Thursday, May 25, 2006

5 Homebrews, 3 Hours’ Sleep, and Both Fingers Crossed

When beer makers Tim and Stephen Beauchesne started putting the wheels into motion to start up a microbrewery 17 months ago, they knew that there would be challenges to overcome. But the journey that led them to today – now on the cusp of a summer 2006 launch for their brewery, Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company – is truly a wild ride of adversity and spirit.
Like most would-be entrepreneurs, the first hurdle for the pair was money: they turned to a combination of private investors and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) to finance their dream. But investors can be fickle, and the BDC has a way of [censored, details to come]. What the was originally projected as a six-week approval has actually taken nine months… and counting. And an investor who promised $150,000 in start-up funding got cold feet, backing out the week the funds were due.
So the father and son found themselves financing much of their business through personal sacrifice. Tim closed his doors on his former business, a manufacturing plant, to focus on launching the brewery, and has been without income since last July. To pay the bills, his wife Denise grabbed a job as a shoe salesperson, dealing with feet and grouchy customers to keep the dream alive. Together they have tied up all their assets in getting money flowing for Beau’s.
Stephen has been equally committed – or crazy. In February he gave up the security of a lucrative position with the Ontario government, sold his Toronto home, and relocated to the brewery’s location in Vankleek Hill, Ont., along with his wife, toddler daughter, and three-day old newborn. To save money they have crowded into cohabitation with Tim and Denise, so there is ample time to talk beer strategy into the night – over a few cold ones, of course.
It’s not all been tough times, though. Stephen is quick to point out the welcome reception they received from the Ontario Craft Brewers Association, for example. Also, the officials they have encountered at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and Federal Excise division of the Canada Revenue Agency have been friendly and helpful. And locally, MP Pierre Lemieux and Vankleek Hill’s mayor (Gary Barton) and economic development officer (Jeanne Charlebois) have been incredibly supportive.
Heck, even the competition is friendly. When the Beauchesnes realized that due to hold-ups with money they would need to start brewing in an existing facility in order to meet this summer’s launch date, they approached John Graham at Church Key Brewing in Campbellford, Ont. about using his equipment. Rather than running them out on a rail, though, Graham opened his doors to Beau’s; in fact, he actually handed them a key to the place.
Beau’s also lucked out in hooking up with one of the most talented brewmasters in the country, Matthew O’Hara. Matthew gained his knowledge of brewing the old-fashioned way, learning and working his way up the ranks of well-respected breweries including Upper Canada Brewing (now owned by Sleeman Breweries), Dennison’s Brewpub in Toronto, and Montreal’s McAuslan Brewing. He developed the unique recipe for Beau’s flagship beer, a lagered ale called Lug Tread that has yet to meet a dissatisfied palate. Now mid-way through May, Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company is still somehow on pace for a summer 2006 launch. Even Tim and Stephen don’t know exactly how, but they aren’t looking back, they’re looking forward. They grabbed their last five bottles of a pilot batch of Lug Tread, and headed out to meet the press for the first time at the Ontario Craft Brewers summer PR launch in Toronto on May 15th.
Wait a minute… will five bottles serve 50 thirsty media types, you might wonder? Like everything else, the Beauchesnes will find a way to make it happen. Count on it.