Profile: Caledon Hills Brewing Co.


Caledon Hills Brewing Co is a recognizable brand not just in Caledon, their high-quality craft beer is available in bars and restaurants throughout the region as well at the LCBO and they can often be seen at local events greeting new and loyal customers with a smile and their vast knowledge of beer.

We sat down with Stefan and Sebastian Reidelsheimer, the father and son team passionate about what they do and how they do it.

Give us a little background: Where did it all start? How did you become passionate about beer?

Stefan: Started from drinking it I guess (laughing).

I was born in Austria, moved to Canada when I was 17. We settled in Etobicoke. I enjoyed beer and was very interested in learning about it. I moved to Germany for 3 years to study beer-making at University. With my degree I moved back to be with family and worked for Upper Canada Brewing for 2 years, then opened a company called Mr. Beer.

Sebastian: Mr. Beer was a chain of brew-your-own shops – like a wine making store. It grew to 50 or 60 stores across Ontario.

People liked brewing their own because it tasted good and you could avoid the cost of tax. It was so much cheaper.

Stefan: It became quite popular in Ontario. Including our chain there were around 350 stores across the province. But then the big brewers complained that U-brew was starting to take too much of the market, which was ridiculous. A tax was introduced. The U-brews joined together to lobby the government but were unsuccessful. The increase in cost wiped out half the industry in one year.

Luckily, we survived, but after a couple years I sold and bought a machine shop business.

Sebastian: His main focus in university was brewing technology – so building systems. He was running the business but also consulting on the building of breweries all over the world.

Stefan: Yes, in China, Europe, the United States, Canada.

I would do small start-up or pub breweries. We had the experience and know-how to bring it all together for brewing. We had one system that was unique to us; we sold a lot of them.

Eventually pub breweries in China started developing their own technology so we stopped getting orders.

By this time, I was married and had three young children at home; it was very tough on the family, travelling too much, spending weeks away at a time.

It was time to stay closer to home.

Then what?

Stefan: I still had the machine shop and I developed a new product called Bottle Brew. People could buy it locally at grocery or hardware stores and make their own beer at home. We were in stores from coast to coast.

Sebastian: It was a two-litre brewing kit with unfermented and non-alcoholic brewers wort. Add the yeast capsule and special cap, ferment and age in the bottle over 10 days and you ended up with really good beer.

He would bring cases of it to me in university; my friends all loved it.

Stefan: We sold the machine shop about six years ago and started manufacturing Bottle Brew in a big facility in Mississauga.

We needed a lot of capital and I took in investors. Unfortunately, things started to slide with the partners, I decided to get out – they ran it for another year, but then they closed it up.

We do some consulting work as well – helping breweries get going in other communities.

How did Caledon Hills Brewing get started?

Stefan: When Sebastian graduated university he came home and said, let’s open a craft brewery.

When he approached me I was hesitant, — there is so much bureaucracy — but we had equipment and just had to have the business plan in place. It’s not something you can do on your own. Without Sebastian and Monica’s [Stefan’s wife] support there is no way I could do this – it’s tough – there are too many hats to wear – producing, marketing, delivery, events, ordering and so much more.

We started four and a half years ago but located here three years ago and started brewing.

All of Sebastian’s university knowledge came in very handy.

Sebastian: I graduated from economics and business and handle all of the marketing.

What brought you to Caledon?

Stefan: We have lived in Palgrave for 20 years.

Sebastian: We love it here and at the time there was no other brewery in town.

Stefan: And why would anyone commute if they don’t have to – I’m five minutes from home.

Sebastian: Being local, eating local, drinking local, people support that, people care.

What about your other kids are they involved in the business?

Stefan: It’s too small still.

My middle son, Christian, has taken on an engineering position in Rochester.

My youngest son, Alex, still has one year left in school, but he helps us out in the summer.

Sebastian: He will be at events. Christian did some of that with us too.

Alex is applying to do his masters, so he might work with us part time while he does that.

Stefan: It has to be a bigger company and making more money for us to all be happy and do well.

So far we are too small for my other sons to come in.

So it’s just the two of you?

Stefan: And Monica, my wife.

Sebastian: She does the work of three or four people – she handles everything to do with restaurants, LCBOs, beer stores, the shows.

We have two full time staff as well. Oddly one of our staff really enjoyed my dad’s original brew.

Did you start with local connections getting on tap?

Sebastian: We looked at all the margins and not having a canning line we knew we had to do keg sales.

It was great, all the local restaurants were happy to take us on; within the first month we had 28 restaurants. They all loved the beer from the beginning.

About six months later we realized that draft is so competitive. Most restaurants have many taps so it’s difficult to do a lot of sales and of course people do not drink very much because they have to drive home, especially in a rural environment with no public transit.

Stefan: We thought we were being conservative to predict half of our original sales forecast, but it didn’t even get to that – there just isn’t enough sales here. Large chain restaurants are very difficult to get into, or if they do carry it they charge a large premium to the consumer.

