Blackhawks' Calvin de Haan joins friends in brewing business in Ontario
Like many hockey players, Calvin de Haan has been known to throw back a beer every now and again.
For the most part, the brand didn't matter that much.
Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller. Whatever.
That all changed a little more than a year ago, though, when de Haan and three of his buddies opened up Ridge Rock Brewing Co. in Carp, Ontario.
Jake Sinclair and Jason Lalonde came up with the idea and approached the Blackhawks defenseman about becoming a partner while -- no shocker here -- enjoying a few cold ones.
"I'm like, 'Hell, yeah,'" de Haan told me about two weeks before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury at Vegas Dec. 10. "It's been a really cool, really fun experience."
Ridge Rock Brewery in Carp, Ontario, where the Blackhawks' Calvin de Haan is a part owner.
- Courtesy of Ryan Grassie
Filling a need
Carp is a small suburb of Ottawa of about 2,000. De Haan said it never really had a "designated watering hole," which made this seem like a risk worth taking.
"We thought it would be a good idea for the community where you can go grab a beer with a buddy or even go on a date, I guess," de Haan said. "Watch some sports."
Building a business like this from scratch is obviously a huge undertaking. But before they worried about finding a brewmaster, hiring wait staff, finding a cook and securing tanks to brew the beer, there was one very significant issue.
Where should the brewery be?
As luck would have it, a 150-year-old eyesore of a building -- as de Haan put it -- was for sale. Over the years it had been home to at least a half-dozen businesses, including a bank, a gas station, a pharmacy and a car dealership.
"It's right in the main intersection of the town," de Haan said. "It was literally just four walls and a roof. That's all it was."
De Haan said Sinclair (an electrician), Lalonde (construction) and Ryan Grassie (marketing, web design) used their contacts to save "a ton of money."
"Ridge Rock wouldn't be where it is right now without those three," de Haan said. "It's not like I'm next door, so I can't be as involved as I would like to be. I can't say enough good things about those three. ...
(We'd) never done anything like this -- no hospitality, no service industry -- we were going in blind."
Blackhawks defenseman Calvin de Haan (second from left) with his Ridge Rock Brewery partners Jason Lalonde, Ryan Grassie and Jake Sinclair.
- Courtesy Ridge Rock Brewing Co.
Bill de Haan has lived in Carp for 28 years, raising Calvin and younger brother Evan with his wife Kathy while running a landscape/construction company. Bill's life did a complete 180, though, when Calvin approached him about working at Ridge Rock.
"I was like, 'Whoa. OK,'" Bill told me last week.
The two agreed on a salary, and Bill went from one job to the next without taking a single day off. He then worked the next day. And the next. And the next and the next -- and before you knew it, Bill had put in 71 straight days.
"It was so busy when we opened. It was crazy," said Bill, who is in charge of inventory and also acts as a delivery man, assistant brew master, keg washer and janitor.
"Anything that needs to be done in here," he chuckled.
Plenty of other hiring had to be done as well, but the most important person in any brewery is -- quite obviously -- the brewmaster. The four owners felt incredibly fortunate to be able to hire Jamie Maxwell, an Ottawa native who was working at a nearby establishment.
"He just really wanted the opportunity to run the show with us," said Grassie, who also tossed in this rather impressive sports analogy: "It was kind of like going from being an assistant coach to being the general manager."
One unique aspect of Ridge Rock is the seating options. Patrons have traditional spots like tables, booths or the bar, but there are also a few outside-the-box spots, including:
• Comfy couches near the entrance.
• A private room in the basement called "The Vault."
• A 20-seat area where people can play Crokinole, a table game created in Canada almost 150 years ago.
There are also a slew of board games, including Monopoly, Battleship and checkers.
"When we go in for dinner, my oldest goes, 'Can I get a game?'" Grassie said of his 4-year-old son. "So he runs over, picks out a game and brings it back to the table. It's just a relaxed, social atmosphere that we've built there."
It's so impressive, in fact, that a local magazine just named Ridge Rock its favorite new Ottawa-area restaurant, and the brewery also won third place for best stout in Ontario.
Ridge Rock Brewery in Carp, Ontario Canada.
- Courtesy of Ryan Grassie
Goose Island partner
Giving back to the community is important to de Haan and his partners, so they were more than happy to accept an opportunity to partner with Goose Island Brewery to benefit the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation.
De Haan's parents, Grassie and Maxwell flew to Chicago in late February to help unveil a limited-edition collaboration beer called "Loud Barn Lager." With his right shoulder still in a sling, de Haan helped stir ingredients with his left arm.
"This is gonna be hard," de Haan says in a video produced by the Hawks. "Good rehab for my left side."
De Haan later added of the Goose Island facility: "It's like a city in there. It's pretty crazy. ... The fact that they're giving us an opportunity to do something like this is pretty cool."
Goose Island planned to come to Carp in April to help support local charities, but is rescheduling due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Obviously, Chicago being an Original Six hockey team, there are a lot of Chicago Blackhawks fans in Ottawa," Grassie said. "It would be a neat thing for them. We were going to (combine) it with probably Calvin signing stuff for kids. Just include the whole community."
Tough times now
It's colder than usual inside Ridge Rock these days.
And we're not just talking about the temperature.
Gone are the locals who soak up the warm atmosphere. Gone too are 25 to 30 employees who have been laid off due to the pandemic.
"That was a real hard decision," Grassie said. "But we had to lay everyone off just to be able to survive this."
Bill is keeping the heat down to help save on expenses and he's also busy delivering beer to anyone who places an order. As a matter of fact, he'd just sent Calvin out before granting an interview.
"The community has responded unbelievably," Bill said.
Since this endeavor began, Calvin looks at beer through an entirely different lens -- one that is focused on an industry he's proud to play a small role in.
"I used to just drink beer to play beer pong," he said. "But since I've started this, every time I grab a beer somewhere I always support local craft. I don't remember the last time I voluntarily had a Bud Light or a Miller.
"It's funny because I'll text our brewmaster and say, 'Hey, I tried this today.' I'll show him a description and maybe he'd like to brew something similar one day."
Ridge Rock's hope is to pick up where it left off before the coronavirus crisis shut down businesses across the globe. Grassie has no doubt that's exactly what will happen.
"We're very happy," he said. "The community has really rallied around us. We're super proud of the vision and the mission of the company, and the loyalty we've built around the brand."