Profiles

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Brewing on a small scale at his house in Dieppe, New Brunswick, Patrice Daigle launched O’Creek Brewing in late May, just in time for the local Atlantic Beer Festival. Daigle was looking for a change in focus, and with the support of his family, found brewing to be the perfect fit. Daigle was kind enough to sit down with us and share the details on his brewery, his homebrewing history, and plans for the future.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up in a small fishing village called Pointe-Sapin, this is where the name O’Creek is from. I’ve been in Moncton for over 20 years, working in IT ever since. I am the father of two beautiful young girls and have been married to a supportive wife. I’m mostly involved in the brewery duties but it’s also a family thing. Before brewing, I did wedding photography, and since I stopped, I’ve been brewing non stop and last year I decided to go commercial. It’s a real passion that I would like to share with others.

How did you get into the world of beer?
I wasn’t into beer that much to be honest, I was more a wine drinker. It all started about 10 years ago with friends, buying all sorts of imported beers and that’s where you start tasting different styles. After a summer of drinking just Picaroons, I really got hooked on craft beer. Back then, the craft beer scene wasn’t much, but now we have many choices and great options to pick from.

O'Creek and Beer Glass

What made you decide to take the step into opening a brewery?
After I started homebrewing, I liked it so much and couldn’t keep up with giving some to family members and friends. I would get good feedback and would want to brew more and more. I saw, and I still see, a huge potential in our region and I want to be part of this industry and to help other breweries to make a difference.

What is the culture or ethos of the brewery?
– I want people to enjoy the final results as much as I enjoy making it!
– Drink and support local

Can you tell us about the beers you have launched with? How about beers in planning?
Most of my beers are American style beer, big flavors like IPA, American Pale Ale, and Stouts, but I’m also a big fan of Belgian Saison so I will have a Saison Series, one called “Saison du Nord” and the other “Saison du Sud”. These names come from back home; we have two lobster seasons which divides the North and South. In summer time I will release some Wheat beer, Belgian and German styles, and in winter time, some stronger beer like Belgian Dubbel, Imperial Stout, etc. This may also change on demand, I’m really open and can’t wait to hear some feedback. This drives me to brew more. One of my launch beers was Route 117 NEIPA, named after the highway which goes from Kouchibouguac to Chatham along the Northern NB shore, via Pointe-Sapin.

What are your plans for distribution?
No taproom, bottles or cans for now. I only do kegs and I will post on social media where it will be available, so stay tuned to O’Creek!

Do you have some initial accounts in the area lined up to serve your beers?
No permanent accounts for now, however I have sold some kegs to the Pump House Fill Station, The Laundromat and Tide & Boar in Moncton, and Au Bootlegger in Bathurst. Also, you will soon see us at the ANBL store in Dieppe for growler fills…

O'Creek Family and Friends

Have you had any assistance from other breweries/people in the region?
Not on site in the brewery, but whenever I need advice on anything, I know I can count on other local breweries, they’ve been great answering all my questions, and continue to do so, and I try to do my part as well. That’s what make this community so great: wanting to help each other out.

Where do you hope to see your brewery in the next 2-3 years?
I can’t say;  I don’t think about it but my goal for now is putting my name out there. I’m happy to start this process since it took almost one year to get ready.

Let’s switch gear to some nerdy details… What size/manufacturer/type of system are you be brewing on?
I have a 1BBL (120 litre) HERMS system from Spike Brewing (Milwaukee, WI) which I bought last year. I brewed my first test batches last fall, and as of now, I’m still learning the system as I ramp up batches. I have three 1BBL fermenters as well as a ½ BBL (mostly to do test batches) from SS Brewtech. I’m hoping to brew once a week for now and see how it goes.

O'Creek Panel and Vessels

Care to share some details on your brewing history?
I started homebrewing like most brewers, and before that, I was a photographer (mostly weddings), and got tired of it and that’s when I decided to get some all grain equipment. After my last gig, I went to Halifax and bought my homebrewing system from Everwood Ave Brew Shop and bought a kit to do a Witbier. For a first brew, it tasted pretty good from what I remember.

Do you have a favorite beer style, beer, or brewery you enjoy drinking?
I cannot lie, I am a hophead, so IPAs are my go to, but it all depends on the season, too. Last winter I was big into stouts. I like to taste any style, but lately there are some styles I don’t care to buy anymore; even my taste in IPAs have changed, now I’d rather have a juicy NEIPA. Overall I’d say IPA, Saison and Stout are my favorite styles. Oh, and let’s not forget Brett beer!

