Capital Pint by Travis Persaud is generally published every second Thursday at OttawaMagazine.com. Follow Travis on Twitter @tpersaud.
Ottawa’s brewing community is about to expand. Again.
Renovations are well underway at 6-119 Iber Road — just down the street from the Ottawa Senators’ home — where The Covered Bridge Brewing Co. plans to open by June.
“I think it’s every home brewer’s dream to go pro,” says John VanDyk, Covered Bridge Brewing’s owner and brewer. But it’s a dream that needed a loving nudge from his wife to jump out of his head and into reality. “[She] encouraged me to put together a [business] plan to see what the numbers were,” he remembers.
VanDyk grew up on the west coast. Admittedly, he says he wasn’t much of a beer drinker. After studying biochemistry in Victoria, B.C. he moved to Toronto to attend a homeopathic college. It’s there that he met his wife Kathy. In 2007 they relocated to Ottawa when VanDyk landed a job with Health Canada.
About three Christmases ago, while they were in HomeSense, he spied a Mr. Beer kit. (The little home brewing system is to beer what an Easy-Bake oven is to baking. You can decide if that’s a good thing or not.)
“My wife told me to buy it,” he says. And like any good husband, he listened. He went home, mixed the extracts with the yeast and water, and waited. In the meantime, he went online to see where he could buy refill packs.
“It turns out you can’t get refills in Canada,” he says. But somewhat fortuitously during his search, VanDyk found the Members of Barleyment — an online community for Ottawa-based brewers.
“I ended up brewing with one of the guys from the group,” he says. “And this was before my Mr. Beer kit finished. I was his ‘brew bitch’ for the day. I did all the grunt work and he showed me the ropes. I loved it. With my science background, we were talking about the process and enzymes…it was really neat.”
VanDyk’s wide-eye experience with his first all-grain batch led him to buy his own home brewing equipment. And then he started developing his own recipes.
“We had to throw a lot of parties,” he says. “My friends had to drink it all so I could brew more!” Oh yeah, he still wasn’t drinking that much beer.
It’s not that he doesn’t like beer. He does. But when he speaks you can clearly hear his passion is tied to the process more than the product. The timbre of his voice becomes stronger, more confident, than his usual mild-mannered, easygoing nature. “The process is just fascinating,” he explains. “I’m not a creative person, but with beer I can be creative. It’s a bit of a Zen thing. The whole process is really good for me. It’s like gardening for me — but the product is so much better!”
It wasn’t until last year that he seriously considered opening his own brewery. He felt his job security waning with looming government cutbacks and that’s when his wife pushed him in the right direction. “She thinks I found my calling,” he says. “And Ottawa seems to be soaking up [craft] beer. I figure we need a brewery in the west end.”
Covered Bridge Brewing almost ended up even further west. They signed a lease to an old stone building in Carleton Place near the end of 2012. “It was a romanticized idea of what we wanted,” VanDyk says. “The building is really beautiful. But the lease changed and it didn’t work for us. The location on Iber Road is great — it doesn’t have much character, but we’re trying to add to it.”
Covered Bridge Brewing plans to open with five styles on tap: The Dirty Blonde (blonde ale); The Amber Rose (amber ale); MSB (brown ale); Eternally Hoptimistic (American pale ale); and Covered Bridge Double-Double (sweet stout).
“I really like malty beers,” VanDyk says, explaining why his versions of these styles differ from what drinkers may expect. “And I think the sweet stout can really bring in people who aren’t really beer drinkers. I use coffee and chocolate and many of my friends who don’t drink beer love it.”
To start, VanDyk will brew one day a week, which will yield about 20 kegs or roughly 1,200 litres. The rest of his time will be spent growing the business. “We’re going to have a small storefront, sell growlers, and might even have a tasting room so we can sell by the pint,” he says. “But our main push will be getting into restaurants and bars.”
As for Covered Bridge Brewing’s opening date, that’s still a moving target. Their equipment arrived late after some shipping delays, but he’s still hoping to be ready for June. And his wife is counting down the days.
“She is anxious to get going,” VanDyk says. “She’s getting ready to take the day off when we open. She’s been so supportive.”