In 2014 Sarnia-Lambton had zero craft breweries.
With two more getting ready to open, the county will soon be home to 10 breweries, including six in the immediate Sarnia area.
Thirsty travellers have noted our explosive growth in a trendy product, says Tourism Sarnia-Lambton.
“Lambton County really is emerging as a drink-producer destination,” said Beverley Horodyski, the agency’s product developer. “It’s current. It’s what everyone is into.”
It’s the personal stories behind microbreweries that make them attractive to both beer lovers and visitors, she said.
“These are small operations. These are local people that had an idea.”
Sarnia’s first microbrewery, Refined Fool, began with a handful of suds fans mixing batches in the backyard. Today the brewery has two city locations and devoted shelf space at the LCBO.
The group of young professionals, then 20-and-30-somethings, started by researching microbreweries and experimenting with flavours and styles. One of them, co-owner Nathan Colquhoun, who is now a city councillor, has said those first batches were made using propane burners and a big turkey roaster.
In addition to Refined Fool, Sarnia also boasts the Imperial City Brew House at 1330 Exmouth St., the Big Family Brewing Co. at 485 Harbour Rd. and the River Run Brew Co. at 146 Christina St. N.
Imperial City opened shortly before the pandemic arrived, “which was not a great time to start a brewery,” said Craig Brodie, one of four co-owners.
“But the community rallied around the small businesses, and us being new, they rallied around us.”
Unlike many cutthroat businesses, brewers are a collegial bunch, he added.
“We’re friends with lots of the other breweries. We’ve helped them out, they’ve helped us out.”
Two more microbreweries are preparing to open: Two Water Brewing Co. in Corunna, and Point Brewing Company in Point Edward.
And the county was already home to Brewster’s Mill Brewing Company in Grand Bend, Stonepicker Brewing Company in Forest, Widder Station Brewing Co. in Thedford, and Black Gold Brewery in Petrolia.
Though the growth of craft breweries is especially robust in Sarnia-Lambton, it is a national phenomenon. New brewing facilities grew by 8% between 2019 and 2020, according to the industry association Beer Canada, with most of them small and local operations.
The sector today supports almost 150,000 jobs and contributes $13.6 billion to Canada’s GDP.
Every new brewery is good news for tourism, Horodyski said.
“From an economic point of view it’s a win – win. It’s a new business and it’s a new product for our area. It’s definitely a positive.”
Three years ago, Tourism Sarnia-Lambton launched ‘Cheers to the Coast,’ a map and shuttle service that takes beer, wine and cider fans on tour to craft operators.
In three years it’s grown from seven to 13 stops at breweries, wineries and cider houses.
Non-beer stops include Alton Farms Estate Winery in Plympton-Wyoming, Dark Horse Winery in Grand Bend, Munro Honey (meadery) in Alvinston, Shale Ridge Estate Winery and Cidery in Thedford, and Twin Pines Orchard and Cider House in Thedford.
“You can see the tanks and what the guys are working on in front of you when you pick up your six pack,” said Horodyski.
“In the tourism business, that’s an experience and it’s all about experiential, when people can get behind the scenes.”