All photos by David Jackson
When it came time for Ontario-based Manitoulin Brewing Company to launch its newest beer, the craft brewer couldn't find a better spokesperson than Mike Ranta. The label on pint cans of Killarney Cream Ale boast the iconic lighthouse of Ranta's hometown, which is also the jumping off place for canoeists looking to explore the backcountry of Ontario's crown jewel provincial park and sea kayakers setting off on the island-strewn waters of Georgian Bay. For the ever-enthusiastic Ranta, the opportunity to partner with the brewer was a dream come true.
"I've always dreamed of having a beer sponsorship," laughs Ranta, a 2015 Canoe & Kayak expedition of the year award winner who has earned the title of Canada's "last voyageur" for his multiple cross-continent canoe expeditions.
Ranta resettled in the town of Killarney in 2017. He met Blair Hagman of Manitoulin Brewing Company at a music festival last summer, where the brewer revealed his plans to unveil a new Killarney-inspired ale. Ranta immediately offered to paddle the inaugural batch 22 miles across the North Channel of Lake Huron from the brewery to the townsite. Ranta calls the mission "the ultimate Canadian beer run!"
On a blustery October day, Ranta assembled a team of paddlers to pilot a 30-foot voyageur-style canoe. Aided by a strong tailwind and facing a variety of weather conditions, the delivery crew made the trip in about four hours. "It was awesome," recalls Ranta. Plans are in place for the journey to evolve into an annual race for solo, tandem and voyageur canoes, starting this summer. The winner-take-all prize includes beer (obviously), as well as a Mike Ranta trademark birchbark hat and a Badger paddle.
>> Related: Read all of CanoeKayak.com’s exclusive dispatches from Ranta’s 2017 expedition: Across British Columbia; the Canadian Prairies; windy Lake Winnipeg; onto Lake Superior; and calling it quits.
As for the cream ale itself, "There aren't enough 'O's' in smooth to describe it," Ranta says. "It's become my go-to beer when I go out with the boys."
Meanwhile, Ranta is thrilled with his new living arrangements in Killarney. After skipping town last summer for a canoe expedition on northern Saskatchewan's Churchill River, Ranta returned and has embarked on his dream project—to craft the world's largest canoe paddle. The 80-foot paddle will be erected at a new convention center that's also currently under construction in Killarney. "This project is 15 years in the works," says Ranta. "The first boards are together, the handle is built, and we're rough cutting now. The goal is to make it 80 feet, but I'm aiming for even longer!"
More at CanoeKayak.com:
— Watch Mike Ranta's presentation at the 2017 Wilderness and Canoe Symposium
— The Inside Line: Catching up with Mike Ranta
— Rides: Mike Ranta's Souris River Wilderness 18