The Art of a Great Pint: Flora Hall Brewing
Walking into Flora Hall Brewing to Motorhead’s song, “The Game” playing on the speakers, admittedly being a huge pro wrestling fan myself, I knew that this was my kind of place. Before sitting down for our chat, Dave offers me one of the many delicious pints that Flora has to offer. When I choose the Belgian Table Beer, Dave nods his head in approval as he tells me that this was the kind of beer that all of the farmers and brewers themselves would drink after a long days work. Being in the brewery for less than 10 minutes, I’m already being educated on the stories behind the brew, I love it!
Dave is an Ottawa boy through and through. I’ve talked about how much I’ve seen this city grow and become what it is today on the culinary spectrum in the past 10 years since I’ve been here. Just imagine how Dave has seen it evolve in the last 30! Now he’s doing his part in helping that evolution along on a positive trajectory.
The building of Flora Hall Brewery is a character on it’s own. Not being touched for so many years, I feel like a lot of restaurateurs are slapping themselves for not getting their hands on such a great space. When Dave bought the building there was an incredible amount of work to be done. But 10 months of hard work, gutting the place and modernising it transformed it into what you walk into today. Dave was also adamant to keep the character of the fire hall that came before it. The soft opening was held for staff, but in particular for all the tradesmen who could see and take pride in the work that they’ve accomplished which was something very special to Dave and all those involved in opening Flora.
Dave’s previous experience really caught me by surprise! His previous career was spent running companies and travelling around the world. He would find himself in cities from London to Japan! After his corporate dinners he would sneak off into hidden pubs and bars where he could really experience what these cities had to offer. In doing this you learn so much about the culture on personal level. It’s interesting to see where the locals go and what they like to drink and eat. If someone were to ask me where to go in Ottawa, I’m not telling them to go to Kelsey’s and get a Budweiser with pita bread. That’s not Ottawa. Go to Flora Hall Brewery and get the Rideau Pines asparagus with a pint of the Strawberry Rhubarb Gose. That tells you the story of the city with those spring flavours with everything produced locally.
Here’s the kicker, this is the first restaurant that Dave has ever operated! But talking to him you would think he’s been running restaurants for decades. He hits every note on the psychology of a dining room from the staff to the culture, and even down to the layout(having a horseshoe bar where people can see the drinks being poured and creating an overall unique environment). He didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to do this. He’s been planning it for years as he was travelling and dining out. He spent this time observing what works and what doesn’t in each fine dining establishment to local pub; applying his knowledge of building teams and creating companies into what he’s built now with Flora.
Dave knew that to create a positive culture he needed to build a great team around him. He knew what his role was by contributing a vision for the space, bringing it to fruition and then hiring great people. His first three hires were people that he knew could help build Flora into what it could grow to become, and it’s something quite special already within its first year. Allie O’Callaghan was his first hire before Flora even started construction. Having known her prior, Dave knew what she brought to the table in terms of FOH management and her ability to grow the culture. Linette Edmonds was hired second to run the kitchen. Knowing the strength he needed from a great Chef, and the type of cuisine that was going to compliment the Flora concept, he knew Linette could fuse those two together exceptionally. The final piece of the puzzle was Rod Hughes, who had been working in Vancouver at the time. Dave knew after much searching that he found something special in Rod, who flew out to Ottawa, brought some of the beers he had been working on out West, and both connected right away with what they’re passionate about when it comes to high quality beer.
Dave’s instinct to hire great people and recognizing that talent quickly showed when, within their first ten months of being opened, Flora won gold at the Canadian Brewery Award for Best Ordinary English Bitter. This is a feat in and of itself when a lower percentage beer (3.5%) can beat out higher percentages (averaging around 6%). This was achieved through the presence of great flavours in the lower percentage of beer, which is normally only found in higher percentage beers. Lower percentage beers are normally considered more on the bland side, but in focussing on bringing that punch to a quality pint, Dave and his team made something special happen and they won!
Just spending time chatting with Dave I was learning so much about the history and importance of each beers characteristics. People are becoming more educated on what they’re drinking these days. For example, an EOB (English Ordinary Bitter) is important because if you were to walk into a pub in England, you’d find yourself having a pint of Ordinary or Best - Best being comparative to a higher percentage. The advantage to the Ordinary is that it’s a working class beer that offers a lot of flavour without getting you right messed. It’s what the brew masters themselves would drink and enjoy maybe even during the shift sometimes. It’s all about the learning experience and having a guest leave saying they’ll never have another Keith’s again. Also, there’s a difference between tasting beers and having a flight. When people generally have flights, they’re not taking the time to go by it’s scale. They may have a sip of each and go back and forth. Taking a sip of a heavy IPA, then delving into an EOB is doing a disservice to what each pint offers. But when taking the time to explore each pint for its flavours and characteristics you become much more inclined to know what you like and have a conversation on what you think about each beer.
With a mix of mainstays and rotating taps you’ll always have something new to explore at Flora. There’s a lot of heart in each pint that Flora produces. Dave wants Flora Beer Hall to be the local brewery for hundreds of years to come. As we were chatting Dave took the time to congratulate his friends on their recent marriage. He mentioned to me that they had asked to buyout Flora for their ceremony and he politely declined because Dave knows what it means to be a local spot. He never wants any of his regulars and guests to have a craving for a pint of Oatmeal Stout or the Mango IPA, only to be disappointed to see that they’re closed for a private event. Flora will always be open!
I was overwhelmed with how spot on Dave was when talking about his vision for Flora. From what he had envisioned when buying the firehall to building his team before they even laid down the groundwork. In its short history, they’re already making their mark in the craft beer world. Success happens because of the people and the hard work they put forth each day in what they’re so passionate about. You’ll savour that in every sip of beer you have. Whatever the occasion, you want to enjoy yourself with a great pint at Flora.