DC helps craft brewers chase success

Little Beasts Brewing Company owners Erin Broadfoot (left) and John Henley (right). Photo credit: Meagan Secord

Also written by Meagan Secord

A Durham College initiative is helping local brewers produce suds and teach students more about beer.

The Centre for Craft Brewing Innovation (CCBI) at Durham’s Whitby campus is already brewing up success for the local industry after opening last spring.

“Craft brewing is growing in leaps and bounds,” said Chris Gillis, DC’s manager, applied research business development. “It’s expected the number of craft brewers will hit the 500 mark by 2019 – 90 per cent of those are small brewers.”

Local brewers and those aspiring to join the beer business can come to the centre and receive guidance from experts like Erin Broadfoot and John Henley of Little Beasts Brewing Company in Whitby.

Little Beasts opened Oct. 21, 2017, as a second career option for the partners. Before getting into brewing, Broadfoot worked as a naturopathic doctor while Henley was a software quality assurance engineer.

“It was a hobby for both of us, we were both home brewers and beer judges,” said Broadfoot. “We just loved it.”

When the CCBI opened its doors, Broadfoot helped by teaching the first round of classes. She continues to offer ongoing advice to staff at the centre.

According to Gillis, the CCBI doesn’t offer a specific school program but it does give students the opportunity to work alongside experienced brewers.

“What we really want to do is help the craft brewing industry expand the education on how to brew and also give them the resource to control their brewing process to make good brews consistently,” said Gillis.

Durham College’s Office of Research Services, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (ORSIE) saw a growing need for a facility able to support aspiring and existing craft brewers like Little Beasts.

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The CCBI was funded by a $150,000 grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, an agency of the federal government. Through ORSIE, the CCBI offers technology brewers otherwise wouldn’t be able to access.

“They often lack resources to ensure the quality and consistency of their beer,” said Debbie McKee Demczyk, dean of ORSIE. “They’re often very passionate about what they do, but because they’re small, they have small teams, they don’t have R and D departments (research and development).”

The cost of equipment can pose as an obstacle for both aspiring and existing breweries when it comes to quality control, Broadfoot said. Without proper equipment and packaging, the risk of oxygen getting into the beer can become an issue of quality and safety.

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Durham College's Centre for Craft Brewing Innovation at the Whitby campus. Photo credit: Meagan Secord

“A lot of that equipment you need for QC (quality control), we can’t afford,” said Broadfoot. “What they’re doing over there, it would bring in this instrumentation needed to conduct those tests to ensure QC, which is huge in our industry.”

Without proper quality control, contamination from outside sources can create excess oxygen in beer, causing the taste to change or cans to explode, Broadfoot said. The CCBI ensures brewers can produce product safely and successfully.

Access to the CCBI has already turned out a number of successful breweries, including Premium Near Beer, a craft brewery specializing in non-alcoholic brews. The brewery received funding after a successful pitch to CBC’s Dragons’ Den in 2017.

“Premium Near Beer approached us looking for some support to develop a new recipe,” said McKee Demczyk. “They went to Dragons’ Den and they secured a deal based on the beer we helped them produce.”

ORSIE is continuing to apply for grants to bring more equipment to the CCBI to support craft brewing education. The centre gives students the opportunity to work in the brewery environment by giving them the tools to analyze and produce a quality product for a continually expanding market, said McKee Demczyk.