A couple in Ottawa are now brewing flavoured craft beer that’s certified kosher

Jamie and Ben Shillow.
Jamie and Ben Shillow.

Shillow Beer Company, the only Ontario producer of flavoured, kosher craft beer, opened a brick-and-mortar location in Ottawa this summer.

Ben Shillow, who co-founded the company with his wife, Jamie, considers the facility to be a “dream coming true.”

Previously, operating for seven-and-a-half years as a contract brewery involved using a secondary company to produce its product, while being restricted from direct sales to the public.

Four years ago, the Shillows relocated from Toronto to the nation’s capital, because it was a more affordable city to build their business while raising three young children.

Ottawa met their need for an established community for observant Jews—and they’ve found grassroots enthusiasm in the city overall.

Ben and Jamie initially planned to open a local taproom where customers could stop for a draft beer and a snack. But the uncertainty of COVID led them to focus on retail right now.

The couple also divided their labour. Ben does business development and sales. Jamie is the brewmaster.

Commercial brewing might seem like an unlikely path for a religiously observant Jewish woman, but the modern Orthodox couple feels like it’s a throwback to earlier generations—when many Jews owned and operated inns.

Jamie’s passion for brewing beer dates back to 2010, when Ben bought a home kit. He wasn’t very good at it.

That’s when she took over, and realized her enthusiasm for cooking and baking extended to beer.

So, in 2012, she enrolled in a two-year, full-time brewery program at Niagara College, as one of five women in a class of 25.

The summer before starting college she won a home-brewing competition for a strong, dark brew, the cheekily named Bitter Waitress. The grand prize was a trip to Boston—which included a tour of Sam Adams Brewery.

Bitter Waitress Black IPA remains one of two Shillow products sold through the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) and at grocery stores. Beer Snob Belgian Rye Ale is available during the summer.

Craft beer generally refers to production in small batches and, as with many macro-produced beer, unflavoured varieties are generally considered kosher by default.

But production must be certified once flavours and other ingredients are added.

(There are also questions about whether companies using the same equipment for flavoured experiments are cancelling out the kashrut.)

Jamie started incorporating flavours into her own brews when she created a raspberry pale ale, which garnered a silver medal at the 2018 Ontario Brewing Awards.

Shillow is now marketing a dozen varieties under the supervision of COR (the Kashruth Council of Canada) in Toronto, as well as the OVH (Vaad Hakashrut of Ottawa).

“Having it be kosher is an added benefit,” says Jamie, “for a community that we happen to be a part of.”