There is a river that winds its way under covered bridges and through green woodlands, passing next to farmer’s hayfields, tumbling over polished rocks and sandy bottoms. It runs with trout and salmon, while fly-fishermen cast in view of curious cows and deer alike. A morning mist rises off the water’s surface, and long creeping shadows are set on its banks by a golden afternoon sun. Paradise, right? Now imagine that this is the setting for your world, where you wake up every morning with the satisfaction that you get to spend your days exploring your passion. That world exists for Shane Steeves, as he is truly living his dream. For those who don’t know Shane by name, you may know him by his beer: he is the mastermind behind Hammond River Brewing Company, the brand-new ‘nano’ brewery located along its namesake, the Hammond River, near the town of Quispamsis, New Brunswick.
It takes practice to become proficient at a skill; Steeves started home brewing 23 years ago while at university, and despite having to work with what he called “sub-par extract kits,” he stuck with it. The world of making beer can be divided into many different categories and sub-categories, but when it comes to raw materials they all start in the same place: cereal grain, hops, water and yeast. For home brewers, a common source for grains (often malted barley) is in a kit that comes with a can of concentrated malt extract. It is a convenient way for hobby brewers to start and gain some understanding for the process; they end up with a drinkable product without having to invest in a brewery worth of equipment. As you might expect though, the more corners you cut on process and ingredients, the more the outcome of the product is affected. All-grain brewing, on the other hand, is beer making at its purest form; beginning with raw ingredients requires an intimate knowledge of the brewing process, as well as different beer styles. A brewer knows how to use those ingredients to their fullest potential. While Shane was using extract kits, his cousin was attending a brewing course at Niagara College. Upon her return, she introduced him to all-grain brewing and from that point on he was hooked!
By 2013, Shane’s operation had grown to the point where he kept a four-tap “keggerator”, with four separate styles of beer available. It was time for a new challenge. Shane decided to go commercial and build his own brewery, an expensive venture. Being the innovative and entrepreneurial sort, Shane decided that the best option was to build it in his own home; start small, and quietly find his feet. He approached town council for the appropriate licenses and was surprised to receive full and immediate support, as well as permission to produce 190 liters per week. To say that the tiny Hammond River Brewery was a ground floor project would be inaccurate, because it’s located in the basement. Within a short period of time, it became very clear that Hammond River produced a high demand quality beer and so Shane found himself back in front of town council asking for a license increase allowing for 500 liters/week production. They in turn granted him permission for 19,000 liters, far beyond.
To this day, the popularity of Hammond River Brewing has completely surpassed any expectations that Shane may have had, “I’m an adventurous brewer, and I know that not all my beers are going to appeal to everyone, but not one person has ever said: this beer sucks!” Both the public and judges seem to agree with the quality of Hammond River Brewing. At last year’s Saint John Beer Festival Shane took home the gold medal. His products are available as part of the growler program at the Kennebecasis Valley ANBL store and at a variety of bars and restaurants throughout Saint John and Southern New Brunswick, as far away as Sackville. They are very difficult to keep in stock.
It seems that being an “adventurous brewer” is half of the key to his success and Hammond River’s popularity. The range of products offered is diverse and unique. From regular offerings like Back in Black Oatmeal Stout, Gammie California Steam Ale, and Covered Bridge Extra Special Bitter, to his special and seasonal range that has included a Watermelon Wheat, Hawaiian Pale Ale, and Imperial Vanilla Porter (a personal favourite) that is topped up with Makers Mark bourbon to round out the alcohol by volume to a fortifying 10%. Without a doubt, the other half of his success is Shane’s hard work and determination. Local wine, beer, and spirits writer Craig Pinhey says, “Being a brewer is messy, hard work, and in craft brewing you have to be the brewer, the accountant, and the janitor all at the same time. It’s not easy or glamorous.” On top of his 9-5 stint in the IT department at Innovatia, Hammond River Brewing is actually his second business; he runs a seasonal car detailing business and the father of two young children. It’s unthinkable how he manages to juggle all of this!”
Despite making the transition to commercial brewer, Shane has stayed true to his roots as a home brewer. Hammond River Brewing just sponsored a home brew competition in Saint John where submissions for beers according to a list of specific criteria set out by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), in this case Category 21B: Christmas / Winter Specialty Beer. BJCP Certified judges Craig Pinhey and Andrew Newton, and guest judge Eric Scouten, deliberated over the entries, with the winner receiving the opportunity to brew their recipe at Hammond River Brewing, with distribution throughout many of the locations currently carrying Hammond River’s products. The winners were: 1st place Mike Hebert/Jason Dobbelsteyn (Rothesay/Quispamsis), 2nd place Marc Melanson (Moncton), 3rd place Liam Walsh (Quispamsis).
The future looks bright for Hammond River Brewing; Shane finds himself operating at full capacity, and if he wants to meet demand he will find himself in front of town council again very shortly. Plans are in the works to leave the basement and build a new brewery at a yet to be announced location in Quispamsis. “I like having that connection to where I live,” says Steeves, “it is reflected in my products, whether its local blueberries going into our seasonal Blueberry Ale, or Java Moose coffee that has gone into some of the porters.” The new brewery will be similar in size to Picaroons craft brewery in Fredericton. There have been no dates announced as of yet for breaking ground at the new site, but after getting a feel for Shane’s work ethic I have a feeling we won’t have to wait long!
They say a rising tide raises all boats. Shane Steeves, and the popularity of Hammond River Brewing, is one of the several craft breweries rising with that tide. For New Brunswick beer drinkers this can only be a good thing, as the variety and quality of local beer continues to increase with every new addition. “This is pretty damn fun! I’m not working, this is passion. I couldn’t imagine running a business that I’m not passionate about…it would fail. I think that passion shows through in my product.” As fast as Shane can make it, those of us who have discovered his beer completely agree!
Graham MacKenney is a Saint John writer who loves to write about the subjects that impassion him: Beer, Food & Whisky. You can follow him on twitter @GrahamMacKenney.