Do you have a website, Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter page?
It’s funny, I don’t have a website, because that’s what I’ve been doing for a living for the past 20 years. Not sure if I want one, I don’t really see the need since Facebook and Instagram have been great so far. That’s how you guys found me right? [Ed: It sure is!]

Thanks again to Patrice for spending time answering our questions. As of publishing, kegs of Route 117 NEIPA have been delivered to the ANBL in Dieppe, to go on their Growler Station next week. Keep an eye on Facebook and Instagram for all of the latest O’Creek news! Felicitations!

MacDougall Settlement is a small village located north of Moncton, New Brunswick, about a 30-minute drive away. There, on a 7th generation farm, lies Valonray Farmhouse Brewery. Owned by Philippe Fontaine, this is yet another small craft brewery opening with big dreams… but Valonray’s plans differ significantly from other breweries in the province. As they plan to have beer available to the public in the near future, we thought it was finally time to chat with Phillipe and get some details on what we can expect from Valonray in the coming months…

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Philippe (Phil) Fontaine and I’m the owner and brewer at Valonray Farmhouse Brewery. After graduating from university with a degree in electrical engineering, I joined the Canadian Armed Forces as an Engineering Officer and served in this role for almost 10 years. Since last summer, my wife Allison and I have moved back to south-eastern NB, cleared an overgrown area, and built our farmhouse brewery from scratch next to a planned cherry orchard and hop yard that is still in the works.

How did you get into the world of beer?
While posted at CFB Gagetown in 2012, I became interested in craft beer by being exposed to Fredericton’s vibrant craft beer community and watching the number of breweries explode. Shortly after, I started homebrewing and the hobby quickly became a passion.

Soon after, I was brewing an all grain batch once a week (or more) and reading as many books on the subject as I could find. I went from mostly brewing IPAs to eventually becoming more interested in the myriad Belgian-styles, and started to focus my reading more towards them. Some of the books that had an impact on my brewing style were Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski, Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow and more recently, American Sour Beers by Michael Tonsmeire. I probably read these books 15 times, trying to hone the brewing techniques and recipe development of these types of ales.

What made you decide to take the step into opening a brewery?
By reading these books, I discovered a facet of the American craft-brewing movement that was lacking in the Canadian one, that of making traditional Belgian-style sour ales and wild fermentations in general, such as the examples of Jolly Pumpkin, The Bruery or New Belgium. When I started the business plan these types of breweries were non-existent in Atlantic Canada and they are still are quite underrepresented to this day.

Being originally from just outside of Moncton, I wanted to settle back on the family farm and I knew there was an opportunity to open a brewery in the area, being the largest population centre in New Brunswick and only having one micro-brewery and a handful of very small nano-breweries.

What is the culture or ethos of the brewery?
Our key philosophy is sourcing the raw materials as locally as possible. We are making Belgian Style ales, but all of our ingredients are sourced locally, when it’s possible. All of our malted grain comes from Horton Ridge Malt and Grain from grains grown in the Maritimes. The unmalted grain found in some of our ales comes from a farm 10 km down the road. We currently have 50 beehives on the property, and plan on growing all of our own hops within the next 5 years, as well as having a fruit orchard used for making barrel-aged fruit sour ales. Within the next year, we will release a beer that will be 100% Canadian, including the “Belgian-style” yeast. We believe beer is an agricultural product and this state of mind has a profound impact on how we operate.

Valonray Bottles and Horton Ridge Malt

Valonray Bottles and Horton Ridge Malt

Can you tell us about the beers you plan on offering initially?
We aimed for simpler recipes as an initial release. We did not want to overcomplicate things on a new system, and the beers we really want to make take longer and more tanks on hand to make. Our initial line-up of beers are all open-fermented and bottle-refermented, but they only contain various Saccharomyces strains. We have a Tripel, a Single, a Blonde ale, Pale ale and a Saison. The Tripel and Single have a similar recipe, but the results are quite different because of higher amount of simple sugars in the Tripel. The Blonde is actually closer to a Belgian Golden Strong, but with lower alcohol. The Pale ale was designed to be slightly more malt-forward to highlight our use of craft malts. The Saison is definitely our flagship, and various iterations of this recipe will be released in the future. Our five initial beers will be modified within the next year, as we plan to switch to an all-Brettanomyces production. Our first Brett-inoculated batch was brewed this week, with probable release in September.

