A growing craft brewery community and a resulting local beer fan following will see small breweries emerge in each Ottawa area neighbourhood, owner and operator of Ottawa-based company Brew Donkey – a craft beer tour service – Brad Campeau says.
If you’re looking for good craft beer, Ottawa is the place to be. Canada’s Capital has become home to a booming craft beer scene, which has seen several new breweries open in the past couple of years.
From beautiful large-scale brew pubs, to smaller, local brewers, Ottawa’s craft beer scene has something to please even the most discerning of craft beer fans. And if not, just wait a few months because a new brewery and a new beer are surely on the way.
In terms of the city’s recent craft beer boom, Campeau says Ottawa’s smaller size and its “tightly knit” communities are allowing small craft brewers to thrive. “Ottawa is a small enough city that the market is easy to capture,” Campeau said in an interview with Ottawa Tourism, adding Ottawa isn’t split up over hours of driving like Toronto, Ont., one of its neighbouring cities, which makes many craft breweries easily accessible.
According to Campeau, the future of craft beer in Canada’s Capital will be found in neighbourhoods, as residents will support their small, local brewer. “I feel like it’s going to be going back to the time when people went to the neighbourhood baker to get the product,” he said. Campeau noted that many craft breweries are emerging in Ottawa with some being only blocks away from each other.
Campeau said that a few years ago, Ottawa saw an emergence of farmers’ markets, as residents in each neighbourhood wanted a place to purchase local products. “Every neighbourhood wanted a farmers’ market with all those [local] products there and it worked,” he said. “So the local movement for beer is going to in my opinion, become a neighbourhood thing.”
Campeau said that a neighbourhood focus as well as a goal of keeping craft beer “local, popular and safe” are what will lead each craft brewer to success. “You need to realize that you need to sell to your neighbourhood and your market,” Campeau said. He added that though many craft breweries dream of province-wide distribution, many don’t have the facilities or the manpower to keep up with such a large volume of demand.
Campeau also noted that craft brewers need to support each other within the community. “As long as they’re willing to work within the system and not trying to be better than everybody else and trying to be part of the neighbourhood culture, they should be fine,” he said.
Campeau said Ottawa’s small craft beer community provides a great opportunity for brewers to help each other and learn from one another. “It’s a great kind of space for them to work in, with friends down the road that they can ask for growler caps or to borrow a piece of equipment,” he said. “They can get help from neighbours.”
Ottawa’s craft beer scene has already seen acts of camaderie amongst brewers as large-scale craft brewery Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company in Vankleek Hill, Ont., donated some of its old brewing equipment to newcomer brewer Beyond the Pale Brewing Company in 2013.
Struck by fast-growing popularity, Beyond the Pale couldn’t keep up with its customer demand. Beau’s then stepped in, donating equipment that allowed the small brewer to increase its production by 80 per cent.
“The greatest part of the craft beer movement is how good the beer tastes,” owner of Beau’s Steve Beauchesne said in an announcement at the time. “The second-best part is that the movement is genuinely interested in supporting one another and working together for the sake of good beer.”
JP Fournier, a local craft beer enthusiast and expert, said in an interview with Ottawa Tourism that a sense of cooperation amongst brewers is what makes the craft beer industry as a whole “unique.” He said the Ottawa-area’s craft brewing industry is “very supportive.”
“No one in the industry wants to see anybody else fail,” Fournier said. “We’re all in this to brew great beer and to hopefully take a chunk away from the big guys. It’s very unique to the business itself, in that everybody helps each other out.”
In terms of the proliferation of Ottawa’s craft beer scene, Fournier attributes it to a greater consumer awareness of the products being created through various community events, as well as notable craft beer festivals. Over the past couple of years, the National Capital Craft Beer Week, Festibière de Gatineau and Winter Brewfest festivals have all grown in popularity.
Fournier noted that when he first launched National Capital Craft Beer Week in 2011, there were only about six craft breweries in the Ottawa region. But he added that since then, Ottawa’s craft beer scene has been growing at “a pretty rapid pace.”
Also related to the scene’s growth, Fournier said, is the high-quality of the craft beer that is being made by smaller brewers, who due to their size often focus on brewing quality rather than quantity. “The quality of the beer that’s coming out of the city is pretty fantastic,” he said.
Similarly to Campeau, Fournier believes that the success of craft beer – like the local food industry in Ottawa – lies in the city’s neighbourhoods. He said that because craft breweries tend to be active members of their communities, they are more accessible to consumers than their larger, “faceless” counterparts. “It’s the fact that you can actually go into a brewery and meet the brewer/business owner. They’re your neighbours,” Fournier said.
Fournier noted that moving into the future, more smaller, local and regional breweries will emerge and be successful in their respective Ottawa communities. He added however that a brewery’s success doesn’t have to remain at the local level.
He pointed to Beau’s Brewery’s more recent expansions into the United States and into the Canadian province of Québec. “I think it really depends on the brewer and the entrepreneur themselves,” Fournier said. “I think that yes, there will probably be more neighbourhood breweries, but I think we’ll also see a number of them growing outside of the region.”
Now what does Ottawa’s craft beer boom mean for fans? Campeau said that they will have some “tough” decisions ahead of them in the coming years. “For craft beer fans, it’s a crash course on what it is they like,” he said. “They’ll have to discover what they like and become discerning themselves.”
Fournier noted that the craft beer boom will allow fans to “guide their own adventure” in terms of their own beer tastes and experiences. “They can step outside of their comfort zone and try new stuff,” he said. For brewers, Fournier added, they will have to find their niche in the market and “really work on defining what their brewery’s all about.”
If you’re coming to Ottawa and you’d like to get acquainted with its booming craft beer scene, a Brew Donkey brewery tour is a great place to start. Mostly offered on weekends, these tours include transportation and stop at various craft breweries in Ottawa and its outlying areas. Samples of delicious craft brews are provided all along the way!
Or alternatively, if you’d like to do some of your own craft beer exploration, opt to head to Ottawa’s CRAFT Beer Market. Located at 975 Bank St. at Lansdowne, this new Ottawa restaurant offers fresh, local food as well as 100 craft beers on tap. This is a great place to discover what you like!