Cowbell Brewing Company marks its first year - March 9, 2017
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
On Feb. 25, Blyth Cowbell Brewing Company marked one year since Steven, David and Grant Sparling announced their plans to build a destination craft brewery on the edge of the village.
While it has been a productive year and plenty has been accomplished, Grant says there is still a lot of work to be done. Currently there is a lot of work being done on the interior of the Cowbell farm building in anticipation of the opening later this summer.
So much has happened in the past 365 days that General Manager and Vice-President Grant Sparling says it can be hard to comprehend at times.
It was on a snowy Feb. 25, 2016 that the Sparling family welcomed community members, neighbours and local politicians to the Emergency Services Training Centre to be part of the announcement.
There, the three announced plans for a destination brewery, event space and restaurant, along with plans for the company’s first beer, Absent Landlord, named for Henry Blyth, the village’s namesake.
Several weeks later, Absent Landlord would be available in liquor stores across the province, as well as locally, with hundreds of cans selling out at the Blyth location on the first day.
Sparling says that what began as a modest plan to enhance tourism on Blyth’s main street has continued to grow to a point he now finds astonishing.
The concept began several years ago, Sparling said, as a smaller vision for a brewpub on the main street of Blyth. At the time, the vision was to occupy a building where small batches of beer could be served at the pub and sold in growlers to customers within a 50-mile radius of the village.
This project, he said, would build upon Blyth’s existing tourism foundation with the Blyth Festival and the soon-to-be-constructed Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity, adding yet another attraction to the village.
As conversation evolved, Sparling said it made sense for the family to utilize land that had been in the family since the 1970s at the corner of Blyth and London Roads. Planning a destination brewery and restaurant on such a large piece of land, he said, really changed the dynamic of the proposal.
When things really began to shift, he said, was when discussions with LCBO representatives were much more fruitful than he ever envisioned.
While the scope of the project continued to grow, Sparling and others who had been involved in the early days were getting consistently more optimistic about the project. However, it wasn’t until it was brought to the LCBO that they were met with similar optimism and enthusiasm. At this point in the process, very few people knew about the project.
When LCBO representatives met those from Cowbell with enthusiasm for the future, Sparling said that he and his team knew they were sitting on something special.
From there, the vision and the team continued to grow from what President Steven Sparling called “a simple retirement project” to one of the biggest and most ambitious developments in Huron County in recent years.
Grant said that under the initial model, he envisioned that one territory manager would cover beer sales throughout that 50-mile radius around Blyth the company initially accounted for. Now the company has six territory managers and beer is being sold from Windsor to Ottawa and up to North Bay.
He says it really hits home with him when construction at the building hits a milestone. Whether it’s when the timber frames were erected or when the building was completely enclosed, Grant says there have been many instances when he has had to stop and marvel at the enormity of the project he’s undertaken.
While the past year with Cowbell has been a positive one for the community and for the business at large, Grant says it has meant a lot to him personally as well.
Working alongside both of his parents, Steven and Laurie, and his uncle David, Grant says he feels he’s experiencing something he wasn’t alive to experience: the early family business model at Sparling’s Propane.
He says he’s heard stories from Steven and David about working with their father Grant, founder of Sparling’s Propane, and all the lessons in business and in life they would take home with them after a day at the office.
Grant now says that he’s able to learn from his parents through his chosen career path like they learned from his grandfather.
Grant said that no one will ever be more invested in his personal success than his father, so it’s been a treat to work with him on a day-to-day basis.
He also said that he has been truly humbled by both the work being done and the response to the company’s Greener Pastures Community Fund, which is working to raise funds for the province’s four major children’s hospitals, as well as the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity in the company’s home village.
For more information on Blyth Cowbell Brewing Company, visit its website at cowbellbrewing.com.