Professor engineers a new craft brew

Paul Mayne // Western NewsMechanical & Materials and Electrical & Computer Engineering professor Michael Naish has taken his love for beer and turned it into London’s latest craft brewery – Storm Stayed Brewing Company.

If you were teaching three lab-intensive Engineering courses this term, and if you were also director of the Mechatronic Systems Engineering program at Western, you’d likely want to find some time to wind down and relax a bit.

Or, you could go from Engineering to Engi‘beer’ing and open up your own brewery. Welcome to Michael Naish’s world.

The Mechanical & Materials and Electrical & Computer Engineering professor – a fan of craft beer for the past 20 years, and even does beer judging – has poured his love for suds into Storm Stayed Brewing Company with business partner, Justin Belanger.

“I got into home brewing, I had joined the London Home Brewers Guild, and spoke to people before starting and had some early success with some decent beers right from the start,” said Naish. “I kept talking with others to always improve my craft.”

But it’s a huge leap of faith to go from home brew to beer business. Naish began talking with other brewers about the idea, spoke with investors and, a little more than a month ago, the Old South brewery officially opened its first tap.

“It was one of those things where the opportunity came along and I said, ‘if I don’t do this now, I’m going to regret it,’” he said. “The stars all aligned with funding, space, partners. It’s one of those dreams a lot of people have but are not acting on it. I wanted to have a business of some sort, but I had always envisioned it being more of a manufacturing thing. But this came along, with shared vision from other people.”

The idea for the name, Storm Stayed, came from Belanger, an East Coast native. The expression refers to being snowbound or stuck in place because of bad weather.

“So with London sort of being in the snowbelt, and we’re one of the top thunderstorm cities in Ontario, it just seemed to fit,” said Naish, adding he envisions this latest venture as a part-time gig.

“I’m not planning on quitting my job at Western. Balance is always a challenge. It’s family and work first, and then whatever I can do here. I have to rely on others.”

Storm Stayed — located in the former Cove Restaurant on Wharncliffe Road – is now one of almost half a dozen local craft breweries in London, with two more on the horizon. But Naish said there is no fear a beer war might break out any time soon.

“We never worried about that. We’re focused on being a neighbourhood brewery and, since there was nothing in this area, we wanted to be the brewery for Old South,” he said, noting there is also a kitchen, The Gathering Plate, led by Emma Richard, a graduate of Western’s Mechatronic Systems Engineering.

“The focus for us is the taproom, which others have as well, but they have more of a focus on distribution. We are all doing similar styles, but we have more core styles we’re going with. We will have a blonde ale, but it won’t be the same one all the time; the same with the pale ale and porters. We can change it up in two months or six months. We have 13 taps, which gives us lots of room for experimentation.”

And Naish will be sure to have his hand in creating the many brews showcased at Storm Stayed.

“I don’t do as much physical brewing, I’m out here more (in the taproom), but the pilot batches and recipe development going forward, I will be involved in,” he said. “We all have a say in what’s going on in order to tweak things here or there.”

To give the space even more of a London feel, Naish, who also dabbles in woodworking, created the 13 taps using re-purposed wood from the former Kingsmill’s store in downtown London. Even more impressive is the 6.5-metre-long (22 feet) bar created from a pair of ceiling beams, also salvaged from the 19th-century downtown landmark.

“I love that we have a piece of London history as part of this place,” said Naish. “We have a certain vibe that’s being created and people have picked up on that. It’s gratifying to have people come in and enjoy the beer. Early response has been great.”