There’s something downright folksy about new Norfolk brewery Ramblin’ Road. What with their “off the beaten path” style, the dropped ‘G’ in their name, the proud claims to being Ontario’s first Brewery Farm, it seems like it’s a company of simple folks who just opted to start making beer on their farm–I half expected the sample beers they offered to send me to arrive in a cart being pulled by a donkey.
The truth, of course, is that it is largely schtick. Sure, the brewery is located on a farm and sure the founders have a history in farming, but the reality is perhaps slightly less romantic than the down home image they seem to be putting out there. Ramblin’ Road brewery is actually a brewing venture by Picard Foods, a company that has for the last 20+ years farmed, processed, and distributed peanuts. In fact, you’ve probably eaten some of their snack foods. Ramblin’ Road came about when Picard opted to get into the brewing business and received a $1.2 million low-interest loan from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario in order to purchase brewing equipment. The name, labeling, and folksy attitude (and the slick website and social media campaign to get it out there) are actually the product of Blade Creative, a Toronto-based branding and advertising company that has been “building brand communities since 1991.” Blade Creative are also the folks who were nice enough to make sure Ramblin’ Roads beers got into my hands–by courier, incidentally, not donkey.
What does all that mean?
Well, nothing really.
Sure, the county-bumpkin brand seems vaguely less sincere when you realize it’s the product of a fairly large farming company who procured a big federal loan and cooked up the idea with a marketing team on Laird Drive–but do you give a shit?
You can’t fault a company for opting to do things aggressively and thoroughly. Having a marketing plan and the finances to execute it doesn’t mean a company’s motives are inherently underhanded or shady.
Let’s be honest, as borderline-macro as this seems (whatever that means), there’s actually a lot of good stuff here. Firstly, the federal government is supporting brewing in Ontario. That’s a whole lot of awesome and they can keep that coming all day long. Second, I’m sure the people who are involved with the actual brewing and farming (and making of potato chips, it seems) that occurs at their brewery are people who care about beer and/or farming. And lastly, there’s a new Ontario brewery, bringing new beer, jobs, and tourism (and hoodies!) to a part of the province that didn’t have too many local options before. These are all good things for everyone.
So how’s the beer?
Well, that’s where the actual trouble comes in for me. And I’m stressing for me, because there are probably a lot of folks who are going to love Ramblin’ Roads beer. In fact, I imagine that’s the idea. With a lot invested in their company, it seems quite clear Ramblin’ Road is trying to make beer that will appeal to the masses. Given that their first three beers are a pilsner, an ale, and a lager, it’s obvious their sights are clearly set on the middle of the road–which isn’t typically where my beer tastes lie. But Ramblin’ Road beers are all easy drinking, inoffensive, and well made examples of the styles they opted to brew.
In fact, I did detailed tastings of all three of their beers. And while they all had a little something slightly different to offer, ultimately, Ramblin’ Road’s Country Lager, Country Pilsner, and Country Ale received the same final verdict from me: Clean, refreshing, and nice.
Nothing here is going to blow any beer critic out of the water, but more importantly–and obviously intentionally–no one’s going to get turned off by these beers. Ramblin’ Road has opted to make accessible, easy to drink beers. And if you want to make money selling beer in Ontario, that’s a pretty smart idea.
I won’t be ordering a pint of Ramblin’ Road next time I’m at a Toronto beer bar, but the next time I need a cold refreshing beer on a hot day, you can bet I’d reach for these local guys who seem sincere about supporting their community instead of one the big guys’ lagers.