Out of the gate Spearhead Brewing Company struck gold with their Hawaiian-Style Pale Ale. The name and idea of a beer made with pineapple juice has pulled new craft beer drinkers in for a pint. The confidently hoppy flavour has made it easy for aficionados to praise it.
Friends, fans, and employees gathered last weekend at the Victory Cafe in Toronto to celebrate Spearhead's first anniversary and I sat down with the brewery's founder, Dimitri van Kampen to chat about the first twelve months.
I think it's fair to call his mood "barely-restrained jubilant" and that's understandable given where his brewery is at in this early stage. "If you'd told me twelve months ago Spearhead Hawaiian Style Pale Ale was going to be at the LCBO and in over 100 establishments across Ontario and be called beer of the year I would never have believed you." And of course he couldn't help working in the brewery's slogan when he summarised that their success flows from "a business model centred on a passion for making beer without boundaries."
Taking the fun of home brewing (a hobby van Kampen still hopes to find time for) and turning it into a full-time brewery was what lured van Kampen away from a career in project finance. Under the eye of brewmaster Tomas Schmidt Spearhead's beer is contract brewed at the Cool facility in Etobicoke. A popular first beer and an expanding lineup make juggling logistics in someone else's plant a challenge so their own space is something that they're thinking about.
When launching a new brewery it must have taken some willpower to focus so tightly on one specialised beer. "I guess at the end of the day," he explains "you can over think things, but that's not what I tend to do. It's a beer that I really loved. When I first made it, it was a fun thing to do."
The party was also an opportunity for Spearhead to launch their second and third beers. They've added a Moroccan Brown Ale (ABV: 6% IBU: 35) and a Belgian Stout (ABV: 6.5% IBU: 35) that continue the trend of going well beyond the once-standard four beer ingredients. For the stout Trappist yeast, demerara sugar, curacao orange peel, and coriander combine to add citrus and zest to this thick and smooth beer. For the Moroccan brown ale (technically made in the style of American brown ale) it's dates, figs, raisins, and cinnamon that inspired one of the other party guests to describe it as "like trail mix that's been dipped in beer–in the best, subtle way."
As well as the two new beers, Spearhead is also happy to be celebrating the release of the Hawaiian PA at the LCBO. You'll find them in an open-top six pack of custom-designed 355 ml bottles for $13.95. The bottles will be on their way to the LCBO today so look for them to be on shelves definitely by the first week of July.
When we chatted we both had to marvel that among the new breweries Spotlight is going to feature, his is the oldest. That growth coupled with the strongly congenial spirit that all of the new brewers have gone out their way to tell me about, seems to point to a remarkably untapped market for locally-made, craft beer in Ontario. The next twelve months should be an even more exciting time for the province's youngest breweries.
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.