The Summer Wind: My First Three Months in Halifax
It’s been a long time since I posted anything here. Does anyone even read this thing? Hell, I don’t even proofread this thung.
A lot has happened since I quit my job and left Calgary. I moved to Halifax in late June and never looked back. I gotta say, and this is gonna sound smarmy, that I love Halifax. It feels like home and very much embodies the “East Coast Lifestyle” – namely, unemployment and jean jackets. On June 17, Doug picked me up from the airport bright and early for a day of market overview research.
Halifax is super cool. Big-city amenities, small-town familiarity, laid back, hospitable, great music scene (though nobody dances), downtown baseball diamonds, saltwater aroma, cozy pubs, high-end thrift stores, cheap cigars, and a booming beer scene. Booming. Perfect town for following a dream and opening a brewery. Speaking of which, here are a few shots of it.
Doug and I got right to work. He taught me how to use the pilot plant he’s been using for two years. My heart leaped right up my esophagus and into my mouth when a local brewing legend tasted our stout and remarked that it was, “Fucking delicious.”
After a few weeks alone, Doug and I were joined by Gus, who decided that he needed a winter vehicle (and possible vessel for keg deliveries). May I present the 1986 Mercedes-Benz 300G “G-wagon”, one of only six in Canada. Like the brewery, it runs on nothing but naive optimism.
Around this time, Doug’s lovely girlfriend Nichole (“Ropes”) also returned to Halifax after a stint back home in San Diego. She finished her Master of Science in Nursing at Yale recently and is working as a nurse for Dalhousie Health Services. She and Doug spent weeks at Target making the brewery hospitable. They also keep my eating habits intact. Notice how green the bananas in the picture below are. They never have a chance to ripen.
Our first major item of business as a team was to get our lease signed. The building is owned by the Merrigans, a family of business folk established in the North End of Halifax just blocks away from us. Mickey, the face of the family, his sons – also all named Mickey or variations thereof – and his daughter, Leonora, have been awesome to work with. Much of the relationship is based on trust, which is all-too-important and rarely sought in modern business.
With lease signed, most of July was dedicated to finalizing our funding. We’ve got our personal investments, BDC loan and credit union loan on deck. Now we just need our shareholder investments. We were approved for the Nova Scotia Equity Tax Credit, which sweetens the deal for our shareholders. Financing deals don’t make for very interesting photographs, so instead, here’s a picture of us on a Cape Breton parade float.
Doug spent a week in Cape Breton apprenticing at Big Spruce, Nova Scotia’s sleeper success brewery (notice the growlers in the above photo). The owner, Jeremy, has a minor operation but major personality and a huge fan-base. He’s a hot piece of ass, to boot; the ladies adore him. I wanted to learn more of his magical business and popped by Cape Breton for a weekend to check on Doug. During my visit, we stayed with Gus’ family and saw the home where he grew up. Angus’ dad allowed him and his sisters, Dollie and Kirsten, to make their mark on the family barn after they graduated high school. Gus won.
While Doug was brewing away, I was setting up meetings with bankers and government loaners. I hate to sound cocky (that’s a lie) but it’s almost too easy to ask for money to start a brewery (that’s the truth). Everyone wants to be a part of it. In addition to lenders, we had also spent the summer meeting contractors, artists, architects, engineers, tradespeople, website designers, equipment suppliers, utilities reps, liquor commissioning, alcohol and gaming, permitting, and myriad others. (We even get called daily by a woman named Susan who swears we won a free boat cruise.) The key with our connections is that they must want to join our family, not simply provide a service. That usually involves a lot of beer meetings. One such meeting was hosted by Don Campbell, owner of Barnone Brewing in PEI, which he built with his dad. He graciously invited us to see his brewery, which uses the same equipment supplier ours will.
The wonderful thing about the craft beer business is that it’s communal. In addition to Jeremy of Big Spruce and Don of Barnone, Muskoka Brewery owner Gary McMullen has been patient with and generous to us. Doug and I even met with a consulting engineer who is trying to create a union-like environment for Atlantic Canada breweries. He would go to bat for us against unfair regulations, ensure adequate supplies for all Atlantic craft brewers, and eventually go on to piss of the teamsters, only to be later found buried under Giants Stadium.
With the lease signed, our next major hurdle was our equipment order. We have been working on this quote since mid-2012 with a Diversified Metals Engineering (DME) rep named Denton, who paid us a visit in late June.
Like the lease, our equipment order was an exercise in bootstrapping and Denton helped us choose a system that served our needs without breaking our bank. We paid a visit to the DME headquarters in Charlottetown to negotiate the final terms and see exactly what we’ll be getting.
By day’s end of our DME visit, we had signed our lives away and ordered the equipment, which should arrive mid-winter. We loved working with Denton and can’t wait to have him visit us once brewing. It’s awesome to have our equipment supplier less than a 5-hour drive away. After signing the order, Denton took us out for beers at Barnone. It’s been a 2-year journey with this dude. We got a little misty-eyed, though I’m confident it was the airborne grist.
So, with lease signed and equipment ordered, our next major steps are securing the remaining financing and renovating the warehouse to prepare for the equipment arrival. There are a few challenges therein, namely that our warehouse is supplied with single- rather than three-phase electrical, propane rather than natural gas, and rats rather than puppies. Stay tuned.
As for you folks, send us your thoughts and ideas. We love to hear them. Honestly. While we certainly love good beer and supporting local businesses and all that, the reason we’re doing this is to run our own show and inject our personalities into a work of passion. I love doing this so much I would do it for free (and to this point, we have been). Got a beer you’ve tried recently and blew you away? Hit me with it. Seen a website that caught your eye? Fire it my way. Got a dick joke that had you crying? DROP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND CALL ME RIGHT NOW. We love hearing from you, even if it’s just a text message or Tweet. We’re not businessmen. Two years ago, I didn’t know what a business plan was. We’re figuring out everything as we go along. You could say, we’re playing it by beer.
Thanks for reading, and cheers!