So perhaps this title needs some explaining; it’s a riff on a lyric from Kanye West’s song “The Glory” which in turn was a riff on a lyric from “Award Tour” by A Tribe Called Quest. Also, I did go on a beer tour, but Common wasn’t there; but Kayla Walters, owner of St. John’s Beer Tours was. Now that I have made some arguably obscure pop culture references, let me call “Spotlight on St. John’s Beer Tours!” (Remember Spotlight?)
St. John’s Beer Tours started with a conversation about craft beer that Kayla had with a tourist this past Christmas. After chatting for about an hour, the tourist suggested that Kayla should be a tour guide for a living. “I thought, why not?!” says Kayla. “I had also done a lot of travels and beer tours while visiting other cities and I couldn’t believe someone hadn’t started this up before!” With that, she started planning for the business that she now runs while continuing to work in Marystown throughout the winter. By April she made the move to “Sin Jawns” and got things rolling in time for the busy tourist season.
So far, Kayla says that business, as well as the response from the local community, “has been amazing”. “I really wanted to use this season to build awareness for the tours,” says Kayla “[as well as] for the rise in craft beer in the province so we can be ready for the influx of new breweries that will come up in the next year to two,” Kayla says that she has been surprised by how of her tour guests have been locals. “[I]t just goes to show how much of an interest there is locally in craft beer and getting exposure to what we are brewing here in the province.”
It would seem that Kayla definitely knows beer. So I wondered if she has been met with any interesting reactions when guests of St. John’s Beer Tours discover that the owner is a female. “Yes, people have been surprised that I’m the owner of St. John’s Beer Tours,” she admits. “Initially, I certainly got the impression that everyone expected a man to be behind the idea.”
Kayla confesses that at first, she kept the ownership of St. John’s Beer Tours “hush hush” in an effort to build interest in the brand. “I started building my social media presence back in January and there was really no personal photos or mentions of my name on the account until I posted a photo of myself wearing a t-shirt with the St. John’s Beer Tours logo on it,” she says. Kayla tells me that once that photo was posted, there were a number of responses that indicated followers were either outright surprised (or at least hinted that they were that) the owner of such a business was a woman. “It was upsetting to think that it even mattered, but now I’m glad I can play a part in changing people’s notion that craft beer or beer, in general, is a ‘man’s world’. I’ve been so lucky to be supported by strong women in our local brewing industry and I hope that more women join us in creating and supporting local craft beer!”
Kayla seems pretty dedicated to growing her business as well as her brand and I could see this first hand this past Saturday when I (and by extension, the readers of Tint) was invited to be part of the Hoppy Highlights Tour. This is one of the four regular tours that Kayla and St. John’s Beer Tours normally run. It consists of two stops; the YellowBelly Brewery and Mill Street BrewPub, (plus an optional Screech-In at Christians) and nine different beer samples.
The Hoppy Highlights Tour starts off down in the Underbelly where tourists get to see one of the oldest buildings in Canada as well as hear some interesting stories about its history. The group was guided through the brewery where we were instructed on the brewing process then it was back to the UnderBelly to try some of YellowBelly’s offerings. I’ve tasted a couple of these beers before and have honestly found them hit or miss but I must say that they tasted much better to me this go around. The Wexford Wheat or YellowBelly Pale Ale (which is the brew master’s favorite) would generally be my cup of tea… (or pint of beer?) but I was really impressed with their Fighting Irish Red Ale which is not usually a go to for me. I was also more enticed to try this again when our tour guide said it went well with cheesy, spicy dishes which is basically my go-to meal. They also have the St. John’s Stout which I am not a fan of but the folks at the YellowBelly have been told by older Irish visitors that it tastes very much like the original Guinness recipe. Finally, I got to try YellowBelly’s cider, Crooked As Sin. I’m not one for ciders as I often find them a bit bitter but this was so tasty! I definitely want to go back for a pint!
Then it was off to Mill Street BrewPub to try some of what they have to offer. They seemed to be short on staff here and no one from the brewery came to speak to us but here is where Kayla shined. She began telling us about each beer in our Mill Street flight and you could see how knowledgeable and passionate she was about beer and about this tour.
This tiny hiccup did not affect the tour at all and we got to try some interesting recipes including The Townie Triple which is a Belgian Ale that has 8.5% alcohol; it was very tasty but probably not something to load up on if you are planning for a long night; in fact, the Terrazza Lager which tasted similar to Peroni might be better suited for that especially if you have a day on the deck planned. There’s also the Capelin Hound for anyone who is into hops; which I am not. Finally, there was a porter called Chocolate Lab which was a collaboration between Mill Street and the Newfoundland Chocolate Company. I found this to be tasty and you could definitely taste the chocolate but it was not something I would want drink much of (which is why offering taster’s flights is an awesome idea).
The collaboration between Mill Street and the NL Chocolate Company is just another example of the kind of team spirit and comradery that you can find between local businesses throughout the city and even the province. I’ve written previous articles where businesses teamed up with local restaurants to offer a food challenge and to also raise some money for charity which I think is really cool. St. John’s Beer Tours wouldn’t exist without collaboration so I asked Kayla about the response from local businesses. “Small businesses in the city are nothing without collaboration,” she says. “I might be over exaggerating that, but I’m a strong believer that good business builds a strong community and vice versa and the collaborations I’ve been able to take part in since opening St. John’s Beer Tours has given me the drive to keep looking for bigger and better experiences for my tour guests.” Kayla runs St. John’s Beer Tours on her own and says that the life of an entrepreneur can be lonely but that “being able to collaborate with other entrepreneurs in the city has not only benefited my business but has made sure that I realized that we’re all in this together.”
I wondered if this collaboration between local businesses is native to St. John’s and the rest of the province but Kayla isn’t sure. “I haven’t really been a part of other entrepreneurial ecosystems in other Canadian cities, but I feel like the tight-knit nature of Newfoundland (and St. John’s in particular) helps foster the collaborations I’ve been lucky to be a part of,” she said.
I couldn’t not ask Kayla about her personal tastes in beer. I asked her what her favorite local beer is which could have been unfair to someone running a beer tours company at local breweries in the city. “My favourite local beer is the toughest question you could possibly ask me!” joked Kayla. “Currently it has to be the Chasing Sun NEIPA or Baycation Blonde from Port Rexton Brewing Co. They are the two beer I always wish I had in my fridge on a hot summer’s day!” As far as brews outside the province Kayla name-checked the SunSetter Wheat Pale Ale from Stanley Park Brewery in Vancouver, B.C. This lady is obviously an expert on beer so I also had to ask about her favorite beer and food pairing. Kayla calls herself “a dedicated poutine connoisseur” (someone after my own heart), and that her pairing of choice would be a Port Rexton Brewery T-Rex Porter and a poutine from The Fifth Ticket (who was my choice to win The St. John’s Burger Battle) or one of Mill Street’s local Newfoundland brews and their poutine made with stout gravy.
I had a great time on the Hoppy Highlights Tour and was glad to have the opportunity to chat with Kayla about her business and favorite beers. It’s always great to see someone doing what they love and have a passion for. I would highly recommend trying out one of the tours, especially if you have family visiting the province this summer!