by Pat Rich

We were sitting with friends at the Aberdeen Pavilion in Lansdowne Park in Ottawa a few weeks ago enjoying the St. Patrick’s Day festivities with music, food and, most important, at least 12 different varieties of draft beer supplied by Beau’s Brewery, the well-established Vankleek Hill microbrewery.

The event had been sold out for weeks and mirrored the success Beau’s has had with its Oktoberfest event held for the past 7 years at the Vankleek Hill Fairgrounds. Beau’s also sponsored the St. Patrick’s Day parade that preceded the Lansdowne Park event. A spokesman for the brewery was quoted as saying the celebrations aimed to have “a more traditional, cultural focus. We want this to be a cultural celebration.”

There in a nutshell you have an articulation of the new beer culture and the strong ties that are binding the burgeoning microbrewery industry in Ottawa and elsewhere with local cultural and arts communities. For those to whom beer culture is belching contests or “Hockey Night in Canada,” this might come as somewhat of a revelation.

While beer sponsorship of major sporting events and mega-festivals is nothing new, this small-scale mutual appreciation movement was by no means pre-destined to happen. I asked Josh McJannett, co-founder and brewer for the Dominion City Brewing Company in Ottawa’s east end, about this. “Maybe it’s a function of our city’s size, or the fact that it’s so cold here that people have no choice but to huddle together, but for whatever reason Ottawa is a town where you can’t help but collaborate,” he wrote in an email. “There are so many creative people doing cool things here and we’ve found beer is this great vehicle for bringing people together.”

“Teaming up with creative people doing exciting things in our city is a core part of what we wanted to do with Dominion City from the start. Anyone who’s been paying attention to what’s happening in Ottawa’s arts and culture scene over the last decade knows it’s tracked the rise of outstanding food and drink. There’s a natural fit between the two.”

Dominion City has partnered with indie theatre festivals since it opened in 2012 and most recently took over an unused cafe space inside the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) for a food and beer pairing dinner that coincided with the theatre’s latest production, Butcher.

Dominion City and Beau’s are not exceptions either as most of the new and upcoming microbreweries in the city are partnering at the very least with local restaurants, if not other cultural organizations and events. As Josh said, maybe there is a natural fit between drinking beer and being culturally enlightened. But it may be more than that.

Ottawa’s microbreweries have always thrived on collaboration, with recently established brewers often lending their expertise and equipment to just-started ventures. Beau’s did not just have their own beers at the St. Paddy’s day event but also kegs of beer from several other local breweries. Extending this collaboration to those who bring people together for cultural events just seems to make sense.

Photo credit: Ella Szabo