By Erica Campbell
I can’t quite pinpoint exactly where and when Mary Beth and I first met. It could have been at the first Barley’s Angels event I attended in Toronto back in 2010. As a brand new Torontoian, I was excited to meet other women in beer and I vividly remember we went on an excellent walking beer tour of Old Toronto! OR it could have been a little later down the road at the inaugural ‘Beer for Boobs’ event in 2012 that Mary Beth helped to organize (an great one-off beer event where proceeds went to Breast Cancer research). Either way, we’ve both been doing our things in the Toronto beer scene for quite a while.
Mary Beth is a seriously talented brewer. She’s got this incredible work ethnic and this calm, quiet demeanor and is such a joy to be around. She works full-time as the head brewer alongside her family at the OG brewpub her father started in midtown Toronto in the early nineties, called Granite Brewery. If you’ve never been to Granite, it’s a very special place. There are SO many cookie-cutter bars and restaurants that all ooze with a sort of generic ‘trendiness’ but Granite just IS. It’s homey, welcoming and comfortable. You can just hang out, eat a great meal, chat with the lovely staff and down some pints of classic recipes. They stick to mostly British recipes, from ESB’s to British Pale Ales to stouts. It’s not pretentious. It’s not hip. It feels like home, ya know?
ALSO, just wanted to say nothing but RESPECT that Mary Beth can work her ass off as a brewer all day and then rock mom life with her two young boys. It’s inspiring and proof that although tough and stressful, you can do it all:)
And now, without further ado, I bring you my interview with the one & only Mary Beth Keefe. Enjoy!
What got you interested in brewing?
My father started the Granite in 1991 when I was 9 years old. Early on, when I was about 11, he would have me come in on a Saturday morning to help him fill casks and do other odd jobs around the brewery. Craft beer wasn’t a thing back then and I was hardly interested in beer at that age, but I still thought that what my dad was doing was awesome. I saw the hard work and the passion that went into it first hand and knew that this was something I could get in to. I started full time in the brew house when I was 26 after going to university, travelling for two years and in between all that holding almost every job title at the Granite.
What is your day-to-day like at Granite?
I usually brew one to two times a week. On those days I come in at 7am and stay til about 4-4:30pm. That’s how long the whole process takes including clean up. When everyone else on my team comes in at 9, we have a brief talk about how the day is going to go.
On days that I am not brewing, I can be found in the office catching up on orders and emails, in the cellar packaging or doing transfers, cleaning growlers/kegs or else monitoring things in the brewhouse. As we are such a small brewery and completely hands on, I do a little bit of everything.
What is something you didn’t realize you would have to do so much of as a brewer?
As of late, I would have to say public speaking! This is by no means a complaint. I feel so very lucky that there is interest in what we do here at the Granite. Speaking in front of people used to give me major anxiety, but the fact that I have been doing this job for so long makes me that much more comfortable speaking about it in front of others these days.
If you had more time in the day you would…..
Between motherhood and work, I barely have any time to myself. The list of things I need to get done is so long I don’t even know where to begin! Read, clean, sew missing buttons on some of my favourite clothes, RELAX.. to name a few!
What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?
I still get such a thrill from coming up with new recipes. Since getting my closed fermenter (FVX) a couple of years ago, I have been able to experiment with styles that I was unable to make in our open fermentation brewhouse. Prior to FVX, I made almost every English style ale imaginable (that would work with our Ringwood yeast) and a few hybrids to boot. As a result, I felt that I had no outlet for being creative anymore. Now, I love that I am able to make a New England or West Coast IPA which are two of my favourite styles. We also brewed a Belgian series (saison, brut ipa and autumn saison) which was so much fun and so different from what I was used to (also scary, having diastatic yeast in the brewhouse. Fortunately, no issues were to be had). I love making the recipe, brewing that beer and dealing with whatever challenges may come up on the brew day then waiting for it to be finished to see how it turns out. I am always my own worst critic. Sometimes, the smallest thing will cause major disappointment, but other times, I am so stoked on the final product, and that is the best feeling in the world.
What is the WORST part of your job!?
The only time I have hated my job, has been a couple of times during COVID, specifically, during the first lockdown. While it was a good problem to have, in April 2020 we brewed 22 times which remains a Granite record. We were understaffed; only three of us were working full time and we had to make the switch from a draft-focused brew pub, to solely packaging our product. The days were long, overwhelming and stressful. But the silver lining was that our customers were supporting us and with delivery being an option, we were reaching a wider market. The Granite is one of the most important things in my life, after family and friends, and that can cause a wide range of emotions; oftentimes stress being the most prominent. But on the other side of the coin, there is a huge sense of pride for what we do and gratitude for all the support we have.
Any personal and/or professional goals for 2021?
Making a rock solid 30th anniversary ale using our Ringwood yeast!
For women and folks looking to get into brewing, what advice can you give?
Experience is great, but everybody needs to start somewhere. Educating yourself in whatever way you can is huge. The one thing I look for the most in a potential hire though, is passion. Passion goes hand in hand with working hard and bettering yourself which is how you get ahead in life. I have worked with so many people now who have had little to no experience in a commercial brewery, let alone homebrewing, and they have been the best people to work with because of their drive to do better and learn more. A few of them have gone on to high positions at other breweries which always makes me so happy.
After a long day at the brewery, what style of beer do you typically reach for?
As of late, if I will be having a couple of beers, I’ll usually start with a pilsner and then move on to an IPA (NEIPA or Westy now that there are so many more options out there). I only recently began to appreciate lagers but I am and forever will be, a hop head.
Do you listen to music or podcasts while you’re working? If so, what are you into right now?
When I’m working, I’m always focused on one task or another and prefer some music in the background. Most often I go for upbeat: I’ve been listening to a lot of 90’s and early 2000 rap and dance as of late. Other times, I listen to anything from classic rock to indie, to stomp and holler. There isn’t much time for listening to music at home, so I take full advantage at work. I need to make more of an effort to listen to podcasts in the car. When I do, they are either ones like Ontario Craft Beer Guide, Four Elements or Beer and Bullshit or else, MBAA technical podcasts.