Running a Another Beer Co for the first year during a pandemic. You Bella believe it, an interview with Alex, co-owner of ABC

Another Beer Co Title

Before we get started here, I want you to think of how challenging it is to open a new brewery here in British Columbia, in an increasingly crowded market, with some demanding rules and regulations. Now I want you think about what it would be like to be equally nervous and excited to see your dream become a reality, right before your eyes, in your first year of operations while you working hard to figure things out and create a successful business. Then just think of how hard you would have worked to get where you are, all the sacrifices you made to get there, all the struggles a small business  owner goes through just to open the doors and start selling their beloved products. Now, fast forward to 9 months into your first year and oof,  you are faced with a serious global pandemic and for the safety of everyone you must shut down your taproom and can’t quite serve your customers in the way you dreamed you could.

Another Beer Co, a small 10bbl (barrel) brewery in New Westminster, is currently going through that experience right now. Alex, co-owner of Another Beer Co was kind enough to take my call to give us all a glimpse into their first year of operations. To let us know a few unique challenges of trying to operate a new brewery in the midst of a pandemic and to let us know we have to look forward to in the near future. Please know that I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing and organizing the content of this interview in a manner that I felt best represented their story, please also know it has been reviewed in advance by Another Beer Co for accuracy and context.

So you have had quite a unique first year haven’t you?

Yes. When we were building the brewery and deciding on our business model, we took a slow burn approach from the get go, trying to build and operate on a reputation for having a quality product that we can expand our distribution of over time. Opening in a more industrial location, still close to public transit, but in a more of a build it and they will come approach to things – Four Winds really seemed to master this approach for example. We chose not to open with any flagship beers, but instead aim to have consistently rotating small batch releases on tap and for sale to-go. We are beer geeks at heart, we get excited by variety, we want people to enjoy the beer they have and be eager for the next release, or to be enthused when their favourite beer makes a surprise comeback. You know, think of the McRib, it’s a limited time offering, people talk about it, if you love it you love it and then it’s gone and you’re onto something new, but when it comes back you are super happy to see it again. At Another Beer Co we want you to experience the beer in a proper glass (you’ll notice we don’t offer tasting flights, but can still sample with a half pour) and have the best possible experience in our taproom.

Of course one challenge that our model brings is that it’s not the easiest model for keg sales, and honestly we didn’t start wholesaling beer for at least 6 months after we opened. Since restaurants and bars typically want taps that are same beer all season – or even all year – for a steady tap account, our business model didn’t really fit that way of marketing beer. Still, eventually we did start approaching the craft beer bars we loved as beer geeks (for example Alibi room) and were able to pick up some draft accounts that continued to help us sell our packaged product as people became more familiar with our beers on tap.

How are you all doing though these pandemic challenges, what’s the general feeling of the staff and owners?

There’s been all kinds of feelings expressed throughout, probably everything you can think of. We’ve had a few staff that have been on since day one with us that we’ve been able to retain and keep working and unfortunately we had to lay off some of our part time staff. We’re glad though that there are government programs are in place to help those who have been laid off, although admittedly it has made it a bit more of a challenge to bring casual part time employees back who only worked a couple days a week during the busiest times. Ultimately though, this time also gave us a chance to evaluate and re-evaluate our business model, and adjust it appropriately to stay in business.

What other challenges did the COVID-19 shutdown orders bring?

Since our model wasn’t heavily focused on draught accounts, we weren’t hit as hard by the closures like some of the bigger, more established breweries were. That being said, from opening day we were relying on mobile canning services for all of our packaged product, which are great when you have a more predictable brewing schedule, but we had to wait until our scheduled dates in order to package more beer after the initial closure. Now, thanks to our amazing industry, we are currently renting some canning equipment of our own, “as a gap-fill” said Alex, to be able package product that is ready in-between scheduled canning appointments. Despite the loss in on-site draft sales, we are happy with our packaged beer sales which are strong and, well it certainly helps us at least keep the lights on. Also, we consider our canned product to be like a business card, getting our logo out there to spread the word, with a great tasting product inside to bring you back.

