Red Barn Brewing Co. turns homebrew heritage into future-forward brewhouse
When Denny Vervaet, founder of Red Barn Brewing Co., lost his grandfather in 2001, he kept a small stubby beer bottle as a reminder. It was a token for all the bottles of his grandfather’s brewing experiments that Vervaet capped as a kid and the stories his grandfather, who was born in Belgium, told him like the one about the cat that fell in a batch of the beer.
That stubby bottle stayed with him, moving from box to box, until 2012, when Vervaet found it again. But this time it sparked an idea. “What if he meant to leave it in that fridge – the last bottle – and wanted someone to take over his homebrewing,” says Vervaet. He started buying books on brewing and researching and working towards creating a little system. He asked his brother-in-law to join him and the pair started brewing together. “People were liking it and we got to the point where we were like maybe we want to open our own little brewery someday?”
Eight years later, Vervaet, his wife Sandy and her brother Dan English opened Red Barn Brewing Co., a farm brewery in Blenheim. But it’s not the quaint “little brewery” Vervaet originally envisioned, it’s a massive red barn with a sprawling taproom and event space for hosting concerts and other gatherings. Red Barn Brewing Co. tap list alone has 18 beers on tap, from sours and porters to witbiers and IPAs plus an ode to Vervaet’s grandfather called ‘The Sharecropper’.
“That’s one of our mainstays,” says Vervaet. In an alternate reality where the brewery didn’t launch during a pandemic with capacity restrictions and a revolving door of mandates, Vervaet admits they could’ve taken their time with beer releases. But breweries had to keep customers coming through the doors for retail sales only and Red Barn Brewing Co. needed to capitalize on the momentum.
“We had to keep on producing a new beer every week,” he says. “It’s strenuous with everything that goes into making the beer and then also the marketing side of it but we had to – I think we did 30 launches in our first year, which was kind of insane… we thought we would have like six to eight, you know?”
But it worked. The steady release of new beers kept the curious walking into the bottle shop. “Now it’s turned into people loving that we have a (massive) selection.”
Somewhere along the way, Vervaet realized in addition to crafting good beers, they needed to tell their story. Social media made for an easy avenue. “I learned pretty early on that people wanted to hear why we're doing this.” Red Barn Brewing Co. is highly active on social media, a tool that has helped them both catch the attention of first-time tourists to the Chatham-Kent area and build a community around the brewery.
Vervaet says they also received a $2,500 grant to help with their digital transformation by launching an e-commerce shop for beer and merchandise. “It’s the next step, it gets our beer further and it is going to be another revenue stream, no matter if we sell one case or 300.”
The business has also invested in its front-of-house technology to make sure they’re streamlined as social gatherings gain momentum.
Looking at it now, Vervaet says the brewery has come a long way from those homebrewing days with his brother-in-law. But there’s a spirit there, an energy locked in from that initial spark, his grandfather’s stubby bottle, and it holds – it gives the whole thing meaning and keeps the customers coming through the door of the family-run brewery even if they don’t know what drew them in. “He never got to see what I’m doing, but you know, hopefully, my kids will pass it on.”