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You will see Wellington Brewery at many, many events in Waterloo Region. That’s not a new thing because the Guelph-based company has been brewing since 1985: with 32 years under its belt, it is one of the breweries that can reasonably lay claim to the distinction of being the first of the independently owned micro-brewing businesses.
The Wellington Brewery name and the logo of the “Welly” boot, a version of the footwear apparently popularized by military legend Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, have an iconic presence in this part of Ontario.
The other historical fact is that they brew good beer, and Brad McInerney of Wellington notes that the company’s suds portfolio has modulated recently. That’s likely because the general beer palate of consumers has grown and modulated too.
“We had a long tradition of brewing mostly English-style ales, at least to start, but in the last five or so years we’ve transitioned and branched out to doing some new styles,” says McInerney.
Accordingly, the company’s infrastructure as a medium-sized craft brewer with about 50 employees has grown too: within the last year, the brewery has been re-built and expanded. “It’s been a pretty big change for us,” McInerney explains. That includes a 12,000 sq.-ft. brewhouse and a new packaging line and tap room. The original owners of Wellington sold the business about 17 years ago.
The products created along with the expansion include mix packs like Welly “Rebooted” (get it?), a Helles lager, which is a German-style lager that is light and easily quaffable and which replaces their Trailhead Lager. The year-round lineup strives for balance, says McInerney. There are traditional and original recipes which are more malt-forward beers: their S.P.A. Special Pale Ale, County Brown Ale, and Imperial Russian Stout. Kickin’ Back Dry-Hopped Session Ale is more hop-forward, while the Helles lager stands alone.
McInerney says that the Wellington crew as a group taste beers and find something interesting and unique to which they want to add their own interpretation. So, coinciding with this past Father’s Day, they released a new and different beer with distribution in the LCBO, beer stores and soon some grocery stores: Upside IPA.
Brewmaster Marvin Dyck, who has been with the company since the early-aughts, was methodical and the development process of this beer was intensive. “It took some time to get it to where we wanted the beer to be, including branding,” says McInerney of Upside.
A strong beer — that is, one boasting 6.8 abv — “Upside is a more hop-forward East Coast IPA,” according to McInerney. He’s right — Upside, an unfiltered beer due to some oats and wheat in the blend, does offer some good hop flavour, but one that is balanced with some moderating grapefruit and peach, from which I get a slight and pleasant acidic zest.
An East Coast-style India Pale Ale, say something from New England regions, delivers hop-centric flavour without being bitter and astringent. It’s a bit “softer” to drink, if I can use that tasting note. Amarillo, Centennial and Citra hops are used in equal proportions; the yeast is Vermont ale yeast. “There’s a lot of dry-hopping with this,” McInerney says.
The brew will be a member of their year-round lineup, with McInerney pointing out that they haven’t had a year-round IPA. “It’s not something we are particularly known for. We’re really happy with it, and it really fits with our other brands.”
Base malts for Wellington beer are Canadian and many of the hops used are from Ontario. “It’s hard to get the necessary amount and sometimes our hop farmers just can’t produce enough,” he says. They use no preservatives and local fruit and vegetables are used in production, when those ingredients are called for in special beers, rather than extracts, he adds. “We believe that people can taste that difference. It’s more subtle and nuanced.”
Good beer, yes, but Wellington, like the Iron Duke who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, has made solid connections with the communities around it at the same time they have nurtured their growth carefully. You can check out Wellington in your glass on your patio, at many local restaurants, or on brewery tours that are held Saturdays and in the sampling room that’s open five days a week, informs McInerney. It’s part of the strategy by Wellington to create a significant profile as a brewing company while being a supporter of community events and good causes.
“People can get the behind-the-scenes look and what we do,” he says. “We’re focussed on this tri-city area and with that sustainable growth.”[Banner image of Brewmaster Marvin Dyck pouring sample from fermentation tank/Austin Gibson]