"Beer on the pier, water on the water," is the sober-boating slogan, familiar to all Ontario cottagers. Once Rob Engman (owner and also the publisher of TAPS magazine) and Sam Corbeil (head brewer) finish construction of their brewery and tied house, Sawdust City, on the Gravenhurst boardwalk they'll be the only brewery in Ontario with boat-up access.
For now the self-described "nomad brewers" are contract brewing at Black Oak in Etobicoke. Even once the operation is up and running in Gravenhurst they plan to continue making beer there to service their 25 bar and restaurant accounts (Wvrst, Volo, and Grapefruit Moon to name three) in the GTA.
Even if you don't buy the better-flavour claims (if that's the case, we need to talk) it's a universally agreed truth that craft brewers have snappier names for their beer than the macro-brewers. Sawdust City–which, by the way is one of Gravenhurst's historical nicknames–especially struck gold with their Long, Dark Journey to Uranus Imperial Stout. That one received both local attention from Edge 102 and caught the eye of a group of CalTech students working on a project to design a mission to the eponymous planet.
After I filmed that video with Rob and Sam I was lucky enough to sit in on their installment of Wvrst's Beer School. Sam took a group of about 25 of us through four of their beers matched to five sausages.
We got to try the Gateway Kolsch (named both for the style's accessibility and another of Gravenhurst's nicknames), the Ol' Woody Alt, and the Golden Beach Pale Wheat from their regular lineup. We closed with The Princess Wears Girl Pants on cask, which is a crossed Belgian Triple and Belgian IPA that Sam made with the contrasting beer preferences of two of his friends in mind.
Their regular, five beer lineup, is rounded out by the Skinny Dipping Stout, and the Lone Pine IPA.
With Muskoka Cottage Brewery and Lake of Bays already in cottage country it might seem like a crowded, competitive marketplace but just like the guys from Hogtown, Rob and Sam repeatedly emphasised how collaborative and friendly the industry is. Sam's had the chance to experiment with aging beer in blueberry wine barrels that he got from Muskoka Lakes Winery and, speaking of wine, Rob sees Muskoka soon becoming "the Niagara for beer [tourists]".
They're opening OCB week with an appearance at the Gravenhurst Classic and Antique Car Show this Saturday where they'll be pouring their Ol' Woody Alt and Golden Peach Pale Wheat alongside a whole roasted pig. The full lineup plus three collaboration one-offs will be on tap at Wvrst on June 21st for the brewery's first-ever tap takeover. The same night, across town, they're competing in a Battle of the (Brewery) Bands at The Only Cafe.
Near the end of our chat Engman manages to summarise the craft beer movement in one line with: "People don't need more lime-flavoured beer; they need beer-flavoured beer." Twisting that idea together with the brewer's freedom to create an interesting beer for every season seems to be the repeated theme of my discussions with new brewers in Ontario.
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.