Nearly a two hour drive north of Toronto lies the town of Gravenhurst, Ontario. Known as the gateway to Muskoka, it has both an interesting history and incredibly breathtaking views down every road. Back when mills and lumber yards lined the shores of Lake Muskoka in Gravenhurst, the town was given the nickname “Sawdust City”.
And that just so happens to be the inspiration for the name of Sawdust City Brewing Co., whose fierce love of their hometown matched with boundless creativity has made them one of the best breweries in Ontario.
Sawdust City was founded by Rob & Karla Engman, Publishers of TAPS Media, and co-founded with head brewer Sam Corbeil, a student of VLB Berlin’s Brewmaster course and former instructor at Niagara College’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program. Corbeil first started brewing Sawdust City beers in 2011 at Niagara College before moving the brewing over to Black Oak Brewing in Etobicoke. Their first beer, Golden Beach Pale Wheat, proved to be a massive hit among beer drinkers.
After some considerable success with their brews, Sawdust never lost sight of their true goal of finally making an expansion to a bricks and mortar brewery up in their hometown of Gravenhurst. As luck would have it, a large and spacious retail space that was once a Canadian Tire came up for sale and the brewery purchased it in the summer of 2013. One year later, Sawdust City’s brewery and retail shop was open and now over six years strong, the Sawdust City Saloon as its called is an Ontario destination and social hub for Gravenhurst, with a spacious taproom, beautiful patio, exquisite food, and regular community programming and concerts calendar.
Sawdust City is so proud of their home of Gravenhurst that, aside from the brewery name, some of their beers are named for moments and nicknames that are a part of Gravenhurst’s history. Little Norway Pilsner, for instance, harkens back to the town housing a Norwegian Air Force training camp during World War II. The sadly discontinued Winding Road for 7KM Rye Saison refers to an old road that connects Gravenhurst to Bracebridge, which during the Fall is one of the most beautiful drives you’ll find in the region.
Much of Sawdust’s success lies with the creativity of their offerings, which run from unique core brands and seasonal releases to collaborations and one-off experiments in barrel aging, wild yeast cultivation, and new brewing techniques. In a time when more and more breweries are opening up, Sawdust City has remained constantly relevant by being open to new ideas, never compromising over quality, and by having fun just geeking out like the awesome beer nerds they are.
Sawdust City isn’t just a place where good beer is made though. They became an active member in elevating the public’s understanding of beers beyond your regular lagers by putting on their now annual Funk Fest, Canada’s first ever outdoor sour beer festival, in 2017. The festival, which features a number of breweries from all over Ontario showcasing their sour offerings, was a hit among locals and even became a tourist hotspot for the town, as beer fans from far and wide flocked to Gravenhurst to celebrate some funky beverages.
Through the pandemic, Sawdust City has done a marvelous job in continuing to thrive. Their online store has opened Ontarians up to beers that were usually only available at the Saloon itself and there has been no shortage of unique and interesting seasonals and one-offs coming out.
If you find yourself able to take a roadtrip to Muskoka, be sure to take the exit into Gravenhurst and make a stop at Sawdust City Brewing Co. You may very well find your next favourite beer. And don’t forget to stay safe with one of Not Your Child Corp.’s breathalyzers!
A 6-Pack of Sawdust City Beers to Check Out:
Do you like the taste of a Viva Puff Cookie? Well, that’s what this beer is, a stout with notes of chocolate, raspberry, and crumbly cookie in a creamy body.
A fan favourite beer that many were happy to see the return of this year. Expect notes of clove, citrus, and tropical fruits with a sweet Belgian candi swirl and a moderately dry finish.
Everyday Magic Hazy IPA ($3.98)
One of my personal favourites is this wonderfully soft-bodied hazy IPA with bright tropical fruit notes that can turn any grey and gloomy day into a sunny one.
Lümberbräu Light Lager ($3.10)
If IPAs or flavoured beers aren’t your thing, Lümberbräu is going to be your best bet as a light lager that takes it up a notch in terms of quality. Light, crisp, and refreshing, it’s great for sipping on the baseball field or at home after a long day.
Named for the dark god created by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, Blood of Cthulhu is a monster of a beer at 9.5% ABV, with deep dark chocolate balanced out by the deliciously tart notes of the cherries, raspberries, and cranberries.
Lone Pine – West Coast IPA ($3.32)
For many craft beer fans this beer was their first experience of a hop-forward beer and to this day it remains a favourite. Expect an abundance of citrus and pine flavours with a backbone of malt.
Sawdust City Brewing Co. is located at:
397 Muskoka Rd N.
Phone: (705) 681-1100
Web Site: sawdustcitybrewing.com
Robin LeBlanc is an award-winning drinks columnist, author, and beer judge. Since first starting her blog The Thirsty Wench in 2011, she has gone on to write for numerous publications, has co-written two editions of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, a book detailing the many breweries of the province, and is co-host and organizer of the very successful podcast The Ontario Craft Beer Guide the Podcast, where she regularly provides news and insights into the goings-on of the Ontario and international beer world.
You can follow her on Twitter at @thethirstywench