This week’s Canada’s Craft Beer post comes from our Ontario and Quebec craft beer guy, David Ort. Today David explores the question of where all the new breweries in Ontario are coming from. He talks to the folks at Folly Brewpub about how they created success as new brewery.
All images courtesy of Folly Brewpub.
Where are all of these new breweries coming from? That's a question that has echoed through Ontario’s beer industry for the past two to three years. As half a dozen open in some months (and almost no one closes), it seems fair to ask where everyone is finding the money, personnel and customers that these new operations need to survive.
The Folly story is comparatively low-key. Instead of buying or renting a new space and filling it with shiny (read: expensive) equipment, the partners behind Habits on College overhauled their existing gastropub and added a full-fledged brewing operation to it. They also hired two talented beer makers in Chris Conway and Christina Coady to head the beer-making team.
Two years in and Folly has done quite well for themselves. Notably, they were ranked in the top ten Ontario breweries in both editions of the Ontario Craft Beer Guide.
I reached Conway by phone and asked what he thinks makes Folly different from the rest of the Toronto bunch.
“We’ve taken a more narrow approach,” he says, “than other Toronto breweries partially because of equipment limitations, partially because of what we want to do, which was to make beers that are Belgian inspired but American influenced. And really yeast-driven beers. Trying to make sure that yeast is a major component in the flavour profiles of beer is the main Folly ideology.”
We went on to discuss how they’ve augmented their original offerings — mostly saisons with lots of brett character and an accent from New World hops. This means they now make Dovercourt pale ale and are retiring the Praxis saison. “We are a pub,” Conway explains, “and we want to have approachable beers for people who are like, ‘Hey, I don’t want to learn a whole lot about beer tonight.’ “
Despite this shift, Coady and Conway have stuck to their yeast-first commitment by using sacch trois for many of their more recent creations. This is a strain of brettanomyces that acts a bit like saison yeast during fermentation and creates tropical fruit flavours, which complement the ones they can derive from hops.
“It kind of cheats in a way to give hoppy beers a little more character,” Conway says.
There are many other breweries in central Canada that are this small and have a two-person brewing team. Conway says that he and Coady make their collaboration work with lots of hard work — usually involving detailed conversations over pints of interesting beer. He also points out that it helps to divide jurisdiction; Coady mainly leads the beer-making operation while Conway focuses more on the details (like clean tap lines) that make sure their creations are presented in the best possible light.
Folly just celebrated their two-year anniversary and have made over 200 batches from their diverse lineup. Always a bit of a contrarian, Conway thinks they’re “pretty good at killing [their] darlings,” and half-jokingly wishes their followers didn’t have such high expectations for Coady’s and his creativity so that they could stick to their mainstays.
The success that carried Folly to the two-year mark has also allowed them to hire a third member for the brewing. Conway thinks this will make a big difference by giving him and Coady more time to flex their creative muscles.
I wrapped up our conversation by asking what he thinks is the key to their success. “Attitude makes so much of a difference,” he says. “That attitude to always want to learn and collaborate and talk to other brewers is really key. Coming from a homebrewing background, interacting with homebrewers non-stop was good training.”
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David Ort writes about food, travel, and craft beer for various online and print publications. His first book, The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook, is in bookstores and available for purchase online. For more of his thoughts on all things edible and potable follow him on Twitter or get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.