We love how vibrant the craft beer industry is here in York Durham Headwaters. The variation of flavours is as diverse and creative as are our dedicated brewers. Organic craft brewing, however is not common. Rarer still are farm-to-barrel operations where the hops are grown right on site. In Caledon, GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Company is the first organic farm-to-barrel brewery in our Ontario Greenbelt region. For hops farmers Phil and Gail Winters, the quality of their beer begins with the quality of the land on which its ingredients are grown.
GoodLot farm owes its soil quality 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 Farmer Phil takes seriously. “The soil health, the health of my water—these things form the base of what I grow and the base of our beer ingredients,” he says.
But good beer and local hops is not the only mission of GoodLot Farmstead Brewing. “We want to be a part of building resilient, local economic systems for our community,” Phil explains. “We want to bring our community together and connect them to the land where their food, their hops and their beer ultimately come from.”
This principle is actually where the inspiration for the name comes from. For one, GoodLot is of course about the quality of, and respect for, the land itself. Only a good lot can produce good beer. But for another, it’s about the community. “It’s a good lot of people,” Phil says. “It’s our community that we do this for in terms of bringing greater enjoyment, pleasure and connection amongst our members.”
Surprisingly, Phil and Gail haven’t always been farmers. Prior to this notable career change, the couple were living in Toronto where Phil was working in the world of climate change and renewal energy advocacy, and Gail was a film producer. “It 2009 we began discussing our inevitable move out of the city,” Phil recalls. “Then we decided to have a baby. Literally 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 and planning.” The couple purchased a small heritage farm with beautiful soil, and began their considerations for farming.
Of course, the question of what to farm wasn’t quite settled at the time of the move. Their original intention was to consider specialty crops, and to educate themselves on what type of environment and soil conditions such crops wanted to live in. “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,” Phil recalls. “That same year there was a critical hops shortage globally, and the price of hops had spiked. Additionally, the demand for hops was going up radically because of the growth of craft beer particularly. So, hops just kept showing up on our radar.” Phil travelled to the United States to take a hops growing and planting course, and to connect with other hops farmers. GoodLot’s first hops yard was established in 2011.
Today, the fact that GoodLot is an organic farm is one of the factors that sets it apart from its competition. With hops being so difficult to grow in Ontario, many farmers turn to chemicals to deal with mildew and pests. “As organic farmers, we generally get a lower yield,” Phil says. “We have to work twice as hard to nurture the soil and natural environment.” Differentiating the company even further is its commitment to what Phil calls a “post-carbon” business model. “We are going to operate without emitting any CO2 into the atmosphere,” he explains. “We don’t combust any fossil fuels on the farm for our operations, and we’ve installed solar electric power for our farm operations.”
Many brewing companies that utilize GoodLot hops have noticed the difference Phil and Gail’s approach makes, which is enhanced by the farm’s particular soil conditions and water. “Our cascade hops are particularly beautiful,” Phil says. “They have this unique floral, citrus aroma. It’s made us realize that there is a flavour and a taste that’s being grown right here in Caledon which is due to the water, the soil and our organic farming practices.” This revelation was the reason GoodLot purchased a small brewing system and began brewing beer right on the premises. Today, visitors can browse GoodLot’s Bottle Shop and experience the flavours of Caledon on-site. This spring, the GoodLot gang will open a patio overlooking the hops fields, bringing beer enthusiasts even closer to the source.
For Phil and Gail Winters, hops farming and brewing has been a supremely rewarding experience. “If I won a million dollars in the lottery, I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing right now,” he insists. Along with validating the idea that farming operations can carry on in an ecologically responsible manner, a driving force at GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Company has been demonstrating to the world that a strong agricultural system which operates on a local scale can thrive in rural communities. “Our community has been so supportive,” Phil says. “People are enthusiastic for what we’re doing, and connecting them to one another has been wonderful. I can’t wait to do this for the next twenty years.”
Visit the GoodLot crew in Caledon at 18825 Shaws Creek Rd. For information, call (519) 927-5881 or visit www.goodlot.beer.
Story by Katherine Ryalen