If there’s an Ontario craft brewer with history on its side, it’s Strathroy Brewing Company.
The two-year-old brewery, located in an abandoned flour mill on the edge of Strathroy’s historic downtown, has created a series of well-received beers with names that honour the War of 1812 and the Canadian fight against American cultural domination. That includes our choice in beer.
“I stumbled upon history by accident, at the Strathroy Town Hall, reading magazines about the War of 1812,” said owner Alex Martin, who studied chemical and biochemical engineering at Western University. “It was important to recognize the historical impact that the region had during the War of 1812. Sadly, there are far too few people telling that story.”
The flour mill closed in 2003 and a trading office lingered for five more years before the entire complex and its tall concrete silos became vacant.
“The old mill made sense from an engineering standpoint and the town was very supportive,” Martin said. “On the one hand, we could build a very large packaging brewery and also be located in the middle of a supportive downtown centre. It made a lot of sense.”
The first beer brewed was 1812 Independence Pale Ale, “dedicated to the strong Canadian spirit embodied by the peacemakers who protected our lands from invasion during the War of 1812 and preserved our independence from our American neighbours.” It’s available at the brewery and select area restaurants.
“1812 IPA is a delicious beer, but we learned early on that everybody has different tastes and different favourites,” Martin said. “Locally, we’ve seen the Clock Tower Bistro do great things with an 1812 beer-brined chicken, but it pairs so well with hamburgers, steak, spicy, sweet and savoury. I’ve yet to find something that doesn’t pair well with 1812.”
While the bittersweet and versatile British-style ale came first, it is now taking a back seat to the only two Strathroy beers available through The Beer Store, 1815 Freedom Framboise and 1815 Lockstock Ale.
Framboise is a gluten-free ale brewed with a blend of raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, with 5.5 per cent alcohol. Lockstock is a light, 4 per cent alcohol, Australian-style sparkling ale with aromas of citrus and passion fruit. It too is gluten-free.
“Framboise and Lockstock are great beers that should find a fantastic following over a larger geographic area,” Martin said. “It was difficult since the others in the collection are so flavourful and have their own diehard crowd, but ultimately these beers were selected for their ability to go the distance both near and far.”
The 1815 in the beer names recognizes the end of the War of 1812 and attempts by the Americans to take over Canada.
Taking a page from when he worked in France and toured some of the best vineyards in the world, Martin decided to use a process called bottle conditioning.
“Bottle conditioning gives the beer great flavour,” he said. “Not only does carbonation develop in the bottle, much like Champagne, but the flavours mature too. You not only get a tasty beer but also one with great aging potential.”
It’s a method that mimics the taste of pouring fresh from a cask, but with the convenience of a bottled beer.
Bottle conditioning is used with all Strathroy’s beers, which also include 1815 Hop Happy Haymaker Double IPA, 1815 Smokin’ Cannon Stout, 1815 Peace Wheat and 1815 Longwood Lager. All brands are usually available at the brewery store, brewed in batches of 1,500 or 3,000 litres.
“All of them hold a special place in my heart and I’d say that (what I would serve to a discerning craft beer drinker) depends on the occasion,” Martin said. “On one end of the spectrum we have light beers that are mildly hopped and those are usually enjoyed on a hot summer day, whereas the dark beers and hoppiest of the bunch are best enjoyed in the evenings and when you wish for a warming quality. For the hop lover, we have our Hop-Happy Haymaker Double Independence Pale Ale.”
Strathroy’s beers have been featured on cask at some of the most beer-savvy establishments in the London region, including Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium, and the King Edward in Ilderton.
“We’ve also had some of our bottles featured at McCabe’s, Whiskey House, Budapest, Poacher’s Arms, Winks and Beertown,” Martin said. “Most people drive to the brewery in Strathroy so that they can sample the entire collection.”
It’s a collection that promises to grow in both popularity and selection.
“We do our best to keep all beers in our collection in stock, though our wheat beer was a seasonal,” he said. “By popular demand we’re bringing our Peace Wheat back and brewing it with local Cascade hops. We’re also looking to add to the collection as we see fit. With so many delicious choices it’s hard to find new styles.”
Strathroy Brewing Company
Owner: Alex Martin
Location: 62 Albert St., Strathroy
Brewery store: Yes (limited hours)
Brands: Six in total, two available at The Beer Store
Flagship beer: 1815 Freedom Framboise
Facebook and Twitter: strathroybrewco
Wayne Newton is a freelance journalist in London who enjoys writing about beer and travel.