When a group of friends who play rugby together decide they want better from the beer on tap after games they start their own brewery. At least that's what the team behind Hogtown Brewers did.
Hogtown is one of Toronto's wave of new breweries that are riding the rising tide of craft beer appreciation in Ontario. As part of 30 Days of Ontario Beer we're going to publish an ongoing series that looks at these up-and-coming players in Ontario's beer world. I sat down with Ken Dubien and Noel Chambers, Hogtown's "Doctor of Operations & Resident Beer Geek" and "CEO & Chief Keg Washer" respectively, to chat about their experience with the beer business.
Noel talks convincingly about gaining a taste for craft beer while traveling on business in the United States over the last several years. "We love craft but knew we needed expertise where it mattered most," he says. And for that they hired Jay Cooke, a master brewer who worked for Labatt and helped launch Bud Light Lime but who also has a passion for brewing on a smaller-scale for a discerning audience.
Jay took them through tasting test batches brewed at Niagara College and eventually they decided to make a Kolsch. Originally from Cologne, the Kolsch style is a lagered ale (somewhat similar to an altbier) with a moderate amount of hoppiness. Like other beers of the type the Hogtown Ale has a pale-copper colour, opens smoothly but has a persistent, complex finish.
For those wondering what style was the runner-up, Noel says they still have a West Coast IPA in their back pocket.
They're now in production at the Cool plant–virtual home to many of Toronto's contracting brewers. Timing is uncertain but word is that Cool may be adding a line for cans and that may eventually make it easier for beer drinkers to give Hogtown Ale a test-run at home.
Appropriately for guys who saw themselves as "a sales force that needed a brewery" their first distribution deal was with Toronto's very popular mini-chain of Duke pubs. They started at the Duke of Devon, but Hogtown Ale is now on tap in six Duke pubs.
Hogtown has been at each of the Toronto Underground Markets this year and are finding customers increasingly receptive to how well beer pairs with the wide variety of vendor-made food and TUM's casual atmosphere. As well as manning a booth at this weekend's TUM they'll be at the Stop's Beer Garden on Sunday, June 10 alongside the debut of seafood sandwich pop-up The Last Splash T.O.
Obviously, starting a business comes with the occasional setback. Their only full-time employee, a student hired to make deliveries this summer managed to land the job even though he doesn't have a driver's license. Noel and Ken seem confident that this will be a minor hiccup in an otherwise successful year for Hogtown.
Written by David Ort
As one of Spotlight’s contributing editors, David enjoys turning his mind (and keyboard) to a wide variety of topics ranging from recipes to restaurants to craft beer. When he’s not writing for Spotlight Toronto, David shares his thoughts on new restaurants and beer at PostCity.com and all things food and drink on his own site, Food With Legs.