Eric Portelance
  • I used to lead the strategy team at Teehan+Lax, but now I just brew beer at Halo Brewery.

Starting a Brewery, Part 5: Heads Above Water

It occurred to me that, once again, it’s been months since we provided a proper update on where we’re at with Halo Brewery, and it feels like so much has happened since then.

You may have seen photos of our equipment on site, and since then we keep getting asked the same question: “When do you start brewing?” In short, barring any unexpected setbacks this month, we’re still on track to have beer ready for you this Spring.

If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of what we’ve been up to over the past few months (read: become a crazy person whose life revolves around construction and bureaucracy), let’s get you up to speed…

November-December: Breaking Ground

When we ordered our brewing equipment and signed our lease in the Fall, we knew that the equipment arrival time was going to be a key moment for the project. There was a ton of structural work that needed to happen on site before that equipment could be installed.

We spent much of November and December in a pre-construction phase where not much happened on site. As complete newbies to a construction project of this scale, Callum and I got pretty antsy and had to restrain each other from taking a sledgehammer to random things. “When can we start digging holes and breaking stuff?” was a question our very patient general contractor, Christopher, had to answer on a daily basis.

But realistically we learned that spending the time to get proper quotes from subcontractors, ensure we had a detailed schedule and scope of work, and finalizing our architectural drawings, was extremely important to ensuring actual construction went smoothly. We managed to get the wall behind the brewing equipment tiled in November. Finally, in December, after our building permits were approved, we brought in a huge concrete saw and cut out a big part of the old slab. Although this slab was in perfectly good shape (and 10" thick!), we needed to install a trench drain and have the floors sloped toward it.

We closed out 2015 with our provincial beer Manufacturer’s License conditionally approved, new concrete poured and curing… and the news that our brewing equipment would (SURPRISE!) be ready ahead of schedule in mid-January instead of mid-February if we wanted it. This may have never happened before in the history of brewery equipment purchases, and that all seemed like good news except we were staring at wet concrete floors that needed to harden and be coated with polyurethane, plumbing rough-in work to be completed, and a glycol system (for controlling the temperature of our beer!) to be installed before that equipment arrived.


January is a bit of a haze. Most of what I remember is waking up too early every day to meet our general contractor and various trades on site, and staying alert with americanos from our neighbours, Cafe Neon. Somehow we managed to get all the major structural work in time to receive our equipment mid-month. And that was an epic 12-hour day. The truck arrived early along with our riggers. It took us a few hours just to unbolt all the equipment in the trailer and lift it out into the parking lot.

After that began the long process of playing Tetris inside our small building. We had calculated everything down to the inch and somehow managed to get our 11 foot tall fermenters through our 10 foot door (diagonally), righted inside, and put in place. We’ve maybe never been as nervous as we were watching them move 1000 kg tanks around. At the end of that day, it hit us for the first time that we’re doing this crazy thing instead of just burning giant piles of money.

We spent a few days after that playing around with our giant expensive Meccano set, moving things around a centimetre at a time until everything was level and all the hard pipes could clamp together (much harder than you would imagine). Meanwhile the plumbers worked on tying in the glycol headers to each vessel, and our electricians started connecting all the pumps, controllers and sensors to our brewhouse control panels.

We also received shipment of our glycol chiller, built our walk-in cooler, and spent a lot of time talking to vendors — sourcing ingredients and missing equipment.

Finding hops proved to be the most problematic, which we were mostly prepared for, but didn’t quite realize how time consuming it would be. Essentially, if you don’t have a contract for some of the key varieties (up to six crop years ahead of time!), there’s no guarantee that any of the highly sought after hops will be available at all. We were extremely lucky that some amazingly generous local breweries helped us out and we managed to find everything we need for this year. Now we have to start focusing on securing hops for 2017 and we haven’t even brewed our first batch of beer yet.


So here’s where we are now… we’re starting to wind down a lot of the major construction. Final equipment utility connections are being made and we are gearing up to passivate our stainless steel tanks (basically a protective acid bath on the inside) and do a water brew to make sure everything is working correctly before we actually make beer on the system. We’ve already had our Excise inspection from the Federal government, and we’re just waiting to receive our license to brew from them.

The days are really flying by now. As I look at the calendar it’s dawning on me that it’s almost mid-February, and it feels like this month just started. There are so many tiny little details to deal with over the next few months that it can be kind of overwhelming. The best way seems to be to put everything on a list and make sure you’re always doing something to move things forward every single day.

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