The popularity of craft beers has been on the rise for a the last few years, with breweries popping up that both fuel the trend and respond to the public’s demand for more.
As more of us forego the bigger brands in favour of unique ales, lagers and porters, the brewmasters who work hard to quench our thirst have been striving to continue to keep customers happy by thinking up new and creative concoctions.
In Woolwich alone, there are craft breweries operating locally to create signature drinks that not only satisfy the cravings of beer aficionados, but also showcase the heritage and history of the township. Places like Rural Roots Brewing Company in Elmira and Block Three Brewing Company in St. Jacobs are just two hyper-local businesses in the township catering to those who want a different drink. The wider Waterloo Region is home to many more similar businesses such as Innocente Brewing Company, which holds the same vision.
While creating the next great beer is always on the minds of the folks who continue to put out new and inventive pints, for some the beverage is more than just their business. It is a way to bring the community they love together over the drink we all know and love.
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This love of engaging and interacting with people was the inspiration for Roger Lichti, craftsman and owner of Rural Roots Brewing Company, to start his operation almost one year ago. He found his love of the atmosphere created inside an English pub in the late-’90s and sat with the seed planted in his mind for some time. Years later he would finally start finding his brewing prowess after his first attempt with a home-brewing kit. The attempt did not go well, turning out a beer he can only describe as horrible, but something got into him and he kept trying until his skill and passion developed into the company that stands today.
“The whole purpose for what we do [is people]… passion with a capital P is about people. And then our small passion is about craft beer. So, the craft beer is a great way to bring people together from all walks of life,” said Lichti.“What we realized about Elmira – Elmira being our home – [is that] we didn’t have so much of a place to bring people in for that. A lot of us here in town would go to Waterloo, to Guelph, a lot went to Block Three, of course, as well. And we wanted to create more than just a place where you could come and get a whole bunch of beer. We want it to be very different than that type of environment. Family, kids, young, old, whether they like craft beer or they just want to come hang out, that was more important to us. So, we really have a heart for this community. That was the focus of it, our focus was people, how can we give back to the community, and then around the craft beer industry.”
Lichti tries to incorporate many different styles of beers from around the world, instead of sticking to creating “fad beers.” While some are different than others, the brews he creates have a history that can be traced back hundreds of years to different regions. The ingredients he uses in his work can also be found at local farms and businesses in the region.
Beers like the “Schticky Ale” or the “Yes, Honey Cream Ale” have ingredients which he sources from local farms. Even the naming of the beers can be traced back to his youth, like the “Tile Yard Red” which he named in honour of the tile yard he farmed beside growing up.
Steve Innocente, owner of Innocente Brewing Company, also enjoys supporting local businesses in his venture – whether by sourcing local hops or fresh fruit from regional farmers. Starting off as a scientist, he did a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Edinburgh. During his time there he got back into home brewing as a hobby and his friends would rave about his beers. He eventually entered competitions and won which led him to brewing that beer at a small business. Once he turned 40, he decided it was time and with some help, he got the business off the ground in 2014.
While not all of his beers have that same local spin – he put out a beer in 2015 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the victory at Waterloo over Napoleon in Belgium – as those from Rural Roots, he says his company does their part to ensure they showcase and support local.
“I think it’s important to support local, especially now. And in turn we need to support local too,” said Innocente. “Right down to everything [needed to create the beers], even if it costs a little more, it’s worth it.”
Innocente already considers his place the local hub for the neighbourhood, folks that want to get together over a beer. He says it is nice to be able chat with people who want to come in for a beer and they get to see the brewery workers as they make the products.
In the future both breweries plan to see what they can do to expand their businesses within the region, whether that’s simply by adding more space, or selling their products in creative ways.
As with Block 3, Rural Roots and Innocente are open for patio service and will be opening their doors to once again welcome in customers for dine-in service.
Ontario Craft brewers put out statistics from 2019 showing that there were 276 brewers across the province with more than 80 additional breweries in the planning stages. This makes 110 communities across the province home to a craft brewery.
2,200 full-time employees and more than 9,000 supporting and business related jobs.
Craft breweries share of the market over the last few years has gone from 6.4 per cent in 2016 – with brewers producing 512,850 hectolitres – to 8.9 per cent in 2018 – producing 700,500 hectolitres. The volume of beer sold increased 15.5 per cent from 2017 to 2018.
