Andrew Morrow and business partner Bryan MacDonald couldn’t come from further backgrounds, but a mutual passion brought them into a big partnership.
The two men moved back to Cape Breton after time away in 2009, and they found a passion together for home brewing.
Morrow – coming off education work in P.E.I. – teamed with engineer MacDonald to brew batches together and the two began to win Canadian competitions.
“The market was starting to take shape in Nova Scotia and on an upswing, so we decided to put a plan together,” said Morrow.
By 2014, the two had acquired a space and were working after their day jobs, toiling into the night trying to make their shared dream a reality. On June 27, 2015, their hopes began to flourish into something tangible.
“Breton Brewing Co. was a labour of love. Along with family and friends we did a lot of the work ourselves before opening our doors. Besides contractors for plumbing and things of that nature, we worked hard ourselves to take our passion to the next level,” said Morrow. “Like any business you’ll always run into hurdles, but that was part of the excitement. Bryan and I both really enjoy the challenge of it all.”
The two remained flexible the whole way through to opening day, and they got lucky more than once.
“Funding for breweries was getting scarcer as time went on. No one wanted to compete against loans they’d already given to other area breweries. But we managed to get our feet moving,” said Morrow.
He said the experience of bringing something tangible to the table has been unique for him.
“To have people enjoy our product and be excited by the flavours and characteristics of the beers is amazing. It’s exciting when you’ve created something with your own hands and get to see it through to the consumer.”
He said with such varied backgrounds, he and engineer MacDonald are able to complement each other.
“Bryan being an engineer loves the technical side whereas I am focused more on the brewing side of business. We complement each other as we have different strengths,” said Morrow.
He says growth has been steady for the company. Breton Brewing Co.’s capacity started at 45 BBL and is now at 285 BBL.
“We expanded a few times on the production side of the company. Our 75 seat tap room has also evolved over the last three years to include live music, trivia, comedy and charity events. It’s great to have a spot where people can engage with others over like-minded interests,” he said.
Expansion is also happening in the market for the Nova Scotia company.
“In June 2016 we began moving product into cans and to the NSLC and other private wine and liquor stores. We recently upgraded to a new canner and it quadruples the output of our old canner,” he said.
“Because of our increased capacity, we have expanded to Newfoundland, P.E.I. and have sent some product to New Brunswick. We are also looking at Germany, Alberta and New England States.”
The support that has come from Cape Breton and Nova Scotia has been nothing short of overwhelming.
“Most of our sales are from Nova Scotia and always will be. Nova Scotians are so supportive of us and are always proud to support a good local product,” he said.
But Morrow is making sure he doesn’t get too comfortable either.
“One of the things we always want to do is push the envelope and prepare for what may come. We need to make sure the business continues to grow to employ as many local people as possible,” he said. “We are always trying reach new markets and find different demographics.”
They have 20 staff right now that Morrow and MacDonald are immensely proud of.
“We want to keep more Nova Scotians here working, and to do that, we need to be innovative. It’s not as easy to get spaces on tap or at the NSLC as it used to be. There’s so much competition. So, we’re looking further out geographically too.”
They’re also award-winners. The last two years at the Atlantic Canadian Brewing Awards – held in October and November – have seen them take home a number of awards.
“Every year along with many other craft breweries in Atlantic Canada we send our beer to be judged at the Atlantic Canadian Brewing Awards. In 2017, our Stirling Hefeweizen was awarded beer of the year in Atlantic Canada. Our German wheat beer, Stirling Hefeweizen, is a big seller for us,” said Morrow.
Then they received more recognition just a few months back from the same judging body.
“This year we were awarded a gold medal for our New England Pale Ale, Seven Years, and our Cocoa Porter as well. In May we collaborated with homebrewers Braithair Brewing to win Best in Show at the 2018 Stillwell Open.”
As the holidays hit, they ready themselves with new products to capitalize on the Christmas season.
“We just released a gingerbread beer for Christmas. We had an internal competition and made four different beers on a pilot system to be judged by staff. We wanted the beer to embody the Christmas spirit and chose Gingerbread beer as a clear winner,” he said.
“You can get Gingerbread gift packs in the NSLC and our taproom. Our Stillwell Open-winning beer was also just bottled last week. Wild Bretton is a Belgian Witbier brewed with oranges and coriander and co-fermented with wild yeast. Aged in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wine barrels gives this barrel aged beer unique characteristics.”
For the springtime, they’ve got a sure-fire favourite coming to Nova Scotian consumers.
“In the Spring of 2019 we will release our Strawberry Rhubarb Sour in cans. The sweet and sour notes are well balanced, and it comes in at 4% ABV,” he said. “This beer is so different that when we release it, people will love it.”
Morrow continues to be overwhelmed by the response shown by Nova Scotians, “Thank you to every person who has taken the time to try one of our products and continues to support local companies like ourselves to make Nova Scotia a better place to live.”
By Jordan Parker