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Growing a beer culture (2 photos)

Sleeping Giant Brewing Company taps into Thunder Bay’s love for local.

THUNDER BAY - One of Thunder Bay’s most well-known businesses, the Sleeping Giant Brewing Company has expanded considerably in the eight years since it was founded.

“It seems like forever and also yesterday,” said Andrea Mulligan, co-owner of the brewery. 

She and husband Kyle Mulligan started the company in 2012. An avid home-brewer, Kyle has a background in chemistry and "home brewing is a lot of science,” says Andrea. Neither he nor his wife have business training, but the ensuing years have shown that they have a keen instinct for it. 

“One thing we’ve learned and reinforced over the years is that our passion and our instincts are on the right course,” Andrea said. “We opened a brewery for the right reasons. We wanted to create a beer culture in Thunder Bay and educate people about beer. There wasn’t a beer culture at the time. It’s done us well.”

Three years ago, they moved into their current location on MacDonell Street, a 14,000 sq. ft. production facility, taproom and storefront. Last December, they opened a secondary location close by to use as an event space and warehouse, and to store their barrel-aged beer, which they started last year. 

“There’s a lot of responsibility as you grow,” Andrea said. “People think we just exploded, but we didn’t - we moved here with a lot of thought and process.” 

The company offers six core beers, and currently sell eight more seasonal or limited edition ones. Their beer is sold across Ontario in grocery stores, The Beer Store and the LCBO, but the majority of their sales are still local.

“I knew we’d be successful. Thunder Bay is a hyper local city, and Thunder Bay is a city that appreciates beer,” Andrea said.

“When we first opened, I said I’m not afraid of failing, I’m afraid of success,” she added. “With success, there’s more demand, more responsibility, the learning curve is steeper. And boy have we learned about business.” 

Earlier this year when hand sanitizer disappeared from store shelves, people started asking the brewery for hand sanitizer.

“Right away we had the phone ringing off the hook,” Andrea said. 

“We explained that we don’t distill alcohol, so we can’t just make hand sanitizer, but that didn’t stop us. We collaborated with [local company] Microbiate to find and source the ingredients. Kyle was really involved in making hand sanitizer using the equipment that we have. Our license is good for a year until March, so we are continuing to make it.”

The pandemic forced them to lay off 24 of their 35 employees, and they are now in the process of bringing them back. While the brewing industry is still a male-dominated field, women are finding a place. At Sleeping Giant Brewing Company, half of their employees are women, including a female brewer.

“Women add something to our company,” Andrea said. 

The company is currently working on safety procedures so that they can open their taproom to the public again. The pandemic threw them a curveball, but Andrea finally feels like the worst might be over. “Now we feel like we’re finally coming up for air after COVID,” she said. The future will include more barrel-aged beers, new packaging, streamlining the business and growth. 

“When we make it through 2020, 2021 will be our time to grow."




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