Brewing up Business and Local Jobs

On the main strip in downtown Kaslo, near the pharmacy and a short stretch from the historic S.S. Moyie sternwheeler and beach, a chicken holding a cleaver hangs from a sign. Inside the building, a chalkboard…

3 minute read

On the main strip in downtown Kaslo, near the pharmacy and a short stretch from the historic S.S. Moyie sternwheeler and beach, a chicken holding a cleaver hangs from a sign. Inside the building, a chalkboard menu offers a variety of made-on-the-premises beers, with names like Fowl Play and Struttin’ Stout. If you want a locally made brew in Kaslo, this is the place to come.

The chicken is the logo of Angry Hen Brewing. This seven-barrel microbrewery has been welcoming Kaslo and area residents and visitors since December 2017. There are up to eight beers on tap at a time. There’s a lounge and seasonal patio. Customers can bring the brew home in cans called Growlers or Crowlers. And the beers are available on tap in about 20 bars and restaurants in the province. It’s a small-town business that has grown from idea to reality with the help of a Trust loan through the Impact Investment Fund.

Former Montrealers Andy LeCouffe and his wife Manon Gagnon have lived in Kaslo since 2008. “I was a home brew hack,” LeCouffe says, “and always thought it would be fun to have a brewery. But I knew I didn’t have the technical skills that are required for a commercial brewery.”

That’s when they decided to enlist the Angry Hen herself—the nickname for an experienced brewer from Vancouver named Shirley Warne, who has family in Kaslo. “Shirley had the technical skills to make great beer, but didn’t have the marketing/business experience,” says LeCouffe, who has a business background. “And so we were connected by her sister-in-law, and one thing led to another.”

Now LeCouffe, Gagnon, Warne and her partner Frances Fry are co-owners of the brewhouse. To get it off the ground, though, they needed financial help. LeCouffe approached Community Futures, the Trust’s delivery partner for the Impact Investment Fund. This program, delivered by Community Futures and Heritage Credit Union, supports businesses that can’t secure conventional financing but may benefit Columbia Basin residents in other ways.

In the Angry Hen’s case, the benefits are multiple. The business provides employment to 12 full- and part-time employees, in addition to the owners. The partners purchased an underused, 100-year-old building and renovated it extensively, prioritizing local contractors and suppliers. “We tried to keep the money in the area,” says LeCouffe. The lounge creates an attraction for visitors, plus gives residents an additional option for a fun time out and another reason to love their community.

LeCouffe says they’re grateful for the Trust and Community Futures financing. “We liked the idea because it was local, regional financing. And that was sort of a philosophy of ours throughout the whole build, that we wanted to try and keep the money as local as possible.”

Cassie Gerretsen has worked at the Angry Hen for over a year, in a role that ranges from serving the beer, to ordering merchandise, to doing the big monthly cooking sessions that provide the brewery with the pre-made foods it offers to customers.

She’s grateful for the Angry Hen in several ways. First, it helped reinforce her and her boyfriend’s decision to leave Nelson and buy a house in Kaslo—a community that “just felt like home,” she says—about one and a half years ago. “It was definitely a factor in moving: They have a brewery coming soon! We really like craft beer so that’s really cool for us.”

Second, it gave her the opportunity to quit her job in Nelson and work locally. “The commute was getting long,” she says. Third, it’s providing her with the experience and contacts she needs to pursue her next dream: starting a small catering business of her own.

Plus, she says, she simply enjoys being there. “I like their beer. I enjoy working there. It’s really fun. It’s a bit of a community hub, so if you ever sit in the brewery, you can always find somebody to talk to.”

LeCouffe confirms that business has been “great.” Even though they knew winters were going to be slow in such a small community, “we’ve exceeded our sales expectations in the two winters we’ve been operating.”

Now the goal is to get the beer into more bars and restaurants elsewhere. LeCouffe encourages people to “ask for a beer at a tap near them—that’s actually very useful.”

And of course, now that the days are getting longer and the benches on the patio are warming, make sure to come taste a Roostertail or Kluckin’ Kolsch in Kaslo in person.

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