Sebastian: So we knew we had to start canning and get into LCBO. Cans preserve the beer better, there’s less breakage or issues.

We started with a very small canning line doing it by hand. But we have a larger line now.

And we are busy with festivals. It’s our main marketing expense. People think we do festivals to make money. We don’t.  We lose money every time, with the exception of Caledon Day.

People come to our booth and drink the beer, hear our story. They love that we are a family brewery. They become customers.  If you are only in LCBO there is no connection with the people.

Stefan: Long term we know we need to do point of sale, but it’s finding the right location.

Sebastian: Having a tasting room and point of sale we could connect with people like we do at festivals. We have looked at a few places, but it’s tough, finding something the right size with the right zoning.

What products do you have now? Planning any new lines?

Sebastian: We have 3 products now. We started with the lager, Hills Vienna Lager, then we added a dark, Deadly Dark, which is only available in kegs, and now we have a Pilsner, Bohemian Pils. The lager and pilsner are on tap but also available through LCBO.

We are sticking with these three for now. If or when we have a tasting room we could expand to do small batch brewing.

Do you find young people are more supportive of craft brew?

Sebastian: It’s weird – for enjoyment a lot of my friends drink craft beer but if they are going to a party and drinking more they will do the more common brands, probably just because it’s cheaper and they can’t afford anything else.

The younger generation are very supportive of craft beer – they all drink our beer but not just because it’s ours. They’ll drink other crafts when I’m with them as well and that’s cool. It’s good to see support for the industry.

It seems that the older generation tends to drink what they’ve always known, whereas my generation seems to be more willing to try new things.

How do you like working together?

Stefan: People always ask us that.

Sebastian: It’s great.

Stefan: Sometimes there’s conflict, and you don’t want to hurt feelings, but we each have our own jobs to do, so we aren’t constantly together.

We are all focusing on our strengths and give each other space to do what we do best. Of course Sebastian shouldn’t be the brewer because he didn’t study that. It is what I studied and have a lot of experience with.

Sebastian: I can brew though, he taught me everything.

Stefan: But he wouldn’t be developing a new recipe that’s my expertise, just like his focus is the social media and customer relations and Monica is great at sales, customer service and follow up.

What are your greatest challenges?

Stefan: Taxation, cost of doing business, trying to grow – finding the right location.

Sebastian: Production wise we know what we need, we are very efficient. With our existing sales and staff, we are good with where it is – we are in 100 restaurants, pubs, golf courses and depending on the week we’re in 60 to 100 LCBOs.

Being in a rural location is challenging, we deliver to every individual location, it takes a lot of time. To grow we will need a larger location and to do more direct sales.

LCBO can be challenging - there are so many breweries that don’t actually exist, it is simply beer brewed by a larger brewery being branded as craft beer – they only exist in name. It becomes a challenge because they are taking up shelf space and sales. It’s quite unfair to those of us who are working hard every day to make our quality product and get it to market.

What is the best business advice you ever got?

Sebastian: My dad told me right off when we started, and I think the first time he said it to me was because I didn’t want to learn how to do the bookkeeping… he said: one day you will need to know how to do everything that way no one can tell you “this is how you do it” because you already know how to do it.

Especially as we grow, I can cover for anyone else in the business. Sometimes there’s little things like when they are brewing and I walk by and notice something isn’t right… if he didn’t force me to learn everything then I could miss things and mistakes could be made which can be very costly.

It’s been great for me. I have become quite handy at fixing things. There always seems to be something going on with our canning machine and I can fix it, we don’t have to call someone in to do it. It saves time and money.

Stefan: My dad passed this on, he was an extremely hard worker. He was a developer and very passionate about building homes. He said: If you really like what you are doing and work hard at it you will be successful. I work very hard. I’ve seen some people fail because they take it too easy. You cannot rest and have a successful business, there is always something to do.

Sebastian: It’s true, passion and hard work pays off.

Stefan: It would be nice to have a little more spare time, but it is good, we have a good time with it.

Where can people get your beer?

Sebastian: We have slowed down on the festivals but we really enjoy doing local events like Wines of the World, Cheers Caledon and Caledon Day, and we’ll be at the Bolton Tractor Pull, King Food Truck and Beer Festival, Erin Feast of Hops in September, and others.

We are a lot more experienced now and realize that smaller more intimate events are more enjoyable but also work for us, we get good face time with people and that’s what works.

We’re finding that more people are becoming interested in having our beer at their events or weddings. They like having a taste of Caledon and supporting local. People can grab a keg or two with a cooler/tap here at the brewery – they come pick it up and drop it off afterwards.

For the kegs or cans we can sell from our location, we have a retail license but we don’t have store hours or staff, so people can come and see us by appointment ONLY. They can just fill out our online email form and we’ll set up a time.

Caledon Hills Brewing Co. |

Photo credit: Simon Burn |