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    Starting a brewery: getting a brewery off the ground

    We’re hosting Tears, Fears & Beers* at Ol’Beautiful brewery next Thursday, November 15, an event about how start and survive small business ownership (because we’re all about small businesses ). Ol’Beautiful is a small business too. We sat down with them to learn more about their journey and the community that’s making the Calgary craft brewery scene so awesome.

    Q. When did you guys know you wanted to start a brewery?

    A. I went to university in Boulder, Colorado, which had a really good craft beer scene way before it became a thing here in Calgary. The brewery taproom idea seemed to mature into a viable business model in Colorado, and that’s where we would hang out the most. I love how these establishments are becoming such a cool part of the social fabric of our cities. But yeah, 4 or 5 years ago I was drifting around BC, living out of my van, just rock climbing and skiing. I knew nothing about brewing beer or starting a business, but I knew it was what I wanted to do.


    Q. What’s the best thing about being a business owner?

    A. I love the freedom that running a business provides, and how you really control your own destiny. It’s terrifying to take these big risks, not knowing if everything will work out, but it’s totally worth it.  


    Q. What was your biggest challenge starting out?

    A. Locking down the right location was tough. Having the patience to wait on it was one of the hardest struggles for sure. We started out contract brewing out of Cold Garden. Smithbilt Hats was operating out of the warehouse right next to Cold Garden, and that was our dream location. Smithbilt started building their new building half a block down, and that’s when we started working on building a relationship with the building owner to get that lease when they moved. I worked on that relationship for a year and a half, and wrote it off, gave up, several times during that period. It took more patience than I knew I had, but we eventually got lucky and locked it down.

    Now I am learning how hard managing people is. Managing schedules, training, personalities – it’s a super demanding part of the job. But so crucial.  


    Q. How do you guys market yourselves?

    A. Craft beer marketing is different. The craft beer industry is really tight, and everyone is super generous with their time and knowledge, but the reality is that there are only so many taps in the city. But it’s also competition getting our beer into restaurants and bars. It’s all about building relationships with the managers. Pounding the pavement and building rapport face to face with the people running the bars. It’s hard work spending so much time at the city’s best bars, haha. But yeah, ads don’t really work, it’s all relationships.

    For getting people into the taproom though, our location is our marketing. Being right in Inglewood, where it’s so easy to walk or bike, that’s what gets people in the door.

    We do some Instagram too. Offering specialty beers can often get people in to check us out.


    Q. What beer are you most excited about introducing to Calgary?

    A. Our Belgian Chocolate Stout is super unique and so good. That’s what I am most stoked on. Beer is a really funny thing though - it’s all about perception. Marketing,aming, branding and creative work around labels. For example, our Okami Kusa Beer is a Japanese Ale, which is been one of our best sellers recently, mainly because people want to try something a little different.  


    Q. What tools are you using to run your business?

    A. We are pretty basic at this point – Excel spreadsheets and whiteboards to be honest. We have a good bookkeeper to handle the books and payroll. I think she uses Quickbooks. We use Square for payment processing.  


    Q. Do you want to give a shout out to anyone that’s helped along the way?

    A. Definitely – Cold Garden, Brewsters and Last Best. Dan, from Cold Garden has been a huge mentor. Like I mentioned, we started out contract brewing with them, and they have been so generous and helpful, coaching us on the production and business side of things. Even to the extent that they share financials and taproom margins with us as we were putting together our projections.

    Brewsters is where our Brewmaster, Zoei, learned the trade and they have continued to be so supportive. Brewsters actually has been instrumental in helping quite a few smaller brewers get off the ground.

    Last Best is awesome too. They still lend equipment when we need it. It’s funny, it’s such a cowboy mentality among breweries in Calgary – it’s all the little guys against the big guys, so it’s very collaborative and we are trying to pay it forward now too.

    *Tears, Fears, & Beers is sold out! Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to get insights and other goodies from the event.

     Like our clients, we’re a small business. Our community partners help us thrive, and they’re also pretty cool to work with. We learn a lot from each other. If you want to learn more about what we offer, check out our services page or contact me.

    Read more about Entrepreneur  topics that may be helpful to you and your small business. 



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