For Elmira’s Roger Lichti, beer is more than just a refreshing beverage: it’s the catalyst for socializing with people.
That was the case when he’d have friends over to sample his home-brew creations, and now he’s looking to expand his circle of friends by opening the doors to the Rural Roots Brewing Company in Elmira.
A long-time enthusiast, his interest in brewing stems from a late-1990s trip to the UK, where he was introduced to a variety of different beers and to the concept of the local, a public house that serves as something of a community gathering place.
That concept stayed with him over the years. The home brewing followed later on, the idea of the friendly pub lingering in the background. Provincial rules not being conducive to the old-fashioned public house – opening the doors of one’s home to patrons interested in a pint and a bite to eat, perhaps – Lichti’s next step was setting up shop in a licensed venture.
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The space he chose is tucked back off the road at 21 Industrial Dr., sharing the property with Martin’s Small Engines and Auto Clinic.
Most recently an accounting office, the building was completely revamped to suit the open format of Lichti’s vision. Within the cozy confines, there are sitting areas, a bar and brewing setup open to full view. It’s a spot he hopes proves welcoming.
“We’re about more than just beer. We want to create that space and place where everyone feels comfortable,” says Lichti of Rural Roots, a business name derived from his childhood growing up on a farm near Ethel and his current home in Elmira.
“I’m people-focused as opposed to beer-focused,” he adds with a laugh.
The beer is the impetus for the new business, but it’s really “all about community” at the end of the day.
He started making his own beer, gradually expanding from simple kits to more involved brewing, acquiring better equipment, experience and recipes along the way. From there, the decision was whether to make the big leap from hobbyist to a professional operation.
“The big question was are we willing to commit to something like this,” he says, indicating the brewpub taking shape behind him.
Making the leap was easier with the support of family and friends, Lichti notes, crediting his wife and business partner – Sue From, a sales representative for RE/MAX Solid Gold Realty (II) Ltd. brokerage – with making it possible to pursue his passion.
“My wife, Sue, is fully engaged in doing this. I wouldn’t be doing this without her.”
When the doors open, five of his brews will be on tap. Given that it’s summertime, he’s starting with some light options, including what he calls his NQ IPA, short for Not Quite an IPA, a kolsch and a cream ale. There’s also a porter.
More offerings will follow, and Lichti says he expects local tastes and preferences will play a part in determining which will become standards.
To that end, making Rural Roots a welcoming environment extends to encouraging people to try out the brews and provide some feedback.
“The idea is to take people through a tasting journey,” he says of the beers on offer, which reflect his preference for traditional, simple ingredients and techniques.
“I wanted to go back to some simple beers with flavour and a lot of taste.
“I like variety. I want there to be something for people to see and try – I like beer that has some character.”
Beyond the beer, Lichti has plans for a simple menu of a few appetizers and some mains in the vein of pulled pork, sausages, whistle dogs and sandwiches. Perhaps a few visiting food trucks to mix things up, he suggests.
With both the beer and food, Lichti says local is always the first choice in sourcing ingredients, whether that’s sourcing hops from Tavistock or working with Dierre Acheson at Never Enough Thyme to come up with some unique flavours.
“We try to use ingredients as local as we can,” he says. “Again, it’s been about keeping things simple.”
As he readied the locale, he’s found other microbrewery operators in the area to be extremely helpful and generous with their time. There’s also been plenty of support from local businesses, including his new landlord, Rick Weber of Martin’s Small Engines.
Busy this week putting the finishing touches on the completely transformed space, Lichti had one more detail to contend with: the paperwork. The final approvals of the Canada Revenue Agency and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, however, are issues well beyond his control. His hopes of being open for the long weekend rest with the bureaucracies, a situation that might lead anyone to search out a nice refreshing beverage.
To find out just how things turn out, keep an eye on www.ruralrootsbrewery.ca.