By Shawna Wagman Special to The Star
Fri., Feb. 5, 2021
When Mallory Jones, Jessica Nettleton and Justin da Silva landed on the name Matron for their Bloomfield, Ont.-based brewery, it checked all the boxes. “We wanted to have a strong, feminine name,” says da Silva, “It’s also a shout-out to those who look after others.”
The three friends were working in the beer industry in Kingston before quitting their jobs in 2019 to realize their wouldn’t-it-be-cool-one-daydream of building their own brewery. For years they’d witnessed the way the beer knowledge of the two women, while tremendous, was often overlooked. Now, in less than two years, Matron Fine Beer has become a going concern in the competitive local craft beer scene by focusing on fruity farmhouse ales, aromatic IPAs and lower-alcohol lagers — and on building a principled, grassroots business.
“We decided from the beginning that we wanted to take care of the staff, the community, and the land that we’re on,” says da Silva.
Inspired by the days of farmhouse brewing, when the matriarch of the family brewed beer using whatever the farm could grow, the trio chose to plant Matron Fine Beer among the sprawling farms and vineyards of Prince Edward County. It counts two of its key brewing suppliers — Pleasant Valley Hops and Barn Owl Malt — among its neighbours.
In fact, the brewers strive to use at least 60 per cent local ingredients overall and, at any given time, they feature two beers made with 100 per cent local ingredients. “When we first started, no one had done a brewery that relied on small Ontario producers,” says da Silva, who admits to feeling mixed emotions now that others are starting to follow suit.
Following advice from a winemaker-friend, da Silva is focused on one thing: making beer they care about. That’s how they created the signature IPA, Janky, its name a slang term for crappy and unreliable. “When we bought the building, that word came up a lot,” says da Silva with a laugh. “It didn’t look like a brewery.” They deliberately left the exterior as-is so that visitors are greeted with a glimpse of quirky imperfection.
Since Janky features local hops and the area’s farmers are at the mercy of unpredictable weather, its recipe allows for an “ebb and flow” of the plant’s variety from season to season.
“That’s an unreliable component,” says da Silva who promises that the beer will nonetheless always be aromatic, balanced and delicious. The brew’s ethos is captured in the tasting notes that suggests it “pairs well with not taking life too seriously.”
That same spirit has helped the partners forge ahead in the face of COVID-era chaos and challenges, moving beyond the higher margins they had hoped to get through draft sales at restaurants, and focusing instead on the home delivery of canned product.
Looking ahead to the spring, da Silva is excited to be able to welcome visitors to their expanded outdoor beer garden that features a small seasonal menu using ingredients from the surrounding farms. And, while not part of the initial business plan, the Matron team is now working to get cans into the LCBO. Says da Silva, “Leave it to a global pandemic to change your mind about everything.”