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Brimstone Sizzles at Ridgeway Sanctuary

By Ray Spiteri | Niagara Falls Review | March 10, 2014
Photo courtesy of Mike Dibattista | Niagara Falls Review

An architect and a one-time Canadian customs officer have joined together to develop the only craft-beer brewery in Fort Erie — in the basement of a 20th-century former church.

Brewmaster Rod Daigle works in the Brimstone Brewing Company's brewery in the basement of the Sanctuary Centre for the Arts in Ridgeway.

Brewmaster Rod Daigle works in the Brimstone Brewing Company’s brewery in the basement of the Sanctuary Centre for the Arts in Ridgeway.

Jason Pizzicarola and Rod Daigle successfully rezoned a property in downtown Ridgeway for the venture, which was licensed at the end of June.

Since then, Pizzicarola, a Fort Erie architect, and Daigle, who spent 23 years as a customs officer in the Yukon, Ottawa, Montreal and, for 2 1/2 years, Fort Erie, have been brewing in small batches.

The Brimstone Brewing Company operates out of the Sanctuary Centre of the Arts on Ridge Rd. It used to be a Methodist church that is now used as a multi-purpose arts and entertainment venue. Pizzicarola owns the building.

The two met at a business improvement association meeting after Daigle moved to town three years ago. At the time, Pizzicarola, who was chairman of the organization, wanted to introduce a brewery into the sanctuary. When Daigle, originally from New Brunswick, came to the meeting and pitched the idea, the two got talking.

“He had the space and the five-year vision and I had a little bit of brewing knowledge and wanted to go further with it,” says Daigle.

“We’re up and running now with our smaller system … now we’re scaling it up,” adds Pizzicarola.

Brimstone is currently a 2.34 hectolitre nanobrewery. In the coming weeks, it will expand to also include a 15 hectolitre — 1,500 litre — system.

“It’s very much a functional brewery,” says Pizzicarola. “Then in the front side of that we’ll have a tap room that will be a nice, cozy environment where you can try all our different beers that we make. It’s going to lead out to a patio and we’ll do more of a beer garden outside through the summer months and into the shoulder season as well.”

The expansion is expected to be completed by May.

“It’s a whole lot more laborious work and planning than most people anticipate at the get go,” says Daigle. “It takes a lot of time. Essentially what we started with was kind of a scaled-up home brewing operation. We started with roughly a double-size batch, what most home brewers would make on their kitchen stove, but what you have to build into it is consistency and some repeatability for the commercial world.

“From there, we decided we want to (expand) … identical science, identical procedures … just on a larger, grander scale.”

He says the idea is to roll out a number of beers — “all beers that we are proud of and want to drink.”

Daigle says he and Pizzicarola favour more malty, hoppy beers, but appreciates that not everybody is interested in that style.

He says the company’s flagship beer will be a blonde, or pale, ale.

“Even that beer, we want it to still be more flavourful than a run-of-the-mill macrobrewery.”

Brimstone is also working on a stone-fired ale, which is a “historical process of actually heating stones separately and then clunking them into the beer.

“We can do it on our small scale, now we’re trying to figure out how can we keep that beer on a larger scale.”

Daigle attended a three-month brewing program at the Siebel Institute of Technology out of Chicago. The institute has been teaching brewing for more than 100 years. Part of the program includes a trip to Munich, Germany.

“When we decided to grow from the miniscule, little nano operation that we had initially planned up to what most would call a microbrewery, we decided, OK, let’s actually get some more education behind us.”

Pizzicarola says the business complements the sanctuary, which hosts art galleries and live music.

“There’s an artistry to it all here and we think that, with craft beer, there’s an artistry to it as well,” he says.

“Upstairs we sell on tap at our events. Downstairs we’ll have the tap room where you can fill up growlers and leave with them and we’ll also have bottles.”

Pizzicarola says the plan is to start selling Brimstone beer at limited LCBOs late this year or early 2015.

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