top of page

Palette to Palate: Brewer Ellie Gurdebeke & Kim Iler

Kim and Ellie on the patio outside Beerded Dog
Kim and Ellie can’t wait for the nicer weather so they can welcome you onto the patio for beers.

If you’re familiar with the classic song “One Piece at a Time” by Johnny Cash, you know that by the end he’s built a pretty amazing car. It’s reminiscent of the process at The Beerded Dog, where they brew one keg at a time and the beer keeps getting better and better each time. The Dog, as locals and employees alike fondly refer to it, is Harrow’s very own nanobrewery. They have won brewing awards locally, their food is wonderful, the taproom always seems to be busy and bustling, and the best part is that one of the owners and the brewer are both female. These two passionate ladies are Kim Iler and Ellie Gurdebeke. 

The Beerded Dog, which, as you may have guessed, got its name from the owners’ love of beer and dogs. These owners, Rae Kratz and the aforementioned Kim, were both working at Caesars Windsor, but had been off work for a couple of months due to a union strike. During this down time they decided to learn how to brew at home and immediately fell in love with the process of brewing.

Eventually they found themselves back at work, but kept talking about how great it would be to open their own small brewery. As with many things in life, timing is everything, and the building where Beerded Dog is now became available, and it already had a kitchen space, so all that was left to do was put in a small brewhouse somewhere. That part done, they opened for business in downtown Harrow in 2019. Rae works mostly front of house, while Kim takes care of the kitchen and back of house action, but obviously the beer doesn’t brew itself, so this is where Ellie comes in.

Ellie in the brewhouse with her Sabco Brewmagic System.
Ellie in the brewhouse with her Sabco Brewmagic System.

Having weathered the storms of going on maternity leave, Covid shutdowns, and then eventually losing her retail job to a store closure, Ellie was thinking it might be time to embark on a new career path. She loves craft beer so she thought, maybe there was something there worth pursuing? Again, it’s all in the timing, and in early 2022 she saw on the news that a local female brewer was creating a special brew for Women’s Day (maybe some of you remember Shut Up, Rose?), and she decided to take this as a beer sign and get in touch with that brewer. From there it was a rapid progression of shadowing brew days, buying her own small system to brew at home, join the Pink Boots Society, doing lots and lots of reading, and then stepping into the role of brewer at Beerded Dog just a few short months later. Have you ever heard the saying “Don’t wait until you’re confident to show up, show up until you’re confident”? That’s Ellie. Brewing beer is not easy because there are so many variables; the science alone could make your eyes cross, and of course you never know if the customer is even going to like the final product. But having support from local female brewers, a network of other professionals in the Pink Boots Society, and working for a female boss all provide a safe space to learn and make mistakes. As she puts it, the PBS is “a no judgment zone. It doesn’t matter where you’re at in your career, you’re going to find someone you can share common ground with.” 

It’s worth noting that the entire country of Canada is considered one PBS chapter, which means almost all events are virtual. And accommodating all those time zones is a nightmare. That makes it difficult to find and connect with other women in the alcohol industry which can lead to people feeling isolated. You can walk into any brewery in the world and find men everywhere, but women in these places are rare. Female brewers are very few in number, and female brewery owners could be counted on a few hands. That’s why this unique pairing of Kim and Ellie is so important to our community, and to the brewing industry. As Kim says, “I just try to create a positive work environment here. I like to give women opportunity here, to know that it’s a safe place and it’s OK to make mistakes. That’s how we learn. I just want to uplift people and be kind to them, and create a nice work environment for everyone.” While that mentality and attitude may seem like common sense, women who work in male-dominated fields can attest that it is not. Kim and Ellie both acknowledge that women still lack representation in the beer industry, and because of this, Kim takes matters into her own hands at times. “If I see someone interested in the beer, and I see her pop out, I always point her out; ‘Oh there’s our brewer!’” (All ladies should be so lucky to have a wing girl like Kim). It’s challenging to put into words what that kind of toxic work environment is like if you’ve never experienced it, but it is the number one reason women leave the fermented beverage industry, with pay disparity likely being the second. The situation is even more bleak for non-binary folks and BIPOC brewers. Because of this, Beerded Dog is participating in the Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day for their first time this year. 

