Year in Review with Ian McMartin from Whiprsnapr Brewing Company
Ian McMartin and his two partners, Dave Howard and Mike Feagan, opened the doors to Whiprsnapr Brewing Company just over a year ago on October 30, 2014. The Bells Corners brewery offers beer crafted with a lighter touch, often with lower alcohol percentage or subtle flavouring. Using their motto “Earn Your Beer” they encourage their customers to work hard and reward themselves, preferably with a can of Whiprsnapr beer.
This is a conversation I had with Ian about the challenges of year one and where Whiprsnapr will be focusing their efforts for year two.
Katy Watts: Why did you decide to make the jump from home brewer to craft brewer?
Ian McMartin: I’ve always worked for other people and one time I got laid off, for no fault of my own, and I didn’t want to end up in that situation again. I’ve always wanted to open up my own business and this is the only thing I have 100% control of. This is something I can easily get passionate about because you can put so much into it – the flavours, the back story – I can do whatever the fuck I want with it!
What were some of the challenges you first experienced?
Just getting licensed took a long time. You have to write a huge business plan because you don’t know how much or what they’re looking for so you put everything you possibly can into it. The guy at the bank who actually read it said this was one of the best business plans he’s ever seen so we probably went way beyond what was necessary, but you don’t want to take that chance. You need to have your space and your equipment before you can even apply, so that’s completely nuts. It’s why we started with that little baby system, we wanted to get licensed quickly while we were waiting for the big stuff to come in.
What about after you opened?
This neighborhood isn't very crafty. There are a lot of young people, but it’s made off of this big wide strip of road and there’s no walking around like there is on Elgin, Bank Street or Westboro. There are a lot of high tech companies nearby so people come in after work for beers so that’s been a really great thing, but some of the people in Bells Corners still have no idea we exist.
When did you move to the big system?
Our first batch on the big system was in March and I was only doing it every once and a while because I wanted to see how one would come out before I did the next one. You go from a homebrew system that’s 10-15 gallons to a big system that’s 55 gallons to an even bigger system that’s 2300 liters – it’s a massive scale. Just with all the pumps and the cooling unit, it’s a lot to learn.
When did you start canning? Do you like the format?
It’s been just over a week ago since we first started canning. The guy came 2 and a half weeks ago and we spend the entire day calibrating and figuring out what we needed to do and canned 3000 cans of Root of Evil. Not all of them made it, but we had a lot of fun drinking the ones that didn’t. The margins on cans aren’t as good as the bottles, but it’s easier to jam cans in than gun one bottle at a time. Cans are a fantastic way to get our brand out there. They allow us to get into the places that can't put us on tap right away, but it'll introduce people to our brand and next round we'll give you the tap.
How do you develop recipes?
Whatever the inspiration strikes. I used to be in a band a long time ago and you didn’t sit down and write something when the inspiration sort of hit you and something got into your head it was like, okay let’s go with it. With Troublemakr, we were up North for a family reunion and I was thinking we gotta do something special for Halloween and we wanted to do something big since most of our beers are fairly moderate. I had found some cherry smoked malt that they had sent to us by accident instead of the beech wood smoked malt that I use for the Evil and it was sitting there for about 8 months. I tasted it and thought, it tasted pretty damn good – I think I could use this. It can’t be in a light beer because it would be completely dominant but if you do it in a big black beer it might work. So right then and there it was I’m going to do something stupid big – 10% ABV, 100 IBUs and I started researching what hops to use since I wanted it to be really earthy and dirty tasting. So that’s it – I was working it out while I was at a family reunion!”
What are your goals for year two?
Sell, we need to sell more. Transition to when we had no beer to a big system where we’re pulling 40 kegs off of that. 40 fucking 50 liter kegs! We don’t have the space to hold 40 50 liter kegs or multiple batches of it. We need to move it out as quickly as we’re making it. So we’ve just hired a sales representative because all of us still have our day jobs and we don’t have time to run around.
Do you have any special beers planned?
I don’t plan ahead. We have the Xmas Stollen which we had last year, it’s a repeat. For the winter I have nothing planned and nothing planned for the spring at all yet – it’s going to be fly by the seat of my pants.