BY LEAH DEVELLIS | PIVOT MAGAZINE WRITER
Whitewater Brewery recently made a splash at Startup Canada’s Day on the Hill. I’m not a beer connoisseur, but the excitement and smiling faces of those enjoying a pint of Whitewater beer tells me that this is a local product worth talking about.
Whitewater Brewery was founded in 2011 by three friends, James Innes, Chris Thompson and Chris Thompson. You are not reading a typo, Chris and Chris are friends with the same name. This team of entrepreneurs first met while rafting in the whitewater region of Ontario and ended up working and travelling together as raft guides for over 8 years. The three were tired of drinking bland beer, and wanted to create a better local beer for themselves and their friends. And so, they founded Whitewater Brewery in the Ottawa Valley on this “selfish endeavour”.
If you are a new or aspiring entrepreneur and are worried about not having enough experience to startup your own business, take a lesson from the three men. James, Chris, and Chris had no prior experience in business or brewing beer. They did extensive research and developed the skills they needed for more than two years before their first pint was sold. In order to gain the knowledge of beer-making, they worked for breweries as far as the U.K. and Australia.
Once they reunited, they set up a small operation in an old unused cattle barn in Foresters Falls, about 125 kilometers northwest of Ottawa. Three years later, their company has expanded by 800% and their biggest obstacle is keeping up with demand. They have focused on producing a unique local product and it’s working.
“We were lucky enough, skilled enough, I’m not sure which, to have a product that people like to drink and we couldn’t keep up with demand. Since we opened, we’ve doubled capacity three times. It’s a struggle to continue to keep up and make the volume of beer that people like to drink,” says Thompson.
Using only local ingredients, the Whitewater team has developed four craft beers. Brewed in small 50L batches, Whitewater Beers are created from Ontario grains and leaf hops from within the Ottawa region. Being committed to natural ingredients means that the water isn’t chemically adjusted either. This approach has proven to capture the taste buds and hearts of the community. Thompson attributes Whitewater’s success to an outpouring of local support. “The community has really embraced us. They have really become our cheerleaders for the product. They will buy extra, they will share it with friends, they will tell buyers that they want us on tap. So many people have come together to help us get to where we are now,” says Thompson.
Building a business is never easy and this team has faced challenges. Thompson encourages other entrepreneurs to expect that things will go wrong, but focus on the big picture. The team is focused on the future and hopes to create jobs and be able to employ people from the Ottawa area. Their ultimate vision is eventually transforming the cattle barn into a brew pub with music, vendors, local food and a space for friends to get together to enjoy a pint.
Whitewater Brewery is proof that a business can be built on friendship, thirst for adventure, and a love for beer. For me, the lesson is to remember that you don’t have to have years of business experience or a MBA to be an entrepreneur. All you need is an idea your passionate about, a willingness to learn, and the drive to make it happen.
If you are craving a Whitewater Ale, IPA or Oatmeal Stout go to www.whitewaterbeer.com . You can buy Whitewater Beer from directly from the brewery or enjoy a pint in several local pubs and restaurants.