More of a Good Thing: Hockley Valley Brewing Company

With its recent move to Orangeville, Hockley Valley Brewing Company has quadrupled production of its award-winning beer.

June 20, 2008 | | Back Issues | Departments | Farming | Homegrown in the Hills | Summer 2008

Looking as if he’d be more comfortable on an Alberta ranch than in an industrial park in Orangeville, jean-clad brew master Andrew Kohnen struts from sparkling stainless steel vessel to sparkling stainless steel vessel. He’s given this tour before, but that doesn’t tarnish Kohnen’s enthusiasm.

From time to time, John Christie, the brewery’s good-natured, maintenance-and-more guy, tosses in a throwaway comment, and Andrew takes the bait. It’s all I can do to keep up with the banter. After all, it’s not even noon on a Sunday morning. It’s cool outside, but the bright sunshine holds the promise of the hot, muggy, beer-drinking summer ahead.

The Hockley Valley Brewing Company’s new digs don’t have the quaint feel of their old location in the village that inspired their name, but the pair of industrial bays has something else: space. In Hockley Village, the company was crammed into 1,000 square feet; now Kohnen, Christie and five other employees spread out in an area four times that size.

Moreover, they can brew 80 per cent more beer with the shiny equipment. Their new “Porsche” of a canning machine, for instance, does in two hours what it used to take them a day to accomplish with their old manual canner.

The brewery produces 473-millilitre cans of their English-style Dark Ale and Irish-style Stout, as well as 20-litre and 50-litre kegs of Dark Ale, Stout and their original Hockley Gold. In April, they added a new product, Georgian Bay Dipper, a light North American-style beer. They had intended to call it Skinny Dip, but when they went to register the name, a US brewery already had it.

Tom Smellie, the brewery’s owner, believes that you need to have a hook to sell beer. So when he couldn’t use Skinny Dip, he decided to pick up on the fact that the name Georgian Bay seems to get short-changed. “Everything up here is called ‘Muskoka,’” says Smellie from his home on Georgian Bay. The Hockley label, he insists, is “a million-dollar name.”

He explains Hockley Brewery’s genesis: “In 2002, I took the summer off, got bored and came up with this cockamamie idea.” Things gelled for Smellie in 2003 when he teamed up with Kohnen, who Smellie refers to as a genius. “We wouldn’t be in existence if it wasn’t for Andrew,” he says.

Not just in existence, but definitely making a mark: Their Dark Ale and their Stout stand up well in Ontario’s crowded micro-brewery sector. In 2005, the Dark Ale received a gold medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards, and the Ontario Craft Brewers awarded it a silver medal in 2004 and then gold medals in 2005, 2007 and 2008. The Stout took home gold in 2008 as well.

And Kohnen’s winning streak at the brewery isn’t limited to beer. Last summer he became the husband of Hockley Brewery’s distribution manager, Sherry Marcuz-Castelli.

The romance between the two colleagues was slow to start, but the pair eventually hooked up, a situation that Kohnen jokes almost fell apart after he turned his newlywed into a beer connoisseur. “Now,” he says, “when I get really good beer, I have to guard it.”

Kohnen, 39, received his training in England and in his ancestral home of Germany. In fact, he spent six weeks as an apprentice in a brewery that was once owned by his family. “There was a photo of my great uncle still hanging on the wall,” he says. He brought his passion for beer home to Canada where he met Smellie who was quick to offer the young brewmaster a job.

The move from Hockley Village to an Orangeville industrial park hasn’t been without a glitch or two. Christie spent three solid months putting together the equipment they purchased used from a brewery in Colorado. They also had to adapt to the larger brewing equipment and Orangeville’s water, which they put through a filter to remove the chlorine.

Now, they are running at capacity and claim their Dark Ale is the LCBO’s best seller in its category.

Local restaurants like the brand too. Sherry Irwin, who owns the Bluebird Café and Grill on Broadway, is selling lots of Gold and Dark on tap. “The locals know the beer is from Orangeville, so they give it a try,” she says.

In its new location, the company doesn’t have the feel of the Creemore-style village brewery Smellie envisioned when he set out on this venture. But the horizon looks bright. “Now that we have a proper facility,” he says gleefully, “we’ll be making barrels of money.”

Hockley Valley Brewing Company · Units 9-10, 25 Centennial Rd · Orangeville, Ontario · 519-941-8887

About the Author More by Nicola Ross

Freelance writer Nicola Ross lives in Belfountain.

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