We’re sitting down today with Jewelle Scheidel-Webb, founder of Haliburton Highlands Brewing to talk about the brewery and a little bit about the local hub they are part of.
Jewelle, what got you into the world of craft brewing and why choose the Haliburton Highlands as a home?
First – why Haliburton? We have cottaged in the Haliburton Highlands for several years and love the area! We spenbeaut many Friday nights in the car on the way up to the cottage, talking about what we could contribute to the area that would allow us to escape the city and live and work here.
I worked in the tech industry for many years and loved it, but was ready to make a change. Michael has a culinary background and was a professional dad while our boys were growing up. We are big advocates of the local food and slow food movements.
We wanted to build something that would operate with sustainable principals and contribute to the local community. We started to explore the growing craft beer scene in Ontario and decided that Haliburton needed a local craft brewery and we should do it!
Can you tell us a little bit about the hub The Abbey Gardens you are part of?
HHB operates at Abbey Gardens, which is built on the site of a former gravel pit. The Abbey Gardens Community Trust is responsible for the restoration and transformation of the former pit site into arable land and other sustainable purposes that contribute to the health and economic development of the region.
The project has three primary areas of focus: developing the local food economy, sustainable energy and wellness.
Several independent businesses operate at Abbey Gardens and in doing so contribute to the financial viability of the project. Operating at Abbey Gardens was a great decision for HHB.
Abbey Gardens composts our spent grain to enhance onsite soil fertility. We collaborate on events, marketing and opportunities to make our operations more sustainable and continue to reduce our environmental footprint.
What is a typical day for you?
During cottage season, I personally spend a lot of time with customers. It is great to hear about their connections to the Haliburton Highlands and their interest in craft beer and local food.
Some of our cottage customers have been cottaging in the area for generations! They are excited to see what is happening here at Abbey Gardens and all the new local food and beer offerings in the area.
Exposing customers to new beer styles and hearing their reactions to trying new things is a lot of fun. I then need to find time to fit in all the paperwork, reporting, order entry and invoicing – less fun.
The rest of the team spends most of their time in production, but are always ready to step into the retail space to pour flights or cash out customers when it gets crazy.
Michael and Keanan can usually be found brewing, either on our full size system or on our pilot system, or cleaning tanks. They will tell you they spend at least as much time cleaning and sanitizing as actually brewing.
Sandra is responsible for our QA and yeast management program and also contributes to brewing and cleaning.
Whitney is our packaging lead. She is responsible for making sure product is ready to go out the door – bottling, kegging and cleaning kegs and growlers.
What is the biggest challenge for Halliburton Highlands Brewing?
I would say the seasonality of our business. The summer season is huge compared to the offseason. We need to grow and balance our seasonality in a way that allows us to continue to meet all our commitments and opportunities in the peak summer season.
We have been very cautious – probably too cautious – about spreading ourselves too thin. We have a plan to address that and grow in a sustainable manner.
What is the biggest challenge for the Ontario craft beer scene from where you are sitting?
There is tremendous growth in the craft beer category. Unfortunately, this is attracting investors and market participants who are only interested in developing brands to take advantage of the market opportunity and are not interested in contributing to the long-term health of the industry.
There needs to be a clear, simple way to identify real, independently owned craft breweries that are investing in their communities, creating local jobs and producing authentic, quality craft products, so customers can make an informed choice.
Our distribution options are improving but more still needs to be done to expand the market opportunity. Central decision making at the LCBO level can’t keep up with the expansion in the market and customer demand for regional and local options.
Where do you want to see your brewery over the next few years?
We just completed our first year in our new production space. We had a great summer season – thank you! – and are looking to build our sales beyond the brewery. We believe that beer should be local and fresh. If you are in Ontario, you should enjoy what the province and the specific region has to offer. If in another province or state the same is true.
So as we move beyond the brewery we are looking to expand into the surrounding region and target markets where our existing cottage customers call home. We have a beautiful location here at Abbey Gardens so we will also continue to develop our on-site business as Abbey Gardens grows as a year-round destination with more public and private events.
From a brewing perspective, the team is starting to do some cask ales and would love to develop an aging/cellaring program.
What’s your favourite beer in your line up?
My favourite beer in our line up is the Belgian Rye Porter. While most of the beers that we produce are very ‘true to style’ – this is a hybrid porter fermented with Belgian yeast that produces some really lovely dried fruit esters that are complemented by the peppery Ontario flaked rye in the grain bill.
It really isn’t fair for me to speak for the whole brewery. Michael’s favourite is Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. Keanan loves his Barley Wine and Sandra’s fav is Oatmeal Stout. You can see that we love our dark seasonals here at HHB. We have long winters here in Haliburton, but we joke that we could use a few extra weeks of cold temperatures to do all the dark seasonals that we would like!
Finally, what is your favourite craft beer that’s not one of your own and what other Ontario craft breweries to do you admire and why?
There are so many great beers, it is very hard to choose. I would have to say my favourite Ontario craft beer is Sawdust City’s Limberlost. I love that it was fermented with the yeast collected from the Limberlost forest. While I am not a huge fan of sours, Limberlost is a very special beer.
Our brewers’ current favourites – it really depends on the day/season!
Michael – Beau’s Tom Green Milk Stout,
Sandra – Muskoka’s Raspberry Coco Lait,
Keanan – La Trou du Diable’s La Buteuse Brassin Spécial – an apple brandy barrel aged abbey tripel
In terms of Ontario craft breweries, we have tremendous respect for Beau’s. They make great beers, but beyond that their commitment to organic ingredients and sustainable practices is admirable. I really appreciate their recent move to become an employee-owned operation.
Succession planning is a challenge for all small businesses and I think Beau’s decision to sell to its employees rather than sell out to a macro is a great example of what it means to build something that drives economic development and contributes to a community.
Thank you very much for taking time out of your day to speak with me Jewelle and I look forward to stopping by the brewery again. Speaking of seasonal dark ales, stay tuned for an upcoming review I’ll be writing on the Haliburton Highlands Baltic Porter. You can also check out our previous reviews of the Haliburton Highlands Spruce Kveik and the Haliburton Highlands Honey Brown Ale.