While there has been a lot of excitement about the growth of the craft beer industry right in Manitoba, there have also been some exciting changes outside the province. Beau’s All-Natural Brewing has announced they will be distributing nationwide. In fact, their beer is already available in Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, Manitoba, PEI, and New York, and will come soon to Alberta and British Columbia.
I had the good fortune of sitting down with Steve Beauchesne, co-founder of Beau’s, when he was in town last week promoting their product. Before I get to our chat, I think it’s important to say a little bit about Beau’s.
Founded in 2006 in Vanleek Hill, Ontario by father and son Tim and Steve Beauchesne, Beau’s is an employee-owned and completely independent Canadian craft brewery. Led by head brewer Matt O’Hara, the focus at Beau’s is to brew interesting and tasty beers using only quality, certified-organic ingredients and local spring water. While not the only completely organic brewery in Canada, they certainly have made a name for themselves with their business practices: they’ve won over 85 awards for their brewing, packaging design and business practices. This includes two gold medals at Mondial de la Biere (Strasbourg, France, and Montreal Quebec); six gold medals at the Canadian brewing awards, seven times “Best Craft Brewery in Ontario” and seven times “Best Regularly Produced Beer in Ontario” at the Golden Tap Awards.
As with Picaroon’s (who I’ve written about before), Beau’s is a certified B-Corporation, which means they meet higher standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. Beau’s is also the official brewery of Ottawa 2017, the festival of events our nation’s capital is organizing to mark Canada turning the big 150.
Though Manitobans have only received their flagship beer, Lug Tread Lagered Ale, Beau’s is trying to bring more of their beers into the province. They met recently with Liquor Marts to promote Golden Vox (Rye Pale Lagered Aled), Wag the Wolf (Hopfenweisse), Buenos Dias (from their Gruit Series), and The Tom Green Beer (Milk Stout). Hopefully we will see their other beers in the province over the next year.
As I said, I had the chance to talk to Steve, co-founder of Beau’s, about expansion across Canada, the brewery, his focus on environmental and ethical brewing, and craft beer in general. One of the things I was most curious about was their shift away from a “one-day” distribution model to nationwide distribution. Beau’s previously had a commitment to only sending their beer within a one-day drive to ensure quality and local reliability of supply. Their vision of themselves being this quirky little brewery only selling their beer in their own city shifted, however, after Mill Street sold to AB in Bev. They received more traction on their Facebook post than Mill Street did and realized they were now a quirky big brewery.
So after the sale of Mill Street, Steve said he felt it was important there be an independent alternative nationwide. They had also just expanded into Quebec – traditionally a very difficult market – and had been amazed by the support they received for their beer. This gave them confidence their brand was something people would be receptive to in other provinces.
Steve does not see this expansion as an attempt to get people to ditch favorite local beers. As craft beer grows its overall market share, he feels it’s nice to have options to try different beers on special occasions – perhaps pulled from a friend’s special fridge stock or when they go out for a drink.
Having had a one-day drive mindset for so many years, Steve is still very concerned about the distribution and logistics of nationwide expansion. That’s why he invited Jeff Moore onto his team – a distribution expert with 25 years’ experience at McAuslan Brewing and expertise getting product into provinces, making sure it is rotated properly so it’s as fresh as possible. This is what concerns Steve the most: that there is consistency in the taste of the beer and that it is exceptional every time you drink it.
To highlight this, Steve made sure after meeting with Liquor Mart’s product consultants about their beer to give them his card, asking them to stay in touch with questions, experiences and feedback. This is not about dumping beer off in another province. This is about keeping the same level of quality and community partnerships they have at home with the provinces they are expanding into.
Beau’s wants to create a reason to choose their beer when you are out and about. What makes their beer compelling back home? They are a brewery that produces great tasting beer, but also an organization that supports the community. Last year they donated to over 100 charities, and have donated over one million dollars to charities over the past 10 years. Steve is excited about the potential of this nationwide expansion to start developing local community building projects in each of the markets they enter. They have the goal of donating 1% of the sales in any province they enter back into community building projects that impact that area.
“We shouldn’t just drop beer in a province and be done with it. If we are going to be part of a community, we need to be part of the community.” Steve Beauchesne.
This means Steve is planning on travelling a lot more to be present in the provinces they distribute to. Steve considers himself the most cynical customer and constantly asks himself why people might drink their beer. This is the main reason they’ve held off expanding for so long. Beau’s has always had this concept of not shipping farther than necessary. When they first opened they didn’t even distribute to Toronto because that was too far away. As they’ve grown they’ve consistently reinvested into the brewery and have increased their distribution as it made logical sense. Though this change is a bit more dramatic as they are expanding into many markets at once, they feel that with their current distribution apparatus it’s a leap they can land.
I asked Steve about the growth of the brewery since opening in 2006. He said that every year since starting, they’ve had to do a gradual expansion on the brewery.
They started from scratch – zero money – borrowing only from friends and family to get the brewery through its first 12 months. At the end of that year they went to the bank with their profits, put it all back into the business and borrowed what they could from the institution. With this money they expanded, and a year later repeated the process. What this means is there has never been a moment where they’ve taken on some outside angel investor who drops in 20 million and fully funds a major expansion. Beau’s had to look at their business every year, identify the bottlenecks and expanded their capacity strategically. One year it might be fermenters, the next their canning line, etc. Right now Beau’s is able to brew 75,000 hectoliters but expects to brew 65,000 hectoliters this year.
Beau’s has a reputation in the brewing community for being the “nice guys.” They are always willing to help other breweries and this co-operative culture has helped other breweries get more distribution and grow. For example, Beau’s has partnered with Gigantic brewing to help brew La Formidable and get it into Ontario. Steve says they have this reputation because they “walk the walk.” Beyond the Pale was opening up and going through rapid growth, so Beau’s lent them two fermenters and two bright tanks to help keep up with their demand. They’ve given the bottling line they outgrew to Cassel Brewing when that business needed it. They’ve given growlers to breweries who ran out and, of course, have spent tons of time talking to breweries, handing out free advice. This has been a rewarding path for Beau’s, both in reputation and sales.
“The old school philosophy about competition, being cutthroat and hurting everyone you can, it doesn’t work. The more we help, the more we do the right thing, the more our sales grow.” Steve Beauchesne
Beau’s expansion nationwide is certainly a dramatic expansion for them. Steve told me it took a lot of soul searching and contemplation before making the decision. They had been so adamant about staying super close to home they had to come to terms with making this move while staying true to the core-principles upon which Beau’s was founded.
After my conversation with Steve I was left with a better understanding of Beau’s, their reasoning behind their expansion, and a hope they will be successful in the Manitoba market. I’m impressed with their business practice, with the commitment to giving 1% of sales back to the community in Manitoba and with Steve’s passion for quality beer.
So, welcome to Manitoba Beau’s. Glad you could join us.