Longtime brewer heads into retirement
Michael Herald made a career in the liquor industry
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 21, 2013 06:00 am
A love of beer, a degree in wine making and knowing a thing or two about hard liquor served Michael Herald well throughout his career.
Now, after 18 years in business, the owner of St. Albert-based Wine Kitz recently locked the doors to his kit-making business, left the keys to another and set out to explore the Okanagan Valley on his motorcycle. Following a lifelong tradition, he said it was time to retire and move on.
“I always kind of believed in the philosophy, and I did this when I moved from Ireland to Canada, that I am allowed to move somewhere and regret moving but I am never allowed to not move and then wonder if I should have done it,” he said.
Herald’s career in the liquor industry dates back to his early college years in England, where he became a brewmaster after touring local microbreweries. He later opened a small brew shop in his hometown in Northern Ireland but it didn’t pan out.
In the early 1980s, Herald decided to move the brewery to Canada with the help of a few business friends. The 2,100-litre facility was dismantled and shipped to Edmonton. But it never opened when funds were lost in the stock market crash of 1987, and the equipment was sold to someone in Colorado instead.
“In the meantime I was physically halfway immigrated to Canada, selling the house and moving the wife, et cetera,” he said. “So now I thought I have successfully immigrated to Canada but now I don’t have a job.”
Coincidentally, he said a position had opened up at the liquor board in St. Albert and through a few lucky connections he became their new product manager. The family moved to the community and Herald was sent back across the pond to study wine making (and later distillery) at the German Wine Academy.
“So the liquor board kind of groomed me in that department and next thing you know they are privatizing the liquor system … and I got a 24-hour notice that they were abolishing my position,” he said.
It was 1995 and Herald said he took a look at his background and at what he had learnt, and then decided it was time to be his own boss again. His new business, Herald’s Home Brewing, ran out of his Inglewood Drive home for three years until he built his first commercial property at 41 St. Thomas St. and moved the business there.
In 2010, the store moved again, then to his second, new commercial property in the Perron Courtyard in downtown St. Albert. Somewhere in between, Herald’s Home Brewing became a Wine Kitz franchise and he opened 22 other franchises across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. He later sold the businesses back to Wine Kitz’ head office in Ontario, only keeping the shop at home.
“We kind of wanted and needed the store,” he said. “The store was always a good anchor tenant for the buildings as we built them because it has a solid background and the bank liked that.”
Looking after 10 businesses as a landlord, and running a small shop was impossible though, he said. They were unfairly neglecting Wine Kitz, he said, and eventually decided to sell it.
Now 54, Herald added that he’d always had a target of retiring at 50. Twenty years ago he read an article in the Gazette about a man who had paid off his house, put his kids through school – and died of a heart attack the first day of his retirement.
That article resonated with him, he said, and so he set himself a date and headed out the door when the right time had come.
“We dropped everything, sold the house, sold the business, packed up the blinds and moved at the end of July,” he said. “And the rest is history.”