Cowbell Brewing Company in Blyth
Blyth’s founding in 1877 is commemorated on a historic plaque on the town’s main street. The plaque’s text states “By 1851 Lucius McConnell and Kenneth McBain, two of the earliest settlers in the area, had located here in Morris Township. Four years later, Donald McDonald laid out a village plot on the border between Wawanosh and Morris Townships and in July 1856 a post-office was established. The village developed slowly but within two years contained a sawmill owned by McBain, a Presbyterian church, a tavern and store. Originally known as Drummond after an enterprising early family, the village, a market town for the surrounding agricultural region, was renamed Blyth after an absentee landowner. In January, 1876 a station on the London, Huron and Bruce Railway was opened and a year later the village was incorporated with a population of about 800.”
Blyth is a theatre town. According to The Blyth Centre for the Arts’ website, “the Blyth Festival was founded in 1975 to showcase professional repertory theatre that reflects the culture and concerns of the people of southwestern Ontario and beyond.” For years the Blyth Festival has been a main draw to this community, attracting around 20,000 visitors annually. The theatre has always been worth a trip to Blyth, as has the Old Mill (featuring Canada’s largest selection of leather goods) and restaurants like Queens Bakery for lighter fare, and Part II Bistro for casual fine dining.
Now there is another great reason to make the drive to Blyth. Cowbell Brewing Co. is located just south of Blyth at the corner of Highway 4 (London Road) and County Road 25, in Huron County’s fertile farming area historically referred to as “The Empire’s Breadbasket.” In homage to many historic Huron County farms, the building’s architectural features appear as though they were built at different times, giving the impression of a century-old family farm evolving organically over time.
The destination craft brewery is a 26,000 square-foot venue featuring a 50-hectolitre capacity state-of-the-art brewhouse, restaurant and taproom, with indoor and outdoor seating for 300 as well as several unique event and private dining rooms. It opened to critical acclaim in August. The 120-seat farm-to-table inspired restaurant is situated in the centre of the expansive stone and wood barn-style facility that features 45-foot ceilings. Other elements include an open kitchen, a stone fireplace, and an enormous screen for special events. Adjacent to the kitchen is an 8-seat chef’s table that is available by reservation only.
Guests in Doc’s Bar are positioned directly in front of the elevated Cowbell brewhouse — an outstanding vantage point. Doc’s Bar showcases a quantity of taps, including 25 Cowbell beers and one rotating tap dedicated to other Huron County brewers. Cowbell’s products are on sale in a small retail space on site, including beer in cans, growlers and kegs, as well as various types of branded merchandise such as T-shirts, maple syrup and coffee.
In preparation for the opening the Sparling family, owners of Cowbell, actively engaged and strengthened relationships with both local and regional businesses and community members. The project required years of research, education and advance planning.
Cowbell’s 23-acre working farm will grow barley and hops for the beers. There will also be an orchard and a vegetable garden which will provide produce for the restaurant. In addition, there are plans to construct a natural outdoor amphitheatre with a 15,000-person capacity. It will host music, cultural and athletic events.
Renowned London chef Kim Sutherland got the ball rolling by forming relationships with a network of local farmers, producers, bakers and meat purveyors. Picking up from there, Executive Chef Alexandre Lussier, who has a passion for authentic farm-to-table experiences, took the project to the next level, completing the culinary team by hiring two pastry chefs. Lussier has staged in Italy and in France at three Michelin-starred restaurants. Chef sources products that are inspired by his farm-to-table ethos and the surrounding terroir. Suppliers include Metzger Meat Products, Little Sisters Chicken and Red Cat Farm Bakery.
Before lunch we took a self-guided tour of the building. From almost every vantage point there were unobstructed views of the operations including a purpose-built catwalk from which visitors can see the entire production process in the brewery part of the facility.
On our first visit we ordered the lamb burger. It was moist and perfectly cooked with a rich savoury flavour underscored by olive tapenade, creamy goat cheese and crisp arugula. Metzger’s savoury pork products with their rich flavour mix are featured on the Ploughman’s Platter, accompanied by beer-infused cheese, grilled bread, locally produced farm preserves, crunchy pickled vegetables and house-smoked BBQ mustard. Friends raved about the moist, flavourful, well-seasoned classic burger with a topping of shaved pickle, aged cheddar, lettuce and tomato. The Grant is two seasoned 6-ounce beef patties, Metzger’s thick cut bacon, aged cheddar cheese and rosemary on a soft brioche bun. Fresh sourdough crostini are served with creamed feta cheese, fresh diced tomato and organic basil. Local oversized ribs are braised in Cowbell beer BBQ sauce, served with your choice of side. Wood-fired pizza is a house speciality. Mushroom n’ Cheese pizza is comprised of a beer cheese sauce, matchstick potatoes, mushrooms and mozzarella, and finished with rosemary and sea salt. For dessert there is a decadent signature dark chocolate and custard pie that has a pretzel and graham cracker crust, with Fly Girl Nitro Oatmeal stout and creamy dark chocolate custard, topped with roasted marshmallow meringue. If food allergies are a concern, there are dairy-free, nut-free and gluten-free options available. The menu changes seasonally.
One of the main goals at Cowbell is to be sustainable. It is North America’s first carbon neutral brewery and the world’s first closed-loop brewery. A closed-loop brewery is one that sources the brewing water from an on-site well, with the excess water being returned through its own wastewater plant. The brewery treats all wastewater and releases it back into the groundwater table on the property. This reduces the water demand and means that there is no impact on the municipal system or the environment.
The Greener Pastures Community Fund is one of the ways the Sparling family and Cowbell are giving back. In December 2016 Cowbell launched a long-term relationship supporting Ontario’s four children’s hospitals. Cowbell donates five cents from every can and pint sold, to be invested annually in specific initiatives at each of the children’s hospitals. Cowbell also supports the foundations through event participation and by raising awareness of the life-changing work by remarkable people in these world-class hospitals. Funds raised also support the Grant and Mildred Sparling Centre at The Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity, which will break ground in Blyth in 2018.
Cowbell checks all the boxes as a key agri-tourism attraction and a major economic driver in the region. It is well worth the drive to Blyth to experience Canada’s first design-build destination brewery.
Cowbell Brewing Co.
40035 Blyth Road, Blyth
Restaurant Reservations: 1-226-909-0066