Fans of good local beer in Lower Sackville, NS, have reason to be excited this weekend, as Ol’ Biddy’s Brew House is making its triumphant return to the suburban community. After originally opening as a nanobrewery out of co-founder Keith Forbes’ home in November 2017 and then closing when juggling the small-scale brewery and full-time job became untenable. Forbes is back, along with childhood friend Chris Balcom, bigger and better than ever. While we know that there are many who aren’t fans of the brewery’s name or their logo, we can absolutely vouch for the quality of the beer and we hope that’s what ends up standing out above all as the brand returned to the local market Saturday. We caught up with Forbes and Balcom as they were putting the finishing touches on everything late last week, just ahead of opening weekend (which continues today, May 18th, 12 – 6 PM), at their Cobequid Road location in Lower Sackville.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Keith Forbes is Head Brewer and founder of the original Ol’ Biddy’s Brew House, with 10 or so years of brewing experience under his belt. The 37 year old lives in Sackville with his amazing wife of 11 years Erin and they have two children. In 2018 he partnered up with his old high school friend Chris Balcom. Chris, also 37, is the general manager and lives in Sackville with his wife of six years, Megan, and their two little boys.
How did you get into the world of beer?
Keith started into the world of beer to save a few dollars after his family moved into a new house in the late ‘00s — they had 2 kids and a 3rd on the way. The first few months it was Festa Brew kits which then moved into a couple Best Case kits. After that he discovered the Brewnosers; he picked up a small system and started to formulate his own recipes. He went on to read and learn as much as he could about beer making and went on to apply what he learned and started making some pretty good beer, which evolved into entering competitions, giving him feedback to help with dialing in his product. Chris on the other hand had never brewed beer in his life until he reunited with Keith after 15+ years away working in the oil industry. As an avid beer drinker, Chris had always wanted to own and run a pub, together they have combined their talents to create something great.
What made you decide to take the steps into opening a brewery?
Keith’s passion for great beer and wanting to share his product with everyone is the main reason. After the Forbes 500 Tap Takeover at Good Robot in November 2016, he, along with his wife Erin, moved forward to open their own nano brewery in their home and quickly discovered that there aren’t enough hours in the day to run a successful nano brewery, work full time, and still have time for a family. While in early talks with his future partner Chris to expand the business, he decided to take a few months away from brewing to figure out what his future held. After a relaxing summer Chris and Keith had what was supposed to be one last meeting, instead Keith decided he wasn’t ready to leave the world of brewing and partnered with Chris and the two haven’t looked back since. In November 2018 we became Ol’ Biddy’s Brew House Inc. and in 2019 after securing the capital to proceed with our expansion plans, we purchased a 10bbl brewing system and signed a long term lease in Lower Sackville.
What is the culture or ethos of the brewery?
At Ol’ Biddy’s Brew House it’s all about the beer, our friends & family, the people behind the pint, and the community we live in. We strive for Ol’ Biddy’s Brew House to be a brand that is known in our community as a friendly face with a standard of producing high quality, great tasting beer, and to be a familiar brand that everyone recognizes and looks forward to drinking.
Can you tell us about the beers you have available now?
We are launching with 4 of our 6 mainstay beers along with 4 limited releases.
Mainstays (core brands):
- Seven Day IPA (6.0% ABV) – Our version of a No Coast IPA – it’s far from a West Coast IPA, but it’s not true to East Coast either! It has the bitterness you expect from a traditional IPA, but it also delivers a juicy tropical fruit and citrus flavour to your taste buds. Think melons, stone fruit, strawberry, pear and grapefruit.
- Even Gooder Coffee Brown (4.4% ABV)- A balanced, light-bodied, easy-drinking brown ale fermented on whole coffee beans. The chocolate, caramel, and earthy notes of our Even Gooder Nut Brown are complemented by the coffee, taking this beer to the next level. Special thanks to our friends at Apartment 3 Espresso Bar for supplying us with the dark roast beans for this brew!
- Disco Inferno Red IPA (6.5% ABV) – Our Disco Inferno Red IPA is where malts meet hops. This friends and family favourite is well-balanced with a moderate citrus and floral hop profile and finished with notes of caramel and chocolate.
