Stray Dog Brewing Company: A Homegrown Success Even Before Opening

Photos by Alan Viau

There are line-ups outside their doors. People anxiously waiting for the opportunity to taste the latest products from Orleans's only craft brewery. The Stray Dog Brewing Company is about to official open – yet it has already built a great buzz in the City. This is why there is so much excitement about this new entry in the ever expanding landscape of craft breweries in Ottawa.

In a non-remarkable commercial building in Orleans, there is the sweet smell of small batch beer and of upcoming success. A dream is about to come true for Justin MacNeill, Marc Plante, and Gen Benay. After a lot of hard work and passion, Stray Dog Brewing Company will officially open on September 16, 2017 with a grand celebration.

It began five years ago when Justin and Marc met through various home brewers events. They found that they had a lot in common beside their love of making beer. Many of their friends kept telling them how good their beer tasted. Ultimately, they finally started believing that they may have something when they submitted their California Common brew to competitions and won.

Then they met the highly energetic Gen who convinced them to commercialize. They incorporated two years ago with each an equal partner. The trio were able to secure funding, navigate the government licensing requirements, find a location, and build their brewery.

But why a name like Stray Dog? Justin and Marc explained that it was sort of a metaphor of their lives. If you can imagine a dog stuck in a backyard and he can't get beyond his fenced in  barrier. He wishes to be free to chase his passions. He finds the courage to break out, leave the comforts of home. As a stray dog he is free to explore life.

Their logo has a dog looking at a moon – it kind of looks like Justin's dog. Their tag line is “Straying from the Norm” to accentuate the spirit of adventure that this company represents.

They have been very busy. In November 2016, they made their California Common beer available through a contract brewing arrangement. At the same time, they started the social media campaign. They moved into their new location and on July 21, 2017, they had a soft launch. People lined up outside their doors waiting to sample their offerings.

It has been the same every weekend since then. They find themselves selling out of product. What a great problem to have!

Currently they have five beers on tap. The California Common is always available as well as an IPA. Everything else can change. It is part of their approach vary the beer as they experiment with new recipes. It is an ever evolving process to make great and different tasting beers.

It is easier to experiment with beer brewing than say wine. Using a balance of science and art, a new beer can be produced in two weeks. This gives Marc and Justin lots of room to play with different tastes. Since their soft launch, they have had a new beer for people to taste every week.

As an example of experimenting, they created a cucumber wheat beer. When it was made on the home scale it needed only a few crushed cucumbers. However, to scale it up for a 1600 L vat, they would have needed 400 cucumbers. This posed a challenge not only in sourcing but also in manual labour needed to process the cucumbers. In the end, they used 190 cucumbers because more would have given too much a cucumber taste.

This experience guided them in making a watermelon wheat beer which is easier to source and make. When I tasted it – it has a refreshing hint of watermelon taste. 

Their long term hope is that their brand logo of the Dog and the Moon becomes as recognizable as Beau's tractor as they march towards national distribution.

Justin and Marc's greatest satisfaction comes from when people taste and love their beers. It is especially satisfying to see someone convert from a mass produced beer to their craft beer.