The planned Brett lineup will look similar to the current clean beers, but we also want to offer a Saison brewed with wild Ontario yeast and Brett, a Witbier, as well as a Norwegian Kveik style ale.

We are slowly starting production of our sour beer and will eventually offer an Oud Bruin style ale, a Flanders Red style and a Lambic style (including Kriek and Framboise). The Oud Bruin is scheduled for production in 2 weeks and should be ready in a little over a year.

For a seasonal, we have a Bourbon Barrel-aged Tripel planned for the fall.

What are your plans for distribution?
Our beer will be sold solely in 750 mL bottles in our on-site sales room and in select ANBL locations and restaurants. We plan on rolling out some sort of growler program by the summer. It’s a bit of a technical challenge, as we only do bottle-refermentation. What we have planned would be in essence a bottle exchange program, to be re-used for refermentation.

Do you have some initial accounts in the area lined up to sell your beers?
We do not have any initial accounts firmly in place at the moment. Our focus has been to get our sales room approved and to get our beers listed for sale in ANBL locations.

Valonray Hop Trial

Valonray Hop Trial

Have you had any assistance from other brewers in Atlantic Canada?
We gathered input from other homebrewers and talked to multiple brewery owners, but had to develop most of our systems and procedures ourselves, as we were definitely going off the beaten path with our fermentation techniques. No breweries in eastern Canada use our methods, so I gathered as much info I could from interviews and articles from the American breweries.

Where do you hope to see your brewery in the next 2-3 years?
We are hoping to have a sour program established within this time frame and a cherry orchard and hop yard established on the brewery grounds.

Do you have an approximate opening date?
We should have the direct sales room open, and our bottles on ANBL shelves, within 2 weeks. All the approvals are in place and we are just waiting on the paperwork to be finalized.

Valonray Brewhouse from Colorado Systems

Valonray Brewhouse from Colorado Systems

What size/manufacturer/type of system are you be brewing on? Expected output (monthly, yearly, etc)?
We brew on a 1 BBL (~120 L) Colorado Brewing Systems dual pot system. We do double batches (2 BBL) on our brew days. Our current monthly output is 800 L, and the projected monthly output is 3000 L once we start working at the brewery full time.

Our techniques are quite unique in these parts, as we do open vat fermentation in a warm room at high temperature; we will eventually inoculate all our ales with Brett (some with bacteria). All our beers will be aged in barrels or in stainless wine tanks for a minimum of 4 months, and all our beers are bottle refermented in 750 mL bottles.

Valonray Fermentation Tanks

Valonray Fermentation Tanks

Do you have a favorite beer style, beer, or brewery you enjoy drinking?
I enjoy beers that use phenolic/estery yeasts, as well as sour beers, New England IPAs, and occasional British style ales.

How about a favourite style or ingredient to brew with?
I enjoy experimenting with adjuncts (raw oats, buckwheat, rye, different sugars, etc.).

Congratulations to Phillipe on all of his hard work coming to fruition! We look forward to sampling Valonray’s first beers, soon. Follow them along on Facebook and Twitter for updates on when their beers are available, and of course we’ll be sure to mention these details in our weekly Friday Wrap-Up.

Fans of great beer in Halifax are no stranger to the name Stillwell. Since 2013 the bar has been pouring the best in local beer, bringing in tasty treats from other parts of the country and beyond, pioneering the modern beer garden concept in HRM, and putting on events that have spoiled our little city for world-class beer. Throughout that time they’ve teamed with local breweries for collaborations and contract brews under the Stillwell brand, including several mixed fermentation beers that have showcased the tastes and interests of Christopher Reynolds, one of the three primary owners of the bar. Back in spring of this year word got out that Chris had decided to take another leap of faith and start Stillwell Brewing in the spirit of some of his own personal favorite breweries. Although we’ve already seen the release of Stilly Pils, a hoppy, rugged and eminently drinkable brew that was a highlight of the late summer season at the Stillwell Beer Garden, we are quickly approaching the first bottle releases from the brewery, the culmination of many months of fermenting, aging and blending, bottling, and aging some more. We caught up with Chris to find out more about who and what his inspirations are, why he (finally!) decided to start the brewery, and what we’re likely to see from Stillwell Brewing in the coming weeks, months and years.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who is the team involved in your brewery?
The brewery is mainly a project of mine (Chris), borne out of a desire to create the sorts of beers that I a) really love to drink and b) aren’t available locally. Namely, mixed-fermented, bone-dry beers. De La Senne, Oxbow, Jester King, etc. I am the main brewer, recipe maker, yeast steward and squeegee operator.

