Brock Shepherd’s Kensington Brewing Company puts the micro in microbrewery.
Coming home last month from Montreal’s Mondial de la Bière—Canada’s biggest beer festival—Brock Shepherd felt a lot older than his 42 years. Hanging out with a handful of Toronto brewers, bar owners and beer writers during the fest, the owner of Kensington Market’s Burger Bar (#KNM) couldn’t keep up with their 12-hour drinking days. “It hurt too much,” he says, sipping a glass of water.
But for Shepherd, a respected mixologist, self-taught chef and the restaurateur behind Azul, Canteena Wine Lounge and The Chelsea Room, the trip was part of a necessary crash-course in beer. When he opened Burger Bar in October 2009, his priority was to get home to his infant son by 6 p.m. every night. But he didn’t trust just anyone to mix the complicated cocktails he’d designed, so he simplified the menu and started featuring a rotation of Ontario beers. “And then,” he says, “the beer thing really took over my brain.” He hit beer festivals, shadowed local brewers and, earlier this year, started the Kensington Brewing Company.
Shepherd convinced Paul Dickey, a contract brewer at Etobicoke’s Black Oak Brewing Co., to collaborate with him on his first creation, Augusta Ale, using the Black Oak fermenter. Dickey nailed it on the second batch by creating a West-Coast style pale ale similar to Sierra Nevada. It’s hoppier and more citrusy than a traditional pale ale, but balanced by hefty malts. In April, Shepherd tapped the ﬁrst kegs in Burger Bar and a handful of other restaurants, including La Palette and C’est What. He hopes the LCBO will pick up Augusta Ale in cans, and is planning another brew, Baldwin FisheyePA.
That next step is more ambitious. Shepherd has cleared out an industrial bread oven at the back of Burger Bar, and wants to install a small, 1,000-litre microbrewery right behind the bar by year’s end. The goal is to set up a local brewer co-operative and a retail store in the Burger Bar to stock its products. The in-house operation will be used mainly for special cask editions, which Shepherd will make himself. No brew courses necessary, he says. He’ll just get help from his masterbrewer buddies. “I’m going to approach it from a cooking standpoint, not as a science,” he says. “I don’t have a scientiﬁc mind. Instead, I just think: water, barley, hops, yeast, and it’s a big kettle of soup.”