Cowbell Brewing – a landmark destination for culinary tourism
Twenty minutes from the water of Lake Huron, in Blyth, Ontario, the Sparling family has plans for a landmark destination brewery set to open in summer 2017. The Huron-Perth region is abounding with fertile soils, livestock farming, lakeshore cottage-country and tourism. Grandpa Sparling’s sons, Steven and David, built Sparling’s Propane on the family land. It grew to be one of the largest propane retailers in Canada before it was sold to a national energy company.
Taking this business expertise into craft brewing meant that Steven, David, and from the third generation, Grant, are leading a team committed to outstanding products and memorable experiences at the 111-acre destination brewery and working farm. Cowbell’s brewery will include a state-of-the-art 50HL closed-loop brewhouse with indoor and outdoor seating for over 216 guests, private dining and meeting spaces, and an outdoor entertainment venue for live music, culture and athletic events.
Cowbell Brewing Co., has been a contract brewer with their beers in distribution at the LCBO, the Beer Store and a growing list of licensed grocers. Their Country Kölsch, Absent Landlord, and Doc Perdue’s Bobcat are also for sale in cans. Grant Sparling – brewer, vice president and general manager – is the son of CEO Steven Sparling. He says the team is in the midst of realizing their dream, which includes five elements: the brewery, restaurant and bar, retail store, indoor and outdoor event space and a working farm. The property has been in the family since the 1970s and while the initial plan was to renovate an existing building on Blyth’s main thoroughfare, the vision has expanded astronomically. While still under construction, event organizers and festival planners looking to use the space are already contacting Cowbell.
By including a working farm, Grant Sparling explains that they’ll be able to grow their own vegetables for the restaurant as well as some barley and hops for specialty in-house brews. “In terms of the soil and the agriculture, Huron County is a fantastic place to be,” he says. Cowbell’s plans include showcasing fields of hops and barley, as well as an indoor catwalk for viewing of the brewing process and equipment. Safety for the team is the highest priority, informing Cowbell’s approach to developing their new brewing system. Making the move from a smaller contract brewery into a larger brew house prompted the team to design and order a system from Newlands Systems of British Columbia. This new system will allow staff to add the hops to the boil through a separate non-heated and non-pressurized vessel. This removes the risk of brewers being burned by boiling sugary wort.
Looking up to his father, Grant Sparling is learning the importance of solid team building. “It’s definitely always about the people…I really admire my dad’s ability to build a team and to lead a team effectively. He’s firm and he’s fair at the same time, and I just try and emulate that.” As a family business, managing operations from intergenerational perspectives ensures a smooth transition down the road, even though Steven Sparling plans to be involved for a while yet before retiring.
“He’s having a great time and I think he’ll stick around for a little longer than he thinks he will,” chuckles Grant Sparling. Which is fine by him. Being able to work alongside his dad has been an invaluable and meaningful experience. The only real challenge is trying to find enough time in the day for more Cowbell!
Along with the impetus to build a neutral carbon footprint and sustainable destination brewery, Cowbell has invested in some of the best young industry talents in Canada. Executive chef Kim Sutherland, also known as Chef Redhead, and Cowbell’s brewmaster, Stephen Rich, are creative thinkers. Their expertise, their passion and the knowledge they bring to Cowbell has informed everything about the business from the construction materials used throughout the brewery, to the relationships they’re building with local suppliers.
Chef Sutherland refers to herself as a “maker of happiness, inspiration and nourishment.” She is also the visionary behind an extraordinary, holistic network of local farmers, produce, baked goods and meat suppliers to Cowbell’s future operations. Sutherland’s work since coming on board with Cowbell (until construction is complete) has been to find, meet and build cooperative relationships with local vendors, and to develop peak menu pairings for the brewery’s beverage offerings throughout the seasons.
Brewmaster Steven Rich speaks knowledgeably—in true brew-geek form, with passion and energy—to the science behind the construction materials and equipment being used at Cowbell. From the shape and material of the floor tiles to state-of-the-art filtration systems, every element of the Cowbell build has been meticulously thought out and carried out.
Cowbell Brewing Co. is building North America’s first carbon-neutral brewery. This includes a closed loop water system (the brewery will use water from its own private well).
“Cowbell Brewing Co. will offset 100% of its greenhouse gas emissions including all energy consumed in the brewing and facility operations. This benchmark goal will be achieved through a three-step approach as established by lead architect, Jason Morgan of Allan Avis Architects, Goderich, ON.”
– Newlands Systems of Abbotsford, BC.