Brewing up a lasting legacy in Dundas
This area of Dundas is so familiar to me. This is where I grew up – and like many who grew up in the Valley Town, my family wore a path along Hatt Street making frequent trips to the J.L. Grightmire Arena. Each passing took us by the old Valley City Manufacturing buildings; an area of Dundas that was, historically, a small industrial sector. I still remember the old factory buildings that occupied the corner of Ogilvie and Hatt Street sitting empty for years. Now, the retirement community of Amica of Dundas resides there. At the time, they were much maligned for their idleness; but they were an imposing reminder of the town’s roots just a couple blocks from the beautiful and historic downtown. Just down the road, Valley City Manufacturing was a functioning tether to the towns early days; a furniture manufacturer spanning over 100 years. The place was a Dundas icon. My woodworking neighbour from across the street – who I’d often watch build impressive cabinetry in his garage on the weekends – worked there. In a small community like Dundas, I’m sure that same memory was created on a number of other streets, too. When Valley City closed its doors, it really did mark the end of an era.
YEAH, IT’S TIME.
So there they were, Shawn Till and Ed Madronich, sitting by the lake at a cottage enjoying some sunshine and a frosty beverage or two. In years past, the thought of starting their own brewery had certainly been discussed. Always one of those back-of-mind dreams – a bucket-list item that’s pondered while stargazing and, for most of us, brushed off with a “maybe one day”. For Shawn and Ed, this was their “one day”. Both had achieved successes in their professional lives; Shawn, the CEO of Virginia-based Primary Integration and Ed, the owner of Flat Rock Cellars winery in Jordan, Ontario. And now a new challenge was coming to shore. With the simple glance and a question, “Are we ready to do this?” the peaceful calm was momentarily interrupted with a rush of rallying energy. “Yeah, it’s time.”
It didn’t take long for the Shawn & Ed Brewing to fill some of the gap left by Valley City. The historic, landmark building chosen to house the brewery had opened in the late 1860s and was home to the Dundas Curling and Skating Rink Co. for the next 60 years or so. And in small-town Canada, there are few things more historically revered than a one-and-a-half century old curling club. During the years in between, it served as a garage for a bus line and then a manufacturing site for washing machine parts until 1974. And until Shawn & Ed locked their sights on it, Valley City had been using the building for product storage.
During my visit to this amazing facility, it didn’t take long for me to recognize the value of character. My tour was guided by Ed, the lakeside dreamer-turned President and Co-Founder. Even hearing Ed’s passion for everything about this building, the beer being brewed, and this town, just screamed character. Once inside, you immediately see the care and attention to detail that has gone into preserving the history. The exposed brick, vaulted wood ceilings, and hardwood floors are a visual rush that greet you at the entrance – you really can’t help but smile as you take it all in. Hanging above the reception desk are old, fabric bus destination signs that were found somewhere during the renovations. Forgotten leftovers from the bus garage era between 1923 and 1932. Walking towards the bar and event space, Ed points out that all but one of the large support pillars are original to the building. Discerning the newest version takes a keen eye – a testament to the efforts made to replicate the original.
As you reach the bar and open event area, the brewing operation is in full view. The openness of the process is something both Shawn and Ed feel is important. “I’m a huge believer in showing you what we do. I’m very proud of how we make the beer and the equipment we’ve got – so I wanted to integrate our customers into what we do,” Ed explained. To me, it felt a bit like an open kitchen concept in a restaurant. There’s something appealing about seeing how your beer has been prepared.
Getting a close-up view of the brewing process was another treat. Not only have Shawn and Ed invested heavily in the building, they’ve gone world-class when it comes to their brewing equipment. State of the art and high-tech are the prevailing descriptors at every station. This is what investing in brewing good beer looks like.
“Nobody our size has what we have,” Ed proudly notes as he takes me through each stage of the process. “There are two reasons why we brew the best beer. One; we found the best brewmaster. Rob (Creighton) brews great beer. That’s just what he does. The second reason is that we bought the best equipment.”
Everything here is meticulously monitored and precisely timed. How and when the ingredients are added, the temperatures, how quickly the temperatures rise and fall; absolutely everything. This is a clinic in quality.
“We have the best technology in the world to make beer. We don’t approach it as ‘it would be nice to have the best quality’. No. We do it perfect every time.”
Choosing to brew lagers presents a heightened quality requirement. As Ed explained to me, lagers are crisp and clean; very drinkable, but any faults in the process are much more noticeable to the drinker. And the process itself is twice as long and more complicated – making lagers rare among the craft brewers. So, if there are easier options, why would they bother? Ed reminds me that this is a brewery based on passion. “We like drinking lagers.”
BEER, THE ROOT OF EVERYTHING WE DO.
Through a purely organic evolution, the brewery has become an event space. The openness of the brewing process is indicative of Shawn & Ed’s openness with their customers and the community. The space was designed with the idea of inviting customers in to sit down and enjoy the beer. This went over well. Really well. They liked the environment so much that requests began pouring in to host events. Now the plan is to make the space even more accommodating for event hosting; adding a kitchen is on the horizon. While we have seen similar set-ups in other local breweries and wineries, Ed gladly states that this was simply listening to their customers and the community. “We live and breathe this here – we respond to our customers, not the market. We’re driven by our customers and our passion. We love the fact that people come in here and enjoy our beer.”
The renovation of this historical building has certainly played a key part in Shawn & Ed’s early success. Giving new life to this iconic structure has paid immediate dividends within the community. And community is such a big part of what Shawn & Ed Brewing Co. is all about. There is such an incredible story happening here. And it’s refreshing to see that it’s happening in a 150-or-so year old building. It really shows what passion and preservation can do. There’s no doubt that the beer being brewed here is going places. Whether it’s served on-site or in the growing number of bars and restaurants that are pouring it, the reported reception has been great. But the real experience is at the brewery. Even as a very casual beer drinker, this is well worth the visit to downtown Dundas.