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The Cowbell is clanging, ready — officials hope — to herd a visitor influx to this small Huron County town.
The headquarters of the Cowbell Brewery officially opens Monday in a massive building made of stone and timber, but built in classic Ontario barn style
Along with the craft brewery, the 1,860 sq. m complex south of the town includes a restaurant, retail store, bar and meeting rooms.
For the Sparling family, the folks behind Cowbell, its a multimillion-dollar bet on Blyth.
“The world does not need another craft beer. This is not what we are building in Blyth. We are building a destination,” said Grant Sparling, the general manager and vice-president.
The brewery will employ about 100 people, a big boost for a town of only 1,000.
Visitors can view the entire production process from a catwalk over the brewery facility.
The big investment is not unlike the gutsy vision Tom Patterson of Stratford had back in 1953 when he pitched a tent for the first Stratford Shakespearean Festival
But Blyth already is a theatre town. The Blyth Festival Theatre has been around since 1975 as a showcase for Canadian productions and stands to be the biggest benefactor of the new attraction.
The theatre already draws about 20,000 people to the town, but marketing director John McHenry says he is delighted there’s another good reason to visit Blyth.
The theatre already sells Cowbell beer to its audiences and plans to develop theatre and restaurant packages with the brewery.
Cowbell arrives as the Blyth festival completes a multimillion-dollar reconstruction of its home — the century-old Blyth Memorial Community Hall — with the help of provincial and federal grants.
The town also is home to the Old Mill and Bainton’s Old Mill, stores that specialize in leather and wool clothing.
Cowbell began selling beer last year and has three beers on the market, including in some LCBO outlets. Until recently, the beer was brewed under contract in Hamilton.
The first beer, Absent Landlord, was named for the town’s namesake, Henry Blyth, an Englishman who bought up much of the town in the mid-1800s, but never set foot in the place.
The Sparling family has a long history in the community. Sparling’s grandfather, also named Grant, ran the hardware store in the town and with his sons, Steven and David, was a propane retailer.
Grant Sparling, who is Steven’s son, graduated from New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College in 2015 and noted the surging market for craft beer in New England and took a brewery training course in England.
The Cowbell Brewery was designed to be as “green” as possible and be carbon-neutral with the latest energy-efficient features.
The brewery also is designed to be self-sufficient, using well water and an on-site treatment plant with no reliance on municipal services.
Chef Alexandre Luddite said the restaurant will use local ingredients when possible and all parts of livestock carcasses.
Neil Vincent, reeve of North Huron, said Cowbell will be a boost to the region.
Vincent noted the area already expects a tourist boom this fall with the International Plowing Match being held in nearby Walton in September.
And about 9,000 tickets already have been sold for the Festival of Wizardry, an October event for Harry Potter fans which has moved from Goderich to Blyth.
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The 44-hectare site offers lots of possibilities for future expansion, including a garden that would supply fruits and vegetables to the restaurant and brewery, to produce innovative new beers.
There are plans for a working farm, to supply barley and hops, and an orchard.
There also are plans to construct a natural outdoor amphitheatre with a capacity for 15,000 people to host music, culture and athletic events.
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