Written by Erica Campbell
I introduce to you, Red Tape Brewery! Pre-Emergency Stay-at-Home order, Jaime and I popped into Red Tape to (socially distance) meet and take a tour with, co-owner, Sara Beth Holden. Having been a resident of East Toronto for many years, I was slightly embarrassed that I had never turned North on Main off the Danforth before to see this cute little neighbourhood where Red Tape now calls home. Stepping inside, it was bright and welcoming with white tile walls, stylish light fixtures, high ceilings and large windows (that also double as a garage door for warmer months). Sara Beth was gracious with her time and it was quickly evident that she’s a total BOSS and can juggle a million things. (Side note: during our convo, she casually mentioned that she also just published a children’s book called “Please Don’t Change my Diaper!” which is adorable and for sale amongst the 6 packs of their beer). The fact that she has 2 kids under 5, built a brewery and managed to also publish a book, amazed me!
What I found most interesting was that it appears as though right off the bat, Red Tape seems to get it. I mean that in the sense that, instead of just opening a typical brewery in Toronto’s arguably already saturated craft beer scene, they have identified a need and have built a business around it. Their business is working with clients to create custom beers from start to finish for everything from corporate functions to birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. Having worked at breweries now for 8+ years, I can tell you that breweries get a lot of requests for custom beers and custom labels. It’s hard to say yes to these custom beers because logistically it’s a headache to slot these in alongside your scheduled production schedule. These requests are often for relatively small amounts too and the tanks at many breweries are just too large to make it work. Where I work at Henderson, we do custom labels here or there for select bars/restaurants and for friends/family but not really custom beer recipes. So having a set-up to accommodate brewing unique styles and canning them with custom labels is really smart and I think the demand will definitely be high. They’ve identified a need in the market and ran with it. They have made the most of the space and created a special new community space in a neighbourhood. I can’t wait to work on a small batch collab brew with them and work with Sara Beth more. Here is what she had to say on how things are going so far and what’s coming down the pipeline.
Congrats on opening! And during a pandemic! Tell us about your brewery?
Thank you! The idea for bespoke brewing Red Tape Brewery was born was born along with our son Raymond Theodore. Sean brewed Celebration Saison in August 2017 in anticipation of his birth, we bottled it champagne style, topped off with caged corks. I designed labels with descriptions before sending these bottles to family and close friends to open and celebrate with us when he was born. Sean sent out text messages to everyone and we received photos of people giving us a cheers with their Celebration Saison, it was such a great experience!
On top of bespoke brewing, we have our retail shop where we currently have 6 beers available, we also do local delivery. All of our product goes into cans now, but we’re looking forward to opening our beautiful taproom to the public when we’re able to.
Since opening your doors, how has it been going?!
We opened our doors on December 2, and it’s been a whirlwind! We thought the learning curve of opening a brewery was steep during the setting up process, but we had no idea what was coming once we opened our doors. We sold out of beer several times leading up to Christmas, the neighbourhood has been so supportive and we’re really happy to finally be able to share our beer with people!
What’s the game plan for 2021?
We have a lot of exciting beers planned for the year, some are inspired by the land, people, and language of Nunavut, where part of my family is from. Others are inspired by amazing collaborators that we’re working with. All of the beers that we make have a great story behind them, and we love sharing these with people.
What was the most surprising thing/biggest learning on your building-a-brewery journey?
Sean is our brewmaster and takes care of everything beer related until it’s in the bright tank. I decided that I would take care of packaging, and had no idea what I was getting myself into. We run a Gosling who we’ve nicknamed Ryan, he’s a well-engineered piece of machinery who I got to know intimately before we even plugged him in when I had to change his manifold and a solenoid which was a steep learning curve for me. Since then, I’ve learned the ins and outs of our glycol system, behavior of CO2 with our canning line, and developed a series of processes for packaging. After years of preparing to open the brewery from the business standpoint, I was glad that I had made an impulse purchase of overalls for myself as I realized that I didn’t know how involved I would be with our equipment.
For womxn folks who may be interested in opening a brewery, any advice?
Build relationships. You’re going to have a lot of questions that you didn’t know were coming. Don’t be afraid to fire someone, it’s stressful but has to be done sometimes. When you think you’re out of fight, think of all of you’ve accomplished so far.