by Janet Davies
When Andrew and Christine Gillingham say they run a family-based brewery, they’re not kidding. One of their first beers, which sold out quickly, was called the Pale Ale 25, named for Christine’s grandmother who relishes a glass of pale ale and was born in 1925. Then came Dave’s ESB, in hounor of both their dads. “It’s definitely personal,” says brewmaster Andrew. “Our friends and family are engaged in the brewery and we’re bringing all our own personal experiences to the operation. It’s fun making up names for our brews, and fun to tell people the story behind them.” Christine was previously director of eCommerce of marketing at Canada Post, Andrew an creative director so it’s not surprising they are as enthusiastic about marketing their craft beer as they are about making it.
Gillingham Brewery had a soft opening in early May, together with neighbours Carson’s Garden Market and Flossie’s Sandwiches. The Gillinghams moved to the County just two years ago and have been hard at work ever since, building a brewery on Andrew’s parents’ property, which is also home to Domaine Darius Winery. “We feel lucky to be on Wilson Road,” says Andrew. “Especially now it’s freshly paved and the cyclists love it! We’re in the middle of a wine tour and the Arts path, with Darius and Sugarbush Winery so close and en route to Closson Road. We’re close to Wellington, and Wilson Road itself is becoming a destination.”
FROM CITY TO COUNTY
Andrew has been brewing beer for about eight years in his garage. “I used to build cars for fun, but there wasn’t room to do both in there,” he says ruefully. Life was good in Toronto, but Christine clearly recalls the night they realized they were ready for a change. “We were sitting on our back deck relaxing. After working 20 years in corporate marketing I’d had yet another hectic week. Andrew was at the ad agency and taking care of our nine-year old daughter because I traveled so much. Even when I was home I was constantly working. So we sat there and said, “What are we doing? Are we enjoying this? What can we do instead? We can work for ourselves! Maybe we start a brewery and take a leap of faith?” She laughs, “I know that’s not unique, because we’ve met a lot of people here who have shared the same experience.”
Andrew knew he could make good beer. They visited The County frequently and knew craft brewing was thriving. “There are a lot of good brewers here,” says Andrew. “Everyone has their own thing. Our thing is a sort of throwback style. The brewery’s design, look and feel was inspired by the industrial age of the 1920’s era but with a modern twist. The way signage was created, buildings were simple yet included fine detail and factories were built with wood and steel. You notice it as soon as you walk in. Andrew wonders if he was influenced by the cool old converted warehouses he has worked in, but he very much wanted their brewery to have a lot of wood as well as steel. “Steel is beautiful and sleek, but we like this better,” he says. “Our labeling feels like that era, too. We pictured our logo a long time ago, we wanted it to really work on a brick wall, we wanted it to look all faded like the great old logos. Christine painted our sign by hand.” She breaks in, “Yes, that was a fun two months! But it’s the way we do everything, we keep it all in house.”
They’re a small operation and intend to stay that way but with big ambitions, making quality beers from around the world, like ESB, Ales, IPAs, Porters and Special Releases which they will always make but could be slightly different with each brew. “We did a hopped wheat beer which is not a traditional style Wheat,” he says. “But that’s because we’re living up to the tagline Christine wrote: Creatively brewed, Spontaneously crafted.” In other words, you never know what you’ll get next time you visit Gillingham Brewery. “ESB is our most consistent,” says Christine. “But with everything else, we take a traditional style and give it our own twist. That’s the beauty of beer, of Craft Beer. We don’t want every batch to be identical and I hope that is part of what attracts people back, to see what we’ve brewed next.”
Let mass brewers turn out totally consistent products. Andrew and Christine, and most County brewers, play up the whole idea of creative craft beer. “Like a chef who keeps experimenting,” says Andrew. “They’ll always change the menu, try new things and if they’re good, people will keep coming back.” He’s adamant they only make beers that they enjoy themselves, but that’s a wide range, and they understand not everybody wants a crazy big triple hopped IPA. “Some people just want a more traditional styled Ale and we’ll do that, too,” says Christine. We love a big IPA and will always have at least one offered in amongst our 7 taps of brews.
If you like your beer with a side order of education, Gillinghams will oblige. They are a destination where learning about Craft Beer is a focus. “Our focus is to provide a more intimate and educational experience for our customers”, says Christine. We’ll share with you all about how they made a beer, the ingredients, why they chose to do it and, of course, who inspired the names. “Craft beer fans like to talk about beer and meet the crafters,” says Andrew.
