Grant Sparling, 24, is general manager and vice-president of Cowbell Brewing Co., a privately owned destination brewery under construction in Blyth, Ont., about 200 km west of Toronto.
While attending Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, I was surrounded by remarkable breweries, some in very remote locations, and I became excited about the opportunity to help build our own brewery.
Our building is a 26,000-square-foot barn on 111 acres and features the brewery, restaurant, bar, retail store, indoor and outdoor events space and, in the future, a working farm.
Cowbell is a family business, privately owned and operated. Family is the centre of everything. Before my dad pitched the idea of a destination brewery, I had planned to join the U.S. Navy. Cowbell is obviously a very different kind of endeavour, but I love the team and the authentic culture we share. Strong. Decisive. Fun. Learning from my dad, personally and professionally, is the greatest gift he can give me.
I had two formative business experiences outside of the family business, which was Sparling's Propane: 1) I owned and operated ThirstD, a drink-delivery service at Dartmouth College; 2) As CEO of Medicine for a Better Tomorrow, a pharmaceutical company that invented a non-invasive influenza vaccine – to date it has received patents in Japan and China.
Perhaps the entrepreneurial spirit is genetic, because I come from a long line of serial entrepreneurs. Some families have a professional or political or military lineage, but my family consists almost exclusively of entrepreneurs.
When growing up, if I'd tell my parents I was nervous before a track meet or a speech or a science fair, my parents would say, "That means you care." And it is the same with Cowbell. I care deeply about my family, the business and the people who are enabling Cowbell to be successful. Sure, I admit that I do feel the burden of high expectations, but it is also exhilarating.
No one has openly questioned my youth (but most people also think I am about 30). I've had the incredible opportunity to be involved in Cowbell – and every part of the business – from the outset. This includes, writing the business case for Cowbell, attending brewing school in the United Kingdom., researching breweries and suppliers, testing beer, delivering beer, cleaning lines, working events, interviewing, designing the building and brewery and managing construction of the Cowbell building
Learn from those with more experience, ask questions, listen and don't pretend to know everything.
Cowbell is an ambitious project, but there have been many times, even the past few days, when I walk around the building and quietly smile to myself.
We are blessed with a great team. We dream out loud, we plan, we get to work and we have fun. We believe in the opportunity for Cowbell to create a unique brewing and entertainment experience.
It will be North America's first carbon-neutral brewery, thanks to design elements that will reduce our carbon emissions, as well as 12,000 trees that were planted on site almost seven years ago – this will contribute to our carbon offset.
The most challenging aspect of this project is also the most exciting: pioneering technology. Cowbell will be the first closed-loop brewery, that we are aware of, in the world. This means that all our brewing and process water is sourced from a well onsite, and all effluent (waste water) is treated and managed onsite.
[Why Blyth?] Blyth is home. There are multiple projects under way to build on Blyth's culture destination history. Recently, the ribbon was cut on a $4.2-million renovation of Memorial Hall, home of the Blyth Festival. … The Guelph-to-Goderich trail runs through Blyth and this place is just Country Cool.
Everyone should be hometown proud. The only story that is unique to any of us is our own story – in this case, the Blyth Story and the colourful historical figures from the village. These people have been influential, successful or unique, and their stories seem to resonate.
Consumers are more knowledgeable now than ever. They are seeking new and interesting flavours, and memorable experiences – all made possible by using quality ingredients, made by people who care about the beer and the people who enjoy it.
As told to Tom Maloney.
This interview has been edited and condensed.