Prince Eddy’s Owner Aaron McKinney tells us about the youthful, cheerfully irreverent new brewery in Picton.
“We were going to call it Prince Edward Brewing, but then we gave it a little twist. It’s a great name. My grandfather went by the name of Eddy. We had this idea of a kind of mythical guy, sort of a cross between the dos equis man and the Kokanee Sasquatch with a bit of my grandfather in there, too. Like this mysterious guy, nobody knows him, but he’s the most interesting man in The County! Our branding is a little different too, throwing a little youth into the mix, attracting a different audience. My dad and I collaborated on the image and the brand. I’ve spent a lot of time out west and I wanted to bring some of that culture here.
West coast lifestyle is laid back, everybody takes as many adventures as they can, surfing or snowboarding or skateboarding, they’ve got their passions. We wanted to mix that with our brand. Everyone who works here has a passion. We mix it up and support each other. It’s a tight knit community. I’m 24 and my dad and I started this business together. We’ve been talking about it for five years or so. With the growth of the wineries in The County we saw this huge influx coming. We both love beer and it was crazy that there was only one brewery here. I saw craft breweries growing on the west coast, I saw it everywhere. Sitting in Tofino Brewing Company on Vancouver Island, I looked around and saw exactly the kind of vibe I want to portray here. Super inspiring – I thought it was exactly what The County needs – a very relaxed brewery making easy drinking, well crafted beers.
We looked around for locations. I just graduated university and took a year off to travel to New Zealand and Southeast Asia to surf. Then I got a call from my dad who said he’d found the perfect building – when can you come home? I said next week, let’s do this. The building was an incredible find at a really good price in the Picton industrial park. It didn’t need much, we did mainly the drainage, raised up the concrete and got the proper slopes, put the floor coatings on and then the renovations creating the upper and lower tasting areas. It was definitely a learning experience, going from university to this. I did a lot of research online and talked to other breweries. This industry is amazing, the only business I know where your biggest competitor is also going to be your best friend and probably help you out the most. The breweries in the area have been supportive and they are still helping me out every day. It’s so cool.
From having just one brewery here, now I hear about a new one almost every day! I thought there would be 9 or 10 by the end of the year, but it’s going to be way more. But there’s no animosity. We all know the beer tours are not just going to one place. They’ll come here then go to Parson’s and onto Lake on the Mountain, 555 and Barley Days. It’s cool that we are such a tight community here. Craft brewers get together once a month and talk about it. We talk about where it’s going and how we can guide it and how we can create a good culture and a good identity while it’s still in its infancy.
Some people worry the market might get over saturated but I think there’s room to grow, as long as breweries have the right motivation and find their niche. Some might just do a light lager and put a fancy label on it and sell it at a premium price, or even start a contract brewery, get other people to make the beer so there’s no actual physical bricks and mortar brewery. That’s okay, they’re creating their brand. As long as there’s the right motivation I think it’s fine. Maybe we’ll get saturated, but the growth in Ontario is strong. Anyway I think we’re just taking some of the market away from the bigger companies who have dominated for years.
It’s cool that we are such a tight community here. Craft brewers get together once a month and talk about it. We talk about where it’s going and how we can guide it and how we can create a good culture and a good identify, while it’s still in its infancy.
LIFE BEFORE EDDY
I was born in Belleville, went to Massassaga/Rednersville school and high school in Belleville, but I hung out with all the guys at PECI. After high school I basically moved into our cottage on West Lake and worked with Ben Chalmers at the West Lake Wakeboard School. I came back and did that every summer for five or six years and I watched The County transform. My roots are here. I’m glad we have all these new opportunities. A lot of my core friends are here, they lay their roots here but travel a lot. They always end up coming back. There’s something weird about this area, this vibe. When winter comes things get quiet, it’s good to recharge and we get to surf a lot on the lake. Also leaves time to travel and get away. All the times I traveled I said I’m going for two years, then Spring comes and you say I really miss that place. I’ve got to go back.
I went to university at the UBC campus in Kelowna. It’s a great place. Everyone is like-minded and laid back but they work really efficiently because everybody wants to go skiing on the weekend so everybody has to get the projects done! I took business management, and it was a very cool culture there, not only grades were important but getting out and having fun and exploring was important too. How does what I learned compare with starting a real business? Hmm. Tough one. I want to justify the investment I made! I wouldn’t have done it differently. It prepared us to handle uncomfortable situations, like having to consult with a business you would never even talk to normally, forcing you into situations where you have to help this company from a new angle. It taught us to think outside the box, how to work efficiently. That was a huge motivator for me, having deadlines and creating organization for myself. I’m still learning! It can be a bit of a sh** show here, putting out fires, it’s busy, man.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
Right now we are putting systems in place, perfecting our recipes and deciding on our flagship brands based on the feedback. We’re doing everything by the book and recording every little piece of data possible. Even what mindset is Eric are brewer is in when he’s brewing this particular batch. You might wonder Why did this one turn out so good and not that one? You can look at the records and see he was super happy that day or angry, and who knows, maybe being angry made him tweak something that made it really good! University can’t totally prepare you for this, it’s a whole new level, building a factory and creating something like this. It did train me in my own personal management and how to deal with people and organize and motivate them. How to be a good employer. With all the time and effort you spend finding people and training people, being able to keep good employees is very valuable. I have to protect and direct my time and keep my focus, so I try to treat employees well so they want to stay. What do you need? flexible hours? what? It shows in your quality of product and service. Okay, nobody asked for a skate park in the building – that was my gift to myself! I wrote it into the contracts, everybody has to drop in on it before they can join the company. I said that to my little cousin who’s come in to train as an assistant brewer, and he was sweating it and nervous and said “Do I really have to do this?” I said you don’t have to do anything, man, but it kind of shows commitment to the company. So he got in there, dropped in and fell and got back up and got into it and now he won’t stop. It’s okay. I got it added to the insurance policy so we’re all covered.
