Beyond the Pale and Ottawa Magazine are giving you a chance to join the brewery’s opening party on Wednesday, Nov. 28, before their doors open to the public! For a chance to win one of two pairs of tickets to the party, visit Ottawa Magazine’s Facebook site and tell us which Beyond the Pale brew you’re most excited to try. We’ll draw for tickets on Nov. 26.
A cynical observer would never think this could work.
Rob McIsaac left Ottawa to pursue higher ambitions than the confines of his hometown could ever offer. With acceptance into Harvard University — and a spot on the Ivy League school’s football roster — a lucrative job was sure to follow. And, upon graduating in 2003, McIsaac joined a media startup in Cambridge, Massachusetts, igniting the inevitable career trajectory one would expect.
While McIsaac was getting schooled in economics and busting through tackles on the gridiron in Boston, Shane Clark was touring with his band Nero. The jam band was making waves, already solidifying their mark as a must-see act in Ottawa, and making inroads across the rest of Canada.
After a few years of working in sales, McIsaac got an insatiable itch to run a small business. So he left the startup and enrolled in Cornell’s MBA program. “I know it’s not a requirement for starting a business,” he says, “but I felt it would give me a better grounding.”
Back in Ottawa, Clark had walked away from the rigors of the rock and roll life, shifting his focus to his home brewing operation. “I was doing nothing but ballistic IPAs at the time,” he says.
The two were friends when they lived in the same area code. But, clearly, their diverging skills and talents were taking them down wholly unique paths. There was no reason they should work together. Ever.
Then the recession hit the American economy with an unrelenting force. “I moved back to Ottawa in the summer of 2010,” McIsaac says. “Job prospects in the States were slim.”
His return meant he was actually able to hang out with Clark. And hanging out meant drinking Clark’s homebrew. “I tasted it and thought it rocked,” he says.
It was during this period that the idea of starting a brewery together took form. Clark wanted to brew beer fulltime at some point in his life, and McIsaac still wanted to run a small business. “We were sharing a bottle of Lagunistas Hop Stoopid that night,” McIsaac says to Clark, remembering the exact moment during the summer of 2011 that they decided to become partners. “We’re drinking this kickass double IPA that you can get at any CVS [Pharmacy] in the States, but can’t get anywhere in Ottawa. Well, we thought, ‘We like to drink this beer, and Shane can make it…’”
Beyond The Pale, Ottawa’s newest craft brewery, which opens November 29, was taking form.
Instead of dropping upwards of $40,000, and spending four years of his life enrolled in a fermentation program, Clark brought balance to McIssac’s two heavy-hitting degrees by going the do-it-yourself route. “I got every syllabus, bought and read every book, and asked all the questions I could,” Clark says. “We have some unbelievable brewers in Ottawa, and I still ask them questions.”
Their vision is pretty simple: “Make as many awesome beers as possible, and sell it all.” It’s refreshing to hear something as straightforward as that, and it reflects Clark and McIsaac’s unpretentious, energetic, personalities.
“We can support 10 times the number of breweries we have [in Ottawa],” Clark exclaims. “As long as there is diversity; and we’re trying to be diverse. We’re brewing to fill the niches that [are empty] up here.”
“Canada as a whole, and definitely Ottawa, is about 10 years behind the U.S.,” McIsaac chimes in, comparing the two craft beer markets. “So we saw that there’s an opportunity to brew beers we want to drink.”
What do they want to drink? Well, they’re rolling out with four when they open: Rye Guy IPA, a rye-based India Pale Ale, which weighs in at 6.7 percent alcohol; Imperial Super Guy (9.1 percent) is the imperial version the IPA; The Darkness (6 percent) is an oatmeal stout; and Pink Fuzz (6 percent) is a grapefruit wheat beer.
“Then we’re going to do a Vanilla Porter — one of our holiday releases if we can get it out in time,” McIsaac says. “And we’re going to do a blonde ale that will be aged in ice wine barrels.”
Because of their size, or lack thereof, they have incredible flexibility to try whatever pops onto their creative radar. They’ll be using bourbon and whisky barrels to age other styles in the near future, and they say there’s really no limit to what they try beyond that.
While they’re ecstatic to finally open Beyond the Pale, McIsaac and Clark, alongside Clark’s father Al who recently retired to join the operation, have faced a number of issues along the way.
“It’s been a tough go,” Clark says. “We were supposed to have a soft opening September 1. The delays are crippling when you’re ramping up a business. And we’re working long, 20-hour days. I miss my wife!”
“I’ll second that,” McIsaac says. “But we’re working on something that we love so that’s good. We just hope people love it as well.”
Capital Pint by Travis Persaud is published every second Thursday at OttawaMagazine.com. Follow Travis on Twitter @tpersaud.