Three and a half years ago, Brett French was a happy customer at Barley Days Brewery. Today he’s head brewer. Brett moved to The County intending to find work with the wineries, but when a sales position came up at Barley Days he jumped at it and worked his way from the retail shop to sales rep to assistant brewer and finally head brewer in 2014.
Originally from B.C., Brett traveled widely (he made his first batch of home brew beer in Australia) before settling in Ottawa. His background is in horticulture and his wife was training as a sommelier, so it was just a matter of time before they discovered Prince Edward County. “The stars aligned,” he says. “A County winemaker came to address Norah’s class. We started visiting and then volunteered at harvest time to help pick grapes. Six months later we were living here.” Unable to find a long-term rental in summer, they lived in a friend’s garage before finding a place to buy.
Norah found work with Three Dog Winery – she was there the day they opened – working in the tasting room, in the vineyard, you can find her scrubbing out vats, too. In slow winter months she works with friends Alex and Jenna at Pyramid Ferments. It’s County style to do a little of this, a little of that to make ends meet. Brett, however, works year round at Barley Days Brewery. “The difference between wine and beer is we can crank out a beer in three weeks,” he says with a grin. “Gotta have something new for the beer drinkers.”
“I’m not looking to start my own brewery. We’re happy working for others. Entrepreneurship is a good dream, but I love this job, and we love our life here. We’re out a couple of nights a week at restaurants trying out the food. In summer we hang out at the beach. We’ve got two acres and I’ve made 14 flower beds. What do I do with all the flowers? I sit in a chair, drink a beer and enjoy them!”
Brett agrees The County is a small world. “It’s noticeable how interconnected everybody is. This place definitely attracts like-minded people, and we see more young people coming all the time.” He says one of the first things they learned was “you’ve got to know your neighbours, especially in winter!”
Since acquiring its enthusiastic young brewer, Barley Days has increased its products from three or four popular brews to a dozen exciting craft beers and rebranded itself with snappy new labels and an eye-popping paint job on the building. Now you really can’t miss it on the Loyalist Parkway between Picton and Bloomfield.
“Summer is definitely our bread and butter time,” says Brett. “We’ll often have 40 or 50 people at a time in the tasting room from opening to close. But even in my three years I’ve seen the season starting earlier and ending later. It kicks off with Maple in the County and we’re pretty busy right up to Christmas.” Unlike Norah. he’s one of the lucky few in the business who gets weekends off. Guess that’s when he tends his flowers.
“We use local hops whenever we can. There are three County hop growers now and hopefully three more coming. We haven’t got local barley yet, although they grow malting barley on Big Island, but there’s a new malter, Barn Owl, opening soon north of Belleville. I’ve been on the phone to them to get in on their first batch. There’s other local produce in our beers, too – PEC apples in our new Snake Bite Apple Ale, and we use wine yeast from Lighthall Vineyards to make Sacred Mule Sparkling Ale.
“It’s exciting. We’re talking collaboration with other County brewers, County Canteen and County Roads. And Ontario’s first yeast bank is opening soon, Escarpment Labs, so we’ll be making beer that is truly all Ontario.” With four products now available in the LCBO and more than 50 pubs and restaurants between Toronto and Ontario now serving their beers, Barley Days Brewery is flourishing under its young head brewer. And Brett French is more than a satisfied customer.
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