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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Meet Jason Fisher: Indie Alehouse, Toronto, ON

Fisher with mash tun
Meet Jason Fisher, Founder and President of the Indie Alehouse, a new Toronto brewery (in progress).

Fisher has been dreaming, and planning, about opening his own brewery for over 25 years now, and he is close to reaching that goal as the Indie Alehouse inches closer and closer to opening. Located in Toronto's historic Junction area, the Indie Alehouse will operate as a tied-house, selling bottles and growlers of their beer out of an on-site retail store and will have a fully functioning kitchen and seating for approximately 100 people. 

The Indie Alehouse is situated at 2876 Dundas St West, just west of Keele Street. The brewery will be a welcome addition to the Junction as it was the last Toronto neighbourhood to remain 'dry' (1904 - 2000). 

Meet Jason!

The Indie Alehouse - what can you tell us about it?
The Indie Alehouse is a small microbrewery in the west end of the city, near High Park in the ‘Junction’ neighbourhood of Toronto. To a casual observer we look like a brewpub that also sells beer-to-go at a store on the side. But partially because of technicalities in the licensing as well as because of our philosophy about the business, we are actually a brewery with a restaurant and retail beer store attached all in one space. Seems like the same thing, but to us it helps put focus on three distinct areas – Beer Production, Food, and offsite beer sales – all of which are equally important to our brand.

How are the plans coming along? When do you plan on opening your doors?
This has become the question I hate the most, since I have not got the right answer in years of asking, and saying ‘soon’ is not a great answer, but soon. Plans have been mostly useless because each day something comes up that messes with your ‘plans’ but I knew going in that was the way it would be and have been able to ‘roll with it’ most days. Most days. The day the boiler fell down the stairs or the day the HVAC quote came back 300K over budget were ‘exceptions’ to the roll with it approach. The outlook right now is that we should have the restaurant side all finished work by early December and the brewery side 2-4 weeks later. Then final inspections and who knows what else will come up but there is still hope of a 2011 opening, if not very early 2012.

Some Toronto bars have seen some of your beers already. What other styles will you be producing?
We’re luck that our Brew Master, Kevin Somerville, is also the program coordinator at Niagara College Teaching Brewery so we have been able to have our beers made to our standards by the college and offered in the city. So far we’ve made 4 beers – A Belgian Wit with ginger and lavender, our ‘Breakfast Porter’ with lots of oats, chocolate and coffee, our West Coast IPA and a Belgian IPA. We also plan to make a 5th beer and a variety of rotating seasonals but that lineup is not 100% set yet. A sour-raspberry, spicy saison, Russian Imperial Stout, among other are in the running for 5th beer. We also want to do a lot of one-off and barrel aged beers that are very hard to find and exclusively at our location only.

What will set you apart from other breweries?
It sounds funny to say to people who are not knowledgeable about the craft beer industry, but we want to be like some of the great American small craft breweries who are content to make a big impact with a small footprint. We’re not interested in world domination, or even Toronto domination. We will be on tap in very few accounts in the city – probably less than 10 places for the first few years. We will make only ales, no light lagers or pilsners. Just bigger, stronger, bolder beers. We want to make our beers in small batches only – no mass production, no mass sales (so no LCBO or Beer Store). Small, quality focused, big-bold beers, targeted to more adventurous drinkers tired of blander beers. We want to be the “advanced class” for craft beer. It doesn’t mean everything is extra bitter or high alcohol, or we will be snobby or all ‘hipster about things - just beers made well focusing on bigger flavors. We’re lucky to be able to do this because of the work of a few other local brewers who have laid the groundwork for us in Toronto, so we plan to take advantage and go to the next level. Also, because of our – brewery, restaurant, beer store setup and philosophy we can interact directly with customers about what they like and react to our market easily.

What did you do before embarking on this venture?
I don’t even want to think about it… ☺ I mostly worked in jobs I didn’t like, wishing I worked in a craft brewery. I worked for two very large multi-national corporations and one very small entrepreneurial company in sales and marketing. Sometimes the jobs were fun, sometimes they were awful, but I did my best to learn along the way and hope to put all of that to use at The Indie Alehouse.

Why did you get into the brewing industry?
I made my first homebrew – from a ‘John Bull, Export Ale’ kit I got a Zellers in 1985 in Gr.10 for my science project. It was awesome. At least that’s how I remember it now. I got an A – although the teachers did express some concern that a 16yr old was making ‘very drinkable beer’ in a lab on school premises. I emphasized the yeast / science elements of the ‘experiment’, but had to take my learning to my basement. I always loved things that combined art and science in school and work and as I travelled I learned more about great beers – spending time in Europe and the United States exposed me to so much I couldn’t get at home, I knew this would be a good business as well as more fun than working for a big corporation.

How has the response been from the community? Are they excited to be getting a brewery in their neighbourhood?
I knew the response would be good but I never imagined it would be as good or as positive as it has been. I honestly get an average of 40 people emailing me per week, over the last 6 months from people excited about our opening. I think it’s partially the demand for great beer in the city is bigger than ever, partially our location in an area that is very underserved (there is not much west of Yonge and north of Bloor in Toronto), and I hope, partially because of our approach to the business. Also I have to say, that a lot of bars and other breweries have been VERY helpful and supportive. It’s so nice to not be viewed as competition and more as a partner in this venture. I feel like I owe a lot of people already for the help I’ve been getting, and I’ll make sure to pay it back or forward when I get the opportunity.

Tell us something about Indie Alehouse that not a lot of people know about... yet!
Have I mentioned the boiler fell down the stairs? (I still lose sleep at night about this) – and let’s see, I wrote my first business plan for a microbrewery 25 years ago and walked around with it in my bag for 15 years incase I met someone who could help me. And on the food side of the business, I’m very lucky to have the help of two world class chefs in the city – Todd Clarimo, (formerly Oliver Bonacini and now head of Trump Toronto food and beverage) and Albino Silva (Chiado, among others) have been amazing in helping set up the menu, kitchen design and a million other ways. I can’t wait for the food.

What has been the biggest challenge to date?
Not being able to control time and space, Everything is a challenge! Money and Time – with more of either it would be much easier. And the boiler fell down the F@$#*&g stairs, so gravity has been a challenge too.

Tough question - Name your favourite non Indie Alehouse produced beer.
Favourite beer? Really? Impossible – way too many to choose from. I have a strong love at the moment for beers by Stone and Dogfish Head in the US as well as New Glarus ‘raspberry tart', Black Oak ‘ten bitter years’ and just about anything make by Mike Lackey at Great Lakes in his one-off series of funky beers.

Best time for a pint?
It sounds cheesy, but any time with friends is a good time for a pint. Everyone in the city is crazy about pints on a patio in the summer, but for me a pint by a fireplace on a cold night is just as good or better and we have a lot more opportunity for that in Toronto.

1 comment:

Frank said...

I always enjoy your interviews of people in the beer business. The Indie Alehouse sounds like my kind of place. I will have to arrange a trip to Toronto when it opens.

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