With a commitment to supporting his local economy and an eye on zero emissions brewing, Peter Burbridge tries to quench Halifax’s thirst with a little liquid gold
Published in the December issue of Halifax Magazine.
Since opening his own microbrewery at the end of January, Peter Burbridge’s name has become synonymous with craft beer in this city, but it could have just as easily been coffee. Back in 2009, after graduating from Dalhousie with an MBA, he started working in wholesale for Java Blend, the popular 75-year-old café and roaster at North and King streets. It was a dream job that allowed him to put his education and passion for coffee (he’d been roasting his own beans at home for the previous three years) to good use. Yet it didn’t quite satisfy the entrepreneurial craving he had.
For anyone who knew Burbridge, the coffee business seemed like the logical choice for him to take a stab at, but for the man himself it didn’t seem right. Everyone who worked at Java Blend had always treated him well. It just felt wrong to compete with a business he respected so much.
So instead he went with his other passion: beer. He started working on Bridge Brewing. “That shows to me a lot of integrity,” says Gus’ Pub owner Dimo Georgakakos, whose best friend, Tasso Dikaios, rents the building Bridge Brewing now occupies at 2576 Agricola Street. “He could have said, ‘You taught me everything, I’m just going to go down the block and open a café and screw you.’ But he didn’t do that—he changed entirely—which to me says a lot for somebody.”
Yet even with a suds-crazy city like Halifax and Burbridge’s history with making his own beer at home, the transition into the beer business hasn’t been easy on the thirty-one-year-old. And you don’t need a profit and loss statement to figure that out—you can see it on his face. On the sunny afternoon we meet in the small storefront of the brewery, he’s looking a little tired with dark semicircles under his eyes. He’s wearing a faded green plaid shirt and jeans. Behind us, part-time worker Leigh Dotey (who doubles as the drummer for Halifax garage rockers Cousins) is filling growlers, making the already soft-spoken Burbridge somewhat hard to hear. “We’re usually here like six and a half days a week,” he says. “And I do have a fourteen month old boy at home, so I need some time to spend with him.”
Burbridge doesn’t complaining about that gruelling schedule or the demands it puts on being a new dad, though. And while he may wear exhaustion on his face, he hasn’t been beat by the typical struggles that almost every new business confronts: dwindling funds, delays, waiting for inspectors. When talking about the challenges he’s faced over the last year getting the brewery off the ground, he describes them as he does his past growing up on Duncan Street, attending the Oxford School and Queen Elizabeth High School, completing undergrad and MBA degrees at Dalhousie, and teaching English in Korea for a year. That is, quietly and as if he’s reading them off a list.
But when he gets to talking about the beers he and his brew master, Josh Herbin, are making right now things change. His eyes get a bit wider, his voice gets a little louder. “The Farmhouse Ale is our bigger beer at 7.5%,” he says with a slight smile. “And that one has a nice malt sweetness and really nice tartness and fruit character that comes from the yeast strain. The other is Gus’ 65 Metre Ale, which is the distance between our doors.” He takes his hands out of his pockets and looks out to the corner, where the pub is glowing redder than every today. “It’s a Belgian blonde,” he continues, “and our lighter offering at 6.5%. It’s a little citrusy, light and refreshing, a little dryer.”
He and Herbin created that second beer with Gus’ owner. “I got really excited about having a beer that was brewed specifically for us,” says Georgakakos. “I told him what I was looking for and he sort of geared it in that direction. I just wanted something that was lighter, not as heavy as some traditional local brews. I wanted people to have three or four of them as opposed to one.” And they did, according to Georgakakos, and when the pub sold out in February, he had thirty to forty people a day asking when it would be back on tap.
For Burbridge, this type of support from his local community—which includes partnerships with Brooklyn Warehouse and Chez Tess, who both have his beer on tap—is crucial to the success of his company. “I think any small business is aware of the need to support each other,” he says. “If we want to survive, then it’s about the people who are around.”
It’s also about helping sustain the regional economy. Now that the business is starting to grow, Burbridge is looking to purchase new fermenters from Charlottetown’s Diversified Metal Engineering that would double the brewery’s output from 1,200 to 2,400 litres of beer per week. “The fermenters would cost a little bit more than if they were made in China, but we feel better keeping the money here and knowing that we can go and see the factory and know the conditions they’re made in.”
Environmental sustainability is another guiding principle for Burbridge and his company. At Dalhousie, he came across the concept “zero emissions brewing,” which in its simplest form means diverting all of a brewery’s waste streams from landfills and using them to make new products.
Since launching his brewery, Burbridge has been trying to figure out how to put the concept into practice. He admits they’re a long way from being zero emissions, but that with a few ideas they’re now acting on, including sourcing electricity from Bullfrog Energy and giving spent grain to TapRoot Farms for animal feed, they’re on the right path. “To me it just makes common sense that business needs to move away from being so wasteful,” he says. “If we start small and set an ambitious goal and state that that is our goal, then that will kind of push us towards achieving it. It’s just the right thing to strive for.”
Burbridge takes me through the brewery to meet Josh Herbin. We pass at least a dozen black kegs, a speaker and growler boxes lining the narrow area between the storefront and the brewing space. In the back, Herbin is on a step stool, scooping grain out of a mash tun. He gets down and Burbridge takes over.
“Peter’s a great guy, and I feel like I have a good balance of responsibility and decision making here,” says Herbin. Burbridge keeps scooping, eyes down. “We always talk before making big decisions, and we do tastings together. It’s very much a team project.”