Ontario craft brewer drinks up success

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Posted August 12, 2012 by Adrian Brijbassi in Beer & Travel
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Bob Hanenberg has gone from home brewer to owner of Grand River Brewing. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor

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Bob Hanenberg pours a glass of one of his brewery’s award-winning beers. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

CAMBRIDGE, ONTARIO — A lot of people who try home brewing don’t have the patience or skill to master it. Not so Bob Hanenberg.

A home brewer for more than 30 years, Hanenberg followed his passion for fine beer to the maximum extent, opening his own brewery rather than coast into retirement. Grand River Brewing has been turning out authentic British-style ales for nearly six years.

“The beers we make are simply brewed and they’re very flavourful,” says Hanenberg, who had most recently worked in the horsing industry before switching careers. Although he is following his heart by shifting his focus to beer making, Hanenberg also sees a clear business opportunity in owning a microbrewery in this province.

“I think the craft brewing industry in Ontario is where the wine industry was about 15 years ago,” he notes. “It’s right on the cusp of really maturing.”

The brewery produces its annual limit of 55,000 bottles from its location in a historic building that was home to the Galt Knife Company for more than 100 years. Early in Grand River Brewing’s history, Hanenberg sought the advice of Rob Creighton, a long-time brewmaster at Labatt’s. Creighton eventually came on board to lead the brewing operations and helped Grand River win a gold medal at the 2009 Canadian Brewing Awards.

Unlike a lot of beers from microbreweries in North America, Grand River’s brews are not overly hoppy. They tend to be smooth, easy-to-drink beers that match Hanenberg’s taste for British lagers and ales. Their low alcohol content made a couple of the varieties seem too weak to me, but the brewery’s pilsener is a refreshing summer drink. Its best brand is the 1898, served only at Langdon Hall and named after the historic manor that was once owned by descendants of the Astor family. It’s a Belgian-style ale that is the best craft brew I’ve had in Ontario — and gives yet another reason to visit Langdon Hall.

Although the 1898 isn’t available outside of that luxury manor, Ontarians can find other Grand River Brewing products at LCBO liquor locations. The Galt Knife Old-Style Lager, an Ontario Brewing Awards gold medallist in 2009, and Pugnacious Pale Ale are among the brewery’s offerings available in 500-millilitre bottles with simply designed labels. If you can find it, pick up the Plowman’s Ale, an amber brew with lots of flavour.

“Beer making doesn’t have to be a complicated process,” Hanenberg says, noting that water, yeast and barley hops are really all that’s needed to produce a good product. “We pride ourselves in making beers with a lot of character and a lot of balance. We have five regular brands and all of them are under 5 per cent alcohol content.”

MORE ABOUT GRAND RIVER BREWING
Address: Beers can be purchased at the brewery, which is about an hour southwest of Toronto and located at 295 Ainslie Street, Cambridge, ON (see map below)
Brewery tours: The brewery offers tours and tastings of four or five beers for $10 per person, which includes a complimentary gift glass. It asks that tours be scheduled at least a week in advance. To book a tour, e-mail jsouthgate@grandriverbrewing.com or call 519-242-9110. The building’s main floor features beautiful hardwood, antiques that include a drill press and a saloon-style bar. The beer vats are in a much more industrial space.
Where to buy: Visit the brewery’s website to find locations of bars and restaurants serving Grand River Brewing products.

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About the Author

Adrian Brijbassi
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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and his articles are frequently syndicated by the Huffington Post and appear in the Globe & Mail. He makes regular appearances on CTV News, TSN Radio and CJSF Radio, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. A former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing and fiction, and has visited more than 30 countries. He is also a judge for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and spearheaded the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada list that debuted in April 2012.

 
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