Paul ‘Spike’ Lees began making beer at age 16 in his home city of Manchester in the United Kingdom. After travelling extensively, he eventually settled down to a career in media in Canada, spending much of his time in Toronto.
When he decided to wind up that career, he and his wife chose to move to a place where they had always loved to visit; a place that offered not only an enviable, relaxed, outdoorsy lifestyle, but also some cool entrepreneurial opportunities. So they came to Wellington, in Prince Edward County.
Around the same time, former Belleville resident Mark Andrewsky and his wife were also looking to make a profound lifestyle change. After 15 years of working in the beer industry, including a number of brew pubs, Mark decided he wanted a change of locale from their tiny home in Vancouver, and also chose to move to Wellington, where he soon met up with Lees, forming a friendship and eventually a partnership over their shared passion for craft beer.
The result of their labour of the last three years is the Midtown Brewing Company, which opens its doors this spring in the heart of the stylish, dynamic little community of Wellington. There were a number of reasons why Andrewsky and Lees believed that the old Midtown Meats meat packing facility would be perfect for their venture – not the least of which is that it’s within a few minutes’ walk of each of their homes at 266 Main Street.
“There was a fire almost 10 years ago that took part of the building to the ground, and the part that was left standing, including the warehouse, has been vacant ever since. The first time we walked into her, which is now three years ago, the building was just perfect. It’s 10,000 square feet, it’s insulated for refrigeration, it’s got drainage in the floors – it’s the perfect spot for making a mess brewing beer. And it’s a stone’s throw from both of our homes. So it worked out perfectly. And since it was Midtown meats we decided to call ourselves the Midtown Brewing Company because that’s how everyone in Wellington knows this place anyways, plus it’s a little tip of the hat to the historic nature of the building,” said Andrewsky, adding that they looked at between 15 and 20 other sites in the region.
“The original plan for the two of us was that we really just wanted to make beer. It was going to be strictly a production operation with maybe a little tasting room. We didn’t care if it was near Wellington, in Wellington, or in the middle of farmland – we really weren’t picky about the location. But once we saw the space we’re in now, we realized that the potential for it was pretty amazing and it gave us a lot more ideas of what we could put together.”
And what they are putting together is not only a beer making facility, but also a retail outlet and a restaurant/brew pub. As well, there will be a farmer’s market on premises which will sell products from the local farms in the area.
“We’re calling it The Shop at Midtown, and you’ll be able to buy your fresh produce and milk, bread, cheese and meats for the barbecue. Even if you don’t want to sit in the pub and have a pint with us, you’re more than welcome to pull the car up and grab a sandwich to go and a six-pack of beer and take it with you.”
As for the beers being offered up by Midtown, Lees says they are primarily inspired by what he grew up around in the United Kingdom.
“We do very classic, traditional style beers. Obviously there are English beers given my heritage and background, but we also do German and Belgian style beers as well. We’re sort of veering away from the trends that are coming from the other coast and focussing on traditional methods and straightforward branding,” said Lees.
“The name is Midtown Brewing so the name of what the beer is, will be the name of the beer. There will be Midtown Extra Special Bitter, Dry Irish Stout, a Kolsch, and Porter. We are going to do a 12-month aged Belgian Triple but instead of using candy sugars we will be using local honey and maple sugars. We’ll be doing a barley wine that will have 12 to 18 months aging on it. And we will also do seasonal stuff like nice light easy-drinking fresh summer ale. And I want to do something I call ‘Lumpy’ which is a very flat beer very much like with the original settlers in this region drank. It’s very much what the ploughman drank back in the day for his lunch. I think there is an interest for that kind of historical food and beverage and we can run it in limited batches. It’s got to be served fresh because it spoils quite quickly.”
Besides getting the building up and running, the biggest challenge for Lees and Andrewsky was the planning and permitting process, which was to be expected.
“I think the biggest hurdle was kind of explaining what it was we wanted to do. We worked diligently on a business plan for over a year, putting the pieces together so we could show and explain what the grand scheme was because there are a lot of moving parts. And I know with Prince Edward County they’re pretty busy; the number of applications for new businesses, including new breweries, must be overwhelming right now,” Andrewsky said.
“Once we got the ball rolling there was about another year or so getting all the permits. But we knew that we had a solid idea having lived here in the community for a little while. It’s what we wanted to see and what we wanted to do and I kind of joke all the time that we’re doing it selfishly for ourselves. But it’s a great little Wellington venture that I think people are going to enjoy in Wellington and people are going to enjoy when they visit Wellington or Prince Edward County, whether it’s for the first time or for the 10th time. It’s just going to be a great little spot.”
Before opening the brewery, both partners worked for a couple of area wineries not long after moving to The County to, as Lees puts it “get our feet wet in county life.” Both love the small-town vibe of Wellington.
“It’s a small enough community that you really do get to know your neighbours and they get to know you. And everyone is so friendly and supportive hear. We all look out for one another. When my son Max was born last year people were literally dropping stuff off on our front steps – they were as excited for us having our first as we were. It’s a great community and it’s got a great community feel,” said Andrewsky.
“That’s one of the main reasons we moved here from Vancouver. We’d come back here every year to visit Belleville and Prince Edward County and every year we’d say ‘do we start a family in the middle of a big city in a 300 square foot condo that we can’t afford, or do we want to be living in a house in the country and raise a child the way we grew up?’”
“And the area is growing too. It’s very dynamic. There are a lot of young families moving here. It’s a solid community. We want to be the local watering hole in Wellington. The reason our brands and our philosophy is so traditional is that we are in this for the long haul. The community around us makes this a viable business for 12 months of the year. We want to appeal to all ages. We want people to be able to bring their kids and we want to appeal to the retirees and seniors at Wellington on the Lake. And we know we’re going to get lots of visitors looking for a unique experience,” added Lees.
“We’re building something where the product earns the respect of the people who like it and who will stay with it. Our reputation will be that we put good produce and good products into people’s hands. We’ve very accessible – we want people to know that our brand stands for quality and that’s the cornerstone of our whole business plan.”
For more information on Midtown Brewing Company, visit them on Facebook, or at midtownbrewingcompany.com.