By Philip Moscovitch

The middle of a pandemic may not be best time to open a brewery. But then again, Red Tape is not your standard brewery.

Launched in Toronto in 2020 by Sarabeth Holden (BSc’04) and her husband Sean, Red Tape is a nano-brewery specializing in what Holden calls bespoke beer: custom brews for clients marking occasions.

The idea germinated four years ago, when Holden was pregnant. “We love to celebrate,” she says. Four months before their first child was born, Sean brewed and shipped a beer to out-of-town family, asking them to take photos on the big day. “We loved the idea of all these photos of people popping the bottles,” Holden says.

The Holdens work with clients to learn about their tastes, then design and package a special beer for them. “All our beers are inspired by a story,” Holden says.

After graduating from Dalhousie, Holden spent time in Europe, worked as a management consultant and policy advisor in Ottawa and Toronto, and was part of the imagineNATIVE film festival team.

Up to the challenge

While her motivation is “to make really good beer,” Holden acknowledges she is part of a wave of women changing the craft beer industry. “My husband showed me a copy of a craft beer magazine with a mosaic, and every single picture was a white guy with a beard,” she says. “Οn Canada Day someone came in and said, ‘so, does your husband own this place?’ ”

Holden is no stranger to a challenge. Her father had to move often for work, and by the time she graduated high school, she’d attended 12 schools in Nunavut and the south. As an Inuit woman and the first in her family to attend university, she had to “jump through hoops” to get financial aid to attend Dalhousie — an experience that served her well “getting a business in a highly regulated area up and running.” (The brewery’s name is inspired by red electrical tape though, not bureaucracy.)

Founder and president of the Toronto Inuit Association

“When I moved to Toronto in 2014, I thought the only Inuit here were me and two of my cousins,” she says. Now, as founder and president of the Toronto Inuit Association, she helps other Inuit in Toronto access programs, services, health care, and country foods, while also providing networking opportunities.

Holden also pays homage to her Inuit identity through some of the Red Tape beers. They’ve brewed a saison beer with paunnat flowers harvested in Nunavut by a cousin. And for Indigenous Brew Day last January, they created an amber ale with King Cole tea. “Whenever we were living in New Brunswick, my mother would send a big box of King Cole tea to my grandfather in Nunavut, and six months later he would send it back full of dried caribou, which is my favourite food,” Holden says.