Sarnia will get its second in-house craft brewery later this year, when Imperial City Brew House opens in the old XS Cargo building on the east end.
The months-long project seems ambitious, but the four hobbyists-turned-businessmen who run Imperial City Brew House think they can turn the department store shell into a functioning craft beer destination in time for warmer weather. That will mean securing a handful of permits and installing (literally) tonnes of walls and equipment, including a functioning bar and seating area.
It’s a big step for the four new co-owners who spent years home-brewing from their basements, garages, and occasionally, over a backyard fire pit.
“We would have home-brewing days, make lunches, brew beer all day and drink together,” Kyle Blandford said. “Craig (Brodie) would host the party and we’d bring our beer . . . we enjoyed the camaraderie about it.”
“There was a lot of positive feedback about our beers,” Mike Barker added.
Blandford, Brodie, Barker and Matt Whitney spent months touring other breweries in Southwestern Ontario in 2018, all the way from Sarnia’s long-established Refined Fool and Stonepicker Brewing in Forest, to a smattering of colourful locations in the Hamilton and Niagara region.
“Our primary focus is to be a community meeting space selling out of here, a place to meet up,” Whitney said. “It’s going to be a really open concept. We want people to be able to walk up to the tanks, touch them if they want. The back will be open.”
You won’t see Imperial City Brew House products on the shelves of the LCBO for a while yet. The first-time owners say establishing an local presence is more important than worrying about distribution, which they hope will come after.
Imperial City continues a trend. Outside the long-running Railway City Brewing in St. Thomas, south of London, most brewers in Southwestern Ontario got their start within the last ten years. Sons of Kent, in Chatham, opened in 2017. Stonepicker Brewers opened last year. Ditto for Equals Brewing Co. and Dundas and Sons both in London.
For their part, Refined Fool — now a veteran, despite opening only five years ago — now has two locations in Sarnia.
There won’t be anything earth-shattering about Imperial City. Rather, the co-owners hope to pay homage to Sarnia’s history with the names of their beer and the industrial feel of the brewery, while crafting a wide variety of fun, niche products.
“We’re trying to hit all aspects of the market,” Barker said. “We know there’s a market for the lagers; we also know there’s a lager for (other styles).”
“We’re not just coming out with one beer. We’re going to have something for everybody,” Bladford added.
By Louis Pin