They’re taking the “taste local” message to heart with craft beer
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They’re taking the “taste local” message to heart with craft beer

Block Three Brewing Company’s master brewer Bryan Maher is looking forward to a friendly competition amongst Waterloo Region breweries this spring. [Scott Barber / The Observer]

Four longtime friends and beer aficionados go into business with Block Three Brewing in St. Jacobs

There was plenty of ale to cure what ails ya at the brewery’s grand opening on Labour Day weekend.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
There was plenty of ale to cure what ails ya at the brewery’s grand opening on Labour Day weekend. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
It was noted statesman Homer Simpson who, after helping end a brief prohibition in Springfield, stood atop a pile of kegs and delivered the immortal toast: “To beer – the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

From Homer to Bob and Doug McKenzie, all of western civilization’s great thinkers and philosophers have been known to enjoy the amber brew. The cream of the foam … the tang of the lager … the icy sensuality of a perfectly refrigerated 568mL glass … it’s enough to inspire a poet to write a sonnet. Or, in the case of four local entrepreneurs, it’s enough to inspire a new microbrewery in the heart of St. Jacobs.

“It’s by locals, for locals,” said Phil Hipkiss, one of the operators of Block Three Brewing, which opened its doors to the public over Labour Day weekend. “All four partners are young guys who have been in town, some of us for our whole lives. We love St. Jacobs, we love Kitchener-Waterloo, and we love beer.”

Hipkiss handles marketing, while Graham Spence is the beer connoisseur, Bryan Maher is the brewmaster, and Derek Lebert is the self-described “numbers guy.” These longtime friends were members of the same beer club when, while discovering the art and craft of a fine lager, they decided to get into the business themselves.

“It started with three or four of us, and we got it up to about 10, 12 people, just trying beers from all over the world,” said Lebert. “We decided to start trying to make our own beer, and one thing led to another and we decided we were pretty good at it.”

Added Hipkiss, “We said, ‘Hey, this is something we know there’s a demand for with the locals. We want it, they want it.’ We really want to give the locals something they can be proud of.”

While the craft beer market has exploded in recent years, with some popular establishments for quality ale in Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph, St. Jacobs turned out to be not only a vibrant market, but an underserved one.

“We thought, a tourist town like St. Jacobs has a lot of foot traffic, and would be close to the market and all the things St. Jacobs stands for – craftsmanship and artisanship and handmade goods. That really fits well with the craft food industry and what we want to do here,” said Lebert.

Two beers – the King Street Saison and the Sugar Bush Brown Ale – are currently on tap at their new venue, with more on the way. “We’re trying to use local products wherever possible,” said Lebert. “With the Sugar Bush, we’re using maple syrup from just north of Elmira. We’re hoping to do local malts eventually.”

“With a lot of our brews, you’re going to find we’re still perfecting recipes, so every single brew is not going to be perfectly the same,” said Hipkiss. The way that we like to say it is, we’re kinda rough around the edges. We’re not going to be that perfect, exact pint every time, because there’s nothing perfect about microbreweries.”

Though originally slated to open on Canada Day, it took the brewers an additional two months to secure their liquor license and make the necessary renovations. With doors now open, there are plans afoot to keep the venue novel.

“We always want to be doing community things,” said Hipkiss. “Our brewer has already started to think of a type of beer and a recipe [for when we] hold ‘Blocktoberfest,’ and have an event here one of the weekends of Oktoberfest. During the day, because everybody’s out partying at night.

“It would just be causal – stop in, we’ll have some live music or some dancers, and just have a good time.”

Yes, wherever there is a frosty pint, good times are bound to follow. No wonder noted scholar Bluto Blutarsky offered such sage wisdom to his fraternity brethren as, “My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.” Of course, it depends on what you’re drinking. Having immersed themselves deep into the beer world, do these alcohol aficionados have trouble stomaching the mass-produced brand names available at your local Beer Store?

“Oh yeah!” laughed Lebert. “Some beers are very good – I mean, I love my Guinness beer still. But once you learn the craft a little bit and know all the intricacies – as Bryan, our brewer, does – it’s really neat trying all these different beers and sensing all the little nuances.”

Block Three Brewing is located at 1430 King St. N., unit 2. Hours are Monday-Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.blockthreebrewing.ca or call 519-664-1001.

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