With the demise of Northern Breweries in 2006, beer production largely stopped in northeastern Ontario, but the growing popularity of craft beer is putting the region back on the brewing map.
Stack Brewing in Sudbury opened in 2012 and recently purchased a new brewing system to expand its production.
Owner Shawn Mailloux said work is underway to get Stack products into LCBO stores. In the meantime, he is working to expand to markets outside of Sudbury.
"We are already too big [for Sudbury]. It's a little sooner than I expected. That's why we are starting to work a lot in North Bay and Sault Ste Marie," he said.
"You've got to go where the beer scene is. The beer scene now is Toronto and Ottawa and those markets, so it would be kind of nice if we could get some dialogues and relationships forming with those markets."
Mailloux recently returned from the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, where he was promoting Stack beers at a pavilion dedicated to northern products.
Government bets on industry
The provincial and federal governments are betting on the success of the northern beer industry. Stack Brewing received $125,000 from the provincial Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation to help it grow.
Highlander Brew Co. in South River, near North Bay, is also benefiting from about $1.5 million in provincial and federal funding. The money is going to the Village of South River to build a new community building that will house an expanded brewery for the company and an event space for the community.
Highlander President Dwayne Wanner said the brewery was considering expanding by moving some production to facilities in southern Ontario, but the boost from government was incentive enough to keep the operation in the north.
"We looked at that and we thought, well, if they believe in it, maybe we can too."
Wanner said Highlander's expansion, scheduled for next year, should create about 10 jobs in South River. The new brewery will also offer contract brewing services that will help people interested in crafting beer — without the full investment required to build a brewery.
Highlander is also working with Canadore College in North Bay to create a brewer's apprentice program, Wanner said.
Stack Brewing in Sudbury has also expanded its workforce. It employs eight people in full or part-time positions.
New microbreweries are also coming online elsewhere in the northeast.
New Ontario Brewing Company plans to open a brewery in North Bay next year.
Co-owner Ron Clancy said the company gives a nod to brewing heritage in that city.
"The company name is based on a brewery that was in North Bay from 1905 to 1915. So next year is actually the 100-year anniversary of the original brewery burning down," he said.
New Ontario Brewing Company will be ready to announce its location in North Bay in the next few weeks, Clancy said.
In Sault Ste Marie, a new company called OutSpoken Brewing is now selling its beer at a few restaurants and bars in the city.
"It was a distinguishing moment for us and it kind of proved to us that, hey, this is actually working, because we've been hard at this for a long time," co-owner Graham Atkinson said.
OutSpoken is now operating out of a building in Sault Ste Marie's downtown and plans to start retailing its beers from the location shortly.
Over on Manitoulin Island, Split Rail Brewing is also looking to open a brewery next year, according to its website.