I “met” Kevin Freer through a chance encounter on Reddit. I was posting my review of Arch Brewing’s Dinner Jacket, (contract brewed at Wellington Brewery) and he commented noting it was a challenging brew. Being a huge Welly fan, I leapt at the chance to interview someone with an inside perspective into one of the harbingers of Ontario’s craft beer revolution. Following an extensive email chain, I finally got a chance to pick his brain.
Like most brewers, Freer didn’t start making beer he’d like to drink today.
“I went to college to study music, worked on a cruise ship and toured with a few bands after graduation. I was looking for a hobby and my wife (girlfriend at the time), got me a Mr. Beer kit for Christmas. It made beer, technically,” he says in an email. “But it did get me started down the road of what makes a good beer. That was Christmas of 2009, and by November 2010 I had gotten my first assistant brewers gig at Magnotta Brewery.”
After working at Magnotta and using his passion for beer to start initiatives like the aptly named “Beer 4 Boobs” (which put on beer events to raise money for local breast cancer charities), Freer landed a chance to work in the big leagues at Wellington. Like many great opportunities, it started with a conversation over a beer.
“During that first [Beer 4 Boobs] event, Wellington donated some raffle prizes,” Freer explains. “While I was there picking it up I met Bryan Maher (now owner/brewmaster at Block Three Brewery in St. Jacobs), and I mentioned to him I was looking for a new job, as I was commuting from Hamilton to Vaughan everyday.”
“Timing was right, and they needed somebody with experience basically that week. I interviewed that week, and after a brief vacation, went to work for Wellington.”
Personally, I’ve loved Wellington for years. Their SPA was one of my go-to six packs at the Beer Store for a long time, and their “Welly One-Offs” have traditionally been wonderful. So what exactly does a Wellington brewer go in for?
“As far as a year round beer, My favorite to brew and drink is County Dark Ale. It’s a fairly to-style English brown ale. Some tasty caramel, toasty malt flavours. That floral perfumey character you get from English hops. Plus it smells like chocolate cake when you are mashing it in,” Freer says. “We have a very unique yeast (like literally genetically unique) for our brewery, and the water in Guelph is great for English styles. It just all comes together in a brown ale like County.”
Not limiting himself to merely brewing and drinking beer, Freer also chats about it on his podcast “Brew Talk Online” which largely deals with home brewing, and is co-hosted with Zack Weinberg.
Freer explains that he has had an affinity for radio and spoken-word media for some time — likely do to listening to it during his old commute which took up three hours of his day.
“When I first thought up the concept for Brew Talk Online, it was a way for me to combine my love of radio, skills and interest in audio production, and passion for brewing and beer. Home brewers and professional brewers alike are always talking together, and trading tips and new ideas, so why not record those conversations?” he says. “We try to focus more on homebrewing related topics. I do draw a lot of inspiration from seeing what the homebrewers are doing. But mainly we just see it growing a bit, maybe doing some live audio solutions for beer events (as we did for the Great Canadian Homebrew Conference) and just hopefully elevating and inspiring beers across the province.”
As for those who are interested in pursuing brewing, Freer recommends becoming invested in the people and the community. He noted being part of a brewing team means spending long shifts working together — so it’s important that you’re personable and work well with people.
In addition Freer advises furthering your education through homebrewing and study — while maintaining a modest outlook, and take all opportunities offered.
“Be humble. Everyone spends their first day washing kegs,” Freer explains. “Nothing is below you ever. Be willing to do anything, and learn everything.”
“Also — and I feel this is less talked about — but there are a variety of jobs in the beer industry that have nothing to do with production. Delivery drivers, Marketing, Sales, all are very integral to the machine that is a small brewery. It usually only takes one brewer to produce the wort, but an entire team of people to monitor the fermentation, filter it, get it into the package, out the door, and into the hands of the consumer.”
For those interested in going WAY behind the beer, I highly recommend you check out Brew Talk Online, also available on iTunes and Stitcher. It’s a great resource for those who like to brew and those who like to drink. Go grab yourself a Welly, kick back and listen to Kevin Freer gab about beer.