Most craft brewers will tell you that starting up a brewery is all about the hands-on work. Husband and wife team Scott and Renae McKinnon self-funded Wolf of the Willow in 2015 and for the most part they’re still doing almost everything themselves. Renae does the marketing, family and friends are enlisted to help stick labels onto the bottles, and Scott writes the recipes, orders the grains and brews the beer.
Like many brewers, making beer started as a hobby for Scott. “I started home-brewing ginger beer with my dad on the family farm, and I fell in love with the science behind the fermentation process, which can be temperamental. I also love using these,” he says, holding up his hands. With their motto ‘Ales of Distinction’ in mind, the McKinnons were mindful of creating beers that they would drink themselves. As keen foodies who enjoy drinking beer with food (and cooking with beer), they’ve created recipes to go with the beers, such as a chipotle sauce made with the Extra Pale Ale (XPA) they debuted with.
Browse the craft beer selection at good bottle shop or decent pub and it’s easy to believe that the market is quickly getting crowded with high-quality beers that are as good as the next. The industry is growing, but McKinnon is confident that there’s plenty of food-loving beer-drinkers still to reach. “We’re based in Cheltenham, and we’ve been connecting with locals restaurant owners in the bayside and educating them on the ways they can pair craft brews with different kinds of food,” he says.
Wolf of the Willows shares its brewery space with Bad Shepherd Brewing Co, which owns and runs the onsite pub, where Wolf of the Willows beers are available on tap. “We own different pieces of equipment in the brewery and we license them to each other,” he says. “This meant that both parties needed less capital investment to get started, but it’s also great way to test our beers with the Southern American comfort food menu at the brewpub.”
The current Wolf of the Willows line-up is made up of the quaffable XPA, the smooth chocolate and espresso-tinged Johnny Smoke Porter, and the hoppy India Saison. Find them at good bottle shops and on tap at selected restaurants.