Beer-Preneurs: The business of opening a brewery

Written by Aaron Brown

Few other businesses conjure up such specific pictures when we imagine them being started. We imagine the founding of a brewery as an alchemical event that invariably occurs in a garage or a basement. There’s a lot of hugging and high-fiving, and before you know it there’s a sketch of a logo and a shortlist of pun-tastic business names.

While we can imagine the eureka moment that starts it all, the middle part, before the doors open, is where things are perhaps a bit fuzzy and less intuitive. What really goes on in that in middle stage between inspiration and an open door? Here are some stories from a new crop of brewers who are in various stages along that pathway. All of them have just opened, or will be opening imminently.

Rob Dundas of Dundas and Sons Brewing Company faces the longest path forward of any of the brewers I spoke with. Considering brewing as a culinary activity and as an extension of cooking, Dundas wants to work with local ingredients as much as possible. The use of not just local hops but also local malts is something Dundas is excited to showcase.

Though Dundas is tight lipped about the exact locations he has been viewing, it is clear that site selection is underway. This is what a brewery looks like in the embryonic stages. There is something growing and taking shape but it needs to find a place to anchor itself before the next stages can happen. The gestation period of a brewery varies wildly.

Once a space is found the passionate entrepreneur can walk into the next set of challenges. Dreams have to meet with the rigid realities of the available space. The aspiring brewer will also need to meet with contractors, inspectors, and regulators at every level of government. Federal tax registration, provincial licensing, and compliance with local bylaws, zoning, and building codes — all this comes once a lease is signed.

Herald Haus Brewing Company in Stratford, and Curley Brewing Company of London are in exactly this moment right now. In my chat with Herald Haus brewer Jeff Macdonald I sensed that a flurry of renovations and other activities is happening, as the building gets readied for big changes ahead.

Macdonald is planning to steer away from IPAs and sour beers, and towards the classic flavours of Cologne and Munich. A pilot system will start things off before the true backbone of the brewery (a larger 15-barrel system) can come in at the end of February. The plan is to offer beer on weekends (draught only) until capacity can support retail, and running more days per week. Enjoying a beer while overlooking the newly renovated Stratford Market Square is something to look forward to. It’s reasonable to expect the brewery to be at full production in May.

Business partners Kelsey Watkinson and Nigel Curley are also at a midway point. They decided to join forces after touring a site and seeing an opportunity to get a foothold through teamwork. The kitchen and vegan bakery is already open and drawing in the hungry and the health-conscious from along London’s busy Hyde Park thoroughfare. Lengthier timelines for the brewery approval mean the thirsty will have to wait, for now. The anticipation will be worth it for those in search of truly vegan brews. Though most beer is already vegan, it does mean avoiding honey or lactose, something Curley views as a window into creativity rather than a constraint. The kitchen side of the business will be an inspiration, he says, with flavours from herbs and spices to draw from.

Opening up a business like this is not like turning on a light switch. It is more like trying to keep the lights on while finding your way towards the full expression of your idea. It is almost impossible for a brewery to immediately be open every day, fully stocked with beer, and offering all of the things that are in the owner’s heart and business plan. This is the stage of yet more breweries in the area — newly open, and building up the experiences they offer. Storm Stayed and Rusty Wrench breweries are both at this stage right now, making a go of it in London’s Wharncliffe Coves, and downtown Strathroy respectively.

Storm Stayed partner Michael Naish was quick to answer when I asked him about the vision for the space: less a production facility and more a neighbourhood gathering space. “The people that come in are really happy to have something in their neighbourhood.” This sort of response has been rewarding to hear early on.

Rusty Wrench founder Chris Traczuk shares the same mix of excitement and exhaustion that I detected in Michael’s voice. Chris experienced a start similar to many other brewers — a knack for home brewing that quickly became something much more. “A hobby became a passion,” explained Traczuk, fresh off his first Saturday night. Strathroy residents are also happy to have a local brewery. Rusty Wrench, on Front Street, offers a place with “no TVs, no distractions,” a social space where you can “park your butt and you don’t know who you’ll meet”.

The bar features two lines, with a planned expansion to eight lines and the addition of a retail space pending additional approvals. Traczuk is not only brewing beer — the Rusty Wrench line-up also includes kombucha.

There are many new breweries opening in the area. Stay tuned to social media for updates on launch parties and grand openings.

Storm Stayed Brewing Company
196 Wharncliffe Road South, London

Curley Brewing Company
1700 Hyde Park Road, London

Rusty Wrench Brewing Co.
9 Front Street West, Strathroy

Herald Haus
21 Marketplace, Stratford

Dundas and Sons Brewing Company
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About the author

Aaron Brown

Aaron Brown is a 10-year-plus veteran of the beer industry and the founder of Forest City Beer Fest and Appleseed Cider Festivals. You can find him at his local pub or www.forestcitybeerfest.com