Many successful business stories begin with “Me and my buddies were hanging out in the garage one day…” And so does this story. But unlike stories about high-tech giants or mega- box- store retail giants, this story is about BEER! Which makes it infinitely cooler than the others! The Gladstone Brewing Company started out in a garage on Gladstone Avenue in Victoria, British Columbia, on Canada’s west coast. Of course, it wasn’t a brewing company back then. It was more-or- less a few university buddies brewing beverages for their own consumption and saving a few bucks on their student booze budget. A few years passed and university was in the rear-view mirror, but the Wheels started spinning and numbers were thrown around until the equation finally made sense. Business plans were developed over the next couple of years and pennies were socked away until, in 2014, it was finally time to pull the chute and lease some space for a real brewery. As the Gladstone website points out, they leased a heritage building in Courtenay, BC, which operated as the Seale and Thomson mechanics garage and dealership in the 1940s. Drawing inspiration from its roots, the Gladstone Brewing Company opened the doors in 2015, complete with a mechanic-inspired, laid-back tasting room. And if you’ve ever wrenched away on an old Buick, you’ll feel right at home here. The hand- made tap handles are created from vintage mechanics tools, and the room is scattered with carefully curated 1940s oil cans, vintage license plates, hubcaps and toolboxes. Spotlight on Business spoke with co-owner and founder, Daniel Sharratt about the company’s beginnings, their brewing choices, and the whole craft beer scene on Vancouver Island. home brewing was still a going concern. In fact, these would-be brewers were actually getting good at this stuff!





By John Allaire W e did end up opening in Courtenay, instead of Victoria,” Sharratt exwplains. “A couple of key features that brought us up here were, at the time there wasn’t a brewery in Courtenay. And Courtenay also has a world-class ski hill. So I was up here every weekend in the winter anyway, snowboarding. The lifestyle seemed to be a perfect fit on the mid-part of the Island.” Since the doors swung open in early 2015, the Gladstone Brewing Company has itself slid perfectly into that lifestyle. It is a mainstay of the Comox Valley and indeed a community-fo- cused hub of activity. Situated on the West Coast, one could assume the brew- ery’s India Pale Ale would be a feature. They don’t disap- point, producing their own 6.6% IPA. But they also dive head first into the European-style flavours. Sharratt explains that the beer styles they chose were mostly a function of what they personally enjoyed drinking. “When I was home brewing, I made Belgian beers and European lagers, so that’s what pushed us in that direction. And then we hired our head brewer, Tak Guenette, and he likes to drink English-style beers. So porters, milds and bitters — he brought those styles to the table.” Gladstone’s number-one seller at the moment is their 5.5% Pilsner. Sharratt explains, “We live in a small community and they have really embraced us. They were a community of mostly lager drinkers from macro-breweries before we arrived. So our Pilsner is probably the easiest transition for them.” He also stresses that, because it is a tight-knit com- munity, supporting local was a huge part of early success-

es. “They also wanted to support a local business. Some of them may not have been ready for the flavours at first but we are hearing a lot of ‘it’s really growing on me’ talk around the lounge. Next thing you know, they have dropped their old brand and are drinking our beer — produced right in their own community.” Much of the ‘craft’ movement began on the west coast, be it California or points north. When trying to sell their stronger or hoppier-tasting beers, Sharratt points to a different level of sophistication for some craft drinkers as early adopters of flavour-rich brews. “In BC, the craft beer movement in Canada sort of started here, or at least earlier than many other places. So there were enough people in the area, especially on the Island, that had already been introduced to craft beer.” It would appear to be the best of both worlds. A mild but flavourful Pilsner for those just easing their way into the craft beer scene, and a strong west coast IPA for the seasoned ‘hop-heads’ of Vancouver Island. Like many breweries, Gladstone’s brewers like to exper- iment with seasonal styles and local concoctions. The previous two years, they brewed an Oktoberfest beer that was pretty heavy on the malt. However, they decided to dial it back ever so slightly this year with a 6% Festbier that still fits neatly into the European Festival category. “It’s very similar to the Oktoberfest beer but it’s a little lighter on the malt character. It’s not quite as dark. Still pretty strong though. And we do a similar style in March as well. Only in March, they call it a ‘Märzen.’” Gladstone’s brewers also experiment once every two weeks or so with their half-bar- rel pilot system. They brew a couple of kegs of unique one- offs, taking something they’ve already made and changing it slightly. This gives the brewers a bit of creative leeway to

