Craft Beer is exploding in Ontario. New breweries are bubbling up all over. Brew pubs and taverns are thriving, and beer festivals abound. Yes the Craft Beer industry is going gangbusters: according to the factsheet available on the Ontario Craft Brewers website the industry is growing market share and generating so many jobs that it has an annual economic impact of at least $600 million in our province.
In an interview I conducted for Grand Magazine earlier this year with Minto Schneider, the CEO of the Waterloo Region Tourism Marketing Corporation, I asked her how she'd capitalize on the explosion of craft brewing in an area almost defined by its Octoberfest, the largest Bavarian festival in North America.
She indicated “Craft brewing is a tough one. I was at a presentation to an American tour operator: most of the regions of the province were represented and everyone talked about craft beer. So we have to talk about it not as a destination, but as a part of destination.”
Adrienne Carter, Cultural & Partnership Manager, for the Hamilton, Halton, Brant Regional Tourism Association (aka the “Heart of Ontario”) is doing just that with a new promotion called the True Brew Path. (Full disclosure, Carter is my sister-in-law and I wrote previously about her in a piece related to the War e 1812 and a dinner she helped put together with General Isaac Brock.)
Carter says she’s implementing the brainchild of her Executive Director, Maria Fortunato, who saw craft breweries were a growing trend and wanted to offer something in the region on that theme. Carter worked to find “market ready” breweries, those open to the public for sales, with regular hours, tastings and tours, to include in the “Path”.
The six featured breweries are Cameron’s Brewing of Oakville (a long-time partner in the Taste of Burlington), Milton’s Orange Snail Brewers, Collective Arts Brewing in Hamilton, Nickel Brook Brewing Company in Burlington, the Bell City Brewing Company in Brantford and a new entry on the scene, the Shawn and Ed Brewing Company headquartered in the old curling and skating rink building in Dundas. (For a quick overview of all six breweries click here.)
Visit all of them, getting the back of your True Brew guidebook stamped, and you’ll receive the handsome limited edition glass featured in the cover photo of this column as a souvenir. Judging by reaction on social media the promotion is already a hit, with one dedicated enthusiast, @DrunkPolkaroo completing his mission just days after its launch.
Better yet, aficionados over 19 years of age can enter an online contest to win a $1,650 chauffeured tour for four to three of the breweries as well as accommodation and meals. But get your entries in by October 31st when the contest closes.
The True Brew booklet contains information on area restaurants, hiking, shopping, live music and other attractions. In tourism jargon the True Brew promotion is a trip motivator, designed to get people to come to the region, one whose growing culinary scene is attracting national attention, including from outgoing Globe and Mail restaurant critic Chris Nuttall Smith. Smith wrote in his final column “I’d wager that the restaurant scenes in more affordable places such as Burlington and Hamilton, Dundas, Vaughan, Ajax and Pickering will grow and improve in coming years, largely at Toronto’s expense.”
“We’re really trying to build a brand and a destination. The breweries are the catalyst for the trip” said Carter. Acknowledging that there is no particular differentiation from breweries in other areas she says the difference in what Heart of Ontario is doing is “putting them together in an easy consumable way for people to go and see the breweries in this area.”
Great as this promotion is, there seems to be some disconnect among the various institutional players involved. For instance, NOSH, Hamilton’s Culinary Week, beginning on the 17th of October does not even mention the True Brew Path. That disconnect is a legacy of the somewhat laissez-faire way the Province let the Regional Tourism Organizations (RTOs) develop their mandates when they were created in 2009.
During the interview mentioned at the outset of this piece, Minto Schneider – who heads a Destination Marketing Organization - told me “The Province gave very little direction as far as their responsibilities and objectives were (and) each RTO went their own way and created their own by-laws, brand and objectives. That was a challenging time for a lot of DMOs like us in the (Waterloo) Region that were working under the RTOs. The Province essentially brought the RTOs in so that they could gather the DMOs within regions under the RTO and have a better communication from the provincial marketing organisation through the RTOs to the DMOs.”
That’s clearly still a work in progress, one that needs close collaboration if all in the Region – however it is defined - want to tread the same path and truly capitalize on the burgeoning foodie scene.
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Alex (Alex can be reached on twitter @AlexBielak)
A special shout out to Alex, congratulating him on this, his 100th Food for Thought article! We are very fortunate to have such a talented writer and expert chef and"foodie".