Chatting with Robert Walsh of Brewsters Brewing Company in Calgary, AB
A lot has been happening in the Alberta craft beer scene lately. Let’s hear what Brewsters’ Brewmaster Robert Walsh has to say about it.
By Lee Borschowa on Oct. 07, 2016
I sat down to talk with Brewmaster, Rob Walsh, a 28 year veteran of the craft brewing industry. He had a lot of great insights about growing the local industry through excellent customer service, providing a quality product, ensuring that there are enough skilled brewmasters to meet the demand and of course using apps like Just Beer to educate and spread craft beer culture. He also shed some light for us on his long career and what you can expect to see from Brewsters Brewing Company and himself in the future. Read on to hear what he had to say in his own words.
JustBeer: What’s the hardest part of attracting new customers?
Robert Walsh: “Making sure the customer is a repeat customer. We do this by making quality beer and being at the forefront of everything we do. Have beer spot on to ensure that customers will come back. For our brewery, we have quality control measures in place through our lab. I hired a guy out of Heineken, who was with them for 9 years, he’s been with us for 3.5 years.”
JB: That makes a good point. There are a lot of breweries opening up here in Alberta that don’t have quality control (in terms of a lab) measures in place and are just pushing out product, what are your thoughts on that?
RW: “Quality control is one thing that everyone should have. You should have some key things going forward. We’re way past the days of the brewers tasting the product saying “we’re pretty close”. Consistency is key to quality.”
Video: An Inside Look Into The Beer Of Calgary’s Brewsters Brewing Company
JB: How do people find out about you?
RW: “A lot of people see our product in the liquor stores. We’re available in the liquor stores now and people are starting to recognize our brand. A lot of people have never heard of Brewsters even though we’re from Alberta surprisingly. We now have 11 locations.”
JB: You guys are one of the pioneers in Alberta.
RW: “Yes, we have up to 700 employees and people have never seen or heard of us which is incredible, but we’re now starting to go out to the masses and people are seeing our product.”
JB: So moving into retail was a good move for you guys?
RW: “Oh definitely, not only for exposure but, for where we want to go in the future and where we want to be.”
JB: How long have you been making beer and what got you started in it?
RW: “27.5 years! It’s kind of funny, I grew up in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, there were lots of breweries around back then, Molson, OV, Labatt’s. Everyone knew someone who worked at one of the plants, and I’ve always liked having beer. Then I moved to Whistler, British Columbia, and my wife got a job at Whistler Brewery. I used to go pick her up and they would ask me to help out for an hour or two and help them do boxes up or something. After a month of this, I ended up being there for 3 hours a day and I said OK, enough with the free labor and they offered me a job, and I said sure. My first full day working there, I just knew, I loved this. To create something with your own hands, and once you make it to actually see people in the pubs drinking it and saying that it’s good, it’s really satisfying to see that.”
JB: There has been a lot of conversation about a recent “firing” of a customer by a local Calgary brewery, what are your thoughts on that and in your experience, how do you deal with criticism when you clearly put a lot into your work?
RW: “I don’t really have lots of thoughts on that. You are always going to have a customer not happy and you know what? You can talk to them but everyone has their own view and that’s a great thing, that’s the world we live in. We CAN have different views on things, I accept that.”
JB: Do you use online platforms for beer?
RW: “Yes, we are on Untapped, Rate Beer, Beer Advocate, and of course JustBeer. You watch people who are on these apps for 4 or 5 years and how they rate, after a while their reviews are quite good as these apps are educating them, you can see a progression.:
JB: What do you like about JustBeer?
RW: “I like the clean feel to it, the ability to “surf” within the app, and how clean and easy it is to navigate. The way it looks and feels, the write-ups and the news features are just really well done. I love how it shows our product, I think it is one of the nicest apps I’ve ever seen, great content.”
JB: Thank-you, we appreciate that.
RW: “I’d like to see our seasonals on there though.”
JB: Consider that done. If you were not brewing beer, what would you be doing?
RW: “Jeez, I’ve never really thought about that… actually I have. I would be a surf instructor laying on the beach.”
JB: What is your take on the NDP’s new tax system not only for Alberta breweries, but imports as well?
RW: “They’re trying to fix something that was convoluted from the get go. It was not setup properly. They’re trying to fix it and make it better for us so we can grow as brewers and brewing companies. It’s been stalemated for years, we’ve not had any tax incentives, it’s been locked down so no one can really come in and open up a brewery the way the law was written. There was a gray area there. It’s definitely helping. We have already received a rebate from the government. In our industry, even when I started in Whistler, it was 5 to 7 years to break even, so you better have a lot of capital to run through the gambit, especially in Alberta. I think Alberta is one of the hardest places to brew beer in because we have incredible products that were brought in from our importers and BC and if you don’t start off with a really good beer right off the bat, your gonna be struggling. The expectation from Alberta consumers is pretty high I think. We are in an infancy state right now compared to other provinces and states and for us to grow; we have to start having good beers right off the bat.”
JB: Alberta is still fairly new to the Craft beer world, what do you think we are lacking if anything?
RW: “With any growth phase, we need to have brewers. I don’t think we have enough to sustain the growth; I have lost a couple already. They’ve gone on to work with other businesses, but we need to have some quality brewers come in that have some “seasoning”. It’s great we have a school here (Olds College) to help it grow, I think every student last year got a job, and I think everyone this year will get one too.”
JB: There are a lot of new breweries opening up in Alberta, can some of these young breweries make it or will they fall on the wayside and why?
RW: “I’ve been doing this since 1986-87 and I’ve seen it up and down. There will be a few guys failing, honestly. How strong is their business plan?”
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JB: Besides Brewsters, what are your favorite local beers to drink?
RW: “I actually drink everyone’s beer, but I prefer to drink them at the breweries if I can. I think the beer in a lot of them is very good. Packaging wise in Alberta, I think there is some learning to be done. It’s a learning curve.”
JB: What is your favorite beer style?
RW: “I don’t have a favorite, I love all beer styles. 5 years ago I was on a Belgian kick, it’s all I brewed for a year and a half, every seasonal was a Belgian, finally the owners said STOP!”
Do you know a brewer who would like to be featured in our “Chatting with” series?
JB: What new brews are you working on?
RW: “I have an ESB we worked on about 8 months ago and it’s pretty much ready to go, we are going to come out with that this winter. I’m working on a new IPA, but something a little different, there isn’t one here in Alberta yet, this kind of style. IPA is here to stay and it’s not all about how big, bold, and bitter you can make it, it’s about the balance and creating that bitterness and softness. I want my beers to be balanced properly and tell a story. I am big about my beers telling a story to your palate.”
JB: If you could collaborate with one Calgarian and one International brewery who would it be and why?
RW: You will have to stay tuned to find out………
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