottawa. These are people who legitimately love craft beer.”
The Brewery Collaboration Day brought together 27 craft brewers from the area, not just to have some beer together but to make beer together.
“It’s killer that you’re all here,” Big Rig co-owner and brewmaster Lon Ladell said as he enthusiastically welcomed everyone over some pizza and their late-morning beverage of choice: beer (drinking before noon is just one of the perks of the job).
Their collaborative effort will be showcased at the 15th annual Canadian Brewing Awards happening in Ottawa in late May.
“Years ago, Ottawa wasn’t a beer mecca but it’s definitely becoming a destination for great craft beer,” said Paul Meek, co-owner of Kichesippi Beer, which has been around since 2010.
He shares the same the-more-the-merrier attitude as Beauchesne when it comes to the battle of the suds. Craft brewers are only a thin slice of the larger brewski pie.
“Instead of fighting over the piece, we need to grow it,” said Meek.
Competition is stiff, agreed Ladell.
“But, at the end of the day, we’re all together to make craft beer, and the less that the big breweries sell, the more we sell. If we’re doing that together and helping each other out to make good beer and bring it out to the market, respectfully, then we all win.”