Bringing craft brews to Hamilton

Warren Pyper, a former Canadian Forces corporal, realized the city he loves was missing some local suds.
Warren Pyper is a fan of IPAs for their hoppy, complex taste. That's what we drank over this interview. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

It was 4 a.m., and Warren Pyper was making sausages. That's when the grocery store butcher realized the city he loves is missing something.

"Hamilton doesn't have a craft brewery," he thought to himself. "Over 500,000 people and no craft brewery."

Pyper, a former Hamilton-based military master corporal, graduated from Niagara College's chef program, and was racking his brain for a way to build his own business.

"I wanted to work for myself," the 31-year-old said. "Being a professional solider really brings out your work ethic."

Now, two years later with a business plan that has been refined as many times as his own beer recipes, Pyper is bringing craft brews to the Steel City.

And, he's chosen a rapidly growing market. Eric Hoskins, Ontario's economic development minister, said Friday as he kicked off Ontario Craft Brewing week, craft beers sales have increased 575 per cent in the past six years.

Pyper just signed a lease on a vacant, 4200 sq. ft. warehouse in the north end, near Burlington and Wellington streets. He'd viewed dozens of properties until this one came up. It's the perfect place with enough space for all this brewing equipment, a retail store and room to grow. 

"It will bring jobs back to the lower city," Pyper said. "And the fact it's not tied to steel is a good thing."

Pyper joined the Hamilton Light Infantry at 17. It was the same regiment his grandfather served in as a member of the band.

"I didn't pass the fitness test the first time," Pyper said with a laugh, "But I did the second time."

His military career took him on a tour to Afghanistan from 2004-05, luckily before major combat happened.

He left the Canadian Forces in 2008, when he wanted to focus on starting a family. He settled in downtown Hamilton, where he met his wife. Their 2-year-old son, Jeremy, has joined him on numerous ingredient-sourcing expeditions.

The Hamilton Brewery has become a family affair for the Pypers. His father, Dwayne, a local chartered accountant, and his brother-in-law Nathan are his business partners.

Pyper, along with his brother-in-law, started networking right away, building relationships with Ontario craft breweries he admired — Mill St. Brewery located in Toronto and Lake of Bay Brewery in Baysville, Ont.

Pyper had always been a beer drinker, ("a 31-year-old living in Ontario is conditioned to drink beer," he said with a laugh) but his love of craft beers began when he travelled to New Zealand for a military colleague's wedding.

"I fell in love with the craft beer scene," he said of New Zealand. "I came home and that's all I drank."

Pyper plans to pay homage to Hamilton as often as he can. Shorten his brewery's name and you get 'THB,' which also stands for the 'Toronto Hamilton Buffalo' rail line and an acronym imprinted in concrete all across the city.

"I'm trying to give back to Hamilton," Pyper said.

He will have three core brews, all with names that relate to the city — an easy-drinkin' west coast pale ale, a creamy Irish red and a hoppy India pale ale. To round out that trio, Pyper will have seasonal beers throughout the year, especially in the fall around Halloween, his favourite time of year.

His unique brews will be bottled in stubbies — short, chubby bottles — to make his product stand out on retail shelves.

If all goes as planned, Pyper's product will be ready to sell by Christmas. But Pyper is prepared for bumps along the road — his business plan is written for a spring 2014 launch.