Rapid expansion of city brewery shows it’s nobody’s fool

The four directors at the new London Road Refined Fool Brewing Company taproom are, from left: Nathan Colquhoun, Tony Alexander, Brandon Huybers, and Matthew Barnes. Glenn Ogilvie

Cathy Dobson

It was no accident Sarnia’s Refined Fool Brewing Company chose April Fool’s Day to officially open the doors at its new taproom and craft brewery on London Road.

The team is pretty good at marketing.

None of the principals will take individual credit for the trendy promotions and catchy labels on the brewery’s 95 beer styles since the Refined Fool opened in 2014.

They say they collaboratively came up with names like Suburban Menace, The Brouhaha and Troll Toll, its bestselling cream ale on permanent listing at the LCBO.

Their dream of expanding beyond the original microbrewery on Davis Street happened quicker than the owners envisioned.

“We’ve been in constant expansion mode since we started,” said head brewer Matthew Barnes, one of four directors along with Nathan Colquhoun, Brandon Huybers and Tony Alexander.

The Refined Fool also has about 20 investors.

“We’re definitely a lot further along than we ever expected,” said Colquhoun. “We’ve surpassed all our goals.”

The first beer was produced in converted maple syrup drums on Davis Street four years ago. The brand gained popularity and began showing up on restaurant taps around town.

Soon, the microbrewery opened a small adjacent pub that became a community hub for trivia nights, outdoor concerts, casual board games and the odd CBC radio broadcast.

The beer is now carried by 85 LCBO outlets and 100 Loblaw stores in Ontario.

Demand grew so fast that out-of-town craft breweries had to be contracted to produce Refined Fool products. But, as of this month, that is no longer necessary.

The new taproom is dominated by three large brew tanks that each holds 3,300 litres. Five more tanks, each with a 1,100-litre capacity, are also visible from the pub area.

In total, the new Canadian-made brewing system is turning out 16,000 litres of suds a month, enough to meet demand.

“There’s potential to make one million litres of beer a year,” Alexander said.

Plans are also in the works to experiment with barrel aging and souring beer, perhaps incorporating some higher-end styles.

The taproom can seat 149 indoors and another 74 on two patios.  A 46-foot bar runs the width of the room with 15-foot wall murals painted by Alexander’s brother Danny and his buddy Brando Hair.

That kind of collaboration with family and friends and involving them in almost every aspect of the brewery is part of what makes The Fool successful, said Colquhoun.

Local trades were used to gut the building at 1326 London Rd. and to do extensive renovations to the former T.J. Liquidators. When an out-of-town investor approached the group, he was not brought on board.

“This is a brewery from Sarnia, for Sarnia,” said Colquhoun.  “That’s what makes it work.”

“I think our success has been due to engagement with the local community,” added Alexander.  “For us, it’s about making beer for Sarnia first.”

Unlike Davis Street, the new Refined Fool location will offer food in-house. A separate business, Burger Rebellion, opened its second location in the taproom with an expanded menu and open grill.

Davis Street will continue to operate as usual and its clientele will get first crack at new beers produced by its smaller brewing system.

The new Refined Fool Brewery on London Road has created 12 permanent jobs and is still hiring. It’s open Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; and Sunday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to midnight.

Got a great idea for a business story? Contact cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca.