Kensington Brewing Company is finally getting ready to set up shop in its namesake neighbourhood, after two years in business.
On the surface, it doesn’t quite make sense that a brewery named Kensington Brewing Company—which has beers named after Kensington Market’s Augusta Avenue and Baldwin Street, and which borrows images from the neighbourhood for its branding materials—to brew its products in Guelph. But brewery founder Brock Shepherd says it’s not as odd as one might think.
Kensington Brewing Company is what’s known as a “contract brewer,” meaning it makes its suds in rented facilities, on rented equipment. “Contract brewing is a good way to start out,” Shepherd says. “The cash outlay is minimal. If things don’t work out, you’re not out this huge half-million- or million-dollar investment.”
As a result, Kensington Brewing Company’s line of products has never actually been made in Kensington Market. The company’s beers were initially made at Etobicoke’s Black Oak Brewing Company, and are now produced at Guelph’s Wellington Brewery.
That said, Shepherd always wanted to make the beer in the Market. Now, after two years in business, with two successful products in bars and the LCBO and a third product ready to launch, he’ll get his wish. Kensington Brewing Company has a lease, and is in the middle of setting up its own facility. The new brewery will be in a new building, to be located at 299 Augusta Street. It’s set to open this fall. There will even be room for a bar and a bottle shop.
“Once people can come in and have a pint, people will understand us and we’ll start to get more involvement from the community,” Shepherd says.
He started the brewery two years ago after becoming disenchanted with his previous business, Burger Bar, located just up the road at Augusta Avenue and College Street.
“Burger Bar had six taps that I was rotating with various small, interesting craft beer,” he said. “Eventually, we had the opportunity to get our own beer made, the Burger Bar house beer.”
“Eventually I just decided that the restaurant was annoying me, and beer was going well, so I figured, why don’t I put that energy into something I was enjoying.”
While Kensington has a reputation for being resistant to change, Shepherd says he hasn’t faced too much resistance.
“There was a rendering of the building that came out, and there was a little bit of flack for that,” he says. “Nothing too bad, but it was a little more modern than people were used to in the neighbourhood, but on the street? Nothing. People who know us and know the beer are excited that we’re going to be moving in.”
One of the ways Kensington Brewing Company is raising money for the new facility is through what Shepherd calls “Community Supported Beer.” Inspired by the concept of community-supported agriculture, the brewery is essentially selling future beer at a discount, to help get the facility up and running.
“With CSA, you pay the farmer in advance, and you get the produce at the end of the season,” says Shepherd. “There’s various levels of involvement…At the lowest level, you can pay $50 and get a gift card for $60 worth of product. You have to wait six months, but it’s a 20 per cent return on your investment.
“It’s basically crowdfunding,” says sales manager Mike Gurr.
Shepherd and Gurr say that Kensington is part of a larger boom in craft brewing in Ontario. Both men say that in the last two years, the number and quality of craft beers in the province has grown exponentially.
“The growth in terms of the number of beers offered is obvious, but one thing we can really speak to is the growth in the quality of beers,” says Gurr. “We were at the craft brewer’s conference in D.C.…and I had amazing beer down there, but there was nothing that was mind-blowing compared to what we have up here. Our craft beer is world class.”
Eventually, both men say they’d like to see their brewery act as a template for other small, neighbourhood-based breweries.
“I think there’s room for every neighbourhood to have their own small brewery,” says Gurr. “150 years ago, that’s was how it was. There were over 100 breweries in what’s now the GTA.”