By David DeRocco
Driving along Burlington Street these past three years it was hard not to notice the fifty-thousand square foot reminder of the loss of Hamilton’s brewing industry sitting vacantly along the waterfront. That same empty building will soon be serving as a vibrant symbol of Hamilton’s burgeoning arts community thanks to a unique brewing facility officially slated to move into the former home of Lakeport Brewery.
Arts & Science Brewing Limited is a collaborative brewing partnership recently forged between Toronto-based Collective Arts Brewing and Burlington-based Nickel Brook Brewing Company. Plans call for Arts & Science Brewing Ltd. to dedicate 40,000 square feet of the facility to brewing operations in order to increase production of beer for both Nickel Brook and Collective Arts Brewing; Nickel Brook also will retain its micro-brewery and retail outlet in Burlington. The remaining 10,000 square feet will eventually include a hospitality component built on a collaborative relationship with local restaurants and food truck vendors, retail initiatives and a space dedicated to local artisans, art works, music and live performance.
The new company does have a Hamilton connection: Collective Arts Brewing is a grassroots craft beer company founded in 2013 by two former Hamiltonians, experienced beer industry innovators Matt Johnson and Bob Russell. Their original mission for Collective Arts Brewing was to fuse the craft of brewing quality beer with the talent of emerging artists, musicians, photographers and filmmakers. Their current mission, however, is trying to renovate the building into a functional brewing operation. Matt admits to having some initial trepidation on the project after first walking into the building, which was left gutted of equipment by its last corporate raiders.
“I’d like to think that (Bob and I) are good at envisioning things from a creative standpoint,” laughed Matt, an 11-year brewing industry veteran whose efforts have included bringing Samuel Adams beer into Canada and co-creating the Hop City Brewing Co. “But yes, walking into that space the first time it was tough to see the potential, but we were able to see it. There are still a lot of things that need to happen between where we are and where we want to be. Thankfully the Port has been fantastic in embracing our vision and the potential we all see.”
Establishing a collaborative brewing operation in the new building was a natural progression of the partnership already in existence between Collective Arts Brewing and Nickel Brook, a local favourite founded in 1985 by John and Peter Romano. “I’d say it was a pretty mutual idea,” explains Johnson. “At Collective Arts our mandate is ‘local beer done globally.’ We brew beer locally; Nickel Brook was our host brewery. We both realized we needed a home. Both breweries were expanding, but out capacity was not. We both agreed there was an opportunity to create this collaborative home.”
The partnership with the Hamilton Port Authority (HPA) was also critical to finalizing the deal to move into the West Harbour facility. Approximately $10 million in combined investment from both Arts & Science and the HPA will eventually be allocated to bring the brewery up to modern standards. It’s an investment the HPA is glad to make considering the time it took to fill the vacancy. “It was a challenge to find the right tenant for this building, because while we were hoping to attract a craft brewer, 50,000 square feet is a big space,” explains Ian Hamilton, HPA Vice President, Business Development and Real Estate. “Arts & Science is the perfect fit because they are already established in the industry, and are looking to grow. Here at the Port, we admire that kind of entrepreneurial spirit, and we do everything we can to support it. The $200 million in investment we’ve attracted to the port in recent years is testament to the positive relationships with have with our tenants.”
Ironically, the closure of another brewery helped Arts & Science secure the mechanical needs of their facility. Equipment for the Hamilton brewery began arriving in Hamilton this winter from a shuttered Sleeman’s plant in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Once fully operational the brewery expects to employ 20 people, with more employment opportunities once volume grows. The brewery is just the latest positive development in the ongoing evolution of the north end business district and once-neglected waterfront. Sitting on the doorstep of Hamilton’s redeveloping west harbour, the brewery will offer tours, tap rooms, and an indoor-outdoor event space destined to become an artistic and cultural hub in keeping with the mission set by Collective Arts Brewing. As a proud Hamiltonian, Johnson thinks the timing is perfect.
“I like to think we have captured the spirit of Hamilton and how it is evolving. If we evolve from the Lakeport era and the “buck a beer” mentality it inspired, I think we reflect the creative side of the current cultural evolution happening in the City of Hamilton.