Beer connoisseurs take note: There is a vibrant craft beer industry brewing in York, Durham, and Headwaters.
The variations of flavours are as diverse and creative as the independent brewers. Organic craft brewing, however, is not conventional. Even rarer are farm-to-barrel operations where the hops grow on-site. In Caledon, GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Company is the first organic farm-to-barrel brewery in Ontario’s Greenbelt. For hops farmers Phil and Gail Winters, the quality of their beer is due to the land on which its ingredients grow.
GoodLot owes its quality of soil in part to a tributary of the Credit River, which runs through the property. The protection and preservation of this unique and sensitive geographic feature is a responsibility, which the Winters take seriously. But brewing good beer is not GoodLot’s sole mission.
“The soil’s health, the health of my water – these things form the base of what I grow and are the base of our beer ingredients,” Phil Winters says. “We want to be a part of building resilient, local economic systems for our community, bring them together, and connect them to the land where their food, hops, and beer comes from.”
This principle served as the inspiration for the brewing company’s name. For one, GoodLot is about the quality of and respect for the land. It also reflects the quality of the community. “It’s a good lot of people,” he says. “It’s our community that we do this for in terms of bringing greater enjoyment, pleasure, and connection among our members.”
The Winters haven’t always been farmers. The couple were living in Toronto where Phil was a climate change and renewable energy advocate, and Gail, a film producer.
“In 2009, we began discussing our inevitable move out of the city,” he recalls. “Then we decided to have a baby. The day we got pregnant, we decided to jump into moving back to Caledon, which is Gail’s hometown, rather than waiting two or three years.”
They purchased a small heritage farm and began learning about farming. Their original intent was to produce special crops and educate themselves on what type of environment and soil conditions they need to thrive.
“Each of our evening discussions about what we were going to establish in that first summer took place when we were sitting down and drinking craft beer,” he says. “That same year, there was a critical hops shortage globally, and the price of hops spiked. Additionally, the demand for hops was going up radically because of the growth of the craft beer industry. So, hops just kept showing up on our radar.”
Phil travelled to the U.S. to take a hops growing and planting course, and meet other hops farmers. GoodLot’s first hops yard was established in 2011. That GoodLot is an organic farm is one of the factors that set it apart from others. It is challenging to grow hops in Ontario, prompting many farmers to use chemicals to curtail mildew and pests.
“As organic farmers, we generally get a lower yield,” he admits. “We have to work twice as hard to nurture the soil and natural environment.”
Differentiating the company even further is its commitment to what he calls a post-carbon business model. “We operate without emitting any carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” he explains. “We don’t combust any fossil fuels on the farm for our operations, and we rely on solar electric power.”
Many brewing companies that use GoodLot’s hops have noticed a difference in the taste.
“Our cascade hops are particularly beautiful,” he says. “They have a unique floral, citrus aroma. It’s made us realize that there are flavours and a taste that’s being grown right here in Caledon, which is due to the water, soil, and our organic farming practices.”
That revelation was the reason GoodLot purchased a small brewing system and began brewing beer on the premises. Today, visitors can stop in to browse GoodLot’s Bottle Shop. There are plans to open a patio overlooking the hops fields to entice craft beer enthusiasts further.
For the Winters, hops farming and brewing is a supremely rewarding experience. Along with validating the idea that farming operations can carry on in an ecologically responsible manner, a driving force at GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Company is demonstrating that a robust agricultural system operating on a local scale can thrive in a rural community.
“Our community is so supportive,” he adds. “People are enthusiastic for what we’re doing, and connecting them has been wonderful. I look forward to doing this for the next 20 years.”
Visit the GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Company in Caledon at 18825 Shaws Creek Road. For information, call (519) 927-5881, or visit www.goodlot.beer.
By Katherine Ryalen