In one of the area’s towns hardest hit by the economic downturn, a little good news goes a long way. Plant closings and downsizing is usually the business news of the day, but here’s a tale of a small local company that is expanding its operations and hiring more staff.
Railway City Brewing Company in St. Thomas has grown substantially since its inception five years ago. It was born as a partnership between Paul Corriveau and Al Goulding who began brewing two types of beer in a small 2,500 square-foot space. There are now four partners, six regularly brewed beers (along with several seasonally brewed), and by the time this is published it will all be housed in a 13,000 square-foot renovated space on Edward Street, “just a couple of blocks from where Jumbo was killed,” says Corriveau. The latter point is particularly poignant, as Railway’s most popular brew is called Dead Elephant in honour of the felled beast.
Initially Iron Spike Blonde and Copper were introduced, soon joined by Dead Elephant, Iron Spike Amber, Honey Elixir and Canada Southern Draft. Seasonal offerings include a winter stout and a summer wheat beer. Honey Elixir is partially made from honey from Windermere Manor’s hives. According to Brenda Brandt, corporate sales manager, the Manor’s Honey Stung Ale (their name for Honey Elixir) was previously produced by another craft brewer with inconsistent results, “but since we switched to Railway it’s been consistent and delicious. It’s a real draw for our café and has been really well received.”
“We’ve grown faster than anticipated and [the current space] has limitations that we didn’t foresee,” explains Corriveau. Logistical issues necessitated moving to a larger space and adding five positions to the current 14 staffers. Happily, the two acres surrounding the renovated industrial building will allow Railway to have an open-air patio out front and event space in the rear for barbecues and car shows benefitting charities.
As part of the company’s evolution, new investors were taken on and are now active in its management: Matt Janes oversees operations and company finances; Al Goulding is in charge of retail and packaging, and John Peart is company president.
Corriveau, who handles marketing and sales for the company, attributes consumer enthusiasm in spurring this huge growth. “Interest in craft beer has skyrocketed. Consumers want something different, a unique taste and different styles. People are looking for something that’s not bland or mainstream, something that’s new and fresh made from local ingredients.”
Using local ingredients, like hops grown in Elgin County, is one of Railway’s secrets to success. Seasonal produce spurs new brews, like the Blueberry-Ginseng that was produced a few summers ago. Ginseng is a tobacco replacement crop, so Corriveau expects it to appear in more recipes.
But growing the number of offerings isn’t the end game; ensuring their products are worthy of their fan base is. “We want to produce award-winning beers and attract people to the facility to promote tourism in this area. Craft beer is like wine in that way. People want to see, taste and smell.”
So far this mission has been successful, as Railway has consistently picked up multiple medals at the Speaker’s Craft Beer Challenge (Ontario Legislative Assembly) and the Ontario Brewing Awards.
Craft beer aficionados can enjoy Railway products in 100 restaurants in Ontario, from Sarnia to Ottawa, (20 are within the eatdrink readership area), and pick them up in 200 LCBO stores. There is even one store in Saskatchewan that has them shipped in. You can also taste Railway beers at several events this summer, including The Ontario Renaissance Festival, London Beer and BBQ Show and the Great Lakes International Air Show. Or you can tour the plant. It is open seven days a week, but Corriveau advises that you call ahead to ensure enough staff are on hand to help you.
Railway is beginning to offer more of their suds in cans for easy transport to picnics, cottages and boats. Dead Elephant and Iron Spike Blonde are already available in cans, soon to be joined by Canada Southern Draft. The canning process was previously outsourced but will be done onsite at the new facility.
So it’s a good news day all around: craft beers are on the rise; a local company is growing and there are more places to enjoy their great products.
JILL ELLIS-WORTHINGTON is a freelance writer and chief communicator for Write.On Communication Services International (www.writedoton.com).