How to build a serious craft brewery
Over the past few years the buoyant but sometimes fickle demand of craft beer drinkers has forced brewers to keep up with an ever-changing and innovative market. With an increasing number of Canadian breweries opening each year, craft beer drinkers have an abundance of local and global brands to choose from. So what does it take to stand out and stay relevant in your customer's mind?
One man who knows how to stay relevant is Eli Gershkovitch. Vancouver local and CEO of Steamworks Brewing Co. and Owner of Steamworks Brew Pub in Gastown and full production brewery in Burnaby. Eli has positioned Steamworks as a household name among British Columbian beer drinkers. He and his team have been delighting Steamworks fans with creative flavors and quality craft beer since 1995.
So what does it take to build a serious craft brewery?
CRAFT UNIQUE BEERS
It all began in the mid 90’s on the cobbled streets of Gastown, Vancouver. Eli was passionate about elevating the local craft beer industry, and during his search found what is now Steamworks Brewpub: the first steam-powered microbrewery in Canada. Steamworks has been crafting unique brews ever since.
“Steam really works at Steamworks,” says Eli. The brewpub has a rare steam heat system renowned for producing exclusive flavors and award-winning brews.
“The same steam line that powers the famous steam clock in Gastown runs through the back of our premises,” explains Eli, “it’s great to brew with, it creates a more even heating, giving us more finesse.”
Eli also believes there was great congruity between the historical nature of Gastown, the exposed brick and post beam construction, and the nature of craft brewing.
From the opening day of Sunday, July 16th, 1995, Steamworks has been fascinating beer aficionados alike with “in your face brewing!”.
This fresh and interactive approach to brewing has paved the way for Steamworks to provide a complete craft beer experience, to bring the public alongside its process and to support a growing industry.
“Craft beer is about creativity, innovation and staying true to the idea of craft beer, which means brewing interesting flavorful beers,” says Eli. “In the past, beer in Canada was all about brand image, and now craft beer has pushed the market and it is now much more about flavor and substance over image.”
Eli explains that nowadays, it’s much more about consumers' palates. They are drinking beer to treat their taste buds and are trying a plethora of unique variations in beer types and styles offered by clever breweries across BC. For beer fanatics, there’s plenty of room to be picky.
Steamworks continues to impress beer drinkers, holding true to their cutting-edge, original character by crafting brews that are a little bit out there. Steamworks offers 15 beer varieties year-round, as well as seasonal and time-honored favorites that keep their loyal fans wanting more.
Their newest bottle-conditioned release, Sanctuary, is running off the shelves. This collaboration with Blasted Church Winery is a (7.5% abv) Saison brewed with the addition of Gewürztraminer grape must.
When life gives you grapes you make a grape must Saison. Fruity, oaky and complex—our wine-inspired “Sanctuary” artfully combine the best of both beverage worlds. The saison yeast we used in this special release produces some really bright and spicy wine-like notes, so it works effortlessly alongside the Gewürztraminer grape must. Sanctuary is a small batch bottle conditioned beer and will only be available for a short time. You can find it now at select private liquor stores across BC. . #steamworksbrewing #steamworksbeer_europe #craft #CraftBeer #steamworks
BREW A BELOVED BRAND
You can separate a Steamworks bottle from the rest with only a quick look at its label! This is a perfect example of branding done right. Now, while I know the Art Director behind the packaging, it is clear that the steampunked illustrative style, combining steam-powered machinery with historical settings, strikes a chord with a large audience, extending way beyond British Columbia.
Steamworks’ Flagship IPA, for example, pushes branding boundaries and tells the story behind the brand. The letters I, P and A are illustrated as if steampunked machines are operated by beer cherubs, effectively brewing the Indian Pale Ale.
The iconic brand logo is on every material. An interpretation of the local Gastown steam clock powering a copper brew kettle highlights Steamworks historical roots, as well as a sense of place.
“The concept for going “steampunked” all started from a doodle that Laurie shared at a meeting… Truly, it was the inspiration for everything that followed,” says Eli.
In fact, some fans love it so much that they are even getting it tattooed! Beyond just the beers, Steamworks also offers a range of offbeat collectible merchandise, from wearables to glassware and craft beer accessories. These products keep brand lovers loyal. Steamworks continues to head the new wave of craft beer marketing, securing their name as a long-term brand.
“Over the next 20 years, we will work to solidify Steamworks' position so we can become one of those brands that stand the test of time” explains Eli.
BUILD A BADASS BUSINESS
Eli’s love of craft beer began with his first sip of a Belgian Kriek (sour cherry) in France in 1987. After “a taste revelation,” he was hooked, and his thirst for knowledge and craft beer has been growing ever since. Eli is full of invaluable experience, but there are three lessons he attributes to his success:
Persistence pays off! Making little adjustments along the way...
Stay true to the idea of craft beer: brew interesting and flavorful beer.
Be consistent and dependable. Creative and purveyor of quality.
Spoken like a true entrepreneur, Eli’s advice to his younger self would be to “take more risks earlier on.”
While it’s pretty clear the risks he took paid off, like Steamworks’ expansion from a brewpub to a production brewery in 2013, Eli recognizes that new challenges ensued, such as more marketing, distribution and packing costs.
Once the production facility was fully up and running, Steamworks increased sales from Vancouver to international markets across Europe and the United States. Eli explains that mastering logistical challenges and cultural sensitivities are paramount when tackling the complexities of overseas markets.
Offering a boomer’s advice to millennial entrepreneurs: Eli recommends to stay focused and concentrate close to home first. “Focus on the market that is closest to you, with your tap room first. This your best chance for greatest brand impact, best margins, most loyal customers. Only once secured should you look at further opportunities beyond your immediate location.”
Building a beer empire takes time.
For Eli, Steamworks' brewery has developed over twenty-three glorious years. To become a leader in the industry, not only should you brew a delicious product, but also develop iconic branding and a solid business! These strategies Eli has dialed.
With lots of flavors and styles Eli and the team still want to explore, they will continue to do what they strive for every day: push the envelope, get better at the craft and have fun doing it!
What’s hoppy, tropical, and tart all in the same sip? Our surprisingly sessionable Tart IPA. This easy drinker has a slight hint at tartness that propels bursts of passion fruit, guava & pineapple courtesy of hefty Nelson Sauvin, Simcoe & Citra dry-hopping. . #steamworksbeer #beer #craftbeer #steamworks #tartipa #IPA
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