They sold all their bottles of hopped wheat and pale ale and had to break the news to their visitors. “That’s tough if they really loved it,” admits Christine. “We don’t want to disappoint, especially if they’re coming a long way to see us. But we are a small batch brewery. When we’re out, we’re out, but we’ll always have something else you might enjoy and constantly releasing new brews.”
After week 3 of being open, we realized we’re going to have to do an equipment upgrade so we don’t continue to run out. We’ve been working diligently to get the equipment up and running before the summer season. We are now able to produce double the amount we launched with!
Andrew and Christine had a good head start, with Andrew’s parents firmly established in The County. They’re looking forward to an exciting future. “I liked advertising,” says Andrew. “Doing art all day was great, but I believe you shouldn’t just do one thing all your life. To me, making and selling beer feels similar to making ads. I never wanted to present ads I didn’t love myself. I never ever worked on a product I didn’t believe in. My satisfaction is in creating something that makes me happy and makes consumers happy, too. Beer does that for me.”
Do they miss the city? “Not really,” says Christine. “You get the best of both worlds here. We can go to great restaurants and have the beach so close by! The hardest part was selling our cottage. We had it for nine years up on Lake Dalrymple, that we renovated and made our own. We had to sell it to bring our plans to fruition in The County – but look at all we got in return.”
They’ve met many likeminded people and actually feel their daughter has opportunities that she might not have had in Toronto. “Different opportunities and more affordable,” says Christine. Our daughter is on the Dolphins swim team where she’s met some wonderful kids and has the best coach, Jim Anfield. “And riding at Hadherway Farms which she started as soon as we came, and now she’s excelling. In Toronto we would have had to drive far north for her to ride, the cost would be triple and then fight the traffic. Now she can go five minutes from the brewery and get a much more intimate educational lesson with no hassle.”
We feel very fortunate to be on Wilson Road, and of course we’re lucky to be on Andrew’s parents’ property, but we’ve also made great friends in Carson Arthur and Kevin Lockwood and Kyle Jones at Flossie’s Sandwiches. It was coincidence we opened at the same time, and Carson had the brilliant idea of making it a real event. He could see it becoming a sort of hub, a one-stop shop, a destination because we’re so close together. So now they’ve got sandwiches and a gorgeous garden market and we’ve got the beer and we encourage people to grab a sandwich at Flossie’s and bring it here. We have Kyle’s menus here and are able to order over through our walkie talkies!” It’s hard to know if Christine is kidding. She’s clearly got that strong marketing gene!
It’s exciting to be part of the Wilson Road experience, but they don’t want it to overwhelm them. “We want to stay small,” says Christine. “Just big enough for a good lifestyle but not so big it takes over our whole life or we’d be in the same boat we were before. I guess we’re looking for balance. We hope summer will be very busy. We’re ready for it now. But it’s funny to think I’ve done a complete 360 from working behind a bar in my university days just to pay my bills! It’s very different now, running the place, greeting guests. We’re surprised when we look at our watch and see it’s closing time already. We are having a ball, meeting people we would probably never have met, locals and tourists and it’s fun when someone you know from the city walks in. In the two years we spent designing and building the brewery and getting ready to open we didn’t socialize much. We just didn’t have the time. Now we can get out there and really enjoy living in The County.”
Andrew traveled back to the city for a couple of a days a week before they got the brewery up and running, and Christine was lucky to be flexible in her job and work from home. “As long as you have a fast Internet connection, working remotely is fantastic,” she says, while acknowledging it hasn’t reached everywhere in The County yet.
When asked what they’re doing differently to other County brewers, Andrew laughs, “Nothing radical. The technology of brewing hasn’t changed much for centuries, so what we offer is our own style, in the environment and the beer.” Christine adds, “We’re not a brew pub at all, we simply don’t have the facilities. but we do serve food samples with each beer. I’ve researched what spices or salts pair with the beers we serve, like some kind of salted nuts with wheat beer or IPA brings out the fruits and flavours.” We will get food pop ups from time to time through out the summer and will host special events as we start to streamline our operations. This will come in time. They serve small samples, but big music. No matter what you’re drinking you’ll be listening to authentic vinyl tunes. “We’re very passionate about vinyl here,” she says. “MP3s are handy when you need them, but mostly we play our records.” They both recall a trip to Chicago for Andrew’s 40th and one inspiring bar with a great vibe and a lot of vinyl. “The whole trip was a fabulous craft beer experience, but that bar was the best,” says Andrew. “We said if we ever had a place it would be just like that. We’d play albums, and if you didn’t like it you’d just have to wait for the next one.” Christine confirms that. “Playing vinyl creates a bit of calmness,” she says. “We don’t want to be fast paced. We want you to relax on the patio, enjoy what we serve and see what happens next.” Now, that’s living.
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