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 6: We Did It!

Hello again. First, the important news — yes, we are OPEN for business! You can come enjoy beers in our taproom at 247 Wallace Ave just on the edge of Toronto’s Junction Triangle and Wallace-Emerson neighbourhoods. We also have bottles and growlers to go. To start, our hours will be Tuesday-Friday 3–9pm and Saturday-Sunday 11am-9pm. We’ve been thrilled by the reception of the neighbourhood since we opened a few days ago and the warm vibes in our taproom. It’s been a long several months since we secured our lease in October and started construction in December. We’re pretty tired but couldn’t be happier that we are finally open for business and can see the smiling faces of both friends and strangers enjoying our beer. In the spirit of continuing this series, here’s a belated update on what has happened since our last update mid-February.


Toward the end of February we had most of our utilities in place and we were pushing toward doing a water brew in early March. After a few small delays, we were able to do a full water test on the system, which went very smoothly. This let us get acclimated to all the equipment without the added pressure of actually making beer. Essentially, you do everything that you would do on a brew day but only with water to ensure all the pumps are working, nothing is leaking, the water gets to a boil, and we feel confident that we know how things will work on brew day — at least to the fullest extent possible. Around this time we also started cleaning our new equipment, first with caustic to get rid of any manufacturing grease, dirt and organic material. We then passivated all our stainless steel with a citric acid solution to ensure it stays rust-free and sanitary. Finally, we sanitized everything to ensure it was ready for brewing and there were no contaminants like wild yeast or bacteria in the system.

We also got our glycol chiller system working. This is the big machine that sends coolant (a food-grade glycol and water mixture) through our equipment to keep everything at the temperature we need it to be. This was pretty new to us, but we felt confident we could mix the glycol and start the system on our own. There were a few hiccups along the way, including getting all the air out of the pipes. Apparently there’s no instruction manual for this and nobody tells you how to do this when you decide to start a brewery. ;)

Finally, everything was working and cold. Except for the one time we tried changing one of the temperature controllers from Fahrenheit to Celsius and inadvertently found a bug in the programming that caused the chiller to go into a safety shut off mode in the middle of the night… but that’s a longer story.

Then, finally, the big day came. Our first brew! It ended up being a ridiculous 13-hour brew day. We started too late, and finished exhausted, very late. We brewed a fairly simple recipe (by our standards), a 4.9% Session IPA we jokingly call Half-Truth. We learned a lot of lessons in the process and we’ve continued to refine our process with every batch since then. It’s a bit more stressful than a water brew when you have a mash tun full of grains and a kettle full of wort and you’re hoping everything works smoothly.

Unfortunately, in March, we also had to dump a full batch of beer. This is something all brewers dread to do, but it’s especially painful when you’re just starting out and trying to make enough beer to get open. We had some manufacturing issues with our kettle that caused a batch of beer to have an unfortunate burnt taste. Everything is fixed now, except maybe our bruised egos and the constant calls and visits from our HVAC technician to try and fix things. sigh of relief


We had initially planned to be open at the end of April (ahead of schedule!) but our kettle issues slowed down our brewing for a few weeks. Once resolved, we were able to brew a ton and put the finishing touches on our taproom. There were seemingly a million tiny little details, and small ones kept getting added to the list every day. We had to answer important questions like: How were we going to finish the wood on the taproom walls (we opted for a watered-down black stain that was sprayed on then wiped down)? How would our self-built draft system work? How would we create our beer menus (we had an idea to use magnetic chalkboards on a substrate)? We also hadn’t built our outdoor sign yet, and though we had a design, we didn’t really know how it would physically come together. We also hadn’t even constructed or tested our bottler yet, even though we had a general design in mind and beer ready to go.

Eventually, we set ourselves a drop-dead date of the second week of May to be open. We realized that without a date, it would be pretty easy for things to keep sliding. We had to rally ourselves and the rest of our team for one last push to be open.