- Funktown Pale Ale (5.0% ABV) – A hop-forward pale ale. Fermented using a clean American yeast, it finishes dry with lemon and grapefruit flavors and aroma.
- Maisil IPA (6.2% ABV) – Our version of a West Coast IPA. It has the bitterness you’ve come to expect from a traditional IPA with flavours of grapefruit, orange and pine.
- Patrick O’Neil’s Irish Red (5.0% ABV) – Patrick is nothing fancy – a simple, balanced Irish Red.
- Tall, Dark & Handsome Porter (5.0% ABV) – TD&H is a dark, flavorful and balanced porter. It is medium bodied with chocolate, caramel and roasted notes.
- Jim Hopper (3.2% ABV) – Jimmy is a low ABV, refreshing wheat ale that finishes crisp and clean with orange notes on the finish. Great for a hot summer afternoon.
What are your plans for distribution? How can folks drink your beer?
With COVID-19 changing the industry overnight we also had to adapt quickly like most breweries in Atlantic Canada. We are currently working with Craft Coast Canning to package our beer into 473 mL cans and plan on taking online orders for curbside pickup at the brewery. Once restrictions are lifted we have a 15-tap taproom with seating for 30 – 50 where you’ll be able to enjoy a pint or flight of your favorites. We will also have growlers and cans to take home and enjoy.
Do you have some initial accounts in the area lined up to serve your beers?
We have some accounts lined up with more to come at a later date once COVID-19 passes.
Have you had any assistance from other breweries/people in Atlantic Canada (or elsewhere)?
This is a long list; most covered in the initial introduction of our nano brewery. But we must fire out a special thank you those below (if we missed anyone we are very sorry).
First and foremost, a huge shout out to our wives, Erin and Megan.
Secondly our parents: Chris & Tim, Mike & Sandy.
And then, in no particular order…
- Alex McConnachie
- Mike Orr
- Paul MacKinnon
- Ken Sidhu & Chris
- Steve, Max & Team @ Commercial Electric
- Dan @ Teklor Controls
- Matt, Jon, and Al @ Off Track Brewing
- Joe and Laura @ Triders
- Matt and Ian @ Brightwood Brewery
Where do you hope to see your brewery in the next 2 – 3 years?
It took us 2 years (really 4) to get to this stage, we plan to grow our brand and expand our team all while sticking to our roots. Mainly just take it 1 pint at a time.
As always, for the brewing geeks who are reading this, we also asked for some slightly more detailed info about the brewery as well:
What type of system are you brewing on and what is your expected output?
We are operating a 10 barrel electric brewhouse with 8 unitanks. With COVID-19 in full swing we are not sure what our expected output will be.
Care to share some info on your brewing history?
Our head brewer, Keith has over 10 years brewing experience, 8 years home brewing, and a couple years commercial brewing split between the nano setup and assisting at other commercial breweries.
Do you have a favorite beer style, beer, or brewery you enjoy drinking?
Chris is a big fan of heavily hopped IPA’s and double IPA’s, but his favorite secret indulgence is Church Brewing‘s German porter.
Keith: My favorite style beer presently is a low-SRM (“light coloured” for non-brewing readers) hop forward pale ale. Something light bodied, crisp and refreshing. That said I’m a huge coffee fan and have been craving a Mean Joe Bean from Triders as it has always been one of my favorites.
How about your favourite style or ingredient to brew with?
Not so much a favorite style to brew however, in terms of ingredients we would have to go with brewing salts.
Congratulations to Forbes, Balcom, and the entire OBB family on the brewery launch this weekend. You still have time to grab some of their 8 varieties in cans at the brewery today. Located at 111 Cobequid Road in Lower Sackville, the brewery is open 12 – 6 PM today, May 18th. Hours going forward will be Thurs 12 – 6 PM, Fri and Sat 12 – 8 PM, Sun 12 – 6 PM. You can pre-order your cans and learn more on their website (http://www.olbiddys.ca), as well as on their social media pages (Fb / Ig / Tw).