Sonnen Hill Brewing
The new player: Sonnen Hill Brewing’s Calum Hill plans to create the kind of drinkable, hoppy brews he learned to make while studying and working in the U.K.
At the end of a dirt lane on this 37-acre Heart Lake Road farm, the faded blue horse barn and arena suggests nothing about its gleaming interior. A shiny stainless steel brewhouse seems to float inside the cavernous arena space renovated by barn experts Dutch Masters, its interconnected series of tanks used to brew, ferment, strain and store the frothy beverage. Owner Calum Hill will access some controls via an elevated breezeway and others from below. Permits and construction willing, he’ll be brewing his first batch this summer.
In contrast with the flashy hardware, Calum is a soft-spoken guy, keen to share the details of each component. In addition to the main brewhouse, where he plans to focus on drinkable, dry, hoppy pale beers, there are small oak barrels and a giant one for aging. A shallow stainless steel vessel, or “coolship” will allow for slow cooling of wort (unfermented beer) and for the microflora in the air to innoculate the wort. (It can take years to produce something that is drinkable this way.)
Two workers are installing an in-house grain mill in one corner. (A hand-planted rye cover crop sits atop a hill to the north of the barn, next to 50 new fruit trees, all leading to future ingredients to play with.)
“I wanted to do it right,” Calum says, adding that he’s learned a lot about good layout and planning while studying, living and working in the United Kingdom the last eight years. After university in Britain, he did a masters in brewing science at Edinburgh’s Heriot Watt University and stints at London’s uber-cool Partizan Brewing and Brew by Numbers and Manchester’s Cloudwater Brew Co. – which affirmed his preferences.
Where many of the trendier North American hoppy beers can easily hit 8- or 9-per cent ABV (alcohol by volume), he’s interested in the UK-style lower-alcohol beers that allow for more than one a sitting. He hopes to sell to restaurants in Orangeville and Toronto and through an on-farm bottle shop on this farm he shares with his parents.
Calum grew up in Brampton, where his mom is an x-ray technician and his Belgian-beer-loving dad, a physiotherapist (yes, Dad gives frequent advice on how Calum can save his back).
Family plays a roll in the brewery moniker beyond his surname. The name Sonnen is inspired by the Bavarian brewery Calum’s maternal grandmother’s family started in 1822 and ran for 160 years, called “Brauerei zur Sonne.”
“My great grandparents, great uncles (and everyone older than that) all brewed at the brewery,” he says. Their main beer was called Sonnen Pils. In a recent chat with his grandma, Calum learned the brewery was sold in 1982 to a big regional brewery, which owned it for a few years and then closed it down.
“I wanted to pick a name that meant something to me and I wasn’t going to get sick of,” he says of his choice.
Calum is indeed planning for the long haul, revving up that Sonnen staying power and setting his course for hyper local. We’ll be watching for what comes out of that unassuming horse barn.
Read on for more on new craft brewers in Caledon: