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St. John's-based Quidi Vidi Brewing Co. pulling out all the hops with extensive expansion and renovation


With a lengthy and often acrimonious court case between Quidi Vidi Brewing Co.’s co-owners settled, it’s a new day, full of new opportunities for the gem in the Gut.
“We were tied up in that for almost four years and literally our hands were tied. We couldn’t make any new beers, we couldn’t hire any new people. It was just a stalemate,” says sales and marketing director Justin Fong, son of David Fong, who started the province’s first local microbrewery with David Rees in the mid-1990s.
“Four years in court probably took four years off the end of my life. It’s really nice to be past that.”

Once the dust settled, David Fong became the sole proprietor and four years’ worth of plans and ambitions for the award-winning brewery began to take shape.

Job one, Justin Fong says, is increasing capacity, specifically for flagship brands such as 1892, QV Light and the massively popular Iceberg Beer.

Because the necessary brew house expansion was stalled, for the past couple of summers, the stockpile of beer made in late winter and early spring would start running out in August. New beer coming off the bottling line would bypass the cooler and head straight to the van to be delivered.

“You’ve got a lot of accounts calling you and wondering where their orders are,” Fong says. “It was really, really challenging.”

With the addition of two 120-barrel fermenters — 50 per cent bigger than the current set of 80-barrel units — Fong estimates output will increase by 80 per cent over last summer.

While the court case was playing out, something of a craft beer explosion occurred in this province and the folks at Quidi Vidi — led by Fong and brew masters Einer Holtet and Jason Szeto — were eager to play their part in improving the province’s beer culture.

“You need lots of little guys, you need people spread out all over your province or your region or your country and that creates little pockets of craft beer advocates,” Fong says. “If you get even five per cent or 10 per cent of those people liking those beers, then you’ve got someone who’s a craft beer drinker and once you start drinking craft, you never go back to drinking mainstream, horrible commercial beer.

“Unless you don’t have a choice, and then you get a gin and tonic.”

When Holtet and Szeto weren’t helping the brewery keep up with capacity, they were experimenting and perfecting beers at home.

Two such beers were released earlier this year — Mad Mike’s Big Bad Belgian and Calm Tom’s Double IPA — tribute recipes for Mike Buhler and Tom Beckett, founders of the N.L. Artisinal & Craft Beer Club. (Both beers have since been honoured at the 2018 Down East Brewing Awards.)

But with the small-scale, three-barrel pilot system installed, fans of Quidi Vidi can look forward to even more new and unique craft brew recipes in the coming months.

“We’ve got a schedule and we’ve got to make our main brands, but we’ve got a good few things that are lined up waiting to come out,” Fong says.

Among the first ones to roll out are a yet-to-be named saison, a session india pale ale (IPA) called Day Boil, and a third that Fong and his team are playing close to the chest.

In addition to being available in the newly renovated taproom on the second floor of the brewery, those brews, and potentially others, will come in cans, as the brewery has added a canning line, and will be sold everywhere that Quidi Vidi Brewing Co. products are currently carried.

The pilot system, Fong says, is what will turn over beer for the taproom, a bright, spacious and inviting room that is in stark contrast to the previous space.

“We’re going to have our main eight brands, we’re going to add the new session IPA, the saison, the third that I can’t mention yet, but then probably three taps at any time are going to be beers that are rotating through downstairs,” he says, noting that products from other craft breweries across the province will sometimes flow through the lines.
“It’s going to be a flurry of new beers every other week.”
The taproom hours of operation are also expanding in a big way.

Whereas in the past it was open only for brief tours and a popular Friday evening kitchen party, the plan is to have the taproom open seven days a week, 365 days a year, featuring music, art shows, comedy and other special events Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“We’ve got so many tourists and so many locals that used to drop down here to have a beer and we just had to say, ‘I’m sorry, we’re not open.’
“I’m really excited to have it open.”

All this growth and expansion has precipitated the need for more staff. The company has already brought on four new brewers, someone to handle quality control, someone to take care of external events and a taproom manager. Fong says they’ll fill another eight or nine positions in the weeks to come, mostly bar and retail staff.
Other renovations, expected to start in the fall, include the construction of a new building on the parking lot to serve as dry and cold storage and as office space, allowing for a further expansion of the taproom and the retail shop.
For those worried about the brewery losing parking spaces in an area where spots are already at a premium, Fong says Cadet Road — on the other side of the small harbour — has plenty of parking, and Metrobus will begin offering an hourly route that runs from downtown to Signal Hill to Quidi Vidi and then back to downtown.

kenn.oliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter: kennoliver79

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