Capital Pint by Travis Persaud is generally published every second Thursday at OttawaMagazine.com. Follow Travis on Twitter @tpersaud.
Toronto-based Mill St. Brewery entered Ottawa almost a year ago with their second brewpub at LeBreton Flats. But, of course, they’re certainly not a new entity. In fact, the brewery celebrates its 10th anniversary this month. In honour of this milestone, we decided to chat with co-founder Steve Abrams to reminisce over the past decade. Here, we present Mill St. Brewery’s timeline, as remembered by Abrams.
“We got our Christmas present,” Abram says. “We got our permit to operate on Dec. 23 in the Distillery District. The site itself wasn’t finished yet…it was brutally cold but we finally got our heat in the building.”
Mill Street launches Organic Lager, their first beer and the first organic beer in Ontario. “The Distillery District itself didn’t officially open until the spring, so only the locals came across to buy our beer,” Abram remembers. “The landlords wanted the area to feel more authentic, so they actually had cobblestones shipped in from Ohio — people had to walk on planks to get to the brewery. Our Cobblestone Stout is affectionately named after these cobblestones.”
The area was used for a lot of big Hollywood scenes, so it was heavily unionized with lots of fighting. “Here we are, putting pipes together and guys wanted to see our union cards,” Abrams says. “They thought we were scabs and were ready to nail gun us to the wall! We gave them some beer and they finally believed [who we were].”
Mill Street has their unofficial “kickoff”on May 24. Their Organic Lager gets into the LCBO. Later that year they launch their Coffee Porter and Tankhouse Ale.
They begin to expand to bars across the city. “People still had no idea who we were, though.
“This was the year we switched from the stubby bottles to the long neck,” Abrams says. “The glass supplier had called and said they had to get rid of them. We were making calls, getting bank loans just to get as many more as we could! The stubby bottles were fun, and retro, but the younger people didn’t get it.”
Their Sparkling Ale becomes Stock Ale. “Sparkling Ale is a reference to a style of beer in Canada in the 1800s, but people didn’t get it – they thought it was a sparkling wine or something. It was a good marketing lesson for us.”
They release their first Barley Wine, and Joel Manning joins the company. He is still the brewmaster for the company.
Their first brewpub opens in the Distillery District, and they move production to Scarborough in Toronto’s east end. They still brew at the pub, but on a much smaller scale.
Mill St. wins their first Canadian Brewery of the Year award at the Canadian Brewing Awards. “This wasn’t a popularity contest,” Abrams says. “[Some awards] were like that, since Ontario lacked qualified judges at the time, but this award wasn’t like that.” (They have won a bucket load of awards since.)
Their Organic bottle grows from 222 mL to 341 mL. “The smaller bottles were good for conversation,” Abrams said. “But once guys starting getting into it we got some really funny hate mail about the size. I remember one person writing in saying all the Dwarves have left because they weren’t happy [about the bottle size].”
They win their second consecutive Canadian Brewery of the Year award. “We were winning because we had a variety of beers and were submitting all of them.”
They introduce their seasonal six-pack into the LCBO.
Mill St. wins their third consecutive Canadian Brewery of the Year award. “We forced them to change the rules after we kept winning,” Abrams said. “Before we could submit as many beers as we wanted, but now breweries can only submit up to four.”
They launch their Lemon Tea Ale – their first offering in a can (473 mL). “We won the Best New Product in Beer award from the LCBO for this,” Abrams says. “People said we were jumping on the lime craze, but we had no idea. Joel loves tea; we weren’t trying to jump on to anything.”
Their first beer, Organic Lager, gets reintroduced in a can.
They open their second brewpub in Ottawa, and then a third one in Terminal One at the Toronto Pearson International Airport.
Cobblestone Stout is released in a can.
Celebrate their 10th anniversary!