Although Canada may not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking about quality craft beer, that’s about to change. In this year’s U.S. Open Beer Championship, Canadian breweries made a strong showing with a total of 24 medals.
The Championship, which was open to breweries from around the world including beer-lover’s favorites like Belgium, judged more than 6,000 beers in more than 100 styles. The competition celebrates breweries of all sizes, from hobbyist homebrewers to professional microbrews.
Ontario came out on top of the Canadian entries, with 21 of the 24 medals. Breweries from Quebec and British Columbia took the other three. Cameron’s Brewing of Oakville, Ontario was the top winner for the country, placing in the Top 10 overall and winning medals in four other categories alongside its Top 10 Breweries of 2017 award.
Other Canadian breweries that took home prizes include:
– Lighthouse Brewing of Victoria, British Columbia
– The Exchange Brewery of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
– Muskoka Brewery of Bracebridge, Ontario
– Niagara College Teaching Brewery of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
– Sawdust City Brewing Co. of Gravenhurst, Ontario
– Belgh Brasse of Amos, Quebec
– Amsterdam Brewing of Toronto, Ontario
– Collective Arts Brewing of Hamilton, Ontario
– Steam Whistle Brewing of Toronto, Ontario
– Silversmith Brewing Co. of Virgil, Ontario
– Nickel Brook Brewing Co. of Burlington, Ontario
– Hill Street Beverage Company of Toronto, Ontario
– Partake Brewing of Toronto, Ontario
Categories in which prizes were awarded included standard beer types, like Belgian Pale Ale and American Light, as well as more off-the-beaten-path brews like gluten-free and non-alcoholic varieties.
Riding the Second Wave of Craft Beer
Of course, the U.S. Open Beer Championship is just a single event, and it only provides a snapshot of the bigger picture when it comes to the future of quality craft beer and microbrews in Canada. That’s something that long-time beer industry expert Eli Gershkovitch knows better than most.
Eli Gershkovitch opened Steamworks Brew Pub in 1995 (Inspirery). Located near Vancouver, British Columbia, the pub was the first of its kind in what would become a flagship operation to attract several other well-known microbrew names to the area.
The original Steamworks housed just 184 people, a far cry from today’s 754-occupancy operation. Growth has been piecemeal and steady, evolving organically alongside the ever-growing interest and attention of craft beer lovers throughout the country.
In 2013, Eli Gershkovitch decided to take the leap to expand his small-time operation to a full-scale brewery. Today, his brewery has a 40,000-hectolitre capacity compared to the 2,000-hectolitre output of this brewpub. The massive output has led directly to an increase in sales and profits as well: His revenue is up by 50 percent, with sales territories expanding worldwide.
Steamworks now sells its product across Canada and the United States as well as Hong Kong, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Some of the most popular varieties around the world include its Flagship IPA, Lion’s Gate Lager, Steamworks Pale Ale and its award-winning pilsner.
About Eli Gershkovitch
Eli Gershkovitch, like many successful businessmen, got his start at law school. After working in law and dabbling in business, Gerskovitch saw what few others had discovered in the mid-90s: A growing interest in quality craft beers.
Part of this discovery was fueled by overseas travel, where he discovered surprising new flavors and varieties of beer that were previously unheard of in Canada. Thinking that these unique flavor profiles could make it big in his home country, he decided, at last, to take a chance on a brewpub of his own.
At the time, Steamworks was Canada’s first and only steam-powered brewing company (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6457149/). The legal complexities involved with this process may have driven away many aspiring brewmasters, but Eli Gershkovitch’s legal background helped him to navigate these issues and found what would become a revolutionary brewing business in the region.
A private pilot in his spare time, Gershkovitch prefers to be in the driver’s seat of his life and business aspirations as well. He bought out his Steamworks partner in 1997 and relishes the unique freedom of vertical integration in the brewery business. Unlike many other businesses, craft breweries can control every aspect of the product from its initial production to its marketing and the way it is consumed. This level of unprecedented control also yields greater flexibility for experimentation and creates more opportunities for growth and development.
This level of control and single-minded attention to detail is one thing that sets Steamworks apart. The Flagship IPA, for example, underwent four years of production and testing before passing the lips of customers. Its success since then is a testament to the quality of this sweet, bitter and uniquely tropical IPA.
However, Eli Gershkovitch knows perhaps better than most that it takes more than great beer to create a worldwide presence and powerful brand. With 20 years in the business, he’s seen enough ups-and-downs in the craft beer industry to understand that passion and talent simply aren’t enough to keep afloat.
Gershkovitch’s success can be attributed in part to controlled growth: As the founder, CEO and only person in control of the company, he is not beholden to the demands of a board pushing for growth for its own sake. Instead, he’s been able to grow slowly but steadily, branching out into markets as they open. Not only does this limit risk-taking, but it’s allowed the Steamworks name to become well-known and respected in the brewpub world. When taking the enterprise to a larger scale and spreading internationally, this brand recognition became essential to the company’s success.
Another secret to Eli Gershkovitch’s success lies in simple and determined goal-setting. In more than 20 years of business since 1995, his original vision and long-term goals have not changed. The heart of Steamworks is the same as it has always been, and this commitment to quality Canadian beer shines through in every aspect of the way business is handled, from day-to-day operations to marketing and future plans.