This is Brock Shepherd. He lives and breathes Kensington Market. He has owned and operated two restaurants in the Market. At the same time, he has been part of the craft beer scene in Toronto since the early days. Brock owns the Kensington Brewing Company (KBCo.) and he has just announced the opening of KBCo.’s new brewery and retail store in the Market.
Having lived and worked in the area of the Market for over 30 years, Brock is the guy who knows everyone. He knows the histories of all of the buildings and businesses, and knows the stories of the Market’s denizens. He opened Rice Bar at the north end of Augusta Avenue in 2005. The focus was on organic, naturally raised meats and health conscious food. For beer, he decided to stock only local products on the beer draught lines. “The focus was all local, and we had an interesting variety with what was available at the time,” reflects Brock. “After some consideration I started rotating six of my taps to promote a greater variety.” In 2009, Rice Bar underwent a metamorphosis and emerged as Burger Bar. Burgers and beer are natural companions, and it provided the opportunity for Brock to put a greater emphasis on beer. Careful attention to the craft beer selection he offered allowed the humble burger joint to gain notoriety in the local craft beer scene. “As Burger Bar transitioned into a craft beer destination I was becoming more and more immersed in the craft beer scene and wanted to explore the possibility of brewing my own beer,” explains Brock.
His original plan was to setup a small brewing facility in Burger Bar and turn it into a brewpub. “I stuck with that idea for a while, but I didn’t have the space, and [the plans] never really gelled.” No brewpub is complete without a retail store, and Burger Bar presented challenges with the physical space: “I had the space at the back of the restaurant for the brewery but no space at the front for the retail store. I would have needed to sacrifice part of the dining room to put the retail store in.” After some careful consideration, he decided to put the brewpub dream on the backburner and wait until he could find a suitable space in the neighbourhood.
In the interim, he decided to establish the KBCo. and have the beer produced via contract brewing. (Contract brewing is the practice of a company having their own branding and recipes but outsourcing the actual production and packaging of beer.) Brock is not a brewer – just a man passionate about making great beer, so he solicited assistance from Paul Dickey, a local brewmaster with a sterling reputation. Brock worked closely with Paul at Black Oak Brewing Company to assist in the creation and production of KBCo.’s flagship brand: Augusta Ale (AA).
“The plan was to establish the brand and get it out on the scene while I figured out logistical considerations of a physical space.” He has done that in spades. Initially, KBCo. was making only one beer; AA ale was available only on draught, and primarily in Toronto’s craft beer bars. Demand rose, and production of AA continued to grow at Black Oak and transitioned to their larger fermenters. Once the time came to package AA for retail sales in the LCBO the operation again moved. This time to Wellington Brewery in Guelph where they were able to brew at an increased capacity, take advantage of their canning equipment, and have AA distributed to the LCBO.
Even though KBCo. continued to experience steady growth, the more Brock waited for his own space the stronger his desire became. “All I could think of was getting out the restaurant business and opening up a physical space in Kensington. “Having a name like ‘Kensington Brewing Company’ it is extremely important to have a brick and mortar location in the Market – we cannot just be another brand on the shelf in bars and stores. We have to be tangible and not just a brand.”
Brock has been patiently waiting for his dream of a brewery to materialize, but the waiting will be over soon. The plans are for KBCo. to move into 299 Augusta Avenue after the property undergoes development; including the creation of their brewery space and the installation of brewing equipment. The location will house the brewery, a bar, and the sought after retail space.
Brock has confirmed that KBCo. is going to be a brewery for the community. “We want to take input from the clientele who live nearby. We want to collaborate with home-brewers, professionals, or anyone who wants to come by with a recipe.” Speaking excitedly, Brock is brimming with ideas and cannot wait for the first mash-in. “We’ll be able to be nimble – we want to make interesting beers and do them really well!” Looking to the future Brock says: “There are so many things to come, and having a small facility we have the ability to test out these new recipes and styles, and if something goes really well we have the option to make it on a larger scale.”
Connecting with the Market’s community is as important to KBCo. as producing great beer. The identity of Kensington Brewing Company ties them directly to the neighbourhood, and they cannot exist without that intimate connection. To Brock, KBCo. is not just another company moving into the Market, it is a company that will stand proudly as part of the of the community. KBCo. will be an embodiment of the Market’s philosophy. They will be the friendly neighbours who wave to passers-by and help out other neighbours in need. They also happen to be the ones who make and sell fresh, delicious beer.