It's a Collective Not A Competition. Bringing Local Breweries Together.
Focusing on the local beer scene here in KW Region. Looking at the Waterloo-Wellington Collective Beer Week kicking off on August 12th.
Here at Foodlink Waterloo Region, we focus on promoting local food and the local food scene. There was talk after the local food movement started over ten years ago, that it was a fad and would soon fade. Yet, what we've seen, is that it is ever changing and ever growing. Along with all of the local food producers, restaurants, small local unique business that we have access to in KW and surrounding areas, we are also in a prime location for local breweries, wineries, cideres and distilleries. As it is summer and a nice cold beverage is really refreshing and pairs amazingly with local food, why not talk a bit about the local breweries?
It seemed like the perfect time to do this. The Waterloo-Wellington Craft Beer Collective Week kicks off on Saturday August 12th at Beertown Waterloo with a tap takeover. The Craft Beer Collective is a group of 12 local breweries who work together to bring awareness to the local craft beer scene. Pick up a passport from one of these breweries and enjoy a journey on the Ale Trail! I had a chance to interview Robin, co-owner and brewmaster at Descendants and Graham, co-owner at Block 3 Brewery to get their input on the local beer scene.
1) Who are you and what is your role at the brewery?
R: I am Robin, a certified brewmaster from the VLB in Berlin, Germany. I have lived in KW since I was 12 but I was born in Dublin, Ireland and immigrated here as a family. As a co-owner and brewmaster at Descendants, I wear many hats at our brewery. I formulate recipes and manage staff and look at our business strategies. There's a lot more to owning a brewery than just making good beer.
G: I am Graham, one of the co-founders of Block Three Breweing Co.
2) What's been the hardest and most rewarding part of starting a brewery?
R: The hardest and most rewarding simultaneously? There are hard parts and there are rewarding parts like watching people enjoy your beer. Something that is both difficult and rewarding has been finding great staff and learning how to be a 'boss'. I've never co-owned a brewery or any other business so learning to supervise and work with people has been both challenging and rewarding.
G: The hardest part of starting a brewery was taking the chance/risk of doing something different and on your own. The most rewarding part is all of the friendships and people I have met being a part of this industry, from customers, restaurant owners and fellow brewers.
3) What's your favourite beer you have made? Why?
R: I have favourites that come and go with the seasonals and one-offs that we offer but I think my all time favourite is our Harbinger APA. It's our flagship and I love it. I do have to give honourable mention to Giant Face. I do love it as well and she definitely has her loyal followers.
G: That is a tough one. It changes on a weekly basis because of what we do. Some of my favourites that we have brewed are Fickle Mistress, Barrel Thing, Stratusfear and Vibrant. I am also really excited for some of the beers we have planned in the near future.
4) What would consumers be surprised to hear about the beer industry?
R: I think consumers would be surprised at a few things. Firstly, how quickly the industry is changing and how much really is going on right here in their own communities. There are so many breweries popping up and so many people home brewing now that weren't there even 4-5 years ago. Secondly, people are generally shocked that we don't slag big, factory breweries for what they do. What they do is difficult. They create a consistent product in an industry where consistency is difficult but necessary. They also produce a lot of jobs in an industry that we love. We've seen that large factory brewing companies have an issue with craft beer but our perspective is that we produce a drop in the bucket compared to what they output annually. Lastly, people are always shocked that we actually get along together. We don't look at each other like strict competition. Unlike Coke and Pepsi, we encourage our staff to drink beer from craft breweries all over the place. We want to see and experience what other breweries are doing. We are members of the Waterloo-Wellington Craft Collective because we believe that beer builds community. We want to be a part of that community.
G: I don't think consumers really get how bad our retail model is in this province. It almost seems like everything is setup so that small producers can't succeed. It is definitely something that our government needs to work on but sadly I don't think they will.
5) Do you think that craft beer is just a fad or is it here to stay?
R: It would be odd for someone to start their own craft brewery if they thought craft beer was just a fad. I would suggest that maybe they didn't have the best common or business sense. Craft beer is definitely here to stay, although fads in beer styles are coming and going all of the time. Consumers are looking for the experience, that means the name of the beer, label design, tours and other value you offer on shelves and at your location. Waterloo Region has many people who are willing to support local businesses whether it be beer, bakeries or local chefs. There is talk about a 'bubble' in the Ontario craft beer market. I am not sure that this is true. Yes, craft beer in Ontario has grown significantly in the past few years but we are still nowhere near some of the regions of the U.S. Our concern doesn't come from how many craft breweries are here in the province, our concern comes from how many people are doing it well. We don't want people who lack education in brewing to create bad beer labelled 'craft' that puts people off or leaves a bad taste in their mouths (pun intended). If all of the breweries in Ontario are making fantastic beers, it will only serve to solidify us as a beer centre and a destination, but it only takes a few making a poor product to turn people off of even trying products labelled craft.
G: I think craft beer is here to stay. Customers have seen the light and don't just want fizzy yellow liquid. They want something with flavour and I think that is what most craft breweries are offering.
6) Where do you take inspiration from?
R: I get inspiration from all over the place. I have a book of ideas I have been keeping from before I even went to school to become a brewmaster. I can't take all of the credit though. We have Brew Team meetings, our brew staff, my co-owners Lee (who is also my wife) and our other staff members contribute ideas. Ideas can come from anywhere, you can taste a flavour or see a photo or someone can tell you about a beer they tried while on vacation 8 years ago. It's ever changing. Really, our inspiration is to create beer that people like, at the end of the day we could create a beer filtered through old dirty socks but is anyone really going to want to drink that? Probably not.
G: We take our inspiration from other beers we have tried as well as other ingredients that are available to us.
If you haven't checked out a local brewery I would highly suggest it. Taking part of the Craft Beer Collective Beer week is a good excuse to do so! Many of our local breweries have made it a mission to make visiting their brewery an enjoyable experience. Not only are they creating tasty beer but providing board games, open atmospheres, events like live music, trivia nights and yoga (yes beer & yoga events are a thing) or just the fact you can hang out with fellow beer connoisseaurs and the breweries knowledgeable and fun staff it is an experience to remember!