Moth Lane brewery first to open in western P.E.I.

Former lobster fisherman Eric Wagner liked making beer so much as a hobby, the self-taught brewmaster decided to make it into a business.

'There's going to be a lot of people come and try it'

Eric Wagner is finally poised to open the doors to Moth Lane Brewery in Ellerslie, P.E.I. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Former lobster fisherman Eric Wagner liked making beer so much as a hobby, the self-taught brewmaster decided to make it into a business. 

Moth Lane Brewing in Murray Road, P.E.I., just outside Tyne Valley, will be the first microbrewery in Prince County.

People are searching out craft breweries, trying their beers, getting to know the people and probably getting to know some of the area they're in.— Eric Wagner

Although it's faced delay after delay for months, Moth Lane is finally poised to open before Christmas. 

"Everything here is local, everybody that worked here was local," said the burly, bearded Wagner proudly as he showed us around his refurbished building full of shiny stainless steel vats and taps and copper plumbing lines, manufactured on P.E.I. and installed by local tradespeople. 

"There's going to be a lot of people come and try it," he said. "The beer's going to be different than what they're used to."

Take a look inside western P.E.I.'s first brewery, Moth Lane 0:57

'Lightened my heart'

The building is a former shellfish business Wagner opened about 25 years ago and ran for several years before he became too busy fishing and managing a local co-op.

'The beer's gonna be different than what they're used to,' says Moth Lane Brewing owner Eric Wagner. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"I used to drive by this place quite often thinking, what the heck am I going to do?" he said.

"When I came up with the micro-brewing idea, it lightened my heart a little bit, knowing I'll put this building back to use," he said. He's expanded it, adding a large deck where customers can enjoy their drinks in summer along with the beautiful view of Conway Narrows on the Island's North Shore.

'We want people to come out here'

Inside the pub, with space to seat 50 people, is lined with sweet-smelling pine and plenty of windows, and features blackboards on all the walls where customers will be encouraged to sign their names. 

The logo for Moth Lane Brewery — Eric Wagner hopes customers will be drawn to his beer 'like a moth to a flame.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

"We want people to come out here. West Prince is off the beaten path in the tourism industry, so I'll give them a reason to come up here."

The beer is brewed on the lower level, down a flight of stairs lined with 58 beautifully-stained spindles shaped as paddles. "Pinterest is a great thing for ideas to do things," Wagner said of the decor. 

Faced delays

Wagner fished lobster for about 35 years but wanted to try something new, so the 54-year-old sold his lobster gear and threw himself into developing Moth Lane — an endeavour and an investment that's been bigger and tougher than he thought.

The stairs to the brewing area at Moth Lane reflect the nautical history of the building, the owner and the Ellerslie area. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Wagner had originally planned to open the brewery to the public in June, but faced several delays with shipping and installing equipment as well as all the paperwork and permits needed for building and product safely. 

He'd even placed an advertisement in the local tourist guide this summer, which brought people daily to his door. He'd show them around the unfinished space but had no beer to sell them.  

"I ran out of money at one point and had to go find some more," he said. He didn't want to rush, though, and sacrifice the quality of the product. 

"It probably worked out for the best. It was a headache, though."

There's WHAT in my beer?

The ingredients are basic: malted barley and hops. For Moth Lane Stout, Wagner adds a peck and a half of oysters to the ale recipe. Yes, shellfish.

Eric Wagner points to oyster leases in the Conway Narrows — the view from the deck at Moth Lane Brewing. (Pat Martel/CBC)
 "Even some of the shell material [from the oysters] helps bring out the flavour of the hops," he said. "It has a small briny nose ... I have big plans for that stout."

"There's just enough in there to give it a sense of place," he said — something that's important to him, as someone whose family has lived on P.E.I. for many generations. 

"I love the Island, I want to live here. I grew up five children here. If I can build... a legacy... that's what my plan is," he said, choking up a bit.  

'Craft beer is tourism today'

Wagner received $25,000 from Innovation PEI through the Ignition Fund, a competition for entrepreneurs seeking startup funding, a win he said "was a great feeling." 

Eric Wagner has spent about $400,000 to transform a former shellfish business into western P.E.I.'s first microbrewery. (Pat Martel/CBC )

He invested about $400,000 of his own money, he said.

"I think we'll do fine," Wagner predicts of the business. "It looks like it's going to be very well-received." 

"Craft beer is tourism today," he said. "People are searching out craft breweries, trying their beers, getting to know the people and probably getting to know some of the area they're in." 

He has agreements in place with several local restaurants to sell his products. 

There are currently three other small breweries on the Island: the P.E.I. Brewing Company and UpStreet Craft Brewery, both in Charlottetown, and Barnone Brewery and Hop Farm in Rose Valley, P.E.I. 

With files from Pat Martel