Since the summer of 2013, I’ve been following the progress of a brewery that was slated to open in Vancouver. It started out being very cloak and dagger and went something like this. A person from Twitter @startinabrewery followed me; ok I’ll follow back – you are starting a brewery after all. We had a number of interactions and he seemed like a decent person, I started reading his blog and was invited to attend a focus group session in October. I still had no idea who I was chatting with on Twitter or what the focus group was specifically about.
Meet Aaron Jonckheere – AKA the voice behind @startinabrewery. Aaron attended the focus group but sat in the corner and just listened to the conversation. The focus group was brought together to help them decide on a name for the brewery. They had a list of potential names some of which we vetoed, some we liked and there were a few new ones thrown out. In the end, we sucked because we didn’t come up with their name – Strange Fellows. This was the first focus group I’ve attended and I thought it was cool that they wanted feedback from the local beer community. I’m not sure that all new breweries or businesses interact with the public throughout the process, but I admired that about Strange Fellows – they really wanted to know what people want and took advice/opinions into consideration.
The best part of attending the focus group was that I gained a new friend. Over the next 14 months, Aaron and I kept in contact and chatted when he had questions or wanted to bounce something off me. I was just one of many people in Aaron’s circle who was there to talk to him about the new brewery’s plans. One visit to the then vacant brewery and my husband and I walked out with Aaron’s home brewing equipment. We were on our way to Dan’s to buy some start-up supplies when Aaron insisted we borrow his stuff. Hopefully, the home brew we make will taste just that little bit better from using Aaron’s equipment. Although, he did say his own homebrew wasn’t that stellar…
Enough about me, more about Strange Fellows. First, the blog. When Aaron and co-founder/head brewer Iain Hill started to plan their brewery, Aaron couldn’t find one single source that documented the process. From this, the blog was born and YouTube videos supplemented the process. It’s a solid collection of information including planning from finding the right location to picking the paint colour for the tasting room, finances, regulatory requirements, contractors and the ups and downs within the process. It’s honest, straight forward and not sugar coated. Getting financing for your dream brewery is hard work but the process that comes after that might destroy some. I cringed multiple times during the next year when yet another thing didn’t go their way. The stars hardly ever aligned for these guys from expenses that couldn’t be planned, let alone budgeted for, to contractors that didn’t produce. Anyone that’s planning on opening a brewery would be wise to read the blog from day one and put the rose coloured beer goggles aside to see what it’s really like to build a brewery.
So who are these guys?
Iain has been part of the craft beer brewing scene in Vancouver for 20 years. He used his biochemistry degree and put it to good use by becoming a brewer. His career prior to Strange Fellows included Shaftebury and Yaletown Brewing Co, where he spent the past 18 years. If you’ve ever had Iain’s Oud Bruin, you’ll know why I’m excited for Iain’s sour program at Strange Fellows.
Aaron’s grandfather is from Belgium and in the 1950’s, started to home brew when he saw the lack of quality beer in Canada. Aaron’s dad taught him the brewing process when he was 16 and thus, it’s in his blood. Aaron and Iain’s friendship culminated and they took their mutual passion for beer and decided to open a brewery.
After many, many months of hard work and sacrifices both financially and personally, Strange Fellows opened their doors on December 17, 2014. Aaron and Iain finally saw their dream enter its next stage – what Iain says is now the start of the really hard work, running the brewery.
I’ve had all of their inaugural beers and they’re solid. They have a good looking tasting room with a bird’s eye view into the brewery and the pretty, pretty barrels. What really excites me about this brewery is their sour and barrel-aged program. These styles are few and far between in Vancouver and we’re ready for them. Make lots. I’ll pick them up frequently. It’s a win-win.
I also have to give a big shout out to my favourite brewery dog, Levi. This pup hung out during construction and I’m thrilled to see he checks out the tasting room frequently. Give his little head a wee pat when you see him.
Soon to come, Strange Fellows will be launching an exclusive membership – the Fellowship. Once the info is released, I’ll update this post. Just so you know, I’m planning on being Member 001 so get in line behind me, nerds.
Strange Fellows (1345 Clark Drive, Vancouver) is now on my must-frequent list and it should be on yours too. See you there, strange ones.