Capital Pint by Travis Persaud is generally published every second Thursday at OttawaMagazine.com. Follow Travis on Twitter @tpersaud.
Big Rig Brewery is truckin’ along faster than even they imagined.
Last week the Ottawa brewpub, about a month shy of its first anniversary, walked away with four Ontario Brewing Awards — gold for their Champion Pilsner, silver for their Schwarzbier, bronze for their Big Rig Gold, and Newcomer of the Year.
“Awards schmawards!,” brewmaster Lon Ladell said before the awards were announced. “It’s all about the creative side for me, making beer the way I feel it should taste. Then I get to see people drinking it, and they’re happy. That’s what it’s about for me.”
After the big win, however, Ladell expressed nothing but gratitude, mentioning the awards were nice but winning new brewery of the year was the big highlight. The moment acted as a natural break for Ladell, allowing him a breather before the oncoming whirlwind.
This week they released a special growler in support of Ride For Dad, and next week you’ll find Big Rig at the LCBO. “We’ll be in 25 LCBOs in Ottawa,” Ladell says. “We’re going in with our Big Rig Gold in the 6x355mL format. Ottawa only has one other microbrewery in the LCBO right now [Kichesippi], so it’s exciting to be here as the market is exploding.”
Although the market is exploding, it’s still in its infancy compared to Victoria, B.C. where Ladell is from. Known for his brewing days at Spinnakers, a well-regarded brewery and Canada’s oldest brewpub, he spent 17 years directly involved with the beer and restaurant industry in Victoria. And then he moved to Ottawa in 2010.
“My wife’s family is from here, and her father had prostate cancer,” he says. “So we sold our business and moved here to take care of the family. It’s a sad reason to move, but Ottawa is a great city. It’s a lot like Victoria, but without the water and the hippies!”
But the move caused Ladell to experience a foreign feeling — beer shock. In Victoria local brewers make 50 percent of the beer consumed. He admits it’s an anomaly, but that’s his normal. “I’m in the wastelands here!” was his first thought when he surveyed Ottawa’s food and drink scene. “Molson and Labatt have a tight hold on this area. But I’m really, really happy that in a short time all of these local breweries have sprung up. And it seems like every week there’s a new hopping restaurant. It’s amazing to see a town change so dramatically.”
When we recently sat down with Paul Meek, owner of Kichesippi Beer Co., he was stunned that someone hasn’t opened a full-fledged brewery similar to his. “I thought someone would have taken 12,000 sq. ft. to do what we’re doing,” he said. It’s a huge expense, so starting small like Broadhead Brewing Co. and Beyond The Pale Brewing, is a good way to get your feet wet and test the market, he mused. And brewpubs have another revenue stream aside from beer, he continued. But, he was still surprised.
Well, Ladell and the Big Rig gang are bringing that second production facility to the city, which will expand Ottawa’s beer landscape in a big way. “The long term plan is to have a second beer at the LCBO and then go into 500-mL cans,” he says. “I love that size, so we’ll have a canning line at the new facility. Chris Phillips [Big Rig co-owner and, of course, defenceman for the Ottawa Senators] has made a commitment to Ottawa. We’re proud to be here.”
They’re currently looking at sites around the city, with plans to have it up and running “as soon as possible – likely this year.” The dedicated facility will allow Big Rig to create more volume for the LCBO, and begin the envious business of releasing cans. “When craft beer exploded in the west we educated people through our 650mL bombers,” he explains. “People would buy their domestic brand or a bottle of wine, and then grab one of our bottles. Here, the 500-mL format is proven to be the best way to do that. You get people to try it and then maybe they graduate to a six-pack, or maybe they start buying triple IPAs from the other guy down the street. It’s good for everyone.”