We’d been working on getting our microbrewery up and running for almost 4 years – since 2017. The paperwork and financing took a long time, but things were starting to come together in late 2020. We figured we’d have all the equipment in place & set up by the spring of 2021…..then we really needed to get working on teaching ourselves a lot of the process through trial and error – and, of course, wasted product. Best case scenario we thought we’d be selling our beer by late 2021 – worst (and most likely) case – summer 2022. If we could get someone to help with training us and our staff, the timelines could be much shorter, but we didn’t know of anyone suitable who would be willing – and that we could afford. Covid hit our core business hard – we’ve been down 98% in revenue since the pandemic started, so funds were extremely tight, and hiring a trainer was just not feasible.
Then one day in September 2020, we were incredibly fortunate to have a gentleman named Rob Liedl and his wife Sandra randomly stop into our resort looking for an overnight campsite while travelling across Canada. Turns out Rob is one of the top brewing & malting talents in the world! When we described what we were working on and showed him around he told us that he’d love to help with training. We couldn’t believe our luck – as one brewery industry person said to us recently “You don’t just get guys like Rob out of the Yellow Pages – he’s a legend!”. His company – Applied Brewing & Malting assists with set up and training for brewery and malting plants around the world. It’s safe to say that a tiny project like ours is not his usual contract .
We continued talking while we slowly acquired and set up equipment & facilities. Rob agreed that he could come up in April 2021 and spend 3 weeks with us training processes, recipes and everything else. This was incredible. We could shorten the timelines to summer 2021 to begin serving our beer, save a lot of money trying to train ourselves and learn the science and practical methods of brewing properly. The intense, 3 week program would be akin to several semesters of post secondary education in brewing. And Rob would be available on an ongoing basis for advice.
We tentatively booked him – but our biggest issue – very likely a dealbreaker – is how we’d pay him.
Then – Garry Mackinnon from the Atikokan Economic Development Corp told us to contact Brad Beyak at the Employment Centre -he thought Brad had a program available that may help. We contacted Brad and he suggested the Canada – Ontario Jobs Grant and connected us with Bridget McGinnes at the NCDS in Fort Frances.
We were only a few weeks away from the date we were to start training, so I thought even if we were approved, there’s no way it would happen that quickly. Bridget was incredible. She quickly reviewed our application and we were approved within a couple of days (!!). She also set us up so that our staff could continue on their EI benefits while training. For a business trying to pivot and create new revenue streams and jobs during a pandemic with their core business gutted, it’s hard to describe in words how much the COJG funding helped us.
We’ve been selling our beer for over a month now and it is going over extremely well. We have 6 brews on tap at this point – a koelsch, an IPA, a dry hopped IPA, a sour and an “alt” beer. Kegs are emptying quickly – and the big guys like Bud & Coors aren’t poured very often any more in our restaurant. We got our staff – and some new employees – back to work months ahead of schedule and have diversified our revenue stream and clientele (we are no longer just reliant on the US tourist). With craft breweries being such a huge draw for tourists with “ale trails” , having a craft brewery near Atikokan will help NW Ontario promote to those types of travellers. When we opened, there were only craft breweries in Thunder Bay & Kenora. As more open throughout the region, we’ll be able to market our own “ale trail”.
We just received another 2000 lbs of malt and are ready to start brewing again next week. We’re working with a consultant on branding and getting our manufacturers licence in order to then be able to get our product into the LCBO and other bars and restaurants and stores.
The last few months have been an incredibly positive whirlwind of events. Absolutely none of this would be happening without the help of the COJG. Rest assured that this program works – it helps train people, creates jobs and economic activity. Can’t thank you enough!