since opening in 2015. By the numbers, that means that they went from two fermenting tanks to a current total of five (of varying larger sizes.) And they have two more being deliv- ered at the end of this year. That’s 500 hectolitres/year in 2015 to upwards of 3,500 hectolitres/year once the new tanks are up and running. One thing that comes through loud and clear when speaking with Sharratt is that community is very important to the company. And surprisingly, the home-spun touch is what resonates best with the small community. “The events that really made us a spot for the community to get together were the ones we created ourselves. So once every three months we host our own events that are becoming annual staples in the area.” These include a talent show, a “Spring-toberfest,” and an annual “charity beer” day. For the latter, Gladstone partners with local charity “YANA,” an acronym meaning “You Are Not Alone.” The charity focuses on the families of sick children who need treatment at larger-city facilities, and assists these families in dealing with the financial strains of travel and lodging during their child’s treatment. Interestingly, Gladstone pairs up with a local doctor, who is also a home-brewer, and they make a special beer to sell at the event — with 100% of the sales going to YANA and BC Children’s Hospital. Sharratt concludes that they are happy to be a growing company in a community that they love. “We’re really com- munity focused. We’re not just making great beer, but we’re trying to bring the community together as well.”

try something completely different, while at the same time, giving the lounge tasters a new sensation for their palette. As mentioned, the company started out in a garage with a bunch of University of Victoria Economics grads making beer suited to their individual tastes. Of the group, Sharratt and his wife were the only ones who decided to leave their post- grad, steady-income jobs and let it ride on the craft brewing industry. It was a decision that paid off, as they found they were almost immediately in the position of needing to hire four servers for the tasting room and another staffer to help with the brewing in the production area. Fast-forward to 2017, and the company has about 17 employees including Sharratt and his wife. Much of the activity around the brewery comes from their 30-seat lounge (complete with a 100-seat outdoor patio which, incidentally, has a MUCH longer season on Vancouver Island than it would in just about any other location in Canada.) There is also a “growler filling station” where you can fill up a quantity of your favourite Gladstone brew and take it home. “We’re not just making great beer, but we’re trying to bring the community together as well.” But partnership plays a significant role in creating the scene at the brewery. They have leased out a portion of the brewery to a pizzeria, providing a food pairing with the beers on tap. “About six months in, we partnered up with a local company and we leased out a few hundred sq. ft. of our space and they put a pizzeria in there. So I can focus on the beer, they can focus on making pizza and we share the lounge and the patio. Andwe’ll probably stick with that model for this location because it makes sense to us.” While beer and pizza is flowing at the brewery location, Sharratt points out that the company did open their own taphouse a mere block away, called Cornerstone Café and Taphouse. It features the Gladstone brews, of course, but has up to a total of 32 taps flowing at any one time. “Most of the guest beers are from across BC, but we do have some coming in from out-of- province and the Pacific Northwest in the US.” Gladstone’s distribution plan goes far beyond their own block, mind you. Sharratt says that a high percentage of their sales are within the confines of their own establishments. But they also wholesale to a number of restaurants in the area and have taken on packaging their beer for sale in liquor stores in BC. Rules allow breweries and distilleries to direct-deliver to liquor stores, as long as the paperwork is filed through the regulating control board. Recently, they have released twobottle projects and launched a tall-can line for their core brands. Four-packs of Gladstone Pilsner, Gladstone IPA, and Gladstone Belgian Single are now available at the brewery and local liquor stores.

When theheart of your business beats alongwith thepulseof your community, the future can be nothing but healthy and bright.

Expansion is underway within the company, and there’s no end in sight. Their capacity has grown by more than 600%



A - 244 4th Street Courtenay, BC V9N 1G6

as spotlighted in the OCTOBER 2017 issue of SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE

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