BY SARAH BROWN
Meet Lon Ladell. He may just be the busiest brewmaster in town, overseeing the opening of Big Rig Brewery’s new restaurant in Gloucester and a second brewing facility in Kanata. But, more importantly, the beer! Always the beer. Ladell recently signed up for the annual “Collaboration Nation” competition at Toronto’s massive Session Craft Beer Festival (June 13). Big Rig has paired up with Exclaim! Magazine to create a signature brew that will compete against a dozen others from top Ontario brewers. The stakes are huge, with the winning collaboration scoring a coveted spot on LCBO shelves. Ottawa Magazine caught up with Ladell a few days before he headed to the festival.
Why are you so pumped to be collaborating with Exclaim! Magazine?
It means we get to work with people who have a different — and a bigger — reach than the craft breweries. They get to do something cool and interesting, and we get to learn some things from them and open up our beer to new people.
Why Exclaim! Magazine?
We knew we wanted to do Collaboration Nation at the Session Craft Beer Festival, so we started bouncing around ideas of who to work with. Exclaim! came up because music is a huge part of our culture at Big Rig. We’ve always got music cranked when we’re producing. We wanted to work with someone in that scene — someone who works with a diverse range of artists.
How did it come together?
The guys at Exclaim! were into it right away. We chatted with [Exclaim! publisher] Ian Danzig and came up with a loose concept. Then he and a couple of other guys — John Price and Roberto Granados-Ocan — came down from Toronto for the day to Big Rig. We brainstormed the recipe in the morning, then we got right into it — picking the grain, crushing it, and starting the brewing process.
Did the name influence the beer?
Totally! It’s called Exclaim!—An Imperial Beer. With a name like that, it had to be a really big IPA.
What’s it taste like?
It’s a blonde IPA and we added a specialized hop called Nelson Sauvin, which has a really grapy flavor note to it. That was our base. Then we played around with adding cold-steeped coffee from Engine House Coffee.
You added coffee?
It gives it a roasty character. In the end, it’s a really unique beer, but still accessible.
What happens if you win the collaboration competition?
I’m hoping I get a big, shiny medal! But seriously, the beer would get a listing at the LCBO, which would be amazing. It’s a very big prize. As more craft brewers enter the market, it’s harder and harder to get shelf space.
Who are you up against?
I haven’t really studied up on the competition, to be honest. I’m just looking forward to trying all these beers! We do know the only other Ottawa-area brewer in the competition is Beau’s [collaborating with hip hop artist k-os], but the rest of the breweries are Toronto-based.
How much are you taking?
We’re taking 25 50-L tanks. There’s a big launch party on Thursday, June 11 with Exclaim! Magazine and then everyone at the Session Toronto Craft Beer Festival will be able to sample it on Saturday, June 13 at Yonge-Dundas Square.
So is this an opening foray into the Toronto market?
For sure we want to sell more beer in Toronto! This is an opportunity to say ‘Hey, check us out.’ We recently opened up our new production facility [in Kanata] so we’ve got capacity. We’ve obviously got a strong profile in the 613, so now we’re putting our minds to more promotional events beyond Ottawa to really get our name out there.
Are you comfortable doing the promotional side?
I am. I love the “back of the house side,” which is the brewing, but I also have fun planning the events and looking at ways to make the business grow. I’m a Gemini so I can balance both sides!
You have two regular beers at the LCBO. What’s the latest?
Release the Hounds Black IPA was released in the second week of March. We put it in the 2014 Canadian Brewing Awards and it won the gold medal, which is pretty cool considering the quality of craft beer across Canada.
What’s on the agenda right now?
What’s not on the agenda! More beer soon! We just opened our second restaurant in the east end. We’re happily expanding. We already had the brewery on Iris Street and now we’ve opened a second facility [on Schneider Road in Kanata]. This lets us do the larger volumes at the new brewery and use the Iris Street brewery as a “test kitchen,” where we can play and create new, exciting beers.
People might not know they can stop by the Big Rig Brewery facility.
Definitely they can! We’re open 11am to 6pm on weekdays [and noon to 6pm on Saturday] and we have soup and sandwiches brought in from the restaurant on Iris. People can stop in, have some lunch, buy a glass of beer, maybe watch us can. We have new beers on tap all the time. And tours — you can sign up ahead for tours.