Chris Thompson & Chris Thompson
Former Raft Guides & Current Owners of Whitewater Brewing Co.
Beachburg, Ontario – Ottawa Valley
Imagine this: You show up to the first day of raft guide training on the world renowned Ottawa River, beyond excited for the summer of your life, and on Day One, things go awry. The information package handed to you with your contact details, next of kin (you know, the important stuff) is all wrong! The name on the file is right, but everything else is completely incorrect. Little do you know, this is the first day of sharing your name, and ultimately your life, with ‘The Other Chis Thompson’. The Chrises joke that they were either destined to be great friends, or mortal enemies.
Now co-owners of Whitewater Brewing Co., if there is one thing the Chris Thompson’s can agree on, it’s that if you have good friends, food, music and beer, then you are set for life in the Ottawa Valley.
*For the purpose of this interview and to tell which Chris is which, please reference the photo. From here on out, we will reference them as ‘Standing Chris’ and ‘Sitting Chris’.*
How did you evolve from friends and raft guides, to business partners and brewers? What inspired you to take this path together?
Standing Chris: Chris and I met working as raft guides for Wilderness Tours, 11 years ago. We would be going out on rafting and kayaking trips together on almost a daily basis, and then lived in 10 by 10 cabins. It’s impossible not to get close. After rafting season, we would go off and do our own thing, travelling to different areas of the world, but we always found ourselves returning back to the Ottawa Valley, back to the Ottawa River, and sharing the stories of where we’ve been over a beer. It was a very clear and quick decision that whatever was next, we wanted to do it together. It’s only fitting that we have decided to continue sharing our life over beer.
As a born and bred Ottawa Valley-ite (Sitting Chris) and an ex-pat from England (Standing Chris), what makes the Ottawa Valley feel like home for both of you?
Standing Chris: Um, it’s kind of like my home away from home. I obviously came here for the river initially, I mean, it’s the whitewater capital of Canada, but what made me stick around this area is the people. Everybody is so friendly and happy to help out. It’s just a great environment to be around and was one of the biggest draws to stick around and make this home.
Sitting Chris: I went out and saw the world, but always ended up back here. Like any teenager, you hate where you are, it sucks and there is nothing to do, right? Then you return and feel like, “Oh, I’m an idiot, there is so much here.” I spent some time in New Zealand and realized that all the things I was paying to do, I could do for free in my own backyard. It was a pretty interesting realization. Whether it is on the river, on the bike trails, the people you meet, all those things you hated growing up, you see them in a different light coming back.
How does your love for the Ottawa Valley translate into the beer you brew?
Sitting Chris: The most obvious evidence of our love for the Valley would be the ingredients we use. We source these as locally as possible. This is especially true when it comes to our seasonal beers which are primarily based on what we can source right here, close to home. We are currently brewing with local maple sap for our “We Tapped That” ale. I guess it’s safe to say our beer names and images are also very “Valley”.
I’m going to go ahead and assume it includes a pint or two, but what does your perfect day in the Ottawa Valley look like?
Sitting Chris: I think for both of us, it’s probably fairly similar. The days we enjoy the most start off with an early morning paddle, where we get out on the water, go through the rapids and meet up with some friends, then listen to some live music over a beer.
As self-identified “brewery moguls”*, do you have any tips for visitors looking to find good, authentic, craft beer in Ontario’s Highlands?
Standing Chris: Almost all of the local restaurants and bars are supporting local breweries, so it’s pretty much as easy as picking any place to eat if you’re looking to try good local beer. In just a couple years, a number of great craft breweries have popped up in The Valley which makes taking a weekend road trip to hit them all up, paired with food and craft venues, even that much more fun.
*Sitting Chris jokingly referred to himself as a ‘brewery mogul’ during the interview. When called out on it, he laughed and responded, “Well, I’ve definitely been called worse.”
On a road trip, what is one hidden gem that visitors would be surprised to discover?
Sitting Chris: Honestly, the thing that surprises us the most, is what surprises the visitors. It’s the things we see on a daily basis, that they are astonished by. For example, there are people who come on a bus to look at leaves. The leaves. Kids come from the city who have never really seen the stars before, and there are adults who are blown away by the moon. Most of us are like, “Yup, there’s the moon. It’s a little more or a little less full today,” but there are a special few that can see the beauty of those things clearly, because it’s their first time seeing them in this way.
No matter how many times you do them, are there any experiences in the region that always make you feel like you are trying them for the first time?
Sitting Chris: There are places along the river that we don’t even know about yet. The thing about the river, and the reason why we love it so much, is that it’s not like a trail where you can expect what comes next. You can go through a set of rapids one day and it will be smooth sailing, and the next day you can go through the same line and get completely trashed. It’s constantly changing.
Would you say that is a metaphor for the region as a whole?
Sitting Chris: I think the Valley is the same way. Depending on who you meet, what time of the day, what is going on that weekend, the same location can be a totally different experience. That’s one of the things I love about it most.