I resisted the urge to add an exclamation point to the title of this post; however, I can’t help but hum the tune to “Hallelujah” when I type the words.
You see, I’m from London and lived there for roughly 85% of my life and while London has always had a lot to offer, craft beer has not been one of those things.
Now, with the arrival of Forked River Brewing Company, that will change.
The recently announced craft brewery is the brainchild of David Reed, Andrew Peters, and Steve Nazarian–all London residents and University of Western Ontario graduates (Go Mustangs!). Reed is an engineer who worked a few years running an engineering department at a beverage R&D firm and has been brewing for ten years; Nazarian worked in the biotechnology sector, working in pharmaceutical manufacturing, drug safety testing, and quality control before getting the homebrewing bug in 2004; and Peters is also a microbiologist who got involved with homebrewing clubs in Ottawa and Toronto.
I spoke recently with Steve Nazarian via email to find out what exactly they were brewing and how they hoped to bring craft beer to a place that’s not only my hometown, but also Labatt’s.
What made you decide to get into beer and how did it come about? Can you expand on the brewing competitions you guys have entered as mentioned in your press release? Where have you showcased your beer before?
“So, yes we’ve all had/have careers after University but all of us got into homebrewing in a fairly big way. The romance of brewing hits us all a bit differently but the three of us certainly were passionate about what we were doing. We also found our technical expertise and experience to be extremely helpful and we thought we made pretty good beer. When we started discussing the prospect of doing a brewery, we wanted to be able to show everyone that we could make beer that was objectively judged as good beer.
We entered a number of competitions including the Beau’s Pro-Am (Dave won the light hybrid category and I got second in the same sub-category), CABA [Canadian Amateur Brewer's Association] (I think Dave won something 3 medals at this one), ALES [The Ale and Lager Enthusiasts of Saskatchewan - (with all of us having beer progress to the final round NHC [National Homebrewer's Competition]; Andrew had a gold medal Kolsch at ALES).”
You’ve jumped right in, so to speak, by purchasing an entire brewery setup. A lot of brewers in the GTA have been going the contract-brewing route first given the lack of overhead costs. Was that ever an option for Forked River? Did you always know you’d start a full-on brewery, or was there simply a lack of options for contract brewing in the London area?
“We knew pretty early on that we wanted to give London a real, living brewery that customers could visit. We felt that so much of the connection with London would be those person-to-person interactions and we also wanted to have a physical location that people could visit and meet us. We certainly considered contract-brewing (several times) but always came back to our mantra of wanting to be London’s microbrewery.”
I see you guys are going to do seasonals. First: Awesome. Second: Do you anticipate you’ll have difficulty getting Londoners on board with more “exotic” beers? I note you’re doing a blonde as well as a rye PA. That seems like a good strategy to get typically conservative London lager fans into your beer: ease them in with an easy-drinking blonde and use the RPA as a “gateway” beer. What other sort of styles do you think you’ll do?
“It’s great that you’ve hit the nail on the head with that! We really are unsure how London will take to bolder styles. Certainly there is some demand for them, since we’ve seen much more in the way of craft beer friendly bars offering more than just a standard blonde ale or lager, but it’s hard to anticipate how Londoners would take to a DIPA.
This was something else we decided early on: Even though we are unsure, we need to try anyway. We purchased a 7BBL (about 1000L) fermenter to use exclusively for our seasonal offerings. At home we are always trying something different so we hope that we can broaden the horizons of beer drinkers in London. Our focus won’t necessarily be to do 10% alcohol or 100IBU (although we’ll still get those beers out too) but we hope to brew some styles that are under represented and maybe invent some of our own! Some of the beers that have done well in competition are Andrew’s Kolsch, Dave’s barleywine and dunkelweisse, and my Belgian dark strong but I don’t think there is really any limit to what we might try.”
Who do you think your market is? I’ve always wondered if craft would work in London–namely because I feel like interesting beer is a tough sell for Western students picking up two-fours or downing easy-drinking lager. Are you going to market to Western and Fanshawe College, or are you looking for more sophisticated (i.e. older) beer drinkers?
“We know that beer geeks are likely to be like us! Somewhat older, and typically professionals. With our initial line up we are hoping to make inroads in markets segments that aren’t beer geeks. We want to make great tasting beer that people can enjoy. We think anyone who is looking for quality over quantity is a potential customer. Going to places like the Spoke and the Grad Club at UWO, and the Out Back Shack at Fanshawe should get us some exposure to students [It should be noted here that none of Forked River's accounts are set in stone yet given that they haven't actually brewed any beer yet, but they hope to get into these establishments. Here's hoping those bars embrace them!]. Hopefully Londoners will start to demand flavour in their beer and bars will listen. Sure the more exotic stuff might be a tough sell but we know that a barrel-aged RIS isn’t for everyone.
As an aside, I think places like Amsterdam have done a great job of accomplishing exactly what we’re describing. They make some beer that appeals to a large customer base but their seasonal releases have been very unique. [Note: Steve, you are preaching to the choir].”
Forked River Brewing isn’t open yet but they’re aiming for Spring to start pouring their beer and to open their brewery, which will be located at 45 Pacific Court, Unit 16 (Off Clarke Road between Oxford and Dundas). The 3000 square foot site will feature a tasting room showcasing cask ales, barrel-aged beer, and other goodies you probably can’t find anywhere else in London. There will also be a retail site where you can purchase bottles, half-gallon growlers, and kegs.
Trips back home just got a little better.
Stay tuned to the brewery’s twitter feed for news on where you can find their Blonde and Rye Pale Ale in London’s better bars–or stay tuned to this blog because you can bet I’ll be reviewing their beer as soon as I can get my hands on some.