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Sens blueliner brewing up new business venture

Phillips anxious, enthused about Tuesday launch of Big Rig Kitchen and Brewery

Monday, 11.06.2012 / 11:27 AM / Features
By Rob Brodie  - OttawaSenators.com
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Sens blueliner brewing up new business venture
The Big Rig Brewery, which bears the nickname of Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, will have five standard offerings for patrons at their west-end Ottawa brewpub on Iris Street (Photo courtesy of Big Rig Brewery).

Chris Phillips breaks into a hearty laugh when the question is served up to him.

"Who wouldn't want one?" the Ottawa Senators veteran blueliner asked in response to a query about seeing his name most prominently associated with a new brewpub opening in the city's west end. "I guess that's the best way to (answer) that.

"Being Canadian and growing up drinking beer, I guess, you hear everyone talking about it and people have tried making it in their basement or garages. Now to have a beer named after me and be a part of the process ... it's just very cool."

When Big Rig Kitchen and Brewery opens its doors at 2750A Iris Street (near Greenbank) on Tuesday at 11 a.m., patrons will surely notice right away that it is anything but your average sports bar. And that's precisely the way Phillips — whose 'Big Rig' nickname pays homage to his roots in the Alberta oil town of Fort McMurray — and his partners want it.

"A little bit, but not overbearing," Phillips said when asked how much of his hockey career you'll see at Big Rig Brewery. "I don't want to call it a sports bar. It won't be that. If you looked around a little bit, I think you'd figure out who is a part of it. You'll see a few things on the menu and a little bit of stuff on the wall. But the biggest thing is everything is called Big Rig."

Ask Phillips to describe the concept of Big Rig and he says "it's an upscale brewpub with amazing food." The menu features what Phillips calls "comfort food" — from pizzas and meat pies to steaks and tuna, and a whole lot more in between. The 9,000-square foot restaurant can seat 300 patrons.

"It's a wide variety to appeal to the masses and not one dish has been overlooked or thought of as less than another," said Phillips. "The menu is amazing and made to rival (our) beer."

Ah, yes, the beer. Phillips quickly tells you the direction for this venture was sealed when Lon Ladell, a former brewmaster at a well-known pub in Victoria, B.C., joined the mix, so to speak. While he and partners had tossed around other ideas over the last few years, Ladell's arrival made their decision an easy one in the end.

"Lon kind of fell into our lap," said Phillips. "He was working somewhere else in town and told us what he really wants to do is brew beer. He's a second-generation brewmaster. He came on board and that's where this (venture) began.

"We talked about doing something and it would be hot for a little bit, go cold for a bit and it took awhile to get anywhere and figure something out. Once Lon came around, we knew that was 100 per cent of the direction we wanted to take and we're all thrilled about it."

The open concept restaurant is set up, Phillips said, "with open viewing to watch Lon's magic in the brewery." Six beers — Gold, Rideau Red, Byward Brown, India Pale Ale and Stud Stout, along with a "seasonal" brew — will bear the Big Rig brand, with customers able to purchase some of it to take home.

"I like the Big Rig Gold," said Phillips. "It's a solid, easy drinking beer with lots of taste. And I'm a fan of the Byward Brown as well. It's a little more my style."

Phillips admits his knowledge of the process that goes into brewing beer has grown immensely with his involvement in Big Rig. He's even planted some hops in his farm near Manotick as a way to grow the "local" part of it all.

"I certainly know a lot more now than when we started," said Phillips, who sees Big Rig as a bridge to his life after hockey. "It's a little bit like wine. The more you get to know, the more you realize how much you don't know how fine an art it is. (Ladell) is a perfectionist and our beer, as far as I'm concerned, is right at the top."

Given the time he's invested in the project, Phillips is anxious to see the doors open on Tuesday. And he'll no doubt smile plenty about the name attached to it.

"I'm excited about it and I'm proud of it," he said. "To be a part of it and to have something like this in Ottawa with my name ... I'm excited to be involved. When I'm around, I'll say hi to people when they come in and make sure everyone enjoys their experience. I think it's going to be a great atmosphere.

"It's been a long, long time in the making. Lots of decisions, lots of meetings ... it's been a fun process with some ups and some downs. But I've enjoyed it and I'm definitely looking forward to (Tuesday's opening)."

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