Were there any unexpected bright moments in the last few months?

Well it was pretty easy for us to setup the store front as our website was already using Square Space, and we focused our delivery model primarily on local deliveries as we figured it out and now we have a wide delivery range available now for our packaged products (which can be purchased online here). We are also still amazed at how much our industry helps each other out, given our challenge in packaging our products we were able to find some equipment that wasn’t being used at the time to start doing our own intermittent canning. You see, we have a good relationship with the folks at Moody Ales ( you may recall our collaboration with them called Another Moody IIIPA) who had a more manual canning machine that they weren’t using and were looking to potentially off-load. It needed some work, we got it up and running properly and that has helped a lot. You know, given that the mobile canning services are super busy right now, sometimes we can empty and refill a tank in-between appointments, but it’s a very manual process and we look forward to our continuing business with mobile canning services.

We were also thrilled to be able to participate in the All Together IPA initiative started by Other Half Brewery in NY, of which we were able to contribute a portion of the proceeds to the local hospitality industry here in New Westminster through direct donations to local businesses and the Staff Meals program at Say Mercy restaurant. Since there aren’t a lot of collaborations going on right now due to safety reasons, it was nice to be able to participate in a huge wide-spread industry movement like that and still find a way to give back. We’ve also had great support from the BC Brewers Guild, before our chat we you, we just finished talking to the president of the organization to get advice about industry challenges in re-opening taprooms.

So what’s re-opening been like, what kinds challenges you are facing right now?

The rules for opening are quite rigid, for safety of course, but they are challenging for any brewery or business.  We feel that we have adequate room for social distancing in our space and are hoping to have our patio approved shortly for people to enjoy as the weather improves. You may have seen that we recently announced on social media that our first year anniversary will be a month long celebration throughout June versus, a one day big party, with lots of exciting beers being released shortly.

Given that we’ll be celebrating our one year anniversary all of June, so you can celebrate with us in a safe manner, we do have some new beers that will be released as a part of the celebration. These include a Triple IPA called “Deep Thought”, an Old Crow Coffee Collaboration beer called “Dazed and Cocoa Fused” and shortly after that our “Intolerant Milkshake IPA” will come out. We’d love for you to drop by an join us or grab some beer to go.

Also, I just need to know, how did the Italian Pilsner come about, that seems to be a more regular offering of yours and is fairly unique to the market?

Our Italian pilsner, Bella Beera, was a beer we came up with in collaboration with Say Mercy restaurant, which is a new restaurant opened up by the owners of the Mackenzie Room who built an “Italian through the lens of American barbecue” restaurant on Fraser St and 27th (where the Dark Manor Inn was). They are a great place who are currently participating in the Staff Meal initiative right now and offer meal kits, so please check them out now and of course be sure to visit when they open again.

Author’s note – I really do enjoy their Italian Pilsner a lot, I had to ask!

Finally, at the end of the day, what beer do you reach for after a hard day’s work?

Well lately I’ve pretty much only been drinking our own beer over the last few months, so it’s either Bella Beera or our All Together IPA these days.

 

And there you go, above was a glimpse inside the Another Beer Co’s test, trials and tribulations during a heck of a first year of opening. Starting a new small business anytime is not easy, and to do it during a worldwide pandemic that forced bars and taprooms to close is even more difficult, with in my personal opinion, very little qualifying financial support from our governments for small businesses. I wanted to once again thank Alex for taking the time to discuss this with me, and also thank Another Beer Co for topping up my last order with a witty shirt and few new beers (see title) to try which I have enjoyed so far. And, honestly right at this particular moment I can’t quite get the McRib out of my mind, perhaps with a Bella Beera to go with it. So, they must be onto something with their strategy here!

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