By Rosa Saba
Once Kanata North’s only craft brewery, the arrival of Big Rig Brewery hearkened the beginning of what’s quickly becoming a destination for beer lovers from Kanata and beyond.
Big Rig opened its Kanata North location some four years ago, expanding beyond its original brew pub location to include a larger production facility. What began as a four-person operation now has 44 employees, says owner and founder Lon Ladell.
He wasn’t worried about the location – Ladell says the employees of the tech park seemed like the perfect demographic for his tap room.
“To have the tech community right next door is fantastic,” says Ladell. “It’s a great demographic for craft beer.”
In fact, it’s a win-win situation for the brewing company, where technology is an important part of the process, and analytical equipment is getting more technical by the year. Everything from the internal systems to the machinery relies on tech, says Ladell, and having employees from the park around comes in handy when he’s got technical issues.
“I’ve got a bunch of tech guys who come in and sit at the bar,” says Ladell. “I’ll hit them up for advice.”
Now, Big Rig ships beer across Ontario and even to other provinces. Ladell says the growing industry is fed by beer lovers’ curiosity – essentially, he says, the more the merrier.
“Consumers of craft beer … like to experiment and try new things. And that’s really the basis of what craft beer is all about,” says Ladell, adding that he’s happy to see more breweries opening up in Kanata.
“There’s room for growth,” he says.
A craft beer destination
Next to Big Rig, Kanata North’s second brewery opened up in December 2017. Small Pony Barrel Works is owned and operated by Sean McVeigh, who previously spent 10 years working in the tech park, most recently at BlackBerry. Now, McVeigh runs what’s believed to be Canada’s only brewery exclusively dedicated to sour beers.
While many breweries are beginning to brew sours – beers made with wild yeast that ferment for months at a time, usually in barrels – Small Pony does nothing but sours, something McVeigh developed a passion for during his time as a home brewer.
After collaborating with Chris Samuel of Evergreen Craft Ales on a couple of sour beers to test the waters, McVeigh felt confident there was a market for what he wanted to do. Since opening, he’s had his beer on LCBO shelves, as well as served in several restaurants in Ottawa and Toronto.
“The opening was ridiculously busy,” says McVeigh.
He says Ottawa’s increasingly diverse and supportive craft beer industry make it possible for such a unique venture to succeed. Next-door neighbours Ladell and McVeigh visit each other’s breweries, he says, often lending each other ingredients or machinery.
A stone’s throw away, Calabogie Brewing Co. has chosen Kanata North for its second brewery location, and McVeigh says that having a cluster of breweries will create a craft beer destination for people from Kanata and beyond.
Calabogie Brewing’s 7,000-square-foot space includes a 20-barrel brewery and a tap room that seats 85 people, overlooking its operations.
Lindsey Osborne of Calabogie Brewing says the company is excited about growing the craft beer cluster in Kanata, and about being closer to their Ottawa clientele.
“We’re making our own … little brewery market,” she says. “It draws people into the area, so the more little breweries in the area, the better.”
The three breweries collaborated to organize the October West beer festival in 2018, bringing brewers from all over Ottawa together and taking in donations for the Kanata Food Cupboard’s tornado relief efforts.
As for Evergreen, the sour beer collaboration went over so well with Samuel’s customers that he decided to keep offering sours. Coincidentally, he’s also moving from a licensed operation in his own garage into a new commercial space just on the other side of Highway 417 from the Kanata North tech park, next to the Costco and Home Depot.
Like McVeigh, Samuel likes experimenting with beers in small batches.
“My specialty so far has been not having a specialty,” he says. “In the two-and-a-half years we’ve been open, we’ve brewed almost 65 different beers.”
Also a former Kanata North tech worker, Samuel says he hopes Evergreen will help add interest to the area, helping to turn it into even more of a destination for craft beer fans.
“We’re hoping that this brewery will be this little oasis of authenticity in the middle of all the big-box places,” he says.