There is a buzz when you walk into the Big Rig Brewery & Restaurant in Ottawa. Savvy Brew Crew member Katy Watts & Debbie Trenholm met with Big Rig’s brewmaster Lon Ladell for lunch, the buzz got louder & louder as soccer fanatics filled the pub to watch World Cup & have a pint with lunch. If you haven’t been to the pub, stop in & be sure to ask for Lon. Ottawa’s West End isn’t exactly known for its beer, in fact, it really isn’t known for much outside of fast food chains and a certain Swedish furniture store…you know Canada’s largest IKEA. That all changed in 2012 though, when the skeleton of a long defunct steakhouse was torn down to make room for a brewpub rumoured to be backed by an NHL player. As the brewpub was built (and I know as I live nearby) and commuters waiting in traffic got a bird’s eye view of stainless steel tanks being lifted in place, the mystery started to unfold.
Starting with Stars With any new business venture, Big Rig collected superstars in their own respective fields. The headliner is defenceman Chris “Big Rig” Phillips, top pick in the 1996 NHL draft and alternate captain of the Ottawa Senators. The nickname “Big Rig” was given to him by his teammates since he hails from the oilsands town of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Supporting him are experienced restaurateurs Jimmy Zourntos and Angelis Koutsos of the Baton Rouge chain and Pierre Cleroux, co-founder of Ottawa’s Clocktower Brewpub. Of course, a brewpub wouldn’t be complete without an experienced brewmaster, filling that role is Lon Ladell.
From Milk to Beer… During my interview at the corner seat of the bar, Lon & I chatted over the roar of soccer fans & TVs. Lon originally hails from British Columbia where he worked in the dairy industry before discovering he was lactose intolerant! In 1995, he transferred those well-honed operational skills to an industry that is dear to his heart: beer. He jumped in by volunteering at Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub in Victoria. Lon told me that interestingly, Victoria has become synonymous with the growth of craft beer in Canada, “Half of craft beer made in Victoria is consumed in Victoria”. In a short year, his volunteering turned into a full time job as he took the reins and brewed his first batch of Mitchell’s Extra Special Bitter. 15 years and over 3,500 commercial brews later, Lon and his wife packed up shop and moved to Ottawa, his wife’s hometown, to take care of his father in law who was battling prostate cancer. While Ottawa may not have had the craft beer community that his former home had, things were starting to change. When Big Rig opened its doors and tapped their first keg they were welcomed with open arms and empty glasses. Since then Lon and his brew team have been well rewarded for their brews, both by official award ceremonies and by the locals who don’t hesitate to tell him what they think. Lon is very excited to have won gold for Big Rig’s Black IPA at the 14th annual Canadian Brewing Awards. “This is a big deal”, exclaims Lon with a big smile. Now Big Rig has expanded their production by opening a brewery and tasting room in Kanata (10 minutes from the original brewery site) that will handle the demand for their brews at the brewpub, events and the LCBO. Lon explains that the new facility decreases the strain on the small 10 barrel brewing system that is in the brewpub. “Lon’s Lab as it is known will be the spot where I will play with different flavours and styles, while the signature beers will be made at the new facility.”