FEATURE: An Interview with Church-Key Brewing Co. Owner – John Graham

Church-Key Brewing Company in Cambelford, Ontario

Photo by Robert Taylor
John Graham opened Church-Key Brewing Company in 1999 in an old Methodist Church in Cambellford, Ontario. He’s been brewing high quality brews for 13 years and you’re probably familiar with their LCBO offerings – Holy Smoke, West Coast Pale Ale, and their flagship, Northumberland Ale.  But what about their seasonals, the stuff that hasn’t made it to wide distribution?

Well, Church-Key Brewing Company is taking over The Branch Restaurant & Texas Grill with six taps, three of them that are not available in the LCBO! To learn more about the brewery and what’s going on at The Branch we talked to Owner/Brewer John Graham.

Ottawa Beer Events: Tell us a bit about your career path and why you started Church-Key Brewing.

John Graham (Church-Key Brewing Company): I started in the beer industry in since 1990 working at a brew on premise in Aurora, Ontario. In 1996, I was hired by Amsterdam/Rotterdam Brewery in Toronto, first as a delivery driver and then as a shift brewer. In 1999 I purchased an abandoned 1878 Methodist Church on the outskirts of Campbellford, Ontario and began building Church-Key Brewing. First beer out the door was July 20th 2000, Northumberland Ale, a 5% stock ale style. We just celebrated our Beer Mitzvah (13th Birthday), we are producing approximately the same amount of beer as we were ten years ago, we are a happy size.

How would you describe your brewing style?

My Brewing style, balanced but not afraid to colour a little outside the lines. I recognize brewing as half art and half science. If I respect the science I get to be as creative as I like. I have a strong sense of social responsibility so I would always attempt to source ingredients as close to home as possible.


Which beers and breweries inspire you?

All brewers/breweries that had had the guts to lay everything on the line and start up, deserves respect. The ones that really inspire are the socially conscious, tasty brews. New Belgium, Beaus, Crannog..

What’s a typical day like at Church-Key Brewing?

Church-Key is small and my small staff and I wear more than one hat, typical day could include, brewing, book keeping, delivering, designing a label, picking up supplies, hanging with my kids, hanging out with other brew folk, in 13 plus years I have rarely had a bad day, but have very few the same.

Church Key will be taking over The Branch in Kemptville on Sunday, can you tell us about some of the beers that will be on tap?

Bruce (from The Branch Restaurant and Texas Grill) is handing over his six taps to us, so I want to bring a wide range.
  • Northumberland Ale: 5% alc 20 IBU stock ale style, gold in colour
  • Holy Smoke: 6.25% alc 17 IBU a peat smoked scotch ale, dark brown, malty and whiskey like
  • West Coast Pale Ale: 5% 40 IBU Chinook hops give this pale ale a citrus grapefruit bitterness
  • Church Key Red: 5% 20 IBU crystalized malt and caramel give this brew a heavy malt character
  • Honey Oat Stout: 8.2% a imperial stout style, balanced with the honey and the silky mouth feel of the oats
  • Its
    the Great Pumpkin Ale: 7% cinnamon, clove , nutmeg and cardamom spice
    this seasonal brew, that features 350 KG of real pumpkin as over half of
    its fermentables

You can try  Church-Key Brewing Company’s brews at The Branch Restaurant and Texas Grill this Sunday (September 29) with a $15.00 Rubber Boot Buffet and Drinking Song open mic!  The taps start flowing at 2pm. You can follow Church-Key Brewing Company on Twitter (@churchkeybeer) or on Facebook (Church Key Brewing).

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