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Friday, May 6, 2011

A Visit To Southern Tier Brewing Co. In Lakewood, NY

Saturday April 30th - 8am: 16 beer lovers from Ontario boarded a bus in front of Union Station in Toronto to head south across the border to the booming Southern Tier Brewing Co. in Lakewood, NY. And despite the early start, everyone attending was in good spirits and were looking forward to hitting the road.

The trip was organized by the Roland and Russell Import Agency, the official agents of Southern Tier in Ontario, and for only $65 individuals were provided with transportation, free samples of the Southern Tier line-up, all you could eat food and a personal tour of the growing brewery. 

Here's how the day broke down, for those of you who couldn't make it... and there's even another video (bottom of post).

The worst part of any cross-border trip, especially on a bus with other folks who are dying to get to a brewery for beer, is the wait at the border. On the Bar Towel bus trip to Buffalo back in November both the entry to the US and the re-entry into Canada were long and painful. As we approached the border during this particular trip we all held our breath and we breezed through the first checkpoint, only to wait 1 hour for our bus to be pulled into the second bay for inspection. After a quick chat with border officials our group got back on the bus and we were off again, with no scheduled stops impeding our itinerary, and packed with a couple of beer movies (Beer Wars, LCBO/OCB video) the hours flew by.

We entered Lakewood shortly before one 1pm and drove alongside a beautiful lake that directs you almost all the way to the brewery. At 1pm the bus made a left hand turn into an industrial park and a gorgeous Southern Tier Welcome sign informed us that we made it.

We pulled up to the front entrance of the brewery and everyone marvelled at the size and beauty of it. Rock paths with a small stream of running water lined the driveway and a small bush around the brewery gave it a rustic vibe for a brewery situated in an industrial complex.

Everyone jumped off the bus and two Southern Tier employees greeted us at the door and ushered us inside where tasting glasses were quickly put in our hands. There were 14 beers to choose from, including the ever popular Pale Ale, IPA, 2x IPA, UnEarthly IPA, and Jah-va. Once everyone had a full glass we were led outside to their back patio to bask in the sunlight while eating delicious pulled pork sandwich's, pasta and sausage salad and coleslaw. Everything went down great with Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale.

After we couldn't eat anymore we headed inside for more samples from the open bar and moved on to the brewhouse. Phin DeMink, Southern Tier's Founder and President, made an appearance and welcomed everyone to his brewery before Mike, ST tour guide extraordinaire, explained each of the beers Southern Tier brews. He also made sure our glasses were full before, during and after the personal tour.

Southern Tier opened in 2003 and grew so quickly that they had to expand. The original brewery is just down the road from the new one that we were standing in (opened in 2009) and now produces 60,000 barrels (70, 408 hectolitres), which brings them right to capacity already. Their most recent success has seen them lease the old brewery again for logistics and storage as the new brewery, even with room to expand, is full.

The brewery exports product to 29 US states and 12 countries around the world, and according to Southern Tier, they don't go looking for export markets, they come to them.

I asked about how the relationship is with the LCBO and all they would say is now that they're listed, it's easy. Hard in the past. One thing that they did mention is that Ontario is the only export market that Southern Tier does different labels for - the only export market in the world! They don't change a thing for Sweden, but a province only a couple of hours away needs unique packaging?

Today, Southern Tier produces about 28 different beers annually and their 2x IPA recently became their number 1 selling brand, bumping their regular IPA to number 2. DeMink also mentions that he has a new set of blue-prints on his desk about another expansion that's necessary to keep up with demand, and with room to grow (he owns all the property around the brewery) there is opportunities to do so on their current site.

With the tour complete and numerous (and hearty) samples consumed it was back out to the bar for one last drink before our trip home. Rules about purchasing beer or swag were quickly overlooked as the eager group wanted to bring stuff back across the border. A lot of growlers were filled, mixed packs were put together, t-shirts were purchased - Southern Tier's retail store was booming. And the great thing - no one had to pay any duty at the border crossing, which by the way, only took 25 minutes!

It was a great day and well worth the $65 price tag.

1 comment:

Uli said...

A Brewery tour is always a nice experience

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