The municipally-owned building which is home to Etienne Brûlé Brewery is for sale. And the timing isn’t the greatest for the local microbrewery in Embrun.

Richard Ménard has owned Etienne Brûlé Brewery for five years, operating from a location on Notre Dame Street that he rents from the Township of Russell. The municipality currently has the 5,000-square foot-building listed for sale with a $925,000 asking price. To a certain extent, the possible sale of the building has put the future of Ménard’s brewery in doubt; he cannot afford to buy it from the township. 

Ménard said his previous five-year lease from the township expired in 2021 but the brewery was allowed to remain on the premises due to economic uncertainties resulting from the pandemic. According to Ménard, it has been difficult to pay rent at times and the business was not eligible for federal or provincial assistance for businesses affected by the pandemic because his landlord is a municipal government. 

Ménard said he and the township agreed on a purchase price for the building in 2021, but then the township reconsidered. The value of the building has doubled since then, according to Ménard, who was unable to secure financing to purchase the building at its present price.

When the building does sell, the brewery will have one month to vacate the premises, but Ménard said he needs more time to find another location and organize the move.  

“I need at least three months,” said Ménard. 

If the brewery needs to move; its owner will face further costs. 

“If I have to go someplace else and renovate everything, it’s going to cost me another $100,000,” he said. 

Depending on the time of year, up to 35 part-time and full-time employees work at Etienne Brûlé Brewery. Ménard said his business has also supported community causes over the years through a Catch the Ace lottery as well as by fundraising for the food bank and for breast cancer. Business was good before the pandemic, but the present situation with indoor bars and dining establishments closed is difficult. 

“On Wednesday (January 12), I sold 50 bucks (in beer) all day,” said Ménard. 

He is trying to be hopeful about the future of Etienne Brûlé Brewery, but is disappointed due to the situation with the Township of Russell regarding the building. 

“I thought municipalities were supposed to help businesses. They’re here to shut me down,” said Ménard. 

The Review contacted EXIT Realty Matrix and spoke with Shane Pitre, one of the sales representatives involved with the brewery building listing. He was unable to comment on exactly how much interest there has been from prospective buyers for the property.

Other breweries 

In a triangle from Embrun in the west to Hudson in the east, and to Lachute in the north, there are seven microbreweries. Toque de Broue is also located in Embrun. It opened seven years ago and has also faced adjustments in its business due to the pandemic. 

“It just seems like it’s going to be a slower January,” said owner Nicolas Malboeuf. 

Restaurants and bars are not buying kegs of beer right now because they cannot serve customers. Malboeuf is hoping the situation will improve in the next few weeks, but he recognizes many people are spending less right now. Even though there are many microbreweries in the region, he does not believe the market is flooded. 

“We have not even started to tackle the market,” said Malboeuf. 

He said many beer drinkers have still not discovered craft beer and are still buying products made by the big “macro” brewers like Molson and Labatt. 

The present COVID-19 wave has affected business at Cassel Brewery in Casselman, which also operates a bar and restaurant. 

“We easily lost 25 per cent of our production volume due to the restrictions placed on the bar and restaurant which was part of an important sales channel for our business,” said owner Mario Bourgeois. 

He wants the community to get behind its local brewery. 

“If every resident of our village who drinks beer would drink a single can of Cassel every Friday, we would be in a completely different situation. We thank our great supporters since always and you know who you are!” said Bourgeois. 

Will Tomkinson is one of three owners of Cardinal Brewing in Hudson, which opened in October 2020. The business opened during the pandemic and the present wave has meant an end to sales of beer to bars and restaurants. They are relying only on sales of cans. 

“It’s disappointing for everybody, but we want to do the right thing,” said Tomkinson. 

Cardinal Brewing was open for sales of canned beer to customers until New Year’s Eve and reopened for can sales on January 14. Until January 16, the brewery also had to close Sundays due to a temporary measure implemented in Québec. 

According to Tomkinson, it is a challenge when breweries do not have their bar and restaurant orders because they have to compete with every other brewery with cans on store shelves. 

“We’re all fighting for the same space,” said Tomkinson. 

Cardinal Brewing has two full-time and five part-time employees. The business had to reduce hours due to a downturn in business. 

“We definitely had to put some people on furlough,” he said. 

Tomkinson is hopeful the situation will improve but is still uncertain if Hudson’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations—always a time of high beer consumption, will still go ahead in March. 

Microbrasserie Le Castor in Rigaud has also lost orders from bars and restaurants due to the current closures, but unlike most other microbreweries, Le Castor’s own facilities are not open to the public and the products are only available at grocery stores, depanneurs, and other specialty stores. 

“We have been fortunate that the pandemic has not affected us like it has other brewers who sell a lot of their beer on site,” said co-owner Daniel Addey-Jibb. 

The Review also contacted Beau’s All-Natural Brewing Company in Vankleek Hill and Sir John Brewery in Lachute for this story, but has not received responses to date.

Cassel Brewery in Casselman. Photo: James Morgan