Beer From A Vine

By / Wine + Drinks / August 7th, 2012 / 1

Niagara is a region built on tradition and soaked in history. With these anchor points, Niagara Oast House Brewers promises to bring a new facet to the epicurean landscape as a microbrewery located in the heart of wine country. While the brewery is still under construction, the concept behind it is firmly established. Managing partners, Cian MacNeill, Michael Berlis and Kevin Somerville have dreamed and discussed the idea for years. The trio worked front of house at Inniskillin, and after the shop closed they would head down to the infamous Angel Inn, a Niagara institution for the beer lover, and discuss the dream that is soon to be a reality.

MacNeill’s family roots are in Ireland, so his foray into the world of microbrewing seems a natural one. It is in the land of Eire that beer is appreciated in much the same way as a wine would be in Niagara, and he sees this potential for his Irish appreciation to take root in his own backyard. Initially gravitating to the world of fine wine, MacNeil earned his Sommelier certification and a diploma in Viticulture and Winemaking from Niagara College. He then headed out to explore the world in pursuit of his passion. With stints in France, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, and British Columbia, MacNeill noticed a trend in each wine region. Sitting amidst the vines was always a brewery with a patio full of people who loved beer just as they loved wine. It seemed natural to continue this tradition in the wine country he calls home. As such, Niagara Oast House Brewers can be seen as the answer to this wine region’s shortcoming. He believes now is the perfect time introduce Niagara to Oast House Brewers.


“Our brewery is coming on the heels of an enormous rise in popularity for craft beer in the province,” MacNeill notes.  “The growth of craft breweries in Ontario is unprecedented and we are finally seeing a diversity and level of quality from local beer producers that is of the highest standard.” Maybe it is the sommelier in him, or perhaps his time working with some of Niagara’s great winemakers, but MacNeill’s quest for a truly authentic Niagara potable is evident. His winery roots shine through when he discusses the potential for terroir and a distinct locality to his beer.

Berlis, too, is another man of the vine. Also a certified Sommelier, he has honed his nose and palate at some of Niagara’s most renowned vinous institutions. He is also a man of entrepreneurial spirit and considerable drive, and as his partners will tell you, sports an encyclopedic breadth of knowledge on the world of beer. In their days at Iniskillin, Berlis was known equally for his love of wine as his love of beer, giving visitors tips on where they could indulge in a cold brew on a nice patio. He sees Oast House offering an exciting new hospitality experience. “We knew that a local craft brewery would enhance the Niagara experience by creating a friendly and relaxed atmosphere where visitors can learn, taste, and purchase interesting and unique beer from Niagara on the Lake.” And brewmaster  Somerville will ensure that the beer is indeed both interesting and unique.

At only 27 years of age, Somerville has some serious accolades behind his name. The first Program Coordinator for Niagara College’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program, he honed his craft at the World Brewing Academy at campuses in Chicago and Munich, soaking up the knowledge of experts from around the world. Following his graduation, Somerville began his brewing career at Alley Kat Brewing Company in Edmonton, Alberta. Here he learned the ins and outs of the brewing business on a practical level. He then brought his expertise and experience to Toronto to work on a start up brewery called the Indie Alehouse.

All this cumulated with the opportunity at Niagara College, which has since made his a household name in the Niagara beer industry. However, the team believes it is the beer to come that will solidify his status Niagara’s top brewmaster. While opportunity never stopped knocking for Somerville? The dream of establishing a micro-brewery was where his heart was pulling him. When asked what he thought the impact of a micro-brewery would be on the culinary landscape of Niagara, he responded:

“It’s time for Niagara to not only be known for its great food, but also great beer than can match perfectly with that food. The wineries in Niagara have done a great job at showing people how wine and food can interact; we will do the same with Oast House beers. Craft beer belongs in the foodie culture. At Niagara Oast House Brewers we are aiming to educate people on beer and food pairings.” An ambitious undertaking, but with this trio of passionate beer lovers at the reigns, it seems like just about anything is possible.

But what has the local response to their optimistic outlook been? The answer seems to be that there is an inspiring amount of support brewing for this new venture. Some predict it is the start of a new industry. In fact, Niagara Oast House Brewers has already secured contracts with local establishments and have eager interest from others, including some outside of the Niagara Region without having any product yet.

Perhaps it is the experience and professionalism of the brewery team that is attracting such keen attention. But in the end, these boys have experimental brewing ideas on the brain, and it’s their collective passion and drive that’s creating the real buzz. Ideas of small lot hops locations, with one on the brewery property, and an eventual dining option in the planned beer garden will undoubtedly draw crowds.

With big plans and a team that is optimistic and ready to dive into the food and beer industry feet first, it would appear that we should expect good things in September.


Looking at the small things that make life great and the people who create them.

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