Clifford Brewing Co.
Beer lovers know that Hamilton doesn’t fall short when it comes to incredible craft brews. Clifford Brewing Co, proudly located in the city’s East End, has been making waves since Pinball Wizard hit the shelves in 2016. This interview is with owner and head brewer Brad Clifford, who started brewing in his kitchen at home and recently celebrated the fifth year anniversary of Clifford’s taproom opening up on Nash Rd. Make sure to check this Hamilton gem out – go just for the beer or make it a night and hit up one of their events, they’ve got everything from live music and improv to trivia and classes.
Tell us about yourself and your business.
Clifford Brewing was started right at the beginning of 2015 when I had just moved to Hamilton. I had plans to open a brewery here but wasn’t quite sure how I was going to make that happen. I had been involved in a few different brewing projects in Toronto, going back to 2010, and had brewed a lot of different styles of beer. I had to narrow it down to just a few though when first starting out as I was contract brewing my beers at other breweries. Clifford Porter was the first beer I made commercially, under my name, and distributed myself to bars and restaurants. Pinball Wizard soon followed and by 2016 both were being sold in the LCBO.
In early 2017, we found an empty warehouse space at 398 Nash Rd N. in East Hamilton. It was very spacious (10,000 sq/ft) and had everything we needed to get started and grow into as well. The location was also perfect in that Hamilton was just starting to see craft breweries opening downtown and in the west end but there was nothing happening further east. It was also right off the QEW and the Red Hill making it very easy to get to from anywhere around the city. It took about 9 months to get the brewhouse and tanks ordered & built and then delivered, along with a lot of electrical and plumbing work. By November of 2017 though we were brewing on site and in January of 2018 we opened the taproom.
You’re the head brewer, what brought you to the art of brewing?
I was already in my mid-30’s when I started brewing and I was really just looking for a new creative outlet at the time. I’d been playing drums for many years in local bands and one of my musician friends introduced me to a fellow drummer who’d turned his homebrewing hobby into a full-time career. That was Mike Duggan (the original brewmaster and founder of Mill Street). At the time, around 2010, I had just started making beers on my stovetop in my condo, but after a little convincing, I was helping Duggan out at his new brewery at 75 Victoria St. in Toronto where I learned a lot of the basics of commercial brewing from him. A year or two later, I had my own nano-brewery in the back of a Dundas St. bar and was cranking out small batch craft beers every week. This was the fairly early days of craft beer in Ontario and people were just starting to see more bars carrying craft beer and small breweries were starting to open up. In 2014, I moved to Hamilton and began working on a business plan for Clifford Brewing. It took another 3 years to open the bricks and mortar brewery but in the interim I was brewing a lot of beer on contract and learning the in’s and out’s of running a beer business while doing all the sales and distribution myself.
You recently celebrated your fifth year in business, what are some of the highlights you’ve experienced along the way?
Just being able to open the doors and pour our first beer in the taproom was a huge milestone. Every business faces numerous obstacles when getting started but opening a brewery has its own unique challenges. You’re creating a production and industrial space but also a hospitality and public space which you know will be central to the brewery’s success. There’s seemingly no end to regulatory and municipal laws to navigate, along with sourcing multiple pieces of equipment and trying to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit on a fairly tight timeline. I was fortunate to have been involved in the industry long enough to have seen some of the mistakes made by others, plus also had the help of some very experienced people. It’s very satisfying when you can finally brew that first beer on your own equipment and bring people in to enjoy the brewery.
The other milestone would have to be the fortune of winning the “Canadian Brewery of the Year” in 2019 at the Canadian Brewing Awards, after only being open a little over a year. This recognition definitely helped put the brewery on the map, not just in Hamilton, but Canada wide. The fact that this award was completely based on the quality of the beer too is what matters most to me. Competing against thousands of entries in blind judging, four of our beers took home awards that year, giving us a weighted average to receive the Brewery of the Year. We were also in the process of installing a canning line and ordering more tanks when all this happened so the stars definitely aligned in May of 2019.
Clifford is located in the East End, what makes you proud to be brewing in that part of the city?
Locating in East Hamilton was by far the best decision we could have made. People are just so authentic and down to earth in this part of the city and it was a really easy fit. We’re not trying to be anything we’re not, nor do we take ourselves too seriously. At the end of the day, it’s just beer – and everyone loves beer! I’ve also heard us described as the “blue collar” brewery which is a huge compliment. We welcome all and I think we have something for almost everyone.
What can people expect when they come to visit the brewery?
A very friendly and laid-back atmosphere in a large open space where you can see all the brewery equipment out in the open. If you take a seat at the bar, you’re likely to strike up a conversation with some other patrons and the staff love to talk with people and introduce them to what we’re doing. We also have live music regularly on weekends and a nice collection of vintage pinball machines and games. Families and friends come in for get togethers on the weekends and bring in any food they like. Kids are welcome, as are pets. At one time, our friend Andrew (a professional falconer) would bring his working falcon into the taproom which we made a special seat for. We do other events too like trivia nights and comedy shows each month. The taproom has a very friendly, casual vibe all the time and everyone is welcome. We post all the events to our social media accounts as well as our website (www.cliffordbrewing.com).
What’s your personal favourite beer on tap?
That’s a tough one as it’s usually whatever the latest beer we just brewed is. My go-to favourites would probably have to be Pinball Wizard and Devil’s Punchbowl (India Session Lager). I prefer the more easy drinking beers but also love our big IPA’s, like “Brokedown Pallet”, our homage to industrial shipping & the music of The Grateful Dead!
Besides your own place,what are a couple of your favourite spots to eat or drink in the city?
There’s still a lot of places in Hamilton I need to find the time to check out but you can’t go wrong with The Capitol Bar, The Argyle or Caro Restaurant. Bridgeworks is also a really cool concert venue by our friends at Sonic Unyon that we’ve been doing some custom beers for lately.
Any advice to other small businesses wanting to open up shop in the city?
Hamilton is a great city for business because of its people and is very community minded. When opening a business here, it can be a little frustrating dealing with its reputation for red-tape but it’s well worth putting up with and working through it to be here. People here have your back.