When thirsty visitors attend the 6th annual Festival of Beer at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre this Saturday, one Sault Ste. Marie brewery will be noticeably absent. Less than two years after launching production and sales at its Queen Street East location, Union Jack Brewing has closed its doors.
Union Jack owner Jordan Jack told SooToday the LCBO’s refusal to carry the brewery’s canned product prompted the closure. With a number of other commitments occupying his time – he’s also the owner of Pharmasave and director of the West End Walk-In Clinic – Jack said sales generated through Union Jack’s retail location and commercial clients weren’t profitable enough to carry the brewery’s operation and staffing costs. Had he been available to spend more time at the brewery, it would likely still be open, he said.
Currently for sale through Royal LePage Northern Advantage, the building and brewery operation are listed for $799,000. “Totally unique opportunity to own and operate a thriving business. Includes all brewing and canning equipment, all machinery and building infrastructure. Less than 2 years old!” reads the real estate listing.
If the building and business don’t sell, Jack said the plan is to rebrand and relaunch the brewery, but that would be more than a year away.
“We’ll be back at some point unless it sells,” he said.
But, as one local brewery closes, two others have managed to expand operations. Both OutSpoken Brewing and Northern Superior Brewing now conveniently offer their tasty suds in cans. While OutSpoken chose the more common 473ml tall can for its beer, Northern Superior opted for the traditional 355ml can.
“For us, being an historic brewery trying to keep it classic, the 355ml cans were the obvious choice for Northern,” said Echo Boudreau, events and client relations representative for Northern Superior. The smaller can sets the brewery aside from the norm, she said, as most craft breweries currently utilize tall cans.
Northern Superior is currently only canning Northern Superior Lager, but will soon expand to include 55, 11 p.m. (lagered stout), and the soon-to-be launched Northern Extra Light which will make its debut during Saturday’s Festival of Beer.
Although the brewery thus far has focused on maintaining the products made popular by the original Northern Breweries, Boudreau said Northern Superior will soon venture into the more adventurous side of the craft brewery industry.
“We see two different sides to our brewery,” she said. “We have our classics – 55 and Superior, and Northern Superior Extra Light will be launched soon. We keep the ones from the original Northern Breweries very classic and about the history. And Blake, our head brewer, has done the 11 p.m. (a lagered stout) and will soon do an IPA. We’re trying to give those ones names that aren’t really associated with the original brewery. There’s a definite line between the two.”
Six-packs of Northern Superior Lager are available for $13 (including taxes and deposit) at the brewery’s retail location at 50 Pim Street (behind the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre). The brewery is open to the public for sales, tours and tap room tastings 12 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
For OutSpoken Brewing, offering its products in cans was always an important goal. The brewery began canning last week, and limited run six-packs are available for purchase from its storefront located at 350 Queen Street East.
“It was always an end goal. It’s sort of that next step and we figured it would bring another aspect that opens the market in terms of accessibility,” explained Vaughn Alexander, co-owner of OutSpoken Brewing. “It’s a lot easier to grab a can than have a growler filled.”
“Part of the limitation with our business was that there were only so many bars and restaurants in town that could accommodate us with draft service. Now that we have cans available as another source of distribution, there’s a lot of places that have expressed interest in (offering our cans),” said co-owner Graham Atkinson.
Not only is OutSpoken Brewing expanding its product line, it’s also increasing its product output by installing additional fermenters and will be making modifications to the brewhouse in order to accommodate the additional equipment. The modifications will eventually triple the brewery’s production capacity.
“That’s a bottleneck for any brewery,” said Alexander. “Quality is very important. As we progress to larger brew sessions, it’s important to maintain the integrity of our batches. We want to secure that so we’re not just diving in.”
But tall cans and increased production capacity are not all that’s new with OutSpoken Brewing.
During a recent meeting of City Council, an application to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario for a manufacturer's limited liquor sales licence was supported by the City. The application was approved and OutSpoken Brewing is now licensed to serve 12 oz glasses from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The brewhouse location is currently undergoing renovations to accommodate an outdoor patio which is expected to open at the end of May.
Both Northern Superior and OutSpoken Brewing will be represented at this year’s Sault Ste. Marie festival of Beer at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre. The 6th annual event takes place from noon to 6 p.m. and will be followed by a performance by The Wooden Sky at 9 p.m.
Tickets for The Wooden Sky performance are $20, Beer Festival tickets are $35 and full event access passes are $50. Tasting and full event passes include a Festival of Beer glass, entry into the event, and sample tokens. Tickets are available at Dish Espresso Bar, Case’s Music, The Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre and online at loplops.com. You must be 19 or older to attend.
Complete list of participating breweries:
Northern Superior Brewing Co.
Broadhead Brewing Company Ltd.
Collective Arts Brewing
New Ontario Brewing Company
Sawdust City Brewery
Lake of the Woods Brewing Company
Side Launch Brewing Company
Barnstormer Brewing and Distilling Co.
The Collingwood Brewery
Big Rig Brewery
Refined Fool Brewing Company
Henderson Brewing Co.
Great Lakes Brewery
Manitoulin Brewing Company
Kilannan Brewing Company
Thornbury Village Craft Cider and Beer