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Northeastern Ontario Brews

Stack Brewing's Rob Majury • Credit: Carolyn B. Heller
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Northeastern Ontario Brews

The Craft Beer Scene in the Northeast is Catching Up With the Competition

Like many Canadian destinations, Northeastern Ontario has embraced the craft beer movement, with a small but growing number of specialty brewers around the region. We’ve profiled three of these Ontario beer makers, in Sudbury, North Bay, and Manitoulin Island. Read on for their stories, then drink up!

As Refreshing As Jumping into a Northern Ontario Lake

Ron Clancy and Mike Harrison are in their van, driving north to pick up a load of fresh hops. Co-founders of North Bay’s New Ontario Brewing Company, they’re preparing for their microbrewery’s first anniversary this month. They’re planning to produce a special anniversary ale, brewed with hops grown in Matheson, Ontario, east of Timmins.

“In the North, hops growing is in its infancy,” says Clancy, the company’s business manager, “but we want to support fellow entrepreneurs and farmers. And a big argument in favor of craft brewing is to have a local product.”

Harrison, now the company’s brewmaster, had been making beer at home for more than 10 years, when he introduced Clancy to his brews. At that time, craft brewing in Northern Ontario was in its infancy, and Clancy asked his buddy if he’d ever thought about brewing beer commercially. The soon-to-be-business partners concluded that North Bay was “the right place at the right time” to launch a beer company. New Ontario Brewing opened its doors in September 2015.

In their first year, New Ontario produced 17 different beers, including a changing array of seasonal beers alongside their four flagship products: Bear Running Blonde, Tree Topper Red Ale, Frisky Pete’s English Pale Ale, and Clothing Hoptional IPA, which according to Clancy is “as refreshing as dropping your drawers and jumping into a Northern Ontario lake.”

These flagship brews are all are available at the brewery, where you can stop in for a complimentary tasting. You can also find their beers at bars and pubs around North Bay.

“North Bay has been an awesome support for us. One thing about northerners is that they’re fiercely loyal,” Clancy says. “It’s a great place to start a business.”

A Women-Owned Craft Brewery

Inside the Split Rail Brewery tasting room. Photo: Christopher Foss.

When longtime friends and Manitoulin Island residents Andrea Smith and Eleanor Charlton were brainstorming ideas for a new business, they didn’t start with beer.

Back in 2008, Smith and Charlton, now co-owners of Manitoulin’s Split Rail Brewing Company, decided that they wanted to launch a business that would contribute to the island’s economy. They contacted the LaCloche Manitoulin Business Association, which had developed a strategic plan identifying promising business concepts for the island. One potential idea? A microbrewery.

Neither partner has a background in brewing – Charlton is a special education teacher, and Smith is a social worker and a potter – but the brewery idea drew them in. After taking beer courses through the Chicago-based Siebel Institute, a technical school for professional brewers, Smith and Charlton started looking for a potential brewery location.

The search ultimately took them five years. Finally, in 2014, after the partners raised additional start-up funds through a Kickstarter campaign, they were able to secure a large barnlike building overlooking the waterfront in Gore Bay.

Crowds line up for opening day at Split Rail Brewing. Photo: Christopher Foss.

Split Rail Brewing Company opened in July 2015 and now produces three main products: Copper Lager, Amber Ale, and Hawberry Ale. The latter brew is made with island berries that give people born on Manitoulin the nickname “Haweaters.”

Launching their small brewery – one of the few craft breweries in Canada owned by women – has “been a long haul,” Smith and Charlton say, adding that after such a lengthy startup process, “it was surreal” when they first saw customers actually drinking Split Rail beer.

But these perhaps unlikely brewery owners add that they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished: producing “an authentic made-on-Manitoulin product.”    

Don’t Be Jealous, Toronto

Rob Majury raises a glass at Sudbury's Stack Brewing Company. Photo: Carolyn Heller.

Several years ago, Shawn Mailloux was flying back to Sudbury from Toronto, sipping a Steam Whistle beer, when he had an idea. As Rob Majury, sales manager at Sudbury’s Stack Brewing Company, tells the story, Mailloux “got jealous that Toronto had something so great” – a delicious craft beer – while Northern Ontario had nothing to compare.

Back on the ground in Sudbury, Mailloux decided to do something about this beer deficit. Partnering with another Sudbury native, Michael Guillemette, Mailloux launched Stack Brewing Company in 2013.

Starting as a tiny “nanobrewery,” Stack now makes more than a half-dozen varieties at its Sudbury facility, and the brewery promotes its hometown ties in the names of several of its brews.

Stack ’72, an Imperial India pale ale, takes its name from the “Superstack,” Canada’s tallest chimney, which officially fired up in 1972. Another IPA, Shatter Cone, is named for Sudbury’s space connection. Astronauts came to the Sudbury region in the 1970s to study a rare rock formation known as a shatter cone.

Majury says that they’ve also produced seasonal brews that they’ve named for the biggest problem they encountered during the previous 12 months. For their second anniversary, they released a beer called “Growing Pains.”

These days, Stack Brewing is one of the region’s larger microbreweries. You can find their beer at the brewery, at more than 40 restaurants and pubs across the city of Sudbury, and around Northern Ontario from Thunder Bay to North Bay. Even Torontonians have no need to be jealous of this Northeastern Ontario brew. Stack Brewing Company’s beer is now available in Toronto, too.

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