SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
When Jake Saunders, the co-owner of Trailway Brewing Co. in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, spoke with Spotlight on Business from his family-operated brewery on Main Street in late August, he admitted to me that he was currently out of his element. “You’d think that it’d be fairly easy to name a new beer, David,” he laughed as I could hear him walk past the new on-site canning line I’d just seen at Facebook.com/trailwaybrewing. “We take a lot of time naming our beers. We do a lot of one-off beers and when a name sticks to those, we go with it; but this is a new core beer we’ve just brewed that we’re going to be premiering this winter. We’re going to be running this beer all winter long and we want to make sure that the name fits the brand and that kind of creative process isn’t my strong suit.” I quickly found out that this once amateur home brewer in this Maine-side Canadian province specializes in hoppy, hazy, aromatic, flavourful American-style ales where the ingredients largely inform the name. “Hu Jon Hops American IPA, Dunder Aussie Hop Pale Ale, Luster Session Ale, Rype Rye Pale Ale – those are our four core beers that do twelve months out of the year. We also have two summer brews and then at the end of September, the beginning of October, we’ll rotate into the two winter brews. The idea is that we always have six on the go plus one weekly special – but like I said, they take a lot of time to name.”
SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE • SEPTEMBER 2017
By David MacDonald J ake, I’ve got to ask because I’m a bit of a space program buff: Is your weekly special beer Voyager named after the famous space crafts – and if so, was that difficult to name? Yes it is! Myself and a couple of others in the brewery are somewhat nerds when it comes to space. But also, this beer was brewed entirely with Galaxy hops, so we carried the theme through to the labeling.
So no, that one wasn’t as difficult to name – but there was still some debate.
Beyond Reality is one of our summer beers and that’s a raspberry wheat ale. We also brew Patio in the summer, which is our American wheat ale. And what do Trailway Brewing Co. fans have to look forward to with the changing seasons, Jake?
SEPTEMBER 2017 • SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
thrilled. If you come here on a Friday or a Saturday, there’s 15 or 20 bicycles parked outside – we’re that accessible from the walking trail system. Jake, I’m sure it’s going to come as a surprise to a lot of craft beer drinkers in New Brunswick to hear that you and Dan started what’s become a household name in your province from an unassuming basement in a Fredericton suburb. Those who know us, and we have a lot of beer nerd friends, know that we’ve been home brewers for the past 10 years or so. One day when I was in first or second year of university, I was on Kijiji and came across an ad for the New Brunswick Craft Brewers Association, or the NBCBA. They were just starting up, more or less, and the platform was to simply share recipes, share techniques, and share beer. They were meeting every second Saturday at a club member’s house and everyone was encouraged to bring their beer and bring their knowledge. It was three hours of sampling beer and talking to interesting people, so it was a lot of fun. Very early on, I found out at these meetings that I needed equipment. I needed things like a grain mill and there’s price breaks when you order anything in large quantities and the club is still great for things like that. At the time, Dan was doing the beer kits like myself and so many people, and he came to his first NBCBA meeting when I hosted one Saturday. We spent the next five years or so brewing completely apart and then in the summer of 2014 – and we were both very serious home brewers by this point – after a club meeting had ended at around three or four o’clock in the afternoon, Dan and I were in the kitchen of my house talking and I said that I’d really like to open a brewery one day and he said the same. One of the big perks of the NBCBA was group ordering.
