Split Rail Brewery in Gore Bay undergoes major expansion

A boom lift skillfully lifts a vat from an H&R Noble truck, ready to be installed at Split Rail’s brew house.

GORE BAY—Glinting in the bright morning sunlight, Split Rail Brewing Company’s shiny new Canadian-manufactured brewhouse recently made its much-anticipated arrival by 18-wheeler to Manitoulin Island, just in time for the busy summer season.  Thirsty aficionados of truly locally-made craft beer, rejoice!

An impressive collection of stainless steel vessels of various shapes and sizes were skillfully boom-lifted off of truck trailers by H & R Noble Construction and into Split Rail’s receiving dock at the massive Manitoulin Transport-owned building located at 31 Water Street in Gore Bay.  The equipment was then carefully manoeuvered into the brewery’s manufacturing site which has undergone custom renovations over this past winter in preparation for the expanded brew house. 

Installation of the mash, kettle, fermenting and bright tanks, as well as the welding of vents and stacks, is complete.  Local trades people are finalizing the various plumbing, electrical, boiler and cooling systems.  The new packaging system is getting its final tweaks. Brewmaster Glenn Fobes has adjusted the various beer recipes to the bigger volumes. 

Company founders Andy Smith and Eleanor Charlton see this new brewhouse as the next stage of their overall vision for Split Rail Brewery.  Other exciting developments include Split Rail’s newly-awarded membership with the Ontario Craft Brewer’s Association, a licenced patio area, and an expanded product line—inaugural favorites Hawberry Ale, Copper Lager, and Amber Ale plus this winter’s additions:  LoonSong Oats Stout, Manitoulin Summer Wheat and a Golden Lager.

After years of planning, Split Rail opened its doors in Gore By in July of 2015 and became an instant hit.  Split Rail’s fan base has grown since its inception because this company produces such great beer. But there is also the uniqueness of two women starting a craft brewery (still almost unheard of in the industry), and the notoriety around the company’s foray into crowd source funding.

The impressive finished set-up at the Split Rail Brewing Co. brew house in Gore Bay.
The impressive finished set-up at the Split Rail Brewing Co. brew house in Gore Bay.

Who could forget Split Rail’s 2014 KickStarter campaign, the first of its kind on Manitoulin, which raised awareness of Split Rail near and far. “We still hear remarkably often about that buzz, including visitors from the States who dropped in to the tasting room last summer to tell us that Split Rail’s KickStarter story inspired them to start their own microbrewery,” notes Ms. Smith.

It is news to some that Split Rail Brewery is the first and only ‘bricks and mortar’ brewery that manufactures its beer right here on Manitoulin.  Split Rail has its own retail store and tasting room right next to the brew house.  Ms. Charlton explains, “The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario only grants these retail spaces to breweries that manufacture their beer onsite.  Manufacturing beer is a lot of hard work, but being directly connected to the process, from start to finish, results in appreciable quality.  We are proud to manufacture on Manitoulin and we strive to include as many locally-sourced ingredients as possible.  Beer is 95 percent water, and Split Rail’s water is sourced from the North Channel (municipally treated in Gore Bay).  We use LoonSong oats in our new stout; we are trialing cascade hops from local producers; and of course the hawberries in our Hawberry Ale are local.”

Ms. Smith and Ms. Charlton are quick to point out that Split Rail’s success to date is the result of years of planning and recipe development, a team of incredibly dedicated people and expert advisors who have helped along the way.   The businesswomen credit Manitoulin Transport for critical support, along with the efforts of many other individuals and local businesses who continue to back this ever-growing enterprise.

With the arrival of its new brew house, it will still be a few weeks before Split Rail is in full production mode, and with that the return of in-store bottle sales.  Anyone who has been fortunate to get their hands on the market-scarce, made-on-Manitoulin Split Rail knows it will be well worth the wait.  Until then, the public is invited to visit Split Rail brewery for a glass of beer on its expanded patio as well as a tour of the new manufacturing plant.   Check the Split Rail Facebook page for up-to-date hours and availability.