In the spring of 2016, yet another new entry to the city’s exploding craft-beer business will give local beer fans the chance to wet their whistles.
Beer fans will soon be able to sample the fine flavours of the Gray Stone Brewery, a new venture from local businessman Wes Ward, who also owns the multi-bar establishment The Capital Complex in the downtown business district: The Tannery.
With pub and restaurant rails across the city already stocked with high-quality, locally produced suds by Picaroons Traditional Ales, the Grimross Brewing Co., Half Cut Brewing, Big Axe Brewing, and the Trailway Brewing Co., beer enthusiasts will soon be able to sample new suds from Gray Stone Brewery and the soon-to-launch Maybee Brewing Co.
Ward had initially planned to build the brewery onto his existing business, a tall, slick-looking structure that would have been constructed atop what is now the business’s patio.
However, those plans have changed.
“The design and the engineering of the building was the toughest part of the whole project,” he said, explaining that the design was approved after two years of work between his team and representatives from the city.
“When we finally had a plan that everyone agreed on, and we started to get new quotes, the price was probably almost double what we had budgeted for this project.”
So negotiations are currently underway to acquire and renovate a former yoga studio in the downtown core that could become the site of the Gray Stone Brewery.
The goal, said Ward, is to have the business up and running by March of 2016 and open to the public by the beginning of May.
“The logistics of building something back here were an absolute nightmare,” he said.
“And there were logistical issues with adding a fourth business to a three-bar complex. At the end of the day, this is a much better option. It can stand alone and we’ll still have our product (at The Capital Complex). At some point down the road, maybe if some things change in The Tannery, we might be in a better situation to do something like this again.”
By next spring Ward is hoping to have Gray Stone Brewery ready to launch, giving the city a second downtown brewtique to complement the bustling business done by Picaroons Traditional Ales on Queen Street.
Reviewing plans on Tuesday, the new business is expected to house a working brewery, a growler- filling station, and a comfortable tasting lounge.
“We’re looking at doing, comfortably, about 2,000 barrels a year, which is roughly about 4,000 kegs,” he said.
“That’ll be in the back-half. In the front, we’ll have a tap-house. We’ll probably have seating for maybe 40 people. We want it to be a community-oriented space, where people can come in and spend the afternoon – have a coffee or have a beer, maybe do some work, and then buy a growler
and go home.”
Ward has been in the bar business since 1998, when he landed a job behind the countertop at The Capital Bar.
He learned a lot about the bar-business from owner Ted Beach, until his mentor one day made him a proposition.
“One day he said, just out of the blue, ‘Are you going to buy the bar from me?’”
The two eventually decided on a mutually beneficial arrangement, which involved Ward managing the bar for four years until he was ready to take over the entire operation.
“It was a great opportunity. I basically grew up here, growing up with the patrons and the staff. I’ve evolved from the bartender to the manager to the owner. Everything really happened naturally. People say, ‘You must be proud of what you’ve done here,’ and, obviously, I am, but really I’ve just enjoyed my time here and allowed my staff, guys like (my friend and bartender) Fergus Breen and (music and promotions manager) Zach Atkinson drive this place,” he said.
“I try to steer things a bit, but they’re the ones that have made this place.” Now that he’s 38, and a father, working at the bar each night isn’t always ideal.
“My wife and I have a young daughter and things have changed. So it’d be nice to have another venture that won’t be as heavily dependent on staying out late,” he said.
“The brewery will be different from the bar.”
Ward said he’s been thinking about starting his own brewery since 2004.
“Fergus and I were travelling in Patagonia and we were hiking one day and it was miserable. The wind was blowing and you couldn’t see what you were supposed to be seeing. We’d wanted to come up with something besides the bar and the whole trip ended up with us talking about a brewery,” he said.
“When we got home, we found out how much it would cost to start a brewery. That sort of put that vision on hold.”
Now that he’s ready to tackle his dream, who’s actually brewing the new beer? Ward approached three local home-brewers – Ian DeMerchant, Mark Budd, and Steve Christie – and asked them if they’d like to be part of this venture. They accepted the challenge and they’ve been making beer under the Gray Stone Brewery label ever since.
“We’ve been brewing for two years in December. We start out with a beer and we just keep tweaking it, tweaking it, tweaking it,” he said.
“I think we have like six recipes absolutely dialled in. Once we move on to the larger brewing system, we’ll be able to do some more experimentation. They’re very excited to start brewing on a big system, instead of in my basement with a bunch of buckets.”
To start, he said, Gray Stone Brewery will offer a pale ale, a brown ale, an IPA, and a stout. Beer fans can also expect to try a black IPA, a Russian imperial stout, and a light, summery session ale.
He said he’s excited to be part of the craft-beer explosion happening in Fredericton and across New Brunswick at the moment, noting there are now 23 craft alcohol producers currently scattered across the province.
“I like that there are two or three other breweries in the process of opening right now. I think all of the breweries can complement each other. We’re not really doing the same styles of beers. We may have one or two beers that are close, but we’ll still have our own flavours,” he said.
“There’ll be something for everyone in the city. Hopefully, people will soon be coming to Fredericton because of the selection of beers available.”