PRODUCT & SCALE
From the research we did, everyone we talked to, no matter what scale they work to, they all said they can’t make enough beer. If they could do it over again they would start with pretty much what we have. It takes the same time and effort to make one litre or a thousand litres. It’s more efficient to take that initial risk and put your name on the dotted line and sign your life away! I’ve never heard anybody say “there’s no way you’re going to sell all that beer, you’re going too big too quick.” Everyone who walks in who is in the industry says it was a smart move. Buying a system that size and buying it through Canadian suppliers, doing it right first time was the goal. You save time and money and effort in the long run. I talk to a lot of brewers who started off with a two hectolitre system. Within a year they had to upgrade to a seven barrel system, then another couple of years to 15 or 20 and they end up at our size anyway. Considering the time spent shutting down and rebuilding, they lose money. We are at 20 U.S. barrels, 23 hectolitres. A single batch is 23 and we put a double batch into the fermenters that take 4600 litres. Seems like a lot of beer but sales are already through the roof and we are just trying to keep up with the demand. Good thing we’re in Prince Edward County where everyone enjoys a good beer!
Right now we are on brew # 10 and are still learning the personality of our system. Usually 20 or 30 brews before you get it dialled. If you brew the recipe we did yesterday on Barley days system or on 555’s system it would turn out three different ways. We talk about that with other brewers. We’d like to do the same recipe on each and see how it turns out.
CANS OR BOTTLES
The beauty of bottles is you can have a ton of bottles in-house, readily available. You can do a batch, bottle it, get the feedback and decide whether to do a lot of it or not. Bottling lines are relatively cheap, about half the price of a canning line. You can bottle a batch, sell it in-house as a premium product. Then do another batch, put a different label on it for very little cost and sell it as a whole different beer. We bought a bottling line last week that will allow us to package our seasonal and experimental brews to sell in house and to licensees, basically a testing ground for our products. With a canning line you can more easily get into the LCBO. They favour cans for single purchase, so the expense of the line is worth it if you want to do that. Right now we use Sessions Canning who brings an amazing canning unit on a big van trailer. They unload it, hook it up, spend the day canning your beer and at the end you have beautifully palletized beer with the finished product in the cold room with your labels on it. We won’t invest in a canning line until we’re sure what we want. Right now we’re finding our feet, selling in-house and using their canning service. Once we establish our flagship brands and get those recipes perfect, we’ll reconsider. If we want to push into the LCBO and grocery stores, distribute more widely, we’ll invest in the canning line. Sign on the dotted line. It’s big bucks, so it has to the right decision.
EARLY REVENUE STREAM
Originally we only wanted to do production. We didn’t want a bar or a restaurant. But we quickly realized, we’ve made a massive investment and it’ll be a while before we can serve wider regions and sell the beer. We looked at other breweries and came to the conclusion we need a good tasting room. Something unique that will bring people in. We basically built the ultimate playground. A two storey tasting room and patio with a skate ramp in the back. All the decor and vibes are surf and skate inspired. We try to keep our branding and styles consistent, were all about having fun. We learned that our in house revenue is key for the first year or two until we can gear up to large scale production. Everything we’ve done in the brewery is aimed at future expansion. We can just drop in a new tank, hook it up and brew into it.
We opened May long weekend with friends and family for the first beer release. More than 250 people showed up, it was great and the feedback was awesome. We are working on our local market. Most first time craft beer drinkers are afraid of bitterness, but in my view it’s kind of like cilantro – you either love it or you don’t! We are working on having a spectrum of beers to please everybody, not only colours but a range of different hop and malt profiles. We now have six beers available: A Blonde Ale, a Pale Ale, a Cream Ale, two IPA’s and a Milkshake Stout. We track and get consumer feedback and are basing our flagship beers from our results.
It’s encouraging that our in-house sales are good. This year, we are bringing in a different food truck every weekend and having local artists play on our patio. We try and keep it pretty laid back here, good beer, food and music, the trifecta. Eventually we’re aiming for LCBO but we want to get everything right, get the volume, the branding and our recipes nailed. You only get one chance with them. I’m grateful that Eric, our brewer, and I work so well together. Often the owner is the brewer as well and has to do everything and maybe it’s a struggle with the business aspect. I’m impressed when they can do it. Here we segregate our qualities. I handle this side, he sticks to brewing, but we also help each other out. He’s got a business background – he was a brewery consultant – so he knows all aspects of it. I can basically help shape the direction we’re going with the brews. He is from the shorelines of Lake Erie, Vienna Ontario, but he spent a lot of time out west like me. We’re kind of cut from the same cloth. In fact Eric brewed at some of the breweries that first got me into craft beer. Mt. Begbie in Revelstoke in B.C. where I used to ski . That was one of the first craft beers that got me over the moon. He’s brewed at many renowned breweries across Canada. He originally came back to Ontario to look for a site for his own brewery, but after that fell through he started consulting with breweries all over Ontario. He came in just after we had received our system and said Holy Sh**t, what an amazing playground, let’s talk! We now have a rad team together of like minded individuals. We all work by the same golden rule, work hard, play harder! Everyone knows their duties and their strengths, it works well. We do our best to remember if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. It’s all about the culture and I’m stoked on how things have turned out and what’s to come.
For startups or businesses looking to expand or re-locate to The County, you can fill out this Business Inquiry Questionnaire, and the Community Development Department will respond in 48 hours.