Post by Karie Dufour.
There was a time when The Beer Store was not the private multinational corporation it is today, but rather a cooperative of Ontario brewers.
The Brewers Warehousing Company Ltd., established in 1927 following prohibition, was created to protect local breweries and owned by every brewer in the province.
Waller St. Brewing hopes to bring back that post-prohibition flavour to Ottawa’s craft beer scene.
It will open later this summer in the basement of 14 Waller, the home of Lunenburg Pub and The Loft Board Game Lounge. The stone building dates back to the 1860s and sits across the street from The Beer Store’s Rideau Street location.
“I really want to have a collaborative scene,” says brewer Marc-André Chainey. “When people have a sense of belonging with a product, they give back.”
His partner is experienced restaurateur Elie Dagher, who owns the Lunenburg Pub and Hooch Bourbon House on Rideau Street. Both Dagher and Chainey are also full-time bridge engineers and beer lovers who met at work. Some workplace talk about starting a distillery led to Waller St.
“The first step to making scotch is making beer. So I started making beer and never stopped,” explains Chainey.
Brewing in the basement of a heritage building has created unique challenges and led to some delays. The space required much construction (and thus building permits) and processes and equipment have had to be adapted to accommodate the small doorways.
But Chainey is familiar with creative brewing processes. Active in Ottawa’s underground home brewing scene for more than six years, he admits to going “full out geek” when it comes to beer. He brews at home on a tablet through blue-tooth using an app he developed and a microcontroller he wired himself – a system that allows for a very controlled and consistent brewing process.
Waller St. will start by offering three beers that Chainey says go far beyond the “tasteless yellow fizz” produced by big companies: a blonde with local ingredients, a rye red light beer described as a “mouthful of flavour,” and an American porter that will fall somewhere between a stout and a black IPA. The beer will be sold in 750 ml bombers out of the basement bottle shop and offered on tap at the Lunenburg, Hooch and a few other select locations in the neighbourhood.
The original distillery plan is also in the works and the pair hopes it will be up and running within a year, producing bourbon, whiskey and gin equivalents, as well as something unique. However, Chainey and Dagher are realizing it won’t be easy. They say existing legislations are somewhat archaic – geared toward large-scale production, which made sense in a 1940s economy, but not today.
“We’re determined to work with legislators for the mutual benefits of producers and consumers,” says Chainey with a diplomatic smile.
The company’s prohibition-era branding reflects that “free-market alternative” they hope to provide. In fact, Chainey has plans to offer an “open-source” beer by posting the recipe online and allowing other brewers to play with it and collaborate. Even a quick look at the company’s Facebook page and website shows they are already sharing business ideas and brewing processes.
Despite the recent surge of new breweries in the city, Chainey and Dagher are not overly concerned, suggesting that when it comes to craft beer, it’s not really a competition.
“More competition doesn’t necessarily diminish your markets; it tends to raise awareness of craft beer. It pries away the people who are still drinking their father’s beer. It allows them to find their own niche.”
Chainey looks forward to working with the other breweries, staying small and creating a sort of neighbourhood pint. He points out that one of the advantages of being so small is the ability to really tweak and adapt the recipes as ingredients and local tastes evolve.
“It allows us to be creative each time and have that collaborative relationship that I want to have with brewers.”
Karie Dufour is a long-time Ottawa resident who loves beer and Lowertown and absolutely hates olives. She has a government communications gig, is the co-director of Cliff Hanger Communications and blogs about urban issues and families at Pub Patio Playdate.