“We’ve been inundated with orders”: A Q&A with the owner of Red Tape, Toronto’s new bespoke brewery

“We’ve been inundated with orders”: A Q&A with the owner of Red Tape, Toronto’s new bespoke brewery

Owners Sean and Sarabeth Holden with their son Jack, production assistant Stephen Bowes and Oslo the dog

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Sarabeth Holden and her husband, Sean, are experienced socially-distant celebrators: when the couple was expecting their first child last year, they wanted a way to mark the occasion with their friends and family across Canada and in the U.S. Sean, a home-brewer for more than a decade, made a special beer to toast on the occasion of their son’s birth, which the Holdens distributed to everyone four months ahead of Sarabeth’s due date. “On the night that Ray was born, Sean sent out a text message to everyone we had sent beer to,” Sarabeth says. “We got all these photos back of people drinking and celebrating.” Now, the two have opened Red Tape, a brewery with a twist: it’s a bespoke brewery, so those who want a special beer to celebrate a notable occasion—or just because—can commission their very own tailor-made batch. We spoke with Sarabeth, who is also the president of the Toronto Inuit Association, about opening the brewery during Covid, and what, exactly, goes into bespoke beer.

The east-end’s newest brewery is at Main and Gerrard

What does it take to make a bespoke brew for a customer?

We’ll have three meetings with a client. The first, over Zoom right now, is to get an idea of what kind of event they’re having. When are they planning to serve the beer—during cocktail hour or with a meal? What’s the menu? We ask them what styles of beer they like, and, if it’s an event where there are flowers, like a wedding, they might want to incorporate a floral element to the brew. The second meeting will take place at the brewery, where we’ll talk about hops, the grains we can use and finalize any adjunct flavours— fruits, vegetables, or those flowers—that we might incorporate. We also determine whether they need a label designed, and what that style will be. And the third meeting is basically just approving everything, and hitting the go button.

Is there any way to taste it along the way?

At this point, because of Covid, we can’t offer samples. We can offer cans of other beers we’ve brewed, which might not necessarily be the same style, but will give them a sense of the quality that we produce.

And what does something like this cost?

Packages start at $1,200.

Have you gotten any requests for for Covid-era celebration beers?

We’ve been inundated! We’re nine months into this thing now; people want a reason to celebrate. Unfortunately it’s a bit too late for us to brew anything for the holidays, but we’ve received lots of requests for things like corporate gifts. We also have people who are planning Zoom-based weddings for 2021, so they want cans or bottles that they can send out in favour bags.

The current beer lineup

What’s on tap, besides bespoke brews?

We’re currently selling Celebration Saison, which is the beer we made to toast Ray’s birth. It’s an orange-ginger saison. There’s also a porter, a dry-hopped IPA and tons of Red Tape merch.

How has Covid affected the brewery’s opening?

We’ve been in construction for a year. There were significant delays, because we wouldn’t allow multiple contractors in at one time. Construction is an essential service, but I’m part of various mom groups on Facebook and I was seeing that people with spouses who worked in construction didn’t feel comfortable being in the same space with other contractors. So we reduced the number of people who were here, which slowed things down. And opening a brewery is a highly regulated thing; you have to go through a lot of different licensing. Whenever we were trying to schedule something, they would say, “Oh, we can’t do this, because of Covid. We’re doing this instead.” It was a lot of scheduling!

Here’s some of that merch, just in time for holiday gifting

Does the name Red Tape have anything to do with that?

You would think so! But actually, when Sean home brewed, he used red electrical tape to label everything. In the winter of 2013, he had an interview with a home-brewing magazine, and the interviewer asked him what he calls his beer. Sean was, at that exact moment, cutting a piece of red tape to use as a label. So he was like, “Um, Red Tape?” And then it stuck.

Have you brewed a special beer for Christmas this year?

We haven’t. But I’ve been making bread with the spent grains from the first batch of beer we made to open the brewery, and I’ve assembled kits of spent grain to mail out to our families, who are in New Brunswick, Montreal and New Jersey, so they can make their own bread at home. I’m going to make a little video tutorial for them, too. Of course, we’d love to be spending Christmas with our families—but we’re pretty good at celebrating from a distance!

The Holdens, in their new home away from home

Red Tape Brewery, 159 Main St., 416-690-0007, redtapebrewery.com