LITTLE CURRENT – Members of Little Current’s Manitoulin Brewing Company could hardly contain their excitement over the past few months as they watched Killarney Cream Ale climb the LCBO stats to become the second-most popular cream ale in the liquor store inventory.
The craft brewery industry has seen small independent brewers blossom across the Ontario landscape in recent years and competition for shelf space in the hundreds of outlets in the province is fierce, but the Killarney Cream Ale offering has not only held its own, but excelled.
Maybe it’s the smooth subtle honey and biscuit malt notes that balance perfectly with the brew’s crisp refreshing impact on the palate, augmented by the bright golden way it fills the glass to a creamy head. Whatever the magic, Killarney Cream Ale has become a hit—topped only by the Muskoka Brewery’s offering.
“We are proud of that recipe,” said Manitoulin Brewing Company co-owner Blair Hagman, noting that their Island-based brewery is a fraction of the size of that of Muskoka. “Manitoulin may be growing in popularity,” he said, “but the Island has a long way to go to matching the population of Muskoka.” Considering parochial attachments, Manitoulin is punching way above its weight class.
“Our sales manager John Kift has been doing the data analysis and following the growth of all of our products being sold in the LCBO,” said Mr. Hagman. “Over the past six months he has been regularly checking where our products stand.” When it comes to which brands of cream ale are being snapped up from LCBO shelves, the data doesn’t lie and sales tell the story’s bottom line, Killarney Cream Ale is the second-most popular in its class.
Currently, Manitoulin Brewing Company’s products can be found in over 300 LCBOs across the province. “We currently have five products listed,” said Mr. Hagman. “There are two more coming up.”
The brewer was keeping his cards close to his chest when it came to what those two offerings were, but a chance glance indicated that one of those offerings will be announced in the second week of March, while the second is planned for quenching a summertime thirst.
The pandemic hit the craft brewing industry hard, noted Mr. Hagman. “We had just gotten into a groove when COVID hit and the first lockdown happened,” he recalled. “(The pandemic) had every craft scrambling.” With inventory stocks being built up to ensure that product would be on hand for delivery to restaurants and bars, particularly kegs of draft, the breweries had to quickly pivot.
“No one was expecting it,” said Mr. Hagman. “We had been increasing our stockpile and suddenly had to figure out what to do with that product.” Draft beer, he noted, has a relatively short shelf life.
The LCBO sales were a bit of a godsend in that regard and Mr. Kift was kept very busy ensuring that Manitoulin Brewing Company products were top of mind not only for the discerning beer connoisseur, but also right-sized in taste for the tailgate crowd. By all accounts, those efforts have paid off.