There are times I wish I lived in Elora. Usually when I find myself swept up in the comfortable, generous ambience of Elora Brewing Co – a craft brewpub so agonizingly perfect that TOQUE partner-in-crime Cai Sepulis and I seem to find almost any excuse to make the trip from Guelph up Highway 6 and along Wellington Road 7 to what’s become one of our favourite destinations. For lunch. Afternoon pints. Production meetings. Brainstorms. For Whatever.

Indeed, the Brewing Co. has helped make Elora a destination for all kinds of folks. It wasn’t always this way, though. To be sure, when co-founders and neighbours Matt Lawson and Jim Murphy started home brewing several years back in Jim’s garage on Melville Street (just off the main drag in this picturesque town) their aspirations didn’t reach farther than creating ‘a good batch, every so often.’

For friends. For neighbours. For each other.

‘It was always about companionship and experimentation,’ Matt tells me while I sit with him at the end of the bar at the brewery.

Around us, groups of hungry – and thirsty – patrons begin filling the place for lunch. ‘It was about finding an excuse,’ he continues, ‘to enjoy each other’s company. Some folks devote garage time to tinkering on classic cars; we devoted it to working on developing beer.’

And, it would seem, to brainstorming a shared future – one that involved co-owning and operating a community brewpub. Matt continues: ‘We knew we were on to something when Jim began fine-tuning an India Pale Ale that had friends and neighbours clambering for more.’ A brew that’s since evolved into Elora Brewing’s Ladyfriend IPA – my go-to at the brewery and wherever else it’s available. ‘We also knew,’ adds Matt, ‘that if we wanted our dream to become a reality, we’d need company!’

Good company that materialized seemingly miraculously from a single chat back in 2013 between Jim and the crew from St. Jacob’s craft brewery, Block 3. ‘In those days,’ Jim recalls, ‘I relied on the folks from Block 3 for home brewing advice. When I let them know Matt and I were interested in opening a brewery, they told me that three other Elora residents – Jon Laurencic, Don Smith and former Beau’s brewer Alex Nichols – wanted to do the same. It didn’t take long for us to start something together.’ \

Indeed, within less than a year of meeting each other for the first time, the five core partners founded the brewery, purchased a 150-year-old general store and pharmacy on Geddes Street, and began the building’s extensive transformation. ‘At first we weren’t sure what we wanted to do with the space,’ Alex recalls, ‘so we tore everything down to the studs. And before we started building it back, we realized that it looked best as it was.’ Rough. Naked. Open. All stone and wood and steel. A bountiful, stalwart, yet companionable space.

‘By tearing back what had been built up for over a century,’ Matt adds, ‘we revealed the heritage and integrity of the place. And, ultimately, we gave the community back its history.’ And offered the town a place for community. Indeed, since the brewery first opened its doors in 2014 it’s truly become a town ‘common’ – that is, a hub where seemingly all cross-sections of Elora residents meet to chat. About politics. And arts & culture. And town gossip. And, of course, beer.

Over beer. And food. Fabulous food driven by the farm-to-table approach of Chef Ben Sachse and his partner, Sonia Cheng. ‘We use local ingredients as much as possible,’ Chef Ben notes, ‘and nurture lasting relationships with area farmers – many of whom are also customers.’

As if on cue, an older gentleman with a massive flowing white beard and personality to match – ‘we call him Santa,’ notes Matt – walks in the open bay door at the back of the brewery and pulls from a crisp bag he’s carrying the day’s foraged treasures. Edible wild flowers. Before long, he’s sitting at the bar with Matt and Chef Ben.

Pint in hand and burger on order – made with bacon from Blackview Farm whose pigs are raised eating spent grain from the brewery – ‘Santa’ dives into some amusing tale about his life as a forager. Having finished my Lady Friend, I deftly point for another one and settle in to listen.

This is what Matt and Jim envisioned, I think to myself, when they were brewing in Jim’s garage. A space for friends. For neighbours. For each other.

For everyone, really.

Elora Brewing Co.