Kahnawake's first brewery gives nod to Mohawk ironworkers

It all started with a black bridge, the legends of the Mohawk ironworkers and an idea for a microbrewery. Kahnawake Brewing Company + Black Bridge Taproom is the first of its kind in the territory.
Co-owners Andrew Stevens, Frank Leblanc and Matt Deer. The company has since changed the name from Black Bridge Brewing Co. to Kahnawake Brewing Co. (Baronmag.ca)

This story was originally published May 13, 2018

It all started with a black bridge, the legends of the Mohawk ironworkers and an idea for a microbrewery. 

Kahnawake Brewing Company + Black Bridge Taproom is the first of its kind in the territory. 
The company was created by a group of friends who turned their love of craft beer into careers. (Kahnawake Brewing Company)

But before we get to the beers, a little backstory. Though he is now one of four co-owners of the brewery, Fred Leblanc was an ironworker for two decades. He explained his connection to the historic black bridge.

Black bridge is the nickname given to the Saint Laurent Railway Bridge that links Montreal to Kahnawake. (Kahnawake Brewing Company )
"I worked in the New York City skyline a lot, all over the U.S. and the black bridge has a special meaning to us Mohawk people here, especially the men. Because a lot of us, back in the day and still now, a lot of ironworkers worked on the high steel," said Leblanc.

"In 1900, they were re-building the train bridge and there were a whole bunch of French people working on it. And they had a few Mohawk labourers on the job. One day, the superintendent came around after supper and saw the Mohawk Indians climbing all over the steel and the rest is history. That's where we really got recognized as ironworkers because, for some reason, the balance is good and [there's] no fear of heights. And it all started with this black bridge," he recalled.

That black bridge is the Saint-Laurent Railway Bridge, it's also the name of the company's taproom and flagship beer, a crisp, refreshing blonde.
The custom taps in the Black Bridge Taproom. (Kahnawake Brewing Company)

They also brew Goose Neck, a Belgian Wit that's brewed traditionally with orange peel and coriander, Hard Days Work is an English style bitter beer, the Bull Pen is their American pale ale. Their stout is named for an ironworker's big hammer: the Bammer. Their selection is rounded out with a double IPA and for those that don't drink, they serve kombucha.

Andrew Stevens one of the other co-owners, sampled a brew during the interview with Unreserved's Rosanna Deerchild. 

"It's quality assurance, you know," he laughed. 

The beer has the usual staple ingredients — water, yeast, hops, malt (which could be barley, wheat, oats, you name it) — but the company also looks locally for other inspiration.

"We try to add our little twist to the four main ingredients. For example, we came out earlier this month with a smoked maple porter that we used maple syrup from one of our partners. There were trees on his land and we collected maple sap and turned it into maple syrup and added it to our beer," Stevens said.
The Black Bridge taproom serves pizza and screens NHL playoff games. (Steve Walsh)

Being the first microbrewery means they pioneered legislation in the area, too. They worked with the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake and the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board to create the laws because there weren't any in place that covered beer manufacturing.

"The process was a very educational, instructive and, actually, a fun process to be a part of because it was nice to have part of our input in the regulations. And it's not just for us but for anybody else who wants to start a brewery in the future," Stevens said.

Back in the taproom, even the design was carefully considered. The shelves are rough wood, held in place with piping for brackets. Beams that the lights hang from are a couple hundred years old and came from one of Leblanc's homes. He said they wanted the space to be welcoming for everyone.
Fred Leblanc says the wooden beams used to hang the lighting are over two centuries old. (Kahnawake Brewing Company)

"Our hope was to create a place here to put out a good product and to have people who could come here, both Native and non-Native, you know, taste our wares and drink in a good atmosphere without fear of racism or anything," Leblanc said. 

"This is what I was hoping personally to accomplish with this company here. I think we already accomplished it. It could only get better. I'm really proud of what we did and I'm happy."