Around the Nation
A column by Tom Van Dusen
They’re like the cheese factories of yesteryear! Back then, there was a factory on almost every concession corner gathering up local milk in cans and turning it into a marketable product with a longer shelf life in the days before reliable refrigeration.
Then milk collection centralized. It was picked up at the barn in bulk carriers and delivered to large processing plants, to be turned into uniform, homogenized products, wiping out most of those distinctive community cheesemakers.
Today it’s breweries and brewpubs, wineries, distilleries and cideries popping up at every bend of the road, converting grains including corn, grapes and apples into adult beverages with more of a kick than your average glass of milk, giving the palate a treat from the mass-marketed listless brands.
Like those bygone dairy days, it’s good for local agriculture and the regional economy in general. Take this one case alone: Since opening four years ago, Flying Canoe Hard Cider based in Spencerville has purchased 1.2 million apples-worth of pressed juice from Smyth’s Orchard north of Iroquois.
In part, it’s another example of positive fallout from COVID-19, a growing emphasis on food — and drink — security as represented by local growing, manufacturing and packaging. It’s a celebration of small and local as opposed to huge and distant, the way commercial food production began and the way it’s supposed to be.
It’s the way it was before the goal became maximum bucks through consolidation as opposed to customer satisfaction and community economic stimulation. Take this one example of the new-old era: On Highway 2 east of Prescott, under one roof, there’s a craft brewery, bakery and distillery, with separate owners catering together to drive-by beer, booze and bun lovers. COVID has closed part of the operation for the time being but you can get takeout.
The granddaddy of regional breweries still on the scene has to be Beau’s Organic at Vankleek Hill launched, what, 13 years ago out of a former leather factory by Tim Beauchesne and son Steve. Most of the family has been involved ever since, with Beau’s becoming a brewing force to be reckoned with.
There were a few other Eastern Ontario breweries before Beau’s which didn’t stand the test of time. Correct me if I’m wrong about that! My memory is failing badly. Too much delicious craft beer downed over the years … all in the name of journalistic research of course!
In terms of wineries that have been around awhile, I think first prize has to go to Domaine Perrault at Navan where Denis Perrault and family members added grapes and commercial winemaking to the dairy operation more than 15 years ago. One of the region’s newer wineries is Stonehouse Vineyards in North Glengarry, once again proving false the old saw that Eastern Ontario’s climate is too harsh to nurture grapes good enough for winemaking.
As for newest brewpubs in Eastern Ontario, 1000 Islands Brewing Company in Brockville opened for business last year and was an immediate hit. There’s a new company in Mallorytown too making ArBru Premium Session Lager; although I’m staring at an empty Arbru bottle on my desk boasting it’s carbon- neutral and that a tree is planted for every litre sold, I was unable to find out much more about this brewery in time for the article you’re currently reading.
However, I did enjoy the “smooth, easy drinking, crisp” contents of the bottle, as I have been enjoying the excellent beverages coming out of other local businesses bringing new flair and quality to rural Eastern Ontario.
I can hardly wait until COVID has been curtailed and I can belly up to the bar once more for a refreshing local brew … even if I have to pick it up with plastic gloves and lift my mask to suck it up!