Ben's Beer Blog

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London is Getting a Microbrewery

13 Comments

Forked River

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.

Author: Ben

http://www.bensbeerblog.com

13 thoughts on “London is Getting a Microbrewery

  1. That’s so great! Can’t wait!

  2. This article is so rife with stereotypes, errors, and condescension that I don’t know where to begin.
    1. I guess I can start with the notion that London is “conservative” when it already supports five craft-friendly bars (Milos’, The APK, Black Shire, Morrissey House, and King Edward), epic beer events (Great Lakes tap takeover, multiple beer dinners and brewery features at the pubs I’ve mentioned), a micro beer festival, and a regional craft brewery (Railway City)? Forked River is the natural extension of a burgeoning beer scene in a mid-sized city, and anybody in touch with the local happenings knows this.
    2. 1999 called and it wants its Western/Fanshawe “London lager drinkers” back. 80% of the patrons at the local beer spots are students, whether undergrad or graduate. They’re clearly drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to the newfound popularity of craft beer. The idea that they’ll somehow be a hindrance to Forked River is comical (they’ll likely be among its top supporters).
    3. Since when is a Rye Pale Ale a “gateway” beer? If anything it’s the type of hopped-up, experimental brew that a beer geek like myself seeks out at local beer bars and I applaud Forked River for going with this style as one of their flagships. I think the Blonde will be more of a gateway as it can potentially transition people from something like Molson Export to a locally-brewed craft beer (blonde ale).
    I could go on but I’ll end by asking you to please do your research on a city that you’ve clearly become out of touch with and no longer know much about.

    • Holy shit that was one of the best overreactions I’ve ever read. We have the hipster knee-jerk reaction to being labeled mixed with the hipster infused esoterica followed by an attempt at irony in turning a phrase and it finishes beautifully with bold condescension. Kudos, Anonymous. Love, yours truly, Graeme Charles

  3. Thanks. I appreciate your comment and, in response, I’d like to shed some light on the research I’ve done on the city I lived in for 25 years and that I come back to roughly once a month.

    First, congratulations on London’s five craft beer bars. I’m aware of, and have been to, all of them. I have met with the owners of Milos and I know the people who organized the beer events you’ve mentioned. To be sure, it’s an awesome start, but five craft beer bars does not a scene make. Forked River is the first craft brewer within city limits, and it’s awesome that Railway City is nearby in St. Thomas, but it’s still fair to call it conservative town in terms of the beer. It just is.

    London is a Labatt’s town: macrobrewery sales dominate in London, as they do here in Toronto. It’s just a fact. It will be slow going to start a craft brewery there; your enthusiasm, and assertion that “anybody in touch with the local happenings knows this” notwithstanding.

    As to your statistics that 80% of the people at “beer spots” are students, I’d probably agree. But if you’re polling people that are already at bars that support craft beer in London (all five of them) you’re not really getting an accurate sampling of the entire city’s drinking habits. I’d ask that you conduct the same poll you seem to have conducted at beer bars the next time you’re at ever-popular London bars like Jim Bobs, the Ceeps, Kool’s, Molly Bloom’s, Winks, The Runt Club et al, i.e. the places where most of the beer consumed in London is actually consumed (to say nothing of the $35+ million in sales that happen in London’s beer stores). I think you’ll find that most students are not in fact drinking craft beer. Indeed, that you think students will instantly become some of Forked River’s biggest supporters suggests which of us is actually “out of touch.” I sincerely hope they do, but to assume it as a given is, simply, stupid.

    Furthermore, and forgive me for sounding like a spoiled Torontonian, I’ve suggested that Rye PA is a good “gateway beer” because, while it offers something a little different, it’s still generally accessible. Rye PAs tend to be hoppier with some interesting spice and malt characteristics, but they won’t scare anyone off like a double IPA or a dry-hopped saison or an imperial stout might. A blonde will bring in people who want to drink local, but I have suggested that an RPA might help Londoners try something different that isn’t too out there–and as you can see one of the founders of the brewery I’m talking about has agreed. .

