By Michael Lowe
A few months ago, amid the latest Covid-19 restrictions in Ontario, a local brewery finally opened its doors to the public. I was offered a chance to spend a day there observing the brewing process and jumped at the opportunity.
Rick VanSickle first introduced us to Dragan Brewing and Wine Company here back in January 2019. The company is named after the son of Michael Nazareth (in photo above with son Dragan) and Lydia Tomek, who is the winemaker at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery.
The first beer was contract brewed at Lake of Bays Brewing Company in July of 2019. Like any well-laid business plan, it takes time to get up to speed but it looks like they have a lot in store. At the core of Dragan’s current product lineup are Piva pilsner, a hazy IPA named Garnet, The Hunt which is the official beer of the Niagara River Lions, and an India Pale Ale named West. Current production volume is about 3,000 litres a month and rising.
I spent a day with the crew as they brewed a yet to be released golden ale. The brewery plans to do some small batch beers and special one-off brews to keep things interesting.
I met brew master Byeong-ju Jeong (at centre, photo above) who is a recent grad of the brewing program at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute. Following him around, asking questions and watching him in action it’s clear why he was chosen for the job. His focus and attention to detail is admirable. He describes the brewery’s state-of-the-art production process, from the mashing of the grains to the boil to the cooling and fermentation in precise detail. He’s looking for this beer to be a lighter, 4% ABV, lightly hopped ale. I tasted a previously brewed small batch of the ale and it hit sure the mark.
At the end of the boil and cooling process, the spent grains (video above) are collected in bins. The grains will be picked up by local farmer Dan O’Hara (photo below) and then fed to his herd of cattle.
Dragan Brewing firmly believes in giving back to the community and donates 3% of sales to Food for Kids Niagara. When you buy a can of The Hunt, the Niagara River Lions match the donation to total 6%.
One distinctive aspect of the Dragan brand is the detailed graphic artwork on the labels. Each black and white drawing is the work of co-founder Sam Estrabillo and each tells a story. For the West pale ale, a Viking ship (photo above) sails toward the west and the beer features west coast hops and is fermented with Norwegian Kveik yeast.
When you drop by Dragan Brewing be sure to grab a snack. You can choose from tapas plates of chorizo with Manchego cheese, chicken wings or chick pea salad (photos above, courtesy Dragan Brewing). There are also charcuterie boards and special pop-ups on weekends by local restaurants. If you like spice, try some of the best Jamaican patties around supplied by Stephanie Eaton of Little Hand Pies (photo below, credit Stephanie Eaton).
A word about the beers — they are all very good. What I like about the line up is that there is a beer for all times of the day. Piva is a great, refreshing beer to beat the heat mid-day, Garnet packs a bit more punchy flavours and along with The Hunt are nice before dinner. West is one of my favourites and is wonderful with spicy foods. I encourage you to drop by the brewery, meet the people behind the scenes, and get to know them over a cold beer. You won’t be disappointed.
Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Wednesday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
100 Grantham Avenue Unit 1,
St. Catharines, ON