FEATURE: An Interview with Andy Rorabeck of Rurban Brewing

image from farm4.staticflickr.com

Photo by Neil Benjamin

In case you didn't notice, craft beer is blowing up in Ottawa, with the opening of several new breweries, expansions of existing facilities and even our own growler delivery service. Much of the action is happening just outside of Ottawa, but since we're sharing an area code we're still pretty excited to hear about new beer!

To help you, the craft beer fan, keep track of who's opening what, where and when, we'll be running a series on upcoming breweries and the people behind them. Some are at the point of being able to open, others are knocking on doors trying to get funding or supervising their brewery being built from the ground up.

This week we interviewed Andy Rorabeck, owner and brewer of Rurban Brewing in Cornwall, Ontario (about an hour and 15 minutes away from downtown Ottawa). You may have seen him at National Capital Craft Beer Week (the tent that wasn't serving beer) alongside Marc Bru (Square Timber Brewing Company) and John VanDyk (Covered Bridge Brewing Company) promoting their upcoming breweries. He doesn't have a space planned out yet and he's still working out the financial kinks, but with the growing brewing community in Cornwall his spot will surely be a welcoming point.

Ottawa Beer Events: Tell us a little about yourself, the beer you brew and your (upcoming) brewery.
Andy (AJ) Rorabeck (Rurban Brewing): I'm going to answer these backwards.  Rurban Brewing is going to be a nanobrewery in Cornwall, Ontario.  We're still working on securing financing, and are antsy to get brewing! Building a brewery, though, is a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. So I brew a lot of beer at home, some with my current brew partner Scott, and some with the newly-minted Cornwall Homebrew Club; keep in touch with local beer lovers, brewers and breweries; stay current with the Members of Barleyment; and keep the faith that the brewery is going to happen in its own time, while still trying to push things along. That's not meant to sound pessimistic – on the contrary, support has been awesome.
I've been brewing from scratch since about 2005, and have enjoyed it immensely.  My day job, since the late 1990s, has been teaching high-school math, physics, chemistry, and biology – I consider brewing an extension of these things, and love understanding what I'm doing at a physical, chemical, and microbiological level.  Teaching is a job I love, otherwise I wouldn't be doing it.  I've been encouraging students for years to cultivate their interests and follow them, so it's time to take my own advice.
Why did you decide to go pro and brew commercially?
It just grew on me. Every home brewer entertains the idea of going pro at some point, but I ignored the idea for years, feeling that my local market wasn't ready to support it.  That's changed – largely thanks to all the small breweries that have inculcated a craft beer culture in Eastern Ontario. It's Cornwall and SD&G's turn.
What have been your biggest challenges?
Financing. Starting a brewery is capital intensive, and we're pursuing a traditional bank route for financing, which means it's went more slowly than if we decided to take on investors (but thanks to all who have offered!).  We're finally at a stage where that traditional route is moving along.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start a brewery?
Make sure you know what you're getting into, and make sure you know why you're doing it! Brewing in a small brewery (which really means planning, cleaning, brewing, packaging, selling, delivering, and a million other little things) is going to be hard work, and a small brewery is a great way to make sure you'll never be rich – but if it's a labour of love, none of that will matter.
If everything goes as planned, when will we be able to have a pint of your beer?
I'm still going to be an optimist, and say spring/summer 2014. That's my plan, and I'm sticking to it!
Keep up to date with Rurban Brewing by following them on Twitter (@RurbanBrewing) or by following them on Facebook (Rurban Brewing).
We'll be featuring an up-and-coming brewery every Tuesday for the next couple of weeks – check back to see what you can look forward to drinking in the near future!

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