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Kawartha Lakes makes splash in craft beer scene
Scott Nichol, Agatha and Vinh Mac, and Jennifer Boksman with Aaron Young. Beer tourism is about to get serious in Kawartha Lakes.

Kawartha Lakes makes splash in craft beer scene

in Around Town/Business/Community/Local News by

For a craft beer enthusiast within the Toronto area, names like Steam Whistle, Mill Street, and Black Oak resonate. They – like several others – are all breweries recognized for their great tours in the GTA.

But given their geographic location, none of them can hold a candle to the natural charm and get-away feel of Kawartha Lakes – and at least one craft beer entrepreneur here thinks that’s going to help make this area make a splash in the craft brewery scene.

Aaron Young, proprietor of the soon-to-be-open Pie Eyed Monk in Lindsay, along with his partner, Jennifer Boksman, says Kawartha Lakes is going from zero to four craft breweries operating in Kawartha Lakes by the end of 2018. He believes that should make some waves in the GTA among folks who search these experiences out. (In addition to Young and Boksman, there are four other local business partners involved in the brewery.)

“Loads of communities across North America have built breweries,” Young tells The Lindsay Advocate, “but they don’t have what we have.”

That would be 250 lakes, the Trent Severn Waterway, four provincial parks, amazing rural bike trails, canoeing, boating, wildlife, and more. Then there are centres like Lindsay, Bobcaygeon, Fenelon Falls, and the many other smaller communities that make up the City of Kawartha Lakes, offering unique shopping, dining, and events.

New 2016 statistics just released from the City of Kawartha Lakes by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport show that tourism is one of the top economic drivers here. For domestic visitors only (not including overseas and US visitors) the data shows that over 1.6 million Canadian residents visit Kawartha Lakes every year and spend over $106 million in the municipality. A full 60 per cent of those visitors stay overnight and spend, on average, 2.4 nights in Kawartha Lakes.

Young sees an amazing opportunity for the whole area.

“We not only can market our proximity to Toronto, we have the opportunity to market from the waterway, too,” he says, referencing the Trent Severn and the busy locks system that brings thousands of boaters here each summer.

Pied Eyed Monk will be more than a craft beer destination. It’s also going to be a restaurant, with a wood fire pizza oven, an open-concept kitchen, and a 14-person bar rail. It will also have a wrap-around patio, private dining room, a 150-person event space upstairs, and it will feature live entertainment.

Built in a circa-1868 building in downtown Lindsay, the brewery, Young hopes, will also be of help to Lindsay’s downtown.

“Lindsay already has a healthy downtown – but we’re hoping we can give it a boost even more,” he says. Given all the development happening in Lindsay on the west end, near the largest mall in town, he hopes it will give just one more reason to be downtown.

“People might grab a room at the Days Inn for a weekend, come downtown and see us for a meal and then maybe the next day they’re visiting another restaurant in town, doing some shopping, or catching a show at the Academy. That’s our vision,” he says, where everyone benefits.

Twenty-five minutes north of Lindsay, Bobcaygeon is the scene of two craft beer brewers.

Scott Nichol is the owner and general manager of Old Dog Brewing Company Inc. in Bobcaygeon. He created the brewery in late 2016 and purchased its current location the following May.

“I moved here in July and have been working on getting the brand out and building the brewery since,” he says.

Nichol says his original intention was to serve the first Old Dog beer over the bar in its taproom at 30 King St. E., “but getting the appropriate zoning and site plan in place has taken much longer than I anticipated, so I had to pivot.”

Nichol decided to contract brew until he is able to open at the location he wants. Earlier this year he launched Old Dog’s flagship beer, Mad Dog American Pale Ale.

“We’ve recently launched our second beer, Dog Days Summer Ale and have received some amazing feedback and support on both.”

The owner says that since moving to Bobcaygeon he has been able to meet many of the business owners and citizens over the past year.

“I even joined the Bobcaygeon Curling Club to keep me busy and active in the winter, and met some really amazing people there. Everyone here has been incredibly supportive.”

