A lot of people ask me – how did you get into beer? Why did you decide to start home brewing and how did that turn into wanting to start our own brewery?
In 1955, my Pepe (in Belgium that’s grandfather) came over from a little town in Belgium with my Meme (grandmother) called Waarschoot. The story goes that every Friday night the town would go to the local hall to dance. Pepe was from a working class family, and Meme’s parents owned their own Cafe (which in Belgium is what they call a bar/pub establishment). Pepe, who’s name was Denis (pronounced Denny) had his eye on Meme (Denise) for a while, and every week he would ask her to dance and every week she would oblige; but more or less because it was rude to turn down such request.
At the end of every Friday night Pepe would find Meme and ask her if he could walk her home. Every week she would refuse.
Months go by and Pepe is still doing the same routine- dressing spiffy with a new suit (will explain this later) asking his crush to dance, having a great time, and getting shut down at the end of the night to walk her home.
Finally, the moons must have aligned or maybe my Meme felt bad for denying Pepe’s advances for so long, but she finally agreed for Denis to walk her home that one Friday night. The rest is history.
I did ask Meme one day why she always denied the walk home from Pepe- because as I saw them, they were in love all these years later- it just didn’t make sense to me – why was she shutting him down week after week, month after month.
She told me the reason- she said he seemed like a nice fellow and even though he had a new suit on each week – which did impress her, this boy was not someone her family knew from their own circles. She was from a different world than him, her family held a different social status (you can appreciate that this was somewhere in the late 1940s and status was important).
That moment when Pepe finally got to walk Denise home after an evening of dancing the truth came out. Denise who was a very bold and top of the mind kind of person asked him how we was the only guy at the dance who had a new suit on every week- for months, yet her family had never heard anything about his family. He then replied- “I was trying to get you to notice me so I borrowed a suit each week from every family member, even one week I ripped the trousers in my bike so I had to go to my other Uncle the same evening to borrow another suit”.
Meme finally saw the real Pepe. Laughter and comedy won her over. He was quite the character- there are so many moments I remember vividly.
So, getting back to the beer. When Pepe and Meme moved to Canada, money was tight. They were starting a family and had just started to share-grow in the tobacco fields of Norfolk County (see our beer- The Sharecropper). Beer was something Pepe loved, it was a staple on a Saturday afternoon when the fields were hot and he needed a refreshing break.
Ever since I remember as a young kid, his laundry room was a multipurpose area. A washer and dryer for clothes and a science lab used to make “beer”. I had no idea what he was doing, but I was intrigued and very impressed by all of his equipment.
He brewed beer the way he wanted, and he spent a lot of time cleaning and bottling.
Growing up, I knew Pepe’s beer was a favourite, as I seen many people drinking it – a lot of it. I always wondered why people were so thirsty that they had to have multiple beers, you think they would have quenched their thirst by the 3rd…remember I’m still a young, observant and innocent boy here.
The most famous batch Pepe made was the time an extra ingredient was added to his product.
He always fermented in a big plastic garbage pail, yes I’m talking about your typical 30 gallon garbage container. Obviously, it was only used for beer and cleaned after every batch (for those of you who are cringing at the thought of this sight right now). He would lay a towel over the top of the container so no contaminants or insects would sneak in. This setup is how many Belgium breweries today still brew- either through a wild yeast fermentation or through a closed room open-air fermenation in a large open stainless tub, called a coolship. Long story short, the cat must have seen the towel as a hard surface and 2 weeks later after the batch was bottled, he warned his beer tasters to leave an inch in the bottom of the bottle in case of the extra ingredient- cat hair. The cat was fine, just a wet mess for Meme to clean up.
It was 2001 that Pepe passed away. He was an important part of my life when he was around. I really believe he still is. He taught me to be true to who you think you are, have no regrets and don’t take life seriously, only be serious when you have to be.
When we were cleaning out his belongings downstairs I was quick to check to see if he had any of his brew equipment tucked away. Unfortunately he must have got rid of it before he passed when he was not brewing as frequently. I then went to check his beer fridge and low and behold the fridge is running, it is completely empty with something in the middle shelf, placed directly in the middle- one last stubby bottle of Pepe’s beer. At the time I thought that was weird but grabbed it anyways as a memento.
Years passed in my own life. I went to school, I moved to new locations, always bringing the last stubby in one of my moving boxes for wherever I was residing at the time.
Finally, where I live now, about 5 years ago, I stumbled upon this box where Pepe’s last beer was in, took a look at it and the first thing that popped into my head was not the original thought of finding it strange he had placed one his last bottle of beer into that empty fridge. That last stubby of Pepe’s passion, his product, this beer, was purposely put into an empty fridge; he wanted someone to find it, to carry on what he had started.
This stubby bottle will be shown proud in the tasting room when we open, a torch I hope I can pass on someday to another family member with Pepe’s, and now my passion.
So, here we are – Red Barn Brewing Company, our family run and family owned brewery- building on land once owned by Sandy and Dan’s grandfather.
#FamilyFarmBeer- the 3 most important things in our life, in which we want to share with you!