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Brewing new traditions with gastro pub in downtown Elora

Brew Crew - Jon Laurencic, Alex Nichols, Matt Lawson, and Ben Sachse of the Elora Brewing Company.  photo by Mike Robinson

Brewing new traditions with gastro pub in downtown Elora

by Mike Robinson

ELORA - Like a finely-crafted beer, the Elora Brewing Company is taking just the right amount of time to get things right.

While founders hope to open the company’s doors to the public this summer, they say the more pressing goal is to make sure everything lives up to their standards.

On Feb. 11, the Elora Brewing Company launched its first beer in bars, restaurants and pubs throughout the region.

Since that time its Three Fields Triple Grain Lager, and Ladyfriend IPA have gained considerable steam, now being distributed to over 40 establishments in Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge, Guelph and Centre Wellington.

Walking through the establishment, which is still under construction, one can only imagine the reaction of the original owners of the 1868 stone building.

The Elora Brewing Company is home to a 16,000-litre-capacity brewery, 120-seat gastro pub with main floor and mezzanine seating, bar, tasting area and boutique bottle shop.

Co-founder Jon Laurencic described the venture as something that respects the past while creating a thoroughly modern eating and drinking establishment.

Renovations bring the original stone walls to light while incorporating glass walls, overhead balconies and a direct view to the brewery.

“We were really lucky in terms of this being a functional space for production of the beer ... and a great entertaining space for people coming in to sit down. There’s a sense of warmth and a sense of place,” Laurencic said.

Entering the establishment, one of the first views is the Boutique Bottle Shop and retail area that allows customers to choose from several varieties of fresh craft beer from fridges by way of a 500 millilitre bottle or a 1.89 litre “Growler.”

Laurencic explained the area will include a few beer fridges and shelving for T-shirts and other merchandise. It will also serve as a launch point for customers entering the restaurant.

Laurencic noted that along with the handcrafted bar, there will be tables along the wall and seating in pews from a former church.

“In the front we really wanted to focus on bringing the outside in and naturalizing the space,” he said.

Large glass, garage-style doors now open onto the landscaped boulevard and the view across the road to Market Square “... and it’s kinda cool to have garage doors which go up and down.”

A more practical reason behind the feature is that the building doesn’t provide an option for patio space, Laurencic said.

“Elora is a summer place and this brings the outside in.” He added, “All the tables, the bar tops and even the stair treads are from materials reclaimed from the original building.”

The second floor is a radical departure from the original, with much of it rebuilt to create large balcony areas overlooking both the eatery and brewery, made possible by an auxiliary building separated from the main building by a laneway.

The back building houses a giant beer fridge where all the finished product is stored.

“To make the front of the brew house an enjoyable environment as a restaurant ... we put all the loud mechanical stuff in the back ...

“When we first took the building over we had this funny idea and had jokingly suggested building a secret tunnel between the two buildings. Obviously we couldn’t do that, but it gave us the idea to make use of it.”

Now the underground pipes house utilities and transport the finished beer 130 feet from the beer kegs to the bar.

Originally, the idea was for a simple menu.

“However the space was so large we discovered it could accommodate 150 people. Once we realized how large the capacity was, the idea of just doing small items did not seem feasible.

“That is where we got the idea of putting in a full kitchen and bringing in someone to manage that. That is where Ben (Sachse) came into the picture.”

Laurencic explained “two of the three partners were local guys and knew Sachse just from living here a long time. Ben has worked at a number of locations and has a really good reputation.”

Laurencic said it was kind of funny because Sachse was looking for “the catch” since he was being told they’d build the kitchen and Sachse would run things, no questions asked.

“We already knew Ben’s food philosophies matched our beer philosophies to capture the local essence and the farm-to-table mentality as well,” Laurencic said, adding Sachse was the perfect guy to come in and take that over.

Laurencic said the owners took the keys to the building in September 2014 and then played around in the building early on ... doing demos and chipping away at the renovation.

Main construction began in early February with the new concrete floor and the structural work.

“We severely underestimated the time it would take to get a 150- to 160-year-old building up to code. At the same time we don’t regret the time spent for a single second,” Laurencic said.

“It was one of those things where we saw the building for its potential for great atmosphere all around. That quality is not easy to find in a lot of buildings.”

Sachse said, “I was approached by the guys because their idea of what they wanted and what they needed had evolved. It’s a central place, large enough to accommodate weddings, corporate events ... it’s an interesting venue.”

“We definitely need our own brewery in town ... and a place where we can feature the farm-to-table cuisine that we’d always wanted to.”

Sachse added, “I’d always worked for other people in this area and there are always limitations as to how well you can convince them to buy into an idea.

“Both Sonia (his fiancé) and I feel very strongly about buying directly from farmers.

“I think this is perfect because we get to make the food that goes with the beer and they make the beer that goes with the food.”

As to his approach in creating the new menu, Sachse said “You’re looking at fun sharable plates. It’s food with integrity that is made well, but we’re not going for the full-plated thing with the carbs, the vegs and the meat, sauce, puree and garnish. I’ve done 12 years of fine dining and I’m ready to hang up that white coat and pull out a butcher’s apron.”

Sachse noted the restaurant will be processing whole animals. “We have a very talented young lady who is coming back to Fergus once per week to take apart the whole animals.

“This does not mean we are not vegetarian friendly, but our focus definitely is farm-to-table.”

Laurencic added, “We’re trying to create a space which captures the local integrity and local creativeness of Elora.”

Laurencic said with the 40-foot ceilings and stone walls “you can do amazing things in there.”

He noted the number one question from people on the street is “When are you going to be open?”

He commented there had been certain opening dates which were thought to be ambitious, “But we sailed clear past those a couple of times.

“Elora is a great place for people to walk around and hangout. People just walk by and stick their heads in to say ‘hi’.”

Sachse noted a local artist was commissioned to create 30 black maple charcuterie boards “and we’ll be doing a lot of cheese plates.”

Led by head brewer Alex Nichols and the Stratford-trained Sachse, the experience at Elora Brewing Company hinges on the notion of “great beer goes best with great food.’

In short, “We have a guy that makes really good beer and a guy that makes really good food,” Laurencic said.

July 17, 2015


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