Posted tagged ‘Steam Whistle’

OCB Conference, Part 3: The Breakout Sessions

November 3, 2013

The next part of the OCB Conference featured three timeslots where each offered a choice of several topics.

Session 3:

  1. Sustainable Solutions for the Craft Brewing Industry
  2. How to start to do business with the LCBO
  3. Managing Employee Health and Saftey
  4. Current updates in kegs and kegging systems

I have always had an interest in how the brewing industry, with its high water and energy usage, can lower its ecological footprint — my faux business plan in first-year Brewmaster featured a “green” brewery — so I picked topic #1. The panel consisted of Sybil Taylor of Steam Whistle, Steve Beauchesne of Beau’s, Steve Abrams of Mill St. and was moderated by Anthony Santilli of Bullfrog Power. The session covered how these breweries have approached the issues of water, energy, waste, purchasing, and social enterprise.


Sybil Taylor pointed out that Europe, which has markedly fewer sources of fresh water than Canada, designs its brewing equipment to save water. Currently Steam Whistle uses a European vapor condensation system that not only saves 2.5 million litres of water annually, but also cuts down on the amount of energy needed to heat water. The annual savings work out to be about $47,000 for heat + $20,000 for water + $11,000 for lower waste water charges from the city = $75,000 in savings.

Mill St. recycles CIP (clean in place) water. This lowers their water usage, effluent discharge and caustic usage, and the water can be reused in other functions


When Beau’s had an energy audit done, it showed that their cooler and air compressor were wasting a lot of energy, and that they could accomplish major savings by just doing the “boring stuff”: closing the cooler door (!), replacing the compressor, replacing old lights with more efficent modern fixtures, and adding weatherstripping to the building. This “boring stuff” resulted in an incredible 50% savings in energy consumption.

Mill St. installed a free air system — on winter days, the system draws cold air from outside to cool the cooler, rather than running a compressor.

Steam Whistle switched their trucks to bio-diesel, switched to green energy from Bullfrog Power (whose electricity is generated from 60% hydroelectricity and 40% wind), and uses an Enwave “deep lake cooling” system (cold water drawn from deeper depths of Lake Ontario) to cool their building in the summer.


Mill St. was using biodegradable pallet wrap, but had to discontinue because they couldn’t source enough of it.

After a waste audit showed that too much organic and recyclable waste was ending up in the landfill waste, Steam Whistle educated its employees about waste sorting. It also sells recyclables such as spent grain. (Most breweries give it away to farmers.) Sybil Taylor believes growth will bring about new opportunities for waste diversion.

Of course, both Steam Whistle and Mill St. are located in major Canadian metropolises, where the infrastructuire for waste diversion is already in place. But Beau’s is in tiny Vankleek Hill, about an hour east of Ottawa. The brewery struggles to divert waste from landfill since there are no recycling or composting services — they have had to search out recycling companies who can take their cardboard, glass, etc.


Mill St., whose “rent beer” is its Organic Lager, used to have to buy certified organic barley and ship it to an American maltster. Now they are able to get certified organic grain from a Saskatchewan source. They also use phosphorus-free cleaners.

Beau’s has the same issue — except ALL their beers are certified organic. Requiring certified organic products can actually increase Beau’s ecological footprint: if they know of a local product that is grown organically but is not certified as such, and they also know of a foreign source of the same product that is organically certified, then they must order the foreign product. To avoid this, Beau’s encourages local farmers to switch to organic farming and then become certified. They offer a premium for locally produced certified products, and help farmers achieve certification. For instance, when they were sourcing bog myrtle to add to a beer, they found a local source that was not certified, and a European source that was. Rather than having the bog myrtle shipped all the way from Europe, they helped the local supplier to become certified organic.

Steam Whistle uses GMO-free malt. In addition, they ensure that their t-shirts are made sweatshop-free in Canada of organic cotton. In their office, their printers are set to a default of two-sided printing. All computers and printers are set to auto-shut off after a few minutes. And they were so successful at switching completely to electronic reports and invoicing that their auditors told them they had to generate SOME paperwork in order to produce a traceable paper trail.

