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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Meet Darren Smith: Lake Of Bays Brewing Co.

Darren Smith doing his best Bob MacKenzie impression
Meet Darren Smith, the owner of the Lakes of Bays Brewing Co. in Baysville, ON.

Open less than a year, Smith's brewery currently produces one flagship beer in their Pale Ale, which, in my opinion, has developed nicely into a solid sessionable beer since the brewery opened. The brewery also released a very tasty Mocha Porter this winter as part of their new seasonal series, which will soon be joined by another product this spring that Smith is keeping under wraps for now.

A beautiful brewery with a great retail store, LOB makes for a nice drive up north for a visit. Due to its location, the brewery is a big hit with cottagers, snowmobilers, and boaters, and provides a great resting spot for weary travellers from the south.

Meet Darren Smith!

Where is the Lake of Bays Brewing Company situated and what beers do you currently produce?
The Lake of Bays Brewing Company is located in Baysville, Muskoka, Ontario. We currently make a Pale Ale (year-round) and a Mocha Porter (seasonal). We have another seasonal and another year-round beer in the works right now, but I ain’t saying any more than that. You’ll just have to find out when they come out!

Describe the history behind the brewery
The Lake of Bays Brewing Company was founded by Darren Smith (me). I started to think about opening my own brewery while I was at university in Montreal, but could never quite figure out where I would actually put it. At the same time, my father bought a commercial property in Baysville, without knowing exactly what he was going to do with it. We were sitting having a pint around Christmas 2007 and, well, you can guess what happened. Fast forward three years, and I am the proud owner of a shiny new brewery, while my dad is the proud owner of a shiny new brewery building. This makes him my landlord, which isn’t such a bad deal.

Incidentally, after deciding to open my own brewery, one of my uncles discovered a bit of family brewing history in the form of Thomas and Jane Lea, my great-great-great-grandparents. Have a look on our website for the whole story:

What is your best selling beer?
Our best seller up to this point is our Pale Ale. It’s a moderately hopped American-style pale ale with some malty sweetness and a pleasant, balanced character to it. However, this is a little unfair to the Mocha Porter, which has also been a great seller, but must unfortunately contend with the fact that it’s only sold for the winter season, whereas the Pale Ale gets the entire year to pad its sales figures. Jury’s still out on this one.

What's new at the brewery?
New fermentation equipment, new automated labeller, new delivery vehicle, new staff, new beers, new distribution channels, everything’s new and constantly changing here. We’ve only been around for about 10 months now, and things don’t show any sign of slowing down.

In terms of milestones, we passed the “125 LCBO locations” mark a couple of months ago, and just listed our products with The Beer Store. We’ll be expanding our Beer Store distribution throughout this year as listing fees permit.

Lake of Bays Brewery
Why did you get into the brewing industry and describe your passion for it?
Why did I get into brewing? Sheer insanity, I think.

Just kidding.

I got into this industry because I love beer! Drinking beer is fun, but making it is even more fun! There’s so much complexity, from science to engineering to financing and business management, that goes into making our beer what it is. I enjoy the almost endless opportunities to experiment and expand my understanding of all the parts of the process, from when the malt comes in the door (or into the silo) to when the bottles go off the shelves in an LCBO or Beer Store location.

What is the best aspect of working in the Canadian craft brewery industry?
Everyone is quite friendly and willing to help each other out. It’s pretty rare in business to be able to call up one of your competitors and ask for advice on how to improve your product or better reach consumers. I guess anyone can do that, but in craft brewing, the person on the other end of the line doesn’t tell you to go jump in a lake.

Where can someone find your products?
LCBO locations, bars & restaurants and (brand new!) some Beer Store locations. Plus we have an on-site retail store in Baysville, but for some reason we have trouble convincing people to drive three hours to get their beer there. We distribute throughout Central & Northern Ontario and the GTA. Check out our website for links to the LCBO’s inventory tracking system:

Tell us something about the Lake of Bays Brewing Company that not a lot of people know about
We’re not allowed to send unwanted beer down the drain anymore, because we did that once and it disabled the local sewage treatment plant. Such is life in a town of 350 people.

What advantages do smaller breweries have over the big guys?
1. Use of higher-quality and more natural ingredients.
2. Ability to grow a great bushy beard and still fit in with one’s industry peers.

I was going to say “ability to experiment with new and varied beer styles” as well, but I think it’s more correctly a willingness to experiment that sets smaller breweries apart. The big guys have the equipment, technical know-how and people to perform far more experimentation than us strung-out, multi-tasking microbrewers, yet their product line-ups invariably feature dozens of variations on your standard easy-drinking industrial lager, and little else.

Best time for a pint?
NOT first thing in the morning. Never, ever taste beer directly after your morning coffee and Frosted Flakes. It can lead to unjustified paranoia about your product’s flavour and also impede your productivity for the next hour or two.

What is the highlight of your brewing career?
The first time we pushed multiple brews through our brewhouse in one day, way back in April of last year, before we even opened. It was a real test of our procedures, and the first time we ever brewed a batch of beer without some major malfunction tripping us up. That was a good feeling.

Cold clean lager, big hoppy pale ale, or a nicely roasted stout?
Either a moderately-hopped pale ale or something really nice and roasty.

Name your favourite non Lake of Bays produced beer
I like Black Oak’s Double Chocolate Cherry Stout. Deeeeelicious.

How successful was the Mocha Porter seasonal?
Well, we’ve only done one thus far, so I guess my choices are limited! Our Mocha Porter is a coffee chocolate dark beer, with a nice roasty flavour and a surprisingly dry character for a winter seasonal. It has been a real success for us – we sold more than twice as much this season as we initially anticipated, and we’ll be bringing it back next winter for all you diehard fans out there. It tastes really good in (and with) chili, among other things.

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