Capital Pint

Have we reached the bottom of the (craft beer) glass yet? Apparently not. Add Orleans’ Stray Dog to the pack

Ottawa is home to a lot of breweries and, according to the Ontario Beverage Network, we will soon be home to even more.

The growth locally is part of a larger phenomenon — OBN lists 100 Ontario breweries currently in the planning phase of opening. After the initial excitement of a new brewery wears off, there’s normally some hand wringing about an over-saturation in the local craft beer market. And with good reason. The recent growth of new, craft breweries has been unprecedented; its pace, unsustainable.

But while the pace is unsustainable, this industry is a big one (Anheuser-Busch InBev, which is essentially every beer brand you don’t associate with local or craft – and maybe a few you mistakenly do – reported $1.36 billion in profit in the third quarter of 2016. And that was a down quarter!) Within that market, there is still room for the little guys/gals. Many Ottawa brewers make beer as a passion project outside their full-time professions. So, it’s hard to believe we’ve reached peak craft before the industry has really established itself in the market.

That’s not to say we won’t lose a few breweries along the way.

Mill St. was purchased by Labatt Breweries in 2015. It’s fair to guess that they won’t be the last brewery eaten up by larger companies. Moreover, running a business is difficult and some may tire of the grind, as brewing beer is less fun than drinking it. Still others might lose customers after the initial excitement of the craft tsunami, which we’ve seen wash over Ontario these past few years, slow down.

No matter, that wave doesn’t seem to have yet reached a crest and, rolling on, is lately bolstered by yet another brewery, this time in Orleans: Stray Dog Brewing.

Opening mid-2017 in the east-end of Ottawa, this brewery is a labour of love for Justin MacNeill, Gen Benay, and Marc Plante — the team behind Ottawa’s latest brewery. Justin and Marc met through a homebrewing group, hit it off, and began bouncing brewery concepts and beer recipes off each other. Marc and Gen met through minor hockey (of course they did! — this is a Canadian story after all), and the three came together as a group because of shared goals and an appreciation for local beer.

Marc Plante, Gen Benay and Justin MacNeill. Photo: Jason Pickering
Marc Plante, Gen Benay and Justin MacNeill. Photo: Jason Pickering

If Marc and his epic beard look beerily familiar, it’s because he was one of Brew Donkey’s most regular brewery tour guides! But even before he was spreading the good news about 613 beer, he and Justin had long been active homebrewers. Once their creations began winning national competitions, they realized their friends/test subjects weren’t just being polite: they did, in fact, make great beer.

The choice to set up in Orléans was easy, since all three lived there and both Marc and Gen were born and raised in the community. It’s certainly an untapped market considering the number of people in the ‘hood (around 100,000, according to 2011 census) and the lack of locally produced brews.

The team believes in Stray Dog as more than just a catchy name. For them the name “represents the spirit of adventure and the courage to pursue the passions that enrich our lives. Metaphorically, a lot of us feel chained up or held back in one form or another.”

Stray Dog has a location in the Taylor Creek industrial park and plan on renovations, equipment installation, and licensing to take them to a mid-2017 opening (Currently they are contract brewing only). For now, thirsty Stray Dog lovers can find their award-winning California Common, This One, on tap at a select few locations through Ottawa.

The brewers, smartly, believe the name This One will lend itself to being ordered with ease. Scenario: Waiter/waitress: “Which beer would you like?” Customer: “This One.” End scene. Brilliant.

The style, California Common, is – despite the name – rare, at least in Ontario. Historically, this style is rooted in the west-coast Gold Rush era. Because west coast brewers lacked the refrigeration technology they previously had access to in the east, this new beer was a product of necessity. It is also known as a steam beer and is typified by the Steam Anchor beer brewed out of San Francisco. The beer is brewed using a lager yeast that ferments at warmer temperatures, which is notable because lager yeasts normally prefer colder temperatures. Stray Dog’s take on this brew pours a deep amber with a fleeting white head. The nose is warming and bread-y with a mild sweetness. It is crisp but with a solid malt-forward touch. Its versatility makes it an excellent choice for a flagship brew.

It’s also a great beer to enjoy while contemplating the exciting growth of the local brewing industry or to calm the nerves of those who despair there may be craft beer over-supply.

Cheers — to Stray Dog and many more Ottawa breweries still to come!