    I too could go on, but I’ll end by asking you to consider that I actually do have a little bit of knowledge of both the province’s beer scene and the city that I grew up in and that I return to frequently. I’ll also kindly ask that you consider the hour of my response and consider what it implies about my consumption of beer as I write this so that I might be forgiven when I suggest that you kiss my ass.

    Once again, thanks for your comment.

    • It just occurred to me given the hour of your response that you’re obviously trolling yourself to create page views and that nobody could have that much pent up hate for someone that they would try to beat someone at their own game and fail so spectacularly. It was a good read. You have a new reader if all posts go this way.

      • Ha. No, I’m not “self trolling.” Incidentally I do occasionally hide under birdges and force myslef to amswer riddles.

    • Ben,

      If five beer bars, two micro breweries (one opening within city limits, one 30 min. away), regularly-occuring beer events, and a craft beer festival that will in all likelihood become an annual occurrence don’t make for a “small but respectable” beer scene in a city of 366,000 and a metro of 475,000, then I’d be interested know what meets your definition of a scene in the Ontario context. Sure, London’s no Grand Rapids or Buffalo, but it’s easily one of the better places to grab a pint of craft beer in this province.

      Being born and raised in London as well, I’m fully aware of the influence that Labatt exerts over the city’s bars but I don’t see how the fact that most people drink macro beer at places like Jack’s is any different than most Torontonians imbibing at Wayne Gretzky’s, Hard Rock, the Duke bars, etc. And yet I don’t consider Toronto a conservative beer wasteland because, as we all know, it has multiple great beer bars, events, and breweries.

      My prediction that students will be strong supporters of the brewery is just based on common sense – that’s mostly who you see at the good beer spots and events and I believe many of them will gladly support Forked River when they see their beers on tap, in stores, at beer dinners/brewery meet-and-greets, and at the Forest City Beer Fest. Whether they’ll trek out to the far east end to grab bottles, growlers, and kegs is far from certain (I’ll give you that), as most of the students that I knew at Western used London’s slow and unreliable transit.

      Regarding your comments on the Rye PA style, I see where you’re coming from now. Initially the “gateway” label raised my eyebrows but your elaborated points are valid.

      Anyway, it’s unfortunate that you chose to respond to my comments with schoolyard insults as I would’ve otherwise taken some interest in your blog (stereotypes and all). My criticisms were harsh but I refrained from telling you to go fuck yourself. Oh well.

  4. Ben, I know nothing about beer. I’m just looking for someone to help me finding the best place to take a couple of friends from Austria. They’ll be in my place in Brampton in March. And they know their beer! So far I found some info on Toronto pubs in my realtor’s newsletter (moving soon) and actually went to see the place – Beerbistro – in King St. Looks a little too posh, I’m looking for something with more genuine atmosphere. With a great choice of drafts if possible. I peeped into Allen’s but that’s very Irish and there are Irish pubs in Vienna for sure. Any advice, anybody?

    • Hi Patricia,

      That’s actually not a bad list at all you’ve linked to. I’d also recommend Bar Hop on King Street. (http://barhopbar.com/home.html). It’s got a good vibe and a fantastic draft list. Volo, on the list you’ve included, is also pretty laid back, but it’s small. And I know you said you were looking for variety, but you really should check out Bellwoods Brewery (on your list) and the Indie Alehouse, in the Junction. These are two great brew pubs where all the beer is made on site (and it’s all really good). Incidentally, elsewhere on this very blog is a map that includes the city’s best beer spots–breweries, pubs, etc. https://bensbeerblog.com/2012/06/07/147/

      Feel free to email me if you want some more info. (Contact info is on the “About” tab, above).

      Cheers!

  5. Ask Dave who taught him how to brew and who helped him develop those beers he now floggin… give a man a beer or teach him how to brew – makes you think…

    Spencer Brew Pub – EST 1990

  6. Please dear lord, we pray Forked river is better then the bile produced out of railway city brewing..

  7. Pingback: Forked River Brewing Company: So how’s the beer? | Ben's Beer Blog

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