By Chris Illich
It seems like every beer brewer ends up finding their rite of passage before they are of legal drinking age. Maybe it’s the allure of creating something that you still legally can’t purchase, maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment, or maybe they just share a fondness for beer.
For John Coates, owner of Plan B Beer Works located at 174 St. Paul St. in St. Catharines, this wasn’t far from the truth. When growing up in Sherbrooke, Que., at the age of 17, one of his friends received a Mr. Beer kit and “it was terrible.”
“The process was interesting and it made me realize that if I was to apply myself, I could create something really good,” said Coates. “Then about eight years ago, it became my weekend hobby.”
The newly opened shop serves their beer in 355ml glasses, as a tasting flight or in a crowler (a 950ml to-go can). The beers are made in three 100-litre batches and are combined in 300-litre fermenters. The first beers presented are Canadian Ale, Stout, Dark Ale, India Pale Ale, Extra Special Bitter and a Wheat beer.
Initially, a retail shop in downtown St. Catharines wasn’t part of the blueprint for Plan B. The original plan was to open a production brewery in a warehouse unit in South Pelham. Coates and his uncle, Neil Wood worked on the project for eight months before realizing how many hurdles they were faced by trying to open a brewery in a rural location.
“The scope of what we would have had to get done to be fully operational was just too big for us. So, we backed away from that location and decided that rather than doing a full production brewery and having to have distribution and a salesman out on the road, why don’t we find a nice little spot where the people are and get people to come to us,” said Coates.
“Obviously downtown St. Catharines is the place to be. In the two years that I’ve been living here I’ve noticed a huge change downtown. The location is beautiful (the former location of Dani’s Bistro), we took out the kitchen and created our fermentation room, but we do have plans to build a kitchen in the future. We feel really enthusiastic to be right here on this spot right now.”
Plan B is currently operating on a “glorified, higher-end homebrew system”, and Coates plans on featuring six different beers regularly, two or three being the Plan B flagship beers, and the rest as rotating taps. Coates, a craft beer fanatic himself, wants to catch the attention of the enthusiasts and bring them into downtown St. Catharines.
“There’s a great culture in both craft and homebrewing, and we’re trying to tie them both together,” said Coates. “With all the breweries we have here in the Niagara region, it definitely creates an interest for beer tourism. It’s growing and there are so many great people here in this industry and that makes it really exciting, and we are happy to be a part of it.”