Presented x Mondial de la Bière [June 14-18, 2017 - Montréal]
Who are you:
Your current job:
Co-Founder of High Park Brewery
In which city are you located?
A word to define what kind of worker you are:
Passionate craft beer lover
What tools are essential to your life (app, software, etc..)
My Phone which also acts as my email, text, camera, and social media vehicle, and my stock of sample beer.
What does your office space look like?
Empty beer bottles and cans, tap handles, pictures of beer labels and craft beer events… plus a laptop, business card holder, and printer.
How large is the brewery?
We are currently contract brewing so the brewery where our beer is made is actually owned by a third party, although we do own two 20bbl fermenters and our beers are aged in our tanks. We always planned to have our own physical location in the High Park area and have made offers on three properties in the last 12 months: two offers were not accepted and one is still in progress so fingers crossed!
The reason you started brewing?
I grew up in England and have always loved easy-drinking English ales. My grandfather and both great-grandfathers were brewers from Northern England and Scotland so it has always been my dream to resurrect the family business. I also thought there was a shortage of locally produced beers in the English style, so about 5 years ago I began the process of researching and developing what became our flagship beer, Across the Pond English Special Ale at 5.5% abv and 42IBU. My partners have different backgrounds and enjoy other styles of beer so we have also developed Off the Leash at 6.5% abv and 57IBU, a very drinkable unfiltered IPA, and a Helles Lager called Against the Grain at 4.5% abv and 20IBU.
What was the inspiration behind your brewery?
We considered several names before settling on High Park Brewery, although this was always in the top few that we were discussing. I personally live 500 yards from the Park and walk my dog there several times per week. High Park is a beautiful gift to Toronto. All of my partners are local High Park area residents and we have known each other and played hockey together at local arenas for nearly 20 years. We still play 2 or 3 times per week in the winter! Our kids (11 of them!) were all raised here and we have been active in the local community either coaching sports, volunteering or supporting local bars and bands. Considering all of this it seemed to make sense to name the brewery after our ‘hood, High Park Brewery, and to try to find beer names that resonated with the Park and the style of beer we were trying to brew. Across the Pond, for instance, refers to England for many people, but there is also a large pond in High Park called Grenadier Pond, so in this way it has a double meaning which we like; Off the Leash refers to the dog park in High Park where your pet can roam leash-free, and is also what happens when you are out for a night on the town; Against the Grain is a hockey term we use (watch any Hockey game and this will come up several times) and also gives a nod to the trees that make the park so vibrant; lastly our newest regular brand, Over the Wall at 5.2% abv and 36IBU, is a combination of English and Scottish Styles (think Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England) with a subtle peaty or smoky flavour and aroma, but a generous amount of English malts to balance out the overall taste profile – Over the Wall could also refer to the many animals that have escaped from High Park zoo!
What are the biggest challenges for you as a brewer in Ontario?
I would say that distribution is our largest challenge as a small brewer in Ontario. The legislative landscape is changing in Ontario, but it is still very restrictive, especially on the contract brewing side. Craft brewers need more places where we can sell our beer at the retail level, and less reliance on the LCBO, grocery channel and foreign-owned The Beer Store. At this time we have only been able to list one of our brands in the LCBO and the grocery channel is proving very difficult to break into. We have generated a little traction with some of the smaller chains, but the larger ones have been very unresponsive. We do not qualify for the Beer Store deal of the closest 7 stores because we contract brew. We could pay to sell there, but the costs are too expensive for us at this stage in our development.
What kind of music do you listen to when you are working?
I like many forms of music but am an avid classic rock fan and you can often hear Boston, Pink Floyd or Def Leppard blasting from my office or car.
Do you have a way to organize your days to optimize your work?
Each day is different in the beer world and things happen when you least expect them that will throw off your day. I create a daily “to do” list which tries to keep me focused.
What tips would you give to improve productivity?
Try to plan ahead as much as possible and realize that although you may be making and selling beer and that is awesome, you are still running a business. You need to treat it like a business and although it is easy to get caught up in selling beer, delivering beer or planning events, always take a time to work “on” the business itself and where you plan to go, not just “in” the business reacting to orders.
What is the best advice anyone has given you?
Come up with your budget, then double it.
What is your routine start and end of the day?
I usually start my day with a coffee and my phone on the couch with Sadie, our brewery dog, curled up beside me. I go through my emails and text messages and check social media for developments and upcoming events. The end of the evening usually finds me in one of the bars or restaurants we work with, sipping casually on a pint of Ontario Craft Beer, watching sports and chatting happily with the owner or bar staff.
Aside from your computer and your phone, what gadget can you not you go without?
Actually, I only need my phone…
3 Ontario craft beers that we must try?
Besides our beers, of course, there are so many wonderful breweries in Ontario that this is a hard question to answer. If I had to choose, I would suggest trying:
Reinhard Brewery: SWEETBACK’S Milk Stout 5.2% abv 25 IBU. Gold medal winner from last year’s OCB awards and a smooth, easy drinking stout.
MacLean's: Armchair Scotch Ale 7.5 % abv brewed with British pale and crystal malts, balanced by a generous addition of Fuggles and Goldings hops. I drank this on cask recently and it was delicious!
Old Credit Brewery: Pale Pilsner at 5% abv. This is an easy drinking, crisp and medium bodied pilsner.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a brewery?
Craft beer people are super supportive and helpful, and even senior people at large brewers such as Steamwhistle and Beaus will make time to give you comments and suggestions. Talk to as many people in the business as you can before committing to starting, and try to learn as much about the business as possible, especially if you do not have a background in craft beer. This is primarily a manufacturing business and you must be aware of and control all aspects of the manufacturing process from start to finish, and then be able to repeat this again and again. This involves being aware of equipment and ingredients, to scheduling and brewing, to packaging, to selling, delivery and recovering empty kegs. If you are starting off small as we did, make sure you also keep on top of the accounting as this piles up very quickly and can cause huge issues if left unprocessed. Cash flow is very important and you have to pre-purchase most items and then hope to recover the cash at a later date. This means that results are very lumpy. Make sure there is plenty of money set aside for working capital, but above all have fun! It is beer after all!