I made the first 10 batches with brewer Kyle Jeppesen, but unfortunately he’s had to take a job abroad, kind of an offer he couldn’t refuse. He was very bummed leave SBC, but given the experimental nature of the brewery, it was not (and may never be) in a position to pay anyone a salary, myself included.

Nikki Lockington, my lady, is also a daily contributor to the brewery. She helps me to plan beers and label designs, and takes care of a lot of logistics in terms of materials, and (eventually) sales.

I would say that the staff at Stillwell are officially and unofficially involved, too. Sam Fraser made our logo (from her tap wall handwriting, a ubiquitous feature of the bar), and Graeme, our chef, made a joke suggestion for a beer, which will be one of our first releases (“Sport”). Everyone kind of weighs in and offers support and feedback.

How did you get into the world of beer?
Being lucky enough to drink great stuff around people passionate about great stuff. Bar Volo was a real influence, as were a lot of the great beer books out there (Beaumont, Pashley, etc.), and finally and most importantly, traveling. We opened Stillwell in 2013 and beer has been my full time life ever since.

What made you decide to take the step of opening a brewery?
I’ve always enjoyed making beer. Homebrewing, as you would probably agree, is a wonderfully meditative process, and is something that makes me use a different part of my brain (and body – it is a workout). Personally, I find I’m happiest when I’m making or creating something, and unfortunately making bars and restaurants all the time, though I’ve certainly tried, is incredibly difficult and risky. Brewing a beer, as risky and big a process as it is at the commercial level, allows me a creative outlet. For several years, brewing my beers in other people’s breweries fully scratched the itch, but eventually I found that the beers suffered a little by not being fully in my control (and, mostly, on my timeline). I always said I would never open a brewery, but listening to an episode of The Sour Hour featuring Troy Casey of Colorado’s Casey Brewing and Blending, I realized that his set-up is actually attainable and manageable by me. Basically, a lot of oak, bottles and time, and some years of experience with yeasts and recipes, and it finally clicked that I could – and should – take the leap. In business and in life, if something is a foregone conclusion, like I just know it will work, I have to listen to that and take the leap.

What is the ethos of the brewery?
I’m looking for the brewery to be just like the bar, i.e., a “workshop” that will hopefully sustain us long enough to realize some goals in beer. I want to produce beers of character that are super drinkable, but immediately special. I’m very inspired by the family-sized breweries of Belgium, places like Cantillon and De Dolle. I love that they’re run by a small handful of family and friends, they make what they like, sell what they can, and aren’t bound by a group of stakeholders, production schedules and crazy equipment loans looming over their heads. When I hear someone is opening a brewery, I want to know that they have something to say with their beer, and I believe that I and we do, in this case.

Do you have an approximate opening date?
I would say that we’re technically “open” as of April, i.e., we’ve been brewing in our own space since then. We released Stilly Pils in August, which went great, but I was only able to get around to brewing a new batch in mid-September, which, of course, won’t be ready for months. On November 18 and 19 we will finally have a bottle release at the bar and brewery, and once we have bottles out, with the promise of more to follow, I think it’ll feel a little more real.

Can you tell us about the beers you’ll be offering initially?
Stilly Pils is something we want to make over the long haul, with tweaks along the way. A house beer for our bar and beergarden, we’ll try to have it on as much as possible. It’s my quest to make the ultimate pilsner, which, of course, can never end.

Most of the rest of our beers are and will be blends of barrel aged and/or barrel fermented farmhouse ales. We have bitter things, sours things, funky things, pale things, darker things, complex things, clean things, etc., in various stages of fermentation, and from those we’re blending and bottling.

The very first bottle release will be Stillwell Four, this year’s beer to celebrate the birthday of the bar. It’s a tart and effervescent farmhouse ale aged in a single sauvignon blanc barrel. We’ll be pouring it at our 4th Birthday Party before selling bottles the next day from our warehouse location.

Another of the earlier releases is called Sport, a tart barrel fermented farmhouse ale with sea salt and lime zest added. It’s margarita, gatorade and sour beer all in one, with notes of coconut and vanilla, and is bright as all get-out, with a big, rocky, long lasting head. It’s awesome and almost ready.

