When Peter Burbridge was studying for his MBA at Dalhousie, he knew he would start his own business. Two of his passions were coffee and beer. He made his decision after learning about zero-emission breweries in a sustainable business class.
“It just struck my imagination and was something that stuck with me,” Burbridge says. “When I started really looking hard at the beer, it just became clear it was a good time to get into the market. We kind of entered right before the boom that’s happening now. I worked on different business plans and wanted to do something I was passionate about, and beer was one of those things. The time just seemed right.”
Burbridge says his goal for North Brewing Company on Agricola Street is to create unique Belgian-inspired beers and be a leader in zero-emissions breweries.
Why do you love beer?
I’ve always been into food and I really enjoy tasting and seeing what flavour experiences you can get. It started with coffee and then as you get into one thing, you get into all different things. With beer, I just found it so interesting. As I was exposed to different beers, I was blown away the experiences you could have with different styles, and it just captured my imagination. I wanted to be able to create my own.
Do you enjoy the flavour or the science behind it?
I do like the science of it. I have a biology background. My wife has a degree in food science; she works with us as well. But just the romance of it, creating something and working with the yeast is fun. You’re sort of at the whim of what they want to do and you have to keep them happy. They call brewers “yeast wranglers” … You have to have a good relationship with your yeast.
What do you need to do to keep the yeast happy?
Most of it’s just a lot of cleaning, good sanitation to make sure nothing else is getting in there with the yeast. And then making sure they get enough oxygen and have all the nutrients they need. We go about six or seven generations before we get a fresh lab batch. If you’re not going to give it everything it needs to do its job, it won’t ferment properly and you’re looking at a wasted batch of beer.
What is it about the zero-emissions process you think is interesting?
Our idea was to do an experiment with this business and state our grand goal to get to this zero-emission point: start really small and evolve over time to see where we could get with it. It’s really expensive to do all the things we’d need to do to get to zero-emissions. It’s a process. We just stated from the beginning so we always had it in our minds that’s what we were working toward. We’ve been open for two years now and it’s very much been a startup and we’re getting our feet under us to get to a point where we are profitable enough to do other projects.
Who is your clientele?
The demographic of the craft beer drinker is getting younger and younger. So you think of university students are going to drink what’s cheapest but you’re seeing a change in that. Younger people are wanting to buy local, appreciating quality. So we see quite a spectrum of consumers who enjoy our beer.
Having a younger generation gets that following started sooner and sets the stage for the market.
That’s really exciting to see because once you drink craft beer it’s unlikely you’re going to go back to drinking something else on a regular basis. It’s encouraging to see the younger generation embracing the craft brands and the local aspect of our business.
What’s the future for craft breweries in the city?
We know there are going to be more. It’s like any classic business cycle: whenever there is a boom, you get a bunch of people rushing to enter the market. I think it’s a great time to be a consumer of craft beer because the options are expanding… The market share is growing, we’re not so concerned about a flood in the market interrupting our business. We’re a pretty small, humble company with a loyal customer base. We’re happy with we are. For us it’s an exciting time to see the industry explode.
What do you like working about running a business in this city?
I grew up in Halifax. This is where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to move out west or away for work. My goal was always to start my own business and for that business to be in Halifax. I just love this city. I did live away for a year when I taught English in Korea, and living away made me realize I am from here, I am really rooted here. All my family is from here, I understand the culture, we’ve been embraced by the North End, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.