Kitchener-Waterloo

Brick Brewing Company puts Formosa Brewery up for sale

Brick Brewing says it plans to sell its brewery in Formosa, Ont., a facility that's been operating since 1870, making it one of the oldest in Canada.

The brewery in Formosa, Ont. dates back to 1870, making it one of the country's oldest

Brick Brewing says it plans to sell its brewery in Formosa, Ont., a facility that's been operating since 1870, making it one of the oldest in Canada.

The Formosa Brewery, one of the country's oldest breweries, is up for sale. 

The 40,000-square-foot brewery is located in Formosa, Ont., which is about an hour and 20 minutes northwest of Kitchener, and dates back to 1870. 

It's one of the oldest breweries in Ontario, arguably one of the oldest breweries in Canada.- George Croft, President and CEO of Brick Brewing Company

The current owner, Kitchener-based Brick Brewing Company, said it will no longer split its operations between Kitchener and the small town of Formosa, in an effort to save costs.

"If somebody bought the brands as part of the facility, that facility would make money day one," said George Croft, the President and CEO of Brick Brewing. 

Formosa Springs brand for sale too

"It's one of the oldest breweries in Ontario, arguably one of the oldest breweries in Canada," he added. 

To sweeten the deal, Croft said he'll even throw in the brands that are brewed there, which include Formosa Springs, Red Baron, Red Baron Lime and Red Baron Platinum. 

"We think Formosa has some significant competitive points of difference versus any other craft producing facilities in Ontario," Croft said.

"One being, obviously, the date that it started, and the other would be the spring water that would be available at that site." 

Reviving old recipes

"Water is really important in a beer recipe," said Crystal Luxmore, a beer writer and a certified cicerone, the beer world's equivalent of what a sommelier is to wine. 

Luxmore believes whoever steps forward to buy the Formosa Springs brewery has a huge opportunity, given the building's history and pre-Prohibition roots. 

"I think one thing I would love to see and one maybe missed opportunity for Brick and maybe an opportunity a new craft brewery could jump on is reviving that old Formosa Springs Lager recipe," she said. 

"Right now in the States there's a big trend trying to track down these pre-Prohibition North American beer recipes started by the first settlers."

"Formosa Springs was one of those, started by German settlers, just like a lot of breweries were in that region of Ontario." 

"If you could track down that original lager recipe and brew a great craft lager in that vein, I think it would have a lot of cache and not just in that region but in big cities too." 

"That would be a really cool thing to do is to taste exactly what that beer would have tasted like then."

Brewery has a rich history

The Formosa Springs Brewery was founded by German settlers who came to Canada from the Alsace region, a part of modern-day France that has a turbulent history, steeped as much in bloodshed as it is in beer making tradition. 

The brewers brought those traditions to Formosa, Ont. and the brewery they created quickly became a hub for the local economy in the 1870s, giving local farmers a place to sell their barley as the brewery rolled out 500 barrels of beer a year. 

Fires in 1874 and 1881 reduced the brewery to cinders. It was rebuilt each time, and part of the building that was rebuilt after the second fire has been incorporated into the current-day brewery facility. 

The brewery was eventually sold to new owners and, in 1884, they accidentally found the spring water source that would make the beer famous while drilling for oil on the property. 

Oktoberfest leads to popularity

Formosa Springs Brewery was sold again in 1899 and the German family that bought it hung on through the First World War, Prohibition, the Second World War and two strikes. 

In the 1960s, the brewery became a sponsor of Kitchener-Waterloo's Oktoberfest and Formosa Springs' beer quickly became popular, leading to a corporate takeover by Molson and the brewery's eventual relocation to Barrie in 1971. 

The brewery lay abandoned for years until Algonquin Brewery bought it in 1989, becoming the first microbrewery in Ontario to make beer in an historic brewery. 

Brick bought the Formosa Springs Brewery from Algonquin in 1997.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Butler

Reporter

Colin Butler covers the environment, real estate, justice and urban affairs for CBC News in London, Ont. He is a veteran journalist with 20 years' experience in print, radio and television in seven Canadian cities. You can email him at colin.butler@cbc.ca.

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