Craft brewing has exploded in recent years, but it’s very much a case of everything old is new again: Numerous breweries operated in the small towns and villages in Waterloo County in the 1840s through the 1890s. From Bamberg to Wellesley, Ayr to Winterbourne, each village had a local brewer. These small breweries were family affairs, with sons learning the trade from their fathers, and eventually taking over the business. Small breweries began to decline in the early 1900s, and only the larger ones were able to survive Prohibition when it came into effect in 1916.
Some of the better known local breweries included:
Kuntz Brewery, City of Waterloo
David Kuntz, a German immigrant, began brewing in Waterloo in the early 1840s. By the early 1850s, he had a brewery at King and William Streets called the Spring Brewery. The Chartwell Terrace on the Square retirement residence is now at this location.
The brewery expanded through the 1860s. In the early 1870s, Kuntz’s son Louis took over the business. He renamed it the L. Kuntz Park Brewery. Louis’ sons – David, William, and Herbert – became managers in 1910 and incorporated the business to form Kuntz Brewery Limited. Prohibition forced the brewery to focus on exporting beer and soft drink sales. In 1929, the brewery was purchased by E.P. Taylor and Canadian Breweries Ltd.
Rau Brewery, New Hamburg
In the early 1860s, Stephen Rau purchased an existing brewery and renamed it the Rau Brewery. Operated by various members of the Rau family, the brewery closed after 1916 when Prohibition came into effect in Ontario. The brewery was converted into a cheese factory in the early 1920s, and still operates as the Oak Grove Cheese Factory today.
Carling Breweries, City of Waterloo
When E.P. Taylor purchased the Kuntz Brewery in 1929, the business’ holdings were consolidated with other Canadian Breweries firms. The Kuntz soft drink division was merged with that of O’Keefe’s, creating Consolidated Beverages. The brewery was amalgamated with Carlings from London, creating Carling-Kuntz Breweries. In 1944, Kuntz was removed from the company name as it was reorganized as Carling Breweries Ltd. Carling would be the main brewer in Waterloo for the next few decades until the factory was sold in 1977 to Labatt.
Huether’s Lion Brewery, City of Waterloo and Kitchener
Beginning in 1856, Adam Huether and his son, Christopher, rented an existing brewery at the corner of King and Princess Streets in Waterloo. They named it the Lion Brewery. By the early 1870s, Christopher was able to purchase the brewery property and build a hotel on the same site. The hotel is still operated today by the Adlys Family, as the Huether Hotel and the Lion Brewery Restaurant. Christopher’s son, C.N. Huether, joined the brewery in the 1890s and in 1894 formed the C.N. Huether Company, leasing the brewery from his father. C.N. defaulted on a mortgage payment in 1899 and the brewery was quickly acquired by the Kuntz Brewery for use as malt storage. C.N. re-established the Lion Brewery at a new location at King and Victoria Streets in Berlin (Kitchener) in 1900. In 1906, the brewery expanded and an ice plant was built beside it. Two years later the name was changed to the Berlin Lion Brewery Limited. The company operated through Prohibition, with the name being changed again in 1919 to Huether Brewery Limited. Brewery sales suffered during the 1920s and the brewery was eventually sold in 1927.
Blue Top Brewing, Kitchener
In 1927, the Huether Brewing Company was purchased by Arthur Diesbourg and William Renaud. The company continued to operate under this name until 1936 when it was renamed Blue Top Brewing. The brewery’s name came from the company’s leading brand of beer – Blue Top ale and lager. In 1948, the company faced a setback when a bad batch of beer reached consumers. In response, the brewery introduced new brands – New York Lager and Premium Ale – but the company never fully recovered from this incident.
Rock Brewery, Cambridge
The Rock Brewery, also known as the Rock Springs Brewery, was founded in 1846 by brothers George and Henry Bernhardt. Located on Hamilton Street East in Preston (now Cambridge), the brewery was located beside a natural spring – the water source used to brew Rock beer. The Bernhardt family operated the brewery until 1916. In 1927, a group of Detroit businessmen re-opened the brewery but two years later the company president was convicted of fraud and the brewery declared bankruptcy.
A second Detroit syndicate restarted the brewery in 1930 but closed again in 1933. The brewery buildings, located near the Preston Memorial Auditorium, were torn down in 1968. The site is currently the location of housing.