We’ve covered a lot of beer producers in the States here at The Business Download. Today, we shift our attention to our neighbors to the north, beginning with Toronto-based Steam Whistle Brewing Co. A relatively young brewery, only opening in 1998, it has become one of Canada’s top craft beer lines. Steam Whistle can be found across Canada, from Ontario to British Columbia, even Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.
The brewery was the brainchild of three friends: Cam Heaps, Greg Taylor, and Greg Cromwell. The trio worked together at a top microbrewery in Canada in the 80s and 90s before it was purchased by a national brewing company and shut down.
Heaps, Taylor, and Cromwell say they were sitting around a campfire when the idea to start their own independent brewery came to them.
They call themselves the “Three Fired Guys” Brewing. In August 1998, the group incorporated that name. In March 2000, the inaugural bottles of its flagship Pilsner beer were shipped to beer stores and Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) outlets across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
Photo Courtesy Steam Whistle Brewing Co.
In 2001, the brewery began shipping its 12-bottle suitcase packs, which won an award for its innovative design. In 2004, a special bottle opener was issued for free following the addition of the crimp-style bottle cap on the bottles. This campaign was launched just in time for Victoria Day in Canada.
Steam Whistle’s popularity earned it recognition across Canada. By April 2005, the Pilsner beer was sold in Alberta, expanding its reach.
In 2007, Steam Whistle was considered one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers. Heaps, Taylor, and Cromwell fostered a productive and uplifting workplace environment. They called the staff the Good Beer Folks.
Good Beer Folks are dedicated to creating delicious beer and engaging with the community actively and positively. These efforts were recognized by the accounting firm Ernst & Young, as Heaps and Taylor won Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008. Only a few months later, in 2009, Steam Whistle expanded its distribution to British Columbia.
In 2010, the company was named one of Canada’s greenest companies. Some of its sustainability initiatives include using renewable energy like wind and hydropower generators. These were set up by Bullfrogpower, a Toronto-based energy firm specializing in sustainable energy solutions. The brewery also uses biofuels, made from restaurant oil and soya fuel, to power the distribution trucks at Steam Whistle.
Rather than use HVAC, climate control is all-natural. Steam Whistle participates in Enwave’s Deep Lake Water Cooling.
A series of pipes pumps in icy cold water from Lake Ontario that is sent to households in Toronto. The pipes give off a chill that cools the facility without producing extra emissions.
All the bottles at Steam Whistles are green in color and are good for the planet. It can be reused up to 45 times. The company logo is painted on the bottle, saving plastic and reducing ink use, varnish, and glue from contaminating it. Bottles — along with cardboard, bottle caps, shrink wrap, cans, and seal foil — are always recycled. Spent grain is donated to farmers for animal feed.
“Steam Whistle Brewing is a green company in more ways than one,” said Tim McLaughlin, Steam Whistle’s vice president of marketing, in a company release. “It is obviously our flagship color, prominent in our packaging, branding, and marketing. But green is more to us than just a color. We all have a responsibility to care for our planet, and it is a responsibility we take very seriously.”
Photo Courtesy Steam Whistle Brewing
By 2013, distribution had expanded to Saskatchewan. That same year, they held the first annual Oktoberfest at the brewery storefront, the Roundhouse. In 2014, the beer began being sold in Prince Edward Island. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland followed in 2015, then New Brunswick in 2016.
In 2019, New Belgium and Steam Whistle partnered to distribute the Fat Tire Amber Ale to Ontario, British Columbia, and the Prairies. Additionally, a pale ale entered the rotation.
New brews were added to Steam Whistle’s portfolio in 2020, too. A Whistle Session Lager became a permanent fixture. Their first seasonal beer, a Lemon Shandy, was also launched.
In 2023, Steam Whistle is still recognized as one of the best workplaces in Canada. This May, it was honored as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies. That’s the 15th time Steam Whistle has won the award.
“Walking around our brewery, you will meet many employees of all ages that have worked for us for a decade or longer; in fact, a few of our original 16 employees are still working here,” the company said in a blog post.
Photo Courtesy Steam Whistle Brewing
Taylor, Steam Whistle’s CEO and co-founder, encourages employee feedback and has an open-door policy.
“Some of the brightest ideas at Steam Whistle have come about on our staff patio over a beer, much like the origin of Steam Whistle itself, when my partners and I were on a camping trip,” Taylor said in a statement. “It was around the campfire toasting our love of beer that the dream began.”
According to the company website, employees are always given a chance to climb the ranks at Steam Whistle. They look to maximize employees’ skills, promoting from within to build long careers. The brewery said it also incentivizes longevity, paying for trips to Germany for Oktoberfest in Munich after five years in the business. Working more than 10 years earns a paid sabbatical “as a thank you for your service.”
As a way of blending the past with the future, several old-fashioned cars and trucks are located at the Roundhouse. They are painted in the green and blue of the beer label, and some run on electric power. There’s even an electric bike on display, courtesy of Beachman Motor Company. Beachman was founded by Taylor’s son, Ben, and hopes this display model will encourage e-bike use around Toronto.