We’ve got you covered year-round. Come the winter we brew Good Aura, which is a seven percent, hoppy amber ale. The new winter beer this year is going to be a light SMaSH, single malt, single hop ale. “We quickly realized that we could sell way more beer than 2,400 litres a week, so our two-year plan turned into a four or five month plan.” It’s about four percent becausewewanted it tobe approach- able like a summer beer – we know just what we’re brewing, we just can’t come up with a name for it, yet. Where did the Trailway in Trailway Brewing Co. come from? It was really inspired by Fredericton’s awesome walking trail system; it’s a tribute, really. Fredericton is one of the most walkable cities you’ll find out there. You can walk vir- tually everywhere on the trail system. The co-founder, my business partner and I, Dan Mason, actually came up with the name in the basement of my house where we brewed in the beginning. My house is at one end of the walking trail and Dan’s is at the other – and now our location at 280 Main Street is also located along two walking trails. We’re
My problem then was that I didn’t have the time. I worked at
an accounting firm and tax season meant working 60 to 70 hour weeks. In the winter it would be doable, but come the summer you can’t just shut down operations for tax season. Dan’s issue was that he didn’t have the space, but I had an unfinished basement in the new house we’d just built. That was a lightbulb moment for me. That’s really when we part- nered up and started brainstorming ideas. We both liked brewing hoppy-kind of beers, so that’s something we’d bonded over for a long time. Ideally, we would have started up a big brewery right away but we had a lot of consider- ations. We both have Masters degrees – I went to school to become a Chartered Accountant and Dan is an Engineer – and at the time I was working at KPMG as a Chartered Accountant and Dan was an Engineer at the University of New Brunswick. And that’s beside the fact that it’s a tough sell to the wives to quit your fulltime jobs to open a dream brewery. But they were supportive of us starting with some- thing small and testing the market. We incorporated in August of 2014 and within a week we ordered all our equipment and went for it. We started to drywall my basement and tackle all the ventilation work that needed to be done. We also had to get the basement licensed by the Department of Public Safety and through NB Liquor – in the end, my basement was licensed as a commercial brewery. It was a lot of work but we’d heard about so many people doing it, so we figured why not us. We started with a one barrel system, or a 1200 litre system, and we were doing that two to three days a week. So in
the beginning, we were both in my basement brewing for a minimum of twenty hours every week and all the while working full-time jobs. “And that’s beside the fact that it’s a tough sell to the wives to quit your fulltime jobs to open a dream brewery.” Right from the start, people really liked the beer. It seemed like we were always behind on orders. The accounts we had from the start, like the King Street Ale House and 540 and some of the more popular spots, were buying up our kegs – which is all we were packaging in back then – and they were very pleased with our product because we were often outselling the established craft beers. Not a lot of people were brewing the style of beer we do, so it was a pretty good indicator that we were on to something. We weren’t sure how the American-style we’d adopted from Maine was going to be received, but it was a hit. That’s why we really went for it – that and my wife wasn’t too happy with me working 60 hour weeks and then brewing beer on the side. We started here at 280 Main Street with four ten-barrel fer- menters with the hopes of brewing twice a week – that was the original business plan. We quickly realized that we could
sell way more beer than 2,400 litres a week, so our two-year plan turned into a four or five month plan. We added three more 30-barrel fermenters, so now, we have four 30-barrel fermenters and as of today, we brew seven times a week, which is where we figured we’d be in four or five years. “Us, on the other hand, we let the beer speak for itself.” What was it that inspired your choice to adopt the American style in a sea, as it were, of Canadian style IPAs? Over the years, Dan and I travelled a lot. We went to Maine a lot, every other month for a while, because Maine is a craft beer haven for us. We’d stop at the Citgo in Bangor, they call it the Hogan Street Deli, and they always have a very wide range of American craft brew. And if you go as far as Portland, there are lots of world-class craft breweries and beer stores. That was how the research started for us years ago but now that we’re small business owners, it’s hard to get away on trips like that. But like I said, we have a lot of beer nerd friends. They’re bringing us new products every week from trips they take. We’re always willing to trade our beer with friends for something they’ve brought from Cal- ifornia or Connecticut or wherever they happened to be. That’s how we stay on top of what’s good, what’s trendy. We’re open to pretty much any style and there is such a
wide selection out there.