Possibly released on the same day will be Gosh, a tart red wine barrel aged farmhouse ale heavily dry-hopped with Mosaic. There’s a lovely fruit-meets-dankness of the hops on the nose, with tons of fruit character also showing through from the fermentation. The beer is very sparkly and, near the finish, the grapey, red wine character starts to show itself, and really comes out in the tannic, grippy finish. You immediately want another sip.

In mid-September I brewed a beer which, other than Stilly Pils, might be our first beer that won’t see oak. It’s my quest for Taras Boulba, or even young Stillwell 3. Hops and restrained fermentation character. It may see kegs, but I’m not sure yet.

Everything is a one-off until it’s not!

What are your plans for distribution (aka, how can people try your beer)?
A lot of this will be decided by the reception. If the beers are good and people buy them, then we’ll have a better idea of how this could look. I’ll say we’re making pretty niche beers and we’re not planning to get into the licensee keg game at all. We will likely have to export to sell all of our bottles, and we’ve been speaking to some agents in provinces abroad. We’re predominantly packaging bottles and most kegs will be just for Stillwell and the Beergarden, locally. We will never do growlers. Bottles will be available via our bottle release days (i.e., out of the brewery on certain afternoons), and very possibly available to-go from Stillwell (working on that licensing). We might look at figuring out a separate-from-Stillwell tasting room in a year or three, if that ever makes sense. I have some ideas!

Do you have some initial accounts in the area lined up to serve your beers?
We don’t, but there are some restaurants in the city who I think may carry our beers, mostly pals. We won’t really be on tap anywhere.

Have you had any assistance from other breweries or people along the way?
100%. I owe a debt to North Brewing for hosting a whole slew of contract and collab brews, to Boxing Rock, Big Spruce & Bar Volo for making collabs with me in the early days, and to Propeller for renting me the space on Gottingen to work. Greg Nash from Unfiltered lent me some stuff yesterday. It’s true that we have a very collaborative and friendly industry. In terms of knowledge, there have been many brewers, especially in the U.S. and Belgium who’ve been willing to have a chat and throw me an opinion or two.

Where do you hope to see your brewery in the next 2-3 years?
I’d love to see us have a solid reputation for great farmhouse-style beer. We kind of have that already, so I guess I just hope we don’t frig that up! I’d like to create a job or two. I’d like to attend some cool festivals. I’d like to be happy drinking our beer!

What type of system are you brewing on, and what is your expected output?
We’re brewing on a very old, very manual 15bbl, two-vessel steam-powered brewhouse. The same kit Propeller brews their one-offs on. We have no expectation of yearly or monthly output.

Care to share some info on your homebrewing history?
Sure – I first started with kits in Toronto in 2010ish, then moved to Halifax and started really playing with mixed fermentations. I won something in a Brewnosers home brew competition, which was a real honour. I pretty quickly moved from homebrewing to collab brewing commercially — having a bar to buy the beer is pretty helpful when convincing a brewery to do a collab, and luckily they were all great. Definitely learned lots doing this — anytime one co-brews either at home or in a brewery one learns something, of course.

Do you have a favorite beer style, beer, or brewery whose beers you particularly enjoy drinking?
I like dry beers for the most part. I like hoppy beers and bitter beers. I like drinkability in beer most. Give me De La Senne Taras Boulba, Birrificio Italiano Tipopils and Mahr’s Brau Ungespundet and I’m a very happy man. Granite Ringwood. A good cask bitter or mild. A vintage barleywine. A geuze – any will do. Saisons from the classics to Quebec.

How about favourite style or ingredient to brew with?
Yeast first, then hops. I like Noble hops primarily, or their hybrid descendants. Saison & Pils.

How can folks keep up to date with the latest news and brews?
@stillwellbrewing on Instagram

A big thanks to Chris for taking the time to answer our many questions and hopefully give the uninitiated a good idea of what he’s got planned for Stillwell Brewing. If you like the sounds of what you read here, you should probably mark your calendar for later this month when the first bottled beer, Stillwell Four, becomes available, first for pours during the Stillwell (bar, not brewery) fourth birthday party on the 18th, and then the next day for retail sales at their warehouse location on Gottingen Street (entrance at the rear parking lot of Propeller Brewing). We’re looking forward to sampling not only this release, but the releases of the others Chris mentioned above, as well as those he hasn’t brewed or even dreamt up yet.