by Willard Brooks

On a briskly cold sunny Presidents Day myself and Clint Perez, marketing director of the Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association accepted the invitation to visit Rod Daigle, owner and chief priest of suds at Brimstone Brewing Company in Ridgeway, Ontario. As you drive up to Brimstone, located just minutes from downtown Buffalo, the beery new purpose of this former Methodist church is made plain by the presence of brewing equipment sitting in the back of the building. This arrangement makes it immediately evident that a great deal of thought has gone into the conversion experience which this former place of worship has undergone.

The building was purchased a few years ago by architect Jason Pizzicarola. Rod Daigle—a former Canadian customs officer of 23 years—was looking to get into the brewing business. After meeting at a city planning session where Rod presented a brewing concept for the town, they decided to team up and develop the old church into a multi-use facility with Brimstone Brewery, Crave Local restaurant, and Sanctuary Centre for the Arts.

The Brewery

It came to fruition about two years ago when Brimstone opened as a nanobrewery in the basement of the old church.

The size and scale of a nanobrewing operation is not all that much larger than what homebrewers would make on their kitchen stoves. No dark art, brewing. With this system Rod got a chance to hone his recipes and make the transition from hobby to profession. He attended the Siebel Institute to learn more about professional brewing. The beer was good and this success built the foundation for the recent expansion up to a 15 hectoliter system.

The Beer

“Right now, we have three main beers available” Rod explained, “We have our blond pale ale called Enlightenment, which is our easy drinking flagship, we have our cranberry wheat called Cleric Winter Cranberry, and we have our Sinister Minister IPA.”

Clint and I were lavished with samples of these brews, and this is what we thought.

• Enlightenment Pale Ale 5.5%—pours a golden straw color with a prodigious white head which leaves a pleasing lacing behind in the glass. The mild fruity aroma from a British yeast strain is followed by fruity notes on the palate and an interesting element of more modern hop character. A solid drinking beer which would pair with all manner of dishes and most of life’s occasions.

• Cleric Winter Cranberry 5.2% (seasonal)—nice and spritzy with a medium mouth feel. This beer is an ale blended with cranberry and brewed with barley and wheat malts. It has a very distinct up-front tartness and an aroma that presents at first taste as almost a Belgian-style wild beer. After this, the sip evolves into a medley for fruit from the berries, malt complexity, and a touch of lingering hop bitterness at the finish. A very nice winter warmer type beer that would pair very well with white cheddar cheese and walnuts with crackers.

• Sinister Minister IPA 7.5%—a solid west coast style IPA with an excellent carbonation, solid malt backbone, and very enjoyable hop character from generous amounts of Ahtanum and Mosaic hops additions. This beer is in regular rotation at the brewery—though it sells out frequently due to its popularity. A solid resinous IPA with very pleasing citrus notes and a finish strongly reminiscent of grapefruit rind. Would be an excellent accompaniment to some spicy foods such as a grilled chicken burrito with red mole and black beans or a green Thai curry.

The Sanctuary Centre for the Arts & Crave

Local Fresh Restaurant

Chef Matt MacGregor and his wife Laurie own and operate the farm-to-table catering firm “Crave-Local-Fresh” out of the kitchen area adjacent to the Brimstone tap room. Chef Matt works on a weekly basis to ensure that the food menu and the beer line up well each week. Crave-Local-Fresh uses locally-sourced fresh produce when possible (including the incorporation of house brewed beer and spent grain into recipes).

The Sanctuary Centre for the Arts is many things. It is the company that owns the building and gives a home to the catering company and the brewery. It is also a community arts center which has multiple uses as a center for gallery space, weddings, plays, yoga classes, meetings, beer festivals, craft shows, fundraisers, church gatherings, and concerts. Concerts are a specialty as they are well supported by the intimate space (and the bar with Brimstone on tap).

All in all these three inter-related businesses have created an architecturally well executed integration of the arts center and venue upstairs with the brewery, tap room, patio, and restaurant downstairs.

Getting There

Making the very brief trip from Buffalo to Fort Erie is well worth the effort to be repaid in excellent beer, food, and music. More info and opening hours are below.

• Restaurant Hours: Thu & Fri 5pm-10pm; Sat 12-10 pm; Sun 12-6 pm

• Taproom Hours: Thu & Fri 5pm-10pm; Sat 12-10 pm; Sun 12-6 pm

• Taproom Stage: the brewhouse actually gets converted to a small stage for weekend music.

• The Sanctuary Centre: There are frequent concerts, especially on Fridays and

• Address: 209 Ridge Road N Ridgeway, ON L0S 1N0