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New Ontario Brewing takes over production of South River's Highlander Brewing products

The South River brewery was planning to move production to Ottawa or southern Ontario, but after consultation with New Ontario Brewing, decided to keep all Highlander Brewing production in northern Ontario
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New Ontario will be handling all production of South River's Highlander products. Brian Wilson, Mike Harrison, Ian Macdonald. Supplied.

New Ontario Brewing, a local company growing by leaps and bounds, is expanding again by taking over the production of all Highlander Brewing Company products, formerly brewed in South River. 

New Ontario has a new state of the art facility on Seymour Street in the old Northern Honda building.

The company has a production agreement with Toronto-based United Craft, the owners of Highlander Brewing Company.

"United Craft was planning to move production to Ottawa or southern Ontario," says  Mike Harrison, President and Brewmaster of  New Ontario Brewing Company. "After consultation with New Ontario Brewing, they decided to keep all Highlander Brewing production in northern Ontario."

“With the dissolution of our agreement with the brewery in South River, we entered into discussion on where to move the production,” said Ian Macdonald, President of United Craft. “We decided that the best thing for the brand was to keep it in northern Ontario and with the original brewmaster. The water is great, and Mike Harrison and his team are truly the professionals we wanted crafting this beer”.

So United Craft entered an exclusive relationship to produce all of Highlander Brewing’s products and keep all production jobs in northern Ontario. The production is slated to begin next month and Harrison even expects to hire two more production staff.

"It's weird for beer production to move north but United Craft were glad to see we were innovators and glad to see that we are always community first and we've moved into this facility with state of the art packaging and brewing equipment," Harrison told CKAT. "It gave them the confidence to make the production shift here."

Harrison expects the agreement will mean a 25-30 per cent increase in volume for his facility brewing the popular Scottish Ale and Smoked Porter

Moving production from one facility to another is not a new thing in brewing but the fact that the production is moving further north is something of an outlier. New Ontario Brewing’s recent announcement that they had hired Brian Wilson, Highlander Brewing’s founder and brewmaster was critical to the move.

“Brian Wilson was the man behind these beers since 2009. We couldn’t imagine a better person to keep this brand alive and well” said Pat Macdonald, the CEO of United Craft. “Pair that with the fact that we get to keep the production in the north, well, we consider that win-win.”.

Pat and Ian Macdonald are a mother and son team that lead United Craft brewing, a company that represents many cideries and breweries in Ontario.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 New Ontario Brewing recently received funding through the Ontario Together Fund that helped them pivot into more product lines such as making sanitizer and also distilling.

See: New Ontario Brewery rewarded by the province for its innovation

“When 2020 started we were like everyone else, wondering what we were going to do, with our traditional markets in chaos” said Harrison. "We never expected to be making sanitizer, spirits, or moving into making other brands and products. We are excited to be making this move and to growing into 2021”.

That will continue even after COVID Harrison told BayToday.

"It's one of those things we thought would die off, we didn't know, but it's actually going pretty strong even now so it's definitely a market we will continue for the foreseeable future.

New Ontario Brewing is continuing its production of hand sanitizer under the Pure North Medical brand and has recently begun installations of sanitizer stations to local businesses, educational facilities, and hospitals. This project has produced tens of thousands of litres of sanitizer that have been used throughout the pandemic across the province with a focus on northern Ontario. This increased production has allowed New Ontario to hire staff and maintain full-time positions that would otherwise have been impossible during COVID.

This innovative move made them the recipients of this year’s Innovation Award from the North Bay Chamber of Commerce. In 2016 it was named New Business of the Year.

See: New Ontario Brewing Company named 'New Business of the Year'

The company also recently received an $842,000 grant from FedNor to expand to foreign markets.

See: New Ontario Brewing expanding, eyeing foreign markets

Their new facility officially opened 7 days a week this summer at the corner of Highway 11 and Seymour.

New Ontario's move with United Craft, comes on the announced rebranding of South River Brewing Company in South River. Last month it said that it is changing its business name and branding, and will now be known as South River Brewing. In a social media post, the brewery said that the change is being made to “better reflect our location and heritage within the region and community.”