Sodi Designs installing our amazing custom light fixture, designed by Jedidiah Gordon-Moran

We worked near-sleepless nights going up to the opening. 1am light fixture installs became the new norm. Our outdoor sign was built the week before our friends & family launch and installed the day before we opened. Everything came together really quickly and we are absolutely blown away by the teamwork and dedication of everyone working on this project with us.

We have four beers available on tap, in bottles and 1L growlers to start:

Ion Cannon is a 4.1% Gose (traditional salty/tart German style) brewed with strawberry and kiwi purées. It’s dry, effervescent, and extremely refrshing.

Half-Truth is a 4.9% Session IPA, generously hopped with a predominantly citrus-pine West Coast profile.

The Final Straw is a 5.4% tart Witbier with strawberry and rosehips.

Magic Missile is a 6.0% Dry-Hopped Pale Ale with Australian Galaxy and New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops. It has a lot of tropical fruit character from the hops and a soft mouthfeel.

We have a long list of people we have to thank. Without them, our big crazy dream couldn’t have become our big crazy reality.

First, thanks to our families and friends for their support (and occasional neglect as we spent too much time on the business). Sara Vinten, Callum’s wife, who continues to do all our branding and design, on top of helping to coordinate a million little things and trips to the hardware store. ;)

My partner, Kat Burns, for her emotional support, bartending assistance, putting up with me being at the brewery all the time, and a million other things. ❤

Christopher Guard, our amazing general contractor — which is a term too light to describe the herculean effort he put into this project. On top of coordinating all the trades, Christopher’s company Maker Industries built our outdoor sign, our beer menu, sampling trays, our bottler, and a million other things. Christopher is the kind of guy you can call in a panic at midnight and he either has an answer to every question or knows how to get the answer quickly. He also had tremendous input on the design and helped us choose materials and finishes that made our taproom look great while still working in our limited budget. We’re forever indebted to him and are so happy to call him a friend.

Jedidiah Gordon-Moran was our architect and interior designer. On top of doing all our floor plans and architectural drawings for permit submissions, he designed our taproom and came up with some incredibly clever ideas that make the space unique, warm and inviting. Jed put up with our pickyness and spent many sleepless nights (I’m just guessing, I haven’t asked him!) working on many revisions of the design and sweating the little details.

Dian Carlo from Sodi Designs built the amazing custom light fixtures that adorn the taproom. He took Jed’s unique design and relished the challenge of building a complex main light fixture with square tubing. Dian also built all our stools, chairs and table bases. and JDMcNicoll Interiors brought Jed’s taproom design to life. Their attention to detail and creative solutions like the acid etching of the hot-rolled steel on the front face of the bar and the tap wall added a unique touch that we couldn’t have imagined. Huge thanks to David Lister, Nick Regina, Marek Matis, and countless others.

Specific Mechanical in Victoria, BC built all our brewing equipment and have been helpful and responsive since day one. They miraculously delivered our equipment well ahead of schedule, which basically never happens in this industry.

Trish Lamana worked with Sara to build our amazing new website (launching just a few days after this is published).

Sean Howard was here at all the key moments in our journey, camera in hand, insisting that we would want photos captured for posterity. Sean is a great friend and his guidance and support behind the scenes and presence during those moments was always calming and welcome.

Ren Bostelaar took all the product photos on the Halo site and barely blinked at the complexity and length of our shot list. “How many beers do you have?!”

Greg Landucci has been here on most brew and bottling days, on top of all his input and guidance. Thanks for lending him to us, Misu. ;)

There are so many other people that contributed to this project in one way or another. People who went above and beyond the call of duty and were passionate and interested in what we were doing. We can’t thank everyone here, but please know that we deeply appreciate everything you did for us.

Finally, our brand new website has launched. It has always-current beer availability, geeky recipe details, and much more. Have a look.

We hope you’ll stop by to try our beer soon. Cheers!

The author of this article has licensed it CC BY-SA