Spending the day with the kids at the Toronto Zoo on a field trip, I thought on the way back I would pop into County Durham Brewing in Pickering just to grab a few brew and have a chat with brewer, Bruce Halstead. Instead, I got a brief glimpse into the most trim and most successful small Canadian breweries I have ever seen.
County Durham seems to be a one man operation - all Bruce all the time. When I got to the door he took a break from cleaning the place but had to explain that there wasn't even any beer to buy as he is casking it all for pubs entirely within the downtown of Toronto, half an hour's drive away. In the past he had been servicing accounts in St. Catherine's and Hamilton but has found success supplying the high standards of the beer geekdom of Canada's biggest city. He has a van but, unlike other regional brewers, doesn't have to spend half his week delivering to spread out customers. It's one van load a week, one trip into town. He did mention he need a bigger van.
Another thing that makes County Durham's brews stand out is that they are the only brewery in Ontario - and perhaps further afield regionally - that uses only whole hops. Bruce works with one farmer in the US north-west and has developed a relationship that has provided him with the quality and supply that perfectly fits his needs. I wish I could have tried some. But it was all gone out the door or heading that way.
A niche market that overtime has evolved to suit a very profitable small brewery. What any community could do with. Bruce mentioned a number of pubs where I could get his fresh beer any time, like C'est What or Volo. Trouble is they were all in the community half an hour in the other direction to the one I was heading in. He does supply the LCBO with two ales, C'est What Homegrown Hemp Ale and County Durham Signature Ale, but he needs to replenish those stocks as well.
Busy enough to be right at the edge, County Durham has to be one of Ontario's more interesting success stories.