By Tom Collins
HARROW — An Ontario farmer about to open an on-farm brewery is now looking for investors to expand.
Karl Lonsbery, of Harrow, south of Windsor, began selling his own beer four years ago. He says he has now raised $2.5 million and has purchased the equipment needed for the new brewery. He now needs to raise the last $630,000 to get the building constructed. The 33-year-old had a meeting at the end of January with Impact Angel Alliance, an organization that brings together investors and start-up projects.
Basically, $33,000 gets you one per cent equity in the new brewery.
“I could have borrowed really expensive money and then the business becomes unstable because it’s worrying about paying interest,” he says. “I said, ‘screw it, why don’t I sell what I need and I can look at those people as my guaranteed customers and my sales team because they’re always out promoting it and they can directly impact the value of their shares.’”
Lonsbery has been looking for investors for the last several years and originally hoped to open a smaller brewery in existing on-farm buildings in 2014.
However, he had to plan to build larger buildings when he purchased bigger equipment from Michigan. If he can find the investors, Lonsbery says the brewery can be running this summer.
Lonsbery estimates he can make about 2.5 million litres of beer a year. That’s about 7.33 million bottles. But he only has enough space to ferment 210,000 litres of his own stuff. Lonsbery is looking to buy more fermenters that would up his production to 750,000 litres. In the meantime, he has an agreement with Wolfhead Distillery, where he cooks down their grain and brings the pre-fermented liquid to their storage for fermentation.
That is still a small drop in the beer market. Ontario had 70 licenced breweries in 2011, but that number doubled to 140 by 2014, according to trade association Beer Canada. In 2014, 756.7 million litres of beer was produced in Ontario.
“It takes a lot of planning and time and money to do it properly,” says Lonsbery. “If I learned one thing growing up on a farm, you want to do it once and not have to go back and fix it over and over again.”
With wineries popping up around him and 10 years as a winemaker, Lonsbery is looking to that industry as a business model. He plans on giving farm tours, holding beer tastings, having a full service restaurant/bar and even building a reception hall that can be used to host weddings.
Lonsbery grew up on a farm that grew tomatoes, cash crops and sweet corn, as well as raised tilapia in a greenhouse. He decided to become a winemaker about a decade ago, around the same time his father retired. Five years later, Lonsbery started making beer.
“With making beer, I can control it a little more,” he says. “With grapes, it’s whatever Mother Nature gives me. The last few years, our buds got burnt and we didn’t have a crop just because it got too cold. With hops, I’m not controlled by the winters we have around here. I choose my grain structures and cook it down so I can control everything from that aspect.”
The winemaking aspect also flows over to the beer, especially in Lonsbery’s top two beers: a cream ale and a Black Eye.P.A.
“I treat my beers like I do my wine,” he says. “My lighter beers, I treat like white wine. So very fruit-forward, citrusy, refreshing. My dark beers are like red wine: A lot of layers, complex, a lot of stuff going on in there, a lot of flavours so you can’t quite pick out the same flavour all the time.”
Visit Lonsberry at www.lonsberyfarms.beer.