Nearing its 30th year in the craft beer business, Calgary-based Big Rock Brewery says it will open a brew pub in Toronto’s Liberty Village by mid-2015 while it mulls growth opportunities in Ontario and elsewhere.
The pub and restaurant in leased space in the former Artscape heritage building at Liberty Street and Atlantic Avenue, “will provide a great opportunity to share our beers and demonstrate our beer innovation,” said chief executive Bob Sartor.
He expects the doors will open by March after completion of renovations to the space in the century old building and the securing of municipal permits.
“Over the past two years, we have produced over 40 unique and different beers, but very few have found their way into Ontario,” Sartor said.
While the company’s products are available at some The Beer Store outlets and restaurant-pubs in the city, costs of shipping premium craft beer from Alberta — unpasteurized and brewed in limited edition batches with natural ingredients — can be a disincentive.
Sartor said the plan is to showcase Big Rock ales, lagers and ciders in Toronto and continue to evaluate opportunities to expand the business beyond western Canada. He said the company hopes to launch a brewery in Ontario within the next year.
Named for a huge glacial rock south of Calgary, Big Rock is for the moment focused on its foray into Ontario and development of a brew-pub and full-fledged brewery in Vancouver, its maiden venture outside of its home province, with construction there to be completed in October.
Sartor said he was attracted to Toronto’s fast-growing Liberty Village for its plentiful pedestrian traffic, its blend of new and old, and the location’s provision of a large patio for outdoor drinking and eating.
The neighborhood bounded by King Street West and Dufferin Street has seen a surge in condo residence development, with restaurants and bars springing up to serve the new residents.
Along with Big Rock the international franchise Les Trois Brasseurs/The Three Brewers has a location under construction at 99 Atlantic Ave. expected to open sometime next year.
Sartor said he’s excited to bring more of Big Rock’s small scale and experimental offerings to Ontario, saying the company makes its products deliberately different.
As an example, he cited an eastern European kvass-type fermented grain beer the company’s brew master recently produced using 150 loaves of Russian rye bread baked by brewery staff.
The bread was made with cinnamon, coco and raisins giving the brew “an amazing mouth feel. It’s a pretty fun beer to drink,” Sartor said.
The 130-employee, publicly traded company’s “obsession with quality” has been the key to its longevity in craft brewing, a creative and risk taking enterprise “where 30 years is a long, long time,” he added.
Founded in 1985, Big Rock moved to its current Calgary location in 1996 and operates a main brewery, a smaller kettle for innovation and a custom brewery that allows customers to fashion their own creations.
In 2012, Big Rock named Sartor to its board and as CEO, and he has set about reinvigorating the brand with new packaging and with plans for expanded distribution.