Gone Pro is a series of Q&As with breweries with homebrewing roots. If you would like to see a brewery featured here, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is your name, and what do you do at the brewery?
We are Matti Kwan and Sara Yong, and actually our brewery is currently doing the contract brewing thing. We’re doing this to gain business and sales experience, and also to get our name out there and into the beer universe. It is not something we recommend doing for profits because the profits are very modest. Contract brewing should be approached as a means to an end, which in our case is an eventual brewpub.
In terms of division of labour, we both do a lot to support one another, and our roles are flexible. Generally, I (Matti) am in in charge of sales, and overseeing brewing operations, and Sara handles branding, events and bookkeeping, and generally keeping things organized.
How and when did you start homebrewing?
We made a wintery hike on the first snowfall of 2015 to a Magnotta homebrew shop in Scarborough, ON. Our first kit was an Irish red bag of wort that we aerated into a plastic pail and pitched yeast into. Despite over-carbonation, it came out tasting pretty good. We quickly made the switch to all-grain brewing, and now generally brew 2 or 3 batches a month.
Why did you decide to go pro, and what was the process like?
We both love a good challenge, and are very much interested in working for ourselves one day. Owning a business is appealing to us, and since we both love beer, owning a brewing company made the most sense. Since our first batch of that Irish red (and for the subsequent 2 dozen or so batches that we bottled before turning to kegging) we’ve named, and labelled our beer with a Silly Sir logo and bottle art. It sometimes feels like we just got carried away with this process!
Getting our beer into liquor stores across Ontario was a whole other matter. It takes time, patience, and a lot of back and forth with a government institution that can sometimes be frustratingly limiting. We recommend doing it only if it’s an intermediary step to gain experience.
How has your homebrewing background helped your career in the brewing industry?
In every way. I was given the role of Vice President of the GTA Brews homebrew club pretty early into my membership. I’m a pretty excitable fella, and I think (or rather, hope) this general enthusiasm for all things homebrewing helped to grow the club a little bit, and maybe attract people who were maybe on the fringes wondering whether homebrewing was for them. The brewing world can seem closed off at times, and I personally found it intimidating joining a group where a sizable base knew so much about all things beer. As I continued to develop friendships in the club, I came to lean how supportive and engaging community really was, and that I was wrong to be so intimidated. I started entering homebrew competitions, winning some medals, and then applied to a brewing position at a place called Brunswick Bierworks in Toronto. I think having Vice President of GTA Brews on my resume, and having several homebrew competition medals to my name helped land me an interview, and ultimately, the position.
I found that my homebrewing experience helped me gain my bearings relatively quickly which was important because I was brewing on a 50 hectolitre brewhouse—quite the step up in terms of volume! Really though, nearly every step of good homebrewing translates quite perfectly into what you’re doing on a commercial system, it’s just bigger. The ability to multitask and work efficiently are critical skills in this industry!
What is a favourite beer that you’ve brewed (homebrew or pro) and describe it in three words.
Oh man, this really fluctuates fast. Part of me feels like I haven’t ever brewed a good beer! The sense of imposter syndrome is really pervasive in this industry… Actually, that’s a good answer for this question! I brew a beer at Folly (my current full-time brewing gig) called Imposter Syndrome which is a farmhouse IPA. It’s deliciously tropical, with a full mouthfeel (despite a relatively low FG), and very fruity yeast expression.
What inspires your brews?
Aside from the occasional world class beer that Sara and I sample and try and recreate, we’re really inspired by the often touted sense of community of the homebrewing scene. Most are eager to prop one another up, and encourage real discovery. There’s also a gentleman named Jeff (owner of Muddy York Brewing) who really inspires me (Matti) in terms of the type of brewing and beer style versatility, execution, energy, and leadership style I hope to one day emulate.
What is something unexpected that you learned while transitioning from homebrewing to pro brewing? In terms of contract brewing, we learned that:
1) Diastaticus is a thing; and 2) it is a very, no good, horrible, bad thing to be plagued with, especially when you’re just starting up.
What sets your brewery apart from others?
Nothing, yet. We’re ridiculous, and our beer is usually quite good, but it will be the environment we create and the beer we produce once we have an actual physical location that (we hope) will set us apart.
Any tips for folks thinking about going pro?
Engage your local homebrew community as much as possible, and if you don’t have a homebrew community then start your own. Soak up as much information as you can from websites, books, social media, Reddit, forums, the lot, and ask lots of questions. Attend seminars, and talk to professionals in your area. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something, and try and determine the best places to look for answers. Be cognizant of the fact that sales, and business administration will eat up way more of your time than actual brewing does.
Cover photo courtesy of Silly Sir Brewing Co.