Take four long-time friends, add a
passion for beer and adventure, let that ferment for a couple of
years and the result is refreshing, unfiltered success.
Just ask Rob and Kerry Berlinquette and
Kyle and Drea Mulligan, owners of Thunder Bay’s latest microbrewing
sensation, Sleeping Giant Brewing Company.
The friends and business partners are
building on their own enthusiasm for craft beer and the wider surge
in microbrewing’s popularity in North America.
Sleeping Giant also fills a void left
when Thunder Bay’s Great White North Craft Brewery closed its doors
in 2008 after brewing for just over one year. Even though his ale was
on tap at many local restaurants, owner Geoff Schmidt cited poor
sales as the reason for the closure.
So far, Sleeping Giant has the opposite
problem. With its beers on tap in nine local restaurants and steady
sales at the brewery itself, it's barely keeping up with demand.
Feliz Carrasqueira, co-owner of
Madhouse, the first local business to offer Sleeping Giant ales on
tap, said he’s now selling more Sleeping Giant beer than any other
brand. “It’s definitely taken sales away from other beers.”
Even before it opened its doors at the
Cobalt Crescent location in June, Sleeping Giant had already created
a resounding buzz among beer aficionados. The company started
tweeting regular updates as far back as September 2011 and an equally
well maintained Facebook page wasn’t far behind.
Engaging future consumers through
social media literally created a thirst for the locally crafted beer.
Earlier this summer when Sleeping Giant
posted on Facebook that its ales were kegged and ready for delivery
to the Madhouse, customers were there within an hour.
It takes about one-and-a-half to two
weeks for the brew to ferment and with only two fermenters, the
brewery currently only has the capacity for brewing once a week.
Still rather impressive, considering that, all but Kerry, have
fulltime careers – Kerry left her job to work at the brewery –
and both couples have children between the ages of nine and 12.
The partners are planning to expand
their market in the region in the next year to year-and-a-half. To do
that, they say they will need to hire staff, at least another brewer.
They’re already getting set to purchase another fermenter next
month. And once they start canning their beers, they will start
looking at selling through the LCBO.
Their three flagship brews are the 360°
Pale Ale, available year-round; Elevator Wheat, the spring/summer
brew; and Skullrock Stout for fall/winter, which are sold to
individual consumers in reusable 64 fl oz glass growlers.
Brewmaster Kyle adds various hop
additions in the brew kettle that give the beers their bitter or
aromatic qualities. He adds locally sourced honey to create the
Elevator Wheat ale. The grains are even locally malted in Thunder
From the start, the group set a goal to
educate consumers. “A lot of people don’t realize that there is a
lot to learn about beer, how diverse beers are or how many styles
there are,” said Kerry.
“Education happens as soon as a
person walks in the door because they’re invited to go back and see
how the beer is made. And then they taste, for example, a Belgian
style pale ale. How many people in Thunder Bay have had the chance to
Mirella Amato, Canada’s first female
cicerone (the beer equivalent of a sommelier), was on hand for the
grand opening which was advertised as an evening of “Ontario Ales
And at the end of August, the partners
were in Duluth, Minn. exploring locations for a "North Shore
Brewery Bus Tour" planned for January 2013.
Certainly not lacking in enthusiasm and
creativity, the partners even managed to put a more positive spin on
the “consume with moderation” warning. Their philosophy is: don’t
just drink our beer; earn your beer with a balanced lifestyle.
People are asked to send in photos of
how they “earned their beer” and every month one of the entries
is selected for a prize.
Their goal is to encourage being
active, mentally and physically, and living life as best as you can.
It seems they’re not asking anything
of their customers that they aren’t already practising themselves.
“Our goals were to make good beer,
pay our bills and maybe make a little bit of money,” said Drea.
“We want to be successful, but the
reason we did it was ultimately just to have some fun, have some
great beer and meet new people.”