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Lower Sackville, N.S.’s first brewery finds success after opening amid pandemic

Click to play video: 'Lower Sackville brewer calls opening mid-pandemic a success' Lower Sackville brewer calls opening mid-pandemic a success
WATCH: While COVID-19 has brought challenges to most businesses, a brewery in Lower Sackville not only opened at the height of the pandemic, but it’s managed to stay afloat and find success despite all odds. Ashley Field has the story – Aug 20, 2020

Opening a brewery has been a long time coming for Keith Forbes.

He started brewing his own beer at home in Lower Sackville, N.S., more than 10 years ago.

“It was a means to save a few dollars, and, well, I fell in love with the craft,” Forbes told Global News.

“All the money I would have saved going to the liquor store went into new equipment.”

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His passion quickly evolved into quite the operation, eventually running a commercial nano-brewery out of his basement.

A few years ago, his friend Chris Balcom, who always dreamed of opening his own bar, had a proposal.

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“I approached him a few years ago and I said, we should do something with this, make it bigger, and after some humming and hawing, we decided to make it real big,” said Balcom.

So the pair got to work on dreaming up Ol’ Biddy’s Brewhouse, the first brewery in Lower Sackville.

Forbes and Balcom had hoped it to be open by Christmas, but multiple issues forced them to delay opening to the spring – during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

“When COVID-19 happened, they shut everything down the day that Keith and I were getting ready to brew our first batch,” said Balcom.

Ol’ Biddy’s Brewhouse in Lower Sackville, N.S. Ashley Field/Global News

The pair delayed opening once again, but soon realized they needed to do something to stay afloat.

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“Finally in April, it’s like, we need to do something or we’re going to go bankrupt, because we still have loans to pay, rent to pay. Everything we had lined up as a plan going forward went out the window,” said Balcom.

They originally planned to sell mostly pints and kegs to bars, and now, they’ve shifted their entire business to selling cans.

“The easiest way to put it – it’s been a rollercoaster,” said Forbes.

Once they started canning, Ol’ Biddy’s officially opened May 16.

“The first weekend we opened, it crashed our system for online orders. We just took so many of them,” said Balcom.

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In two months, Ol’ Biddy’s has gone from offering eight beer varieties to more than a dozen.

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“We’ve got over 30 recipes that are dialled in, ready for market, and we’ll slowly introduce them to the craft beer scene,” said Forbes.

There have been some hiccups along the way, though. The pair had planned to open a taproom, but learned their space was too small to accommodate coronavirus public health regulations.

That forced them to borrow more money to expand their operation into a neighbouring storefront. Now, the plan is to have the taproom open by the end of the summer.

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The pair also hope to have a patio in place by next summer.

“We both have young kids, we both have wives – we don’t get to see any of them, but they understand,” laughs Balcom. “Hopefully, eventually, we’ll get some days off and we can get the families together and enjoy what we’ve built.”

While Forbes said that 10 years ago he never would have imagined himself owning a full-fledged brewery, he said even amid a global pandemic, the craft of creating beer is still just as sweet today as it was back then.

“When you have that first taste of that finished product of a new beer, it’s like, ‘I just made that, this is us.’ Yeah, it’s a good feeling.”

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