Business Name: Harrowsmith Brewing Co.
Founders: Craig Sindal, Jennifer Brown, Matt Sindal
In ten words or less, what’s so special about your products?
Delicious craft-brewed beers that are connected to Frontenac County.
Intriguing. Tell us more.
My dad bought the property we’re on right now in 2009. At the time, it was just an old farmhouse and a barn and initially, the plan was to demolish both and use the land for building houses.
But then, the more we spoke to the neighbours, the more we discovered how important this place was to people, how many memories were connected to the buildings, and specifically the old barn. That’s when we started asking ourselves, how could we become a part of these stories and contribute to this community in different ways, keeping this rich history alive. Our first idea was to turn the barn into an event space for weddings. But then, we quickly started talking about launching a brewery. I am a computer programmer, but I had been homebrewing for years; the science and logic behind brewing really appeal to me. One day my dad and I were sitting at a brewery in Kingston and just looked at each other, saying, “We could do something like this.”
For us, this was a great way to keep the history of the barn, and at the same time, bring something new and valuable into the community.
Your beers taste amazing and have names that are connected to the history of this property. Where do you get your inspiration from?
I’ve been homebrewing for a long time and have developed my own favourite flavours. I also buy all kinds of weird and wonderful beers from small breweries for enjoyment and inspiration in equal measure.
For me, it’s about finding the balance of making sure that I’m creating recipes that I like and are true to us while still making sure that the beers appeal to most people.
The first beer we launched with is Spike’s Corner IPA. Spike’s Corner was the original name for Harrowsmith.
Our second beer is called Level Logger; the name came from my dad and me looking at each other during the barn’s renovation, asking, “Is this level?”. Our third beer, the Heritage 1909, is a wheat beer that we named after a scribble in the concrete foundation of the barn, where somebody had written the date 1909 with their finger. That’s also the year my grandfather came to Canada from the UK, so there’s a personal connection there.
We’re thinking of adding an amber ale to the lineup, and those will be the beers we’ll have on tap year-round. And then, I’ll be brewing small-batch beers, two or three beers a week, where I can experiment to my heart’s content.
Many people dream about starting a food or drinks business. How did you launch yours, and what were the hardest things to overcome.
It was, and still is, a tremendous amount of work, both physical labour during the renovation and making sure all the paperwork was properly in place.
My dad took the lead in the construction part, and I made sure all the permits were applied for. We’re getting close, so that’s a good thing.
Your brewery is still being built, but your beers are already available for purchase. How did you make the jump from homebrewing to commercial production, and where do you manufacture right now?
This was one of these occasions where what looked like a daunting step worked out exceptionally well.
I talked to several contract brewers and finally met with a local brewery in Kingston that understood what we were trying to do. Their team was incredibly supportive, and we would be nowhere near where we are today without their ongoing help in scaling, recipe development and production. I am extremely grateful for their help and support.
When you first launched your business, how did you pay for everything? How much did it cost to launch your own food business?
Both my dad and I are working full time, he as a high school teacher and myself as a computer programmer. My dad is three years away from retirement and looks at the brewery as his second career.
Because my dad already owned the property, we could keep the startup costs to a minimum. We have put a fair bit of personal money and savings into the business.
Did you receive any help from Frontenac Business Services?
Absolutely. The Frontenac Business Services Team has been amazing, helping us secure financing and grants from several sources.
Where are you now? Where is your business going?
We want to build a space for the community, a space to celebrate everything from weddings to anniversaries, a space to taste excellent beers and space to get together with friends and family. We want to create an experience where people feel at home.
We have plans for live music and great food to round everything out. There’s nothing like this around here, so we’ve set out to create it ourselves.
And in addition to all of this, we want to create a fantastic brewery and continue to get our beers into stores all over Ontario.
What's so special about doing business in Frontenac?
I just love Frontenac. There’s so much nature, and it just feels like home. Everybody knows each other and supports each other; it’s just a fantastic place to live.
There are so many artisan producers out here, and I am hoping that at some point, we’ll be able to sell their products at the brewery.
Finally, do you have a checklist that you could share, your top three tips to keep in mind when starting a food business? Things you wished you would have known yourself.
Absolutely. Number one, being able to adapt and to change plans. There will be hiccups, and you’ll have to be able to be flexible.
Second, work with experts. It makes things go so much faster and smoother than trying to learn everything on your own. Most people are more than willing to share their knowledge. And finally, make sure you love what you’re doing. When the nights are long and times are tough, that makes all the difference.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.