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Monday, December 8, 2008

Meet Ron Keefe: Owner/Brewer Granite Brewery

Meet Ron Keefe, owner/brewer/pioneer of Toronto's Granite Brewery, home to a great line-up of craft made English style ales. The brewery is located at the corner of Mt. Pleasant and Eglinton and attracts real ale drinkers, many locals and craft beer drinkers from all over the world who are visiting Toronto. You can usually find Keefe at the brewery, in the small brewhouse whipping up another small batch of one of his seven beers with a smile on his face, all for the love of the game.

Did you always want to be a brewer?
I probably never thought much about it until the late 80’s when I started talking with my brother in Halifax about opening a Toronto Granite. Up until that point I followed a business career in production and marketing. I certainly always loved beer and made a little beer at home with some success.

So how did you get into brewing?
My brother Kevin started the Granite in Halifax at a tavern called Gingers, he owned with another brother Wilfred. Kevin trained at the Ringwood brewery in England. We often talked about opening a Granite in Toronto and we did in 1991. The restaurant business on its own was never a big attraction to me but combined with a brewery it seemed like the natural thing to do.

Why did you go the ‘tied house’ route as opposed to just a brewery?
We started as a brewpub and at the time you were only allowed to sell beer at the restaurant on premise. In 2004 regulations were changed to allow breweries to have a tied house. It was a natural extension for us, allowing us to sell to other pubs, open a retail store and bring beer to festivals. In the eyes of the law we switched from a restaurant with a brewery to a brewery with a restaurant, a subtle but huge difference.

Why did you choose to brew English style ales?
As mentioned, Kevin started the Granite in Halifax and he learned to brew at the Ringwood Brewery in England so ales were the natural thing to do.

Name your favourite Granite beer.
I don’t really have one favorite. It depends on my mood, time of day, season etc. although I am certainly most partial to the cask beers.

Hopping Mad. What inspired you to offer something new?
It started with an idea to do something new for Volo’s Cask Days this past fall. I would love to do different beers from time to time but I am between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”. Since the brewery is quite small and we have no more room to store beer I must take a beer off to make way for a new one. When we do that we alienate the regular customers who come to that Granite for that particular beer,

Are there any plans to get your beer back into the LCBO?
No plans at this time. Every once in awhile I consider a contract brew with a local craft brewer to expand into the Beer and Liquor stores. I do not have the capacity at the Granite to take this on.

Your beers have won numerous awards, which one are you most proud of and why?
Any award I ever received has been most appreciated.

What is the best aspect of working in the brewing industry?
It is a great industry with many great people. Almost all your “competitors” are also good friends. Everyone loves talking about beer not to mention drinking it.

You teach a Beer Education program at George Brown college. How has that been?
It is a lot of fun. I get to meet a number of people each term with varying degrees of beer knowledge but with a great desire to learn more.

What does the course include?
It is a six week course centered around a general overview of the beer world. We talk about how beer is made, and focus on ales, lagers, Belgium beers, wheat and white beers. The last class is usually held at the Granite with a brewery tour, sampling of food and beer. We taste over 50 different beers in the course!

George Brown Continuing Education - Beer Appreciation

Be a Granite brewer for the day? What's this all about?
Many people ask me to come into the brewery so I thought I would make a fun day out of it, complete with some hard work, a little food and beer and even a certificate at the end of the day.

Experience the brewing process first hand with brewmaster Ron Keefe and you’ll gain a better appreciation of both the craft and the ales!

Spend a full day in “real ale” brewery. Work as hard or as little as you wish!

The day includes: From “Mashing In” to “Pitching the Yeast”
- all the coffee you can drink
- full lunch and a ½ Pint (there is still work to do after lunch)
- a couple of “Brewer’s Pints” at the bar after the brew day
- a graduating certificate of completion

Cost: $150 Gift Certificates Available
Subject to availability and should be booked in advance.

Where do you see the Granite in 20 years?
Good question. I will be getting up there in age to say the least, but I have no intention of retiring. I love my work too much!

For more information on how to sign up to help Ron brew for a day, please e-mail Keefe at . Also, Gin Lane ale is back. The strong Barley Wine is now available on taps, just in time for the cold winter months.

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