One topic that really riles folks up over here in Canada (or Ontario, at least) is contract brewing. Straight up, there’s pretty much nothing else in the craft beer world I’ve personally witnessed that inspires such heated debates and apparently, a barrel full of resentment.
From an entrepreneurial and marketing perspective, the idea of contract brewing makes sense. Breweries aren’t cheap to start – you’re looking at $1-2 million upfront for your own facility, all to brew a product that’s untested in the market and one that people may not even like. That’s a huge, unnecessary, unmitigated risk.
One way to overcome that risk is to contract brew (or even ‘gypsy’ brew) your beer first, test it out in a few bars, and maybe even get it distributed in your state or province’s liquor stores, if it works out. Your upfront costs will be significantly less, the quality of the product will be the same as if you owned your own brewery, and your brand will be out on the market receiving real time feedback which you can apply to your next batch. Once you’ve got it all figured out and your cash flow is on point, you can expand and purchase your own brewery knowing full well that people already love your product.
Now, the other side of this debate comes from somewhat of a purist mind-state, in that some people feel that you’re not a ‘real’ brewer if you don’t own the facility in which you create your product. I’ve seen brewers be accused of being just a ‘lifestyle brand’ because their marketing is slick, the owner is a great salesman, and they only had one beer out at the time.
To be fair, there are most certainly brands like that operating across the globe – craft beer is what’s hot right now, so of course there will be folks with pockets full of cash figuring they can cash in while not genuinely caring about beer. That type of stuff pisses all of us off. But to tarnish the name of all contract or gypsy brewers without even speaking to them to find out their motives is ridiculous and frankly, immature. At the end of the day, the market will dictate who will be successful and generally the cream rises to the top, so those who are serious will likely purchase their own facility soon enough (which is generally the goal of anyone who gets into brewing).
Contract brewing, in my humble opinion, is a fantastic way for upstart breweries to get in the game and learn the ropes without going bankrupt in the process. For this week’s BAOS Podcast, we caught up with two Quebec contract breweries, Renaud from Jukebox and Shawn from Avant-Garde, where we discussed contract brewing, did a dope brewery tour and drank barleywine direct from a cognac barrel. Good times.
For the full conversation (including the detailed contract brewing part), check out the podcast on iTunes. Cheers!
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