Like with anything, there’s some form of inspiration in what we do. I imagine you need a lot of inspiration to keep regular Trailway drinkers guessing with your weekly one-offs. We love the ability to brew what we want; we love exper- imentation. The idea of being stuck to just six recipes for the rest of your brewing life is awful. We’re planning six to eight weeks ahead for our weekly one-offs and that’s what we want – that’s what keeps it fun for us. It keeps it interest- ing for the customers, too. They know that from one Friday
bring their own caterers and it’s just a unique atmosphere for socializing, overlooking a brewery and tasting room I mean. And when it’s not being used, it’s a great space for the Trailway Brewery Co. team. Who makes up the Trailway Brewing Co. team, Jake? Including Dan and I, there are 14 employees here on the payroll. When we first started, it was Dan and I, my wife, my mother, Dan’s mother and father, his father-in- law, his sister-in- law, and my older brother. It was, in the beginning, exclusively family members. Our families still really run this place during the day, so we’re really looked after that way, which is really cool. But we have now hired seven employees outside the family for mostly evenings and weekends. We’re to a point now where we have the right people working in the right spots. Dan and I are definitely sleeping better at night knowing we’re in good hands. What do you think has made you and Dan such a great team? We play to our strengths. Dan, in the beginning, did practi- cally all the brewing duties and I took care of the business and operational end of things given my accounting back- ground. Being an engineer, Dan was well-suited to be handling the brewing equipment – he’s very technical. We complement each other perfectly, not to mention the fact that we’re old friends. Jake, where can craft beer enthusiasts outside New Brunswick find a can or a fresh pint of a Trailway Brewing Co. creation? In Nova Scotia, in Halifax, people can head down to Stillwell on Barrington Street.
to the next, there’s going to be a new beer on tap here at the brewery. We do 30 to 50 cases of these one-offs, so it’s often the case that there’s two to three cases of 24 leftover from the week before. People love when they grab the last one because it’s sort of a one-of- a-kind thing. The one-off beers we do are very, very popular here at the brewery – we actually only sell our one-off beers at the brewery. If you come in on a Friday, we just packaged it that day. This week it’s a 100 percent IPA that we did with Galaxy hops the Voyager beer we talked about earlier. On that one, we worked with a company just outside Halifax, in Bedford, I believe, and they do a run of a thousand or fifteen-hundred labels. Like I said, once it’s gone, it’s gone but if the response is good, we may brew it again, we may re-release it three or four months down the road. It’s a cool concept. Last week the beer was LOMAH, which is another SMaSH IPA that we did with 100 percent Pilsner malt and Columbus hops and we did 40 cases of that. Every week people come to the brewery, they know there’s going to be a new beer on tap. These are all done with pretty basic labels as well. We put very succinct descriptors on the can, words like: Tropical; Dank; Juicy. Very clear descriptors are a part of our branding for one-offs. I don’t think there’s too many people taking that approach. The cans really stand out without being too busy, if you get my meaning. Yes, we like the simplicity of the design. A lot of branding tends to be almost cartoony. So many craft breweries are trying to tell a story and I get that, there’s a big market out there and a lot of beer drinkers love a back story where, for instance, the beer is brewed in homage to so and so, and the ingredients haven’t changed in 200 years – that’s part of their branding, and that’s fine. Us, on the other hand, we let the beer speak for itself. We don’t get too complicated; less is more. Our can designs, our growler designs, they’re very simplistic. Speaking of design, Jake, what’s the layout of the brewery there on Main Street? Originally, the main space was just over 4,000-square feet but we’ve recently purchased 700-square feet more for empty cans and ingredients as they have a pretty big foot- print. The building was an old Canadian Tire store, so we have 20-foot ceilings, so we’ve built spaces on top of the fridge for things like offices. As I’m talking to you now, I’m up on-top of the tasting room and on-top of the brewery. The tasting room and the brewery are separated by a glass wall, so you can really see all the fermenters and the inner-work- ings of the brewing process as you enjoy the final product. I understand that you also offer a rental space for the public on your second floor. It’s right up here next to me on-top of the fridge room below and we rent it out for work functions, corporate events, birthdays, that sort of thing. It holds 30 to 40 people and it’s available on Fridays and Saturdays. People are free to
SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE • SEPTEMBER 2017
“People are free to bring their own caterers and it’s just a unique atmosphere for socializing, overlooking a brewery and tasting room I mean.”
SEPTEMBER 2017 • SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
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TRAILWAY BREWING CO.
1 (506) 455-8246 firstname.lastname@example.org
280 Main Street, Unit 8 Fredericton, NB E3A 1C9
as spotlighted in the SEPTEMBER 2017 issue of SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
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