Starting a Brewery, Part 1: Taking the Leap

I’ve been hooked on craft beer for a long time. My first beer was a generic lager, like most of your first beers probably were.

But I grew up in Quebec, which has always had a more interesting and vibrant, Belgian-inspired, beer culture than the rest of Canada. I can still remember having my first taste of Unibroue beer and thinking “what the hell is this?!” It was a revelation. There was something out there besides fizzy yellow water, and I wanted to know more.

ChurchKey, in Washington DC, remains one of my favourite beer bars in the U.S. It boasts an always-changing selection of 500 bottles, 50 taps and 5 casks, impeccably curated by Greg Engert.

When I moved to Washington DC for a few years, my love of craft beer only deepened as I was exposed to the U.S. craft beer scene, which had only recently taken over the city. New flavours, insanely hoppy beers, and seasonal offerings were pretty much the norm. Places like the now-defunct Brickskeller touted bottle lists with 1,032 different beers. I loved it.

After a few years, I moved back to Canada and established myself in Toronto. I walked into our provincially run liquor store in search of something like the beers I had been exposed to in the U.S. There was very little to be found.

I then went to Ontario’s Soviet-style The Beer Store (owned and operated by the world’s three largest foreign-owned breweries and proud makers of fizzy yellow beer, no less), and the selection there was even worse.

Brewing my first batch of beer.

This led me to homebrewing. I could make the kind of beers I wanted to drink but couldn’t buy.

I’ve wanted to be a brewer for quite some time. Not really in a serious way, but more in the “wouldn’t it be interesting” way that so many homebrewers fantasize about. But when I seriously contemplated it, I’d quickly conclude that it was nothing more than that — a fantasy.

In January, my previous employer decided to shut its doors, and I had to move on. I was faced with a few obvious choices: I could continue working in digital product design at another service agency in Toronto or, more appealing to me, I could move somewhere along the West Coast and work within a product company. Maybe I’d even take a really long vacation and do nothing for a while. I didn’t really know what to do but I had plenty of time to figure things out.

One night, I stood in my friend Callum’s kitchen drinking (and probably brewing) beer. I told him that I got laid off and wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. Callum had been working on starting a brewery in Toronto for the past three years — perfecting recipes, developing various versions of business plans and financial models, and designing a concept. But he needed a partner to make it come to life. With the rapidly-changing beer scene in Ontario, it felt like there was a now-or-never moment.

Callum asked me if I wanted to be a part of Halo Brewery. I paused for a moment and remembered my friend Sean’s voice saying: “you have to ask yourself… do you want to let this one pass, too?” Almost without thinking, I said yes to Callum. Something inside me told me this is exactly what I needed to do.

When I reflected on it afterwards, it occurred to me that moving across the continent to take a job would have been the easiest thing I could do — which is a strange realization. As I would soon discover, the real work of finding and fulfilling your purpose is much harder. I had no idea what challenges would lie ahead.

Read next: Part 2 — Is There Room for Another Craft Brewery?

New parts in this series will be published regularly. You can follow me below to get notified when a new part of our journey is posted.

Halo Brewery is also on Facebook and Twitter.

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