Tuesday 16th of September 2008 was a splendid day for Dumpdiggers. Tim Braithwaite and Rob Campbell drove north to Barrie Ontario to meet Peter Chiodo, the entrepreneur behind the success and steady growth of the Robert Simpson Brewery.
Peter Chiodo makes the best beer north of the number seven highway – Confederation Ale. The master brewer has evolved a signature malting and fermentation process; unlike the big breweries, Peter lets his microbrew temper in steel vats and mature for forty days before bottling. Dumpdiggers appreciates the quality of this refreshing beverage, but that’s not what brought us to 107 Dunlop St at 11am that Weds morning. The Robert Simpson Brewery is located right in the heart of old Barrie across from the historic Queen’s Hotel, and its the real thing – beer is made and sold right on the premises. These are the same streets and buildings in which Robert Simpson himself walked and politicked a century earlier…
Robert Simpson was the 1st Mayor of Barrie in 1871 and he was a master brewer. Before he entered politics, he’d been brewing beer for almost thirty years, so he was an expert in brewcraft and business and stoneware bottles. In his lifetime he would have commissioned thousands of bottles, yet only two remain. Tim Braithwaite is Canada’s premier stoneware beer collector and posses a Robert Simpson bottle – but his piece was made in Toronto. According to Timbits, his clay fired vessel was made and stamped in 1849 as per the Toronto Business Index which shows Robert Simpson as one of many brewers in the city in 1850. It’s well known that Simpson moved north to Barrie in 1851 (Tollendale?) and set up a new brewery there, anticipating the railroad would bring a thirsty population to the expanding lake port city. The Robert Simpson (brewer) wiki is shamefully light – some local historian should do the world a favour and fill in the blanks there. The CW after TORONTO stands for Canada West and that is explained well on Wikipedia inside a comprehensive article on Upper Canada.
The Simcoe Steam Brewery was a terrific success and Robert Simpson became a man of great importance in the community. That enterprise bottled its product in glass, and apparently there are a great many examples of those vessels still in existence, but I couldn’t find anything online (do you have a photo?).
This stoneware beer bottle precedes Simpson’s later success in glass. It was made when he was still just a young man, twenty eight years old, trying to survive in a big city with lots of competition. It was made by an unknown Toronto pottery shop in the late 1840s, and I reckon that means it was fashioned somewhere along pottery road in the Don River valley, but that’s pure speculation on my part. The clay container is certainly worthy of display in any Toronto or Barrie museum, especially considering Robert Simpson himself probably filled it with beer almost 160 years ago.
Peter Chiodo was absolutely thrilled to be able to see and touch and connect with the namesake of his enterprise, and he learned a lot from Timbits. These two experts learned a lot from each other.