He also participated in the Impact 32 auction last year to help build more docks in Bobcaygeon, and provided some sponsorship to local groups. Old Dog will also be participating the Bobcaygeon Craft Beer and Food Festival in August.

“Once I am open I will be encouraging guests to pick up some food from one of our local, amazing eateries and eat it here while enjoying one of our brews.”

Nichol, like Young, says he is surprised that “until this year, no craft breweries had a physical location in the City of Kawartha Lakes.”

“Craft breweries are a destination and having four located within a short drive from each other will be amazing, not only for all of us, but for each of our communities,” says Nichol. “People may come with the intention of visiting the brewery, but while they are here, they will also eat, shop, and possibly stay. It’s going to be great for everyone.”

Bobcaygeon Brewing’s Richard Wood says his business has been around for just over three years. He says a lot of success has been achieved during this time, including an increased interest in their beers. Craft beer tourism is “a great opportunity.”

“Food and drink is one of the major drivers for millennials when they are deciding where to go on vacation, so we’re excited to work with other breweries in the local area to market the area in other regions such as Toronto and Ottawa.”

Wood says they are active in the local community, sponsoring events such as the Bobcaygeon Craft Beer Fest and the Canada USA Walleye tournament.

“We’ve also worked with Kawartha Settlers Village and Buckhorn Community Centre (outside of Kawartha Lakes), and sponsored the Mash Bash in support of the clinic in Bobcaygeon.  

Settlers’ Village is a major tourism destination point not only for Bobcaygeon but for Kawartha Lakes.

Robyn Barton, marketing coordinator of the historic Village, says the popularity of craft beer, plus the ambience of a unique setting that is Kawartha Settlers’ Village, is a major draw.

“We are bringing a newer, modern trend into a place of heritage. It combines the two in a really fantastic way,” she says.

Attendees can not only enjoy craft beers and ciders, but “amazing food vendors, musical entertainment and the ability to stroll the Village and see its artifacts and heritage buildings.”

Barton says there are also local artisans on hand showcasing their wares. “All and all the focus is on the beer, but there is so much to do and see at the event.”

Barton says increasing tourism benefits everyone. “We are proud to be a destination for festivals and events that bring together local vendors so that we can all benefit from the exposure and amount of out-of-towners they draw in.”

Just 14 minutes west of Bobcaygeon, Fenelon Falls is poised to see its first craft brewery open this fall. In mid-June, Fenelon Falls Brewing Company celebrated the release of its flagship beers, Vienna Lager, and Red Ale, for the community.

“We’re opening the brewery as a way to say thanks to the community of Fenelon Falls,” says co-owner Vinh Mac. He owns the business, along with his partner, Agatha Mac.

“They welcomed my family when we immigrated to Canada in the 1970s without knowing a soul, or a word of English. We now we want to give back to thank the Fenelon Falls community for their generous hospitality.”

The building that houses their brew house is from the 1800s and remains one of the most recognized buildings in the Kawarthas, says Mac.

“We want to transform it into a place for the community to gather, to sit a while, and to have a stress-free, amazing experience.”

The business will grow, he says, to include a taproom, an event space, and a street-side patio.

“The intention throughout is to shine a light on the people, the heritage, and the life of the region through local music, art, and cultural events.”

“From the very beginning, we set out to create a destination brewery to invite visitors to experience the beautiful village of Fenelon Falls,” says Mac. He calls it an opportunity for all businesses in the area to benefit by collaboratively working together to highlight the unique features of the area in all seasons.

Aaron Young, at Pie Eyed Monk would agree.

“It’s going to be up to the four breweries to come together, to give people another great reason to visit City of Kawartha Lakes,” Young says.

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Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Lindsay Advocate. He is the author of 'Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World,' and is also Vice Chair of the Ontario Basic Income Network. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, Roderick has interviewed former Prime Ministers of Canada, Senators, and Mayors across Canada. He also wrote and published a series of books for youth about Canada's Prime Ministers as teens.

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