Kim’s warm smile makes customers feel right at home.

This event takes place at breweries all over the world, with donations going to PBS to fund educational opportunities for members. It’s their largest fundraiser of the year with breweries, cideries, wineries, and distilleries creating beverages in support of the initiative. The special brew from Beerded Dog is yet to be determined, but it will be brewed in a couple of weeks with ladies from the Dog as well as other local industry females joining in. Ellie says “It’s a great networking opportunity and it helps give back to an organization that has helped me so much personally. I’d like to see other people benefit from it as well.” Anticipated release of this beer is around Mother’s Day, so stay tuned.       

In addition to the Collaboration Brew Day, the Beerded Dog also hosts a fundraising night once a month for local organizations. Usually held on a Wednesday, The Dog will donate $5 from every burger purchase, and $3 from every pint of beer to a local organization. Through this, they’ve supported Project Hope, the Harrow Foodbank, the Humane Society, and Harrow Hockey Moms. This is a major win for everyone involved because you get to eat some tasty burgers and these groups get a financial boost to keep doing what they’re doing. Let’s not forget too that in the coming months, Beerded Dog is going to be THE place to hang out in Harrow. They already host trivia nights, paint nights, live music on Sundays, and new beers that go on tap every so often, but when the weather is nice, their outdoor patio will open up which means DOGS WELCOME. Everyone loves seeing these adorable fuzzy faces on the patio and Kim is always right there with homemade treats, (made from spent brewing grain of course), and she’ll likely even put your pup’s photo on Instagram. In addition to this regular calendar of fun things, there are a few new things that they’re working on. They recently purchased a small canner as well as a whole load of silver bullets (i.e. cans), so you’re going to be seeing the to-go fridge stocked with more beer. It also means that they’re able to take on additional licensees who want to sell cans. Another project Kim is working on, to which I have applied to be a taste tester, is a separate vegan menu. This is HUGE for vegetarians and vegans as the options are severely limited in the area. (Also, in case you’re wondering, beer is, by definition, vegan). And outside of The Dog, there’s a lot happening in little Harrow; a new wine bar (Daisy and Co.), a new bakery (King Street Café), and an event space in the old Knights of Columbus Hall.    

But let’s get back to our Beerded Dog ladies. As previously stated, there’s a lot that goes into being a brewer, and getting started can be intimidating, so what advice does Ellie have for other women who want to get into the industry? “Take a chance,” she says. “You never know until you start, and I feel like every step I’ve taken to get to where I am has happened exactly how it was supposed to happen. None of it would have happened if I hadn’t reached out.” If you’re reading this and feeling like you want to take that chance, or even just learn to brew for fun, The Beerded Dog offers a “Brewer for a Day” program with Ellie, where you can assist her on a brew day. Maybe you’ll be lucky to make one of her favorites, any dark beer (“they just smell amazing when you’re making them”), or Kim’s favorite, the Dog Gone Durango Berry Malt Cooler. You might even get to suggest your own style! But also be prepared to get wet, dusty, dirty, hot, and cold. The best part is that when the beer is ready, they’ll alert you it’s on tap and you’ll get a 6-pack.

As for Kim, she says there are times she feels overlooked because people just assume that her male partner is the sole owner. It’s not out of the ordinary for her to have someone tell her “I was talking to the owner the other day…”, not realizing that she is also an owner, and that women can hold these positions. It is 2024 after all. While not an attention seeker herself, and quick to make sure others are valued for their contributions, we are here to give credit where credit is due, and much of Beerded Dog’s success lies with Kim. She’s front of house, she’s back of house, she’s business minded, she makes it a welcoming space for employees; she’s basically steering this ship. 

As a team, it’s clear that they’re also friends and support one another. Basically, I want to work here too now because I’m entranced by this supportive female environment. So the next time you find yourself at The Dog, and you’re enjoying the experience, make sure to tell them both how amazing they are. And maybe offer to buy them a beer?

Special to the RTT by Tammy Joho

Brewer Ellie Gurdebeke & Kim Iler

113 views0 comments


bottom of page