Social Enterprise:

Steam Whistle uses employee engagement to generate more ideas. All staff were invited to join an environmental committee, and the first meeting generated a hundred ideas. For example, how long should delivery trucks idle, or what is the best recycled paper? The committee followed up each of these by researching solutions, communicating their ideas and training the other staff. Environmental responsibility is now a part of every job description at Steam Whistle.

Mill St. has made partnerships, such as Earth Day Canada, believing that the beer industry has the power to leverage change because of the social acceptance of beer.

Bea’s believes that “beer tastes better when you feel good about drinking it. They have just become the first Canadian brewery to become a certified “Benefit Corporation” (or “B-Corp”): a for-profit company that considers benefit to community and the environment in business decision-making processes, instead of simply maximizing profit for shareholders. This means, in part, continuing with the types of partnerships with local programs that deal with local concerns. For instance, Beau’s has an on-line order and delivery service in the Ottawa area that uses as its drivers homeless youth paired with a social worker.

All of the ideas presented in this session would not only be good for the environment and local community, but would also be highly marketable. My only regret was that a lot of other attendees were in other sessions. Everyone — brewers, marketing people, suppliers — should have had a chance to hear the the ideas and feel the positive karma from this panel.


Next: How to organize a Beer Week; and how to choose your beer glassware.

Day 575

April 7, 2013

I am happy to report that 50 years after entering primary school, I still feel a frisson of glee upon hearing “field trip”. And today was no ordinary field trip, being “The Day of Three Breweries”–a visit to three breweries in three hours. (Or at least that was the original plan. As Field Marshall Moltke the Elder is reported to have said, “No plan for battle survives contact with the enemy.”)


Steam Whistle, showcase brewery in downtown Toironto

First up was Steam Whistle. As previously mentioned in this blog, Steam Whistle was formed in 2000 by three guys who had been working for Upper Canada Brewing and were subsequently fired (along with everyone else in the company) when it was taken over by Sleeman.

(Full disclosure: When I tasted a bottle of Upper Canada Dark in 1985, the heavens parted, the glory shone down and the Choir Celestial sang. Every beer before that day had been bland and lifeless. It was like seeing in colour for the first time. O, how I wept bitter tears when Upper Canada was taken over by Sleeman. But I digress…)

We had the pleasure of talking to Greg & Sybil Taylor–Greg is one of the original “3 Fired Guys”; his wife Sybil actually worked at Upper Canada longer than Greg, and is now the Director of Communications at Steam Whistle.

What they did 13 years ago now seems like a simple recipe for success–form a company that only makes one beer, then market the heck out of it. This year, Steam Whistle will likely produce about 70,000 hL of their single label, Steam Whistle Pilsner. However, it wasn’t a straight line from then to now. It took two years just to develop a business plan for the new brewery. Once opened, there were a series of problems, crises and emergencies that threatened the very existence of the brewery. Equipment that was supposed to last a decade gave out after two years. The rise of craft breweries in Ontario also coincided with the rising popularity of good quality but cheap imported pilsners from Germany and Eastern Europe. And the large national breweries were no friends of the craft industry either. In Greg’s words, the macros have attempted to drive new breweries out of business with the philosophy of “drown them while they’re young.”

However, Steam Whistle has survived and prospered, likely due to their positive attitude towards employees–the company has won several awards for positive management practices such as flexible work hours, profit sharing, employee share purchase plans and trips for long service employees. With over 160 employees today, Steam Whistle’s biggest day-to-day challenge is human resources management–exactly what we have been hearing in our Human Resources classes. Sybil also mentioned the importance of excellent accounting software to keep track of inventory and taxes. And Greg talked about the camaraderie in the craft industry right now, the feeling of esprit de corps and cooperation among the various small breweries.

During Q & A, I asked about the reasoning behind the apparent move from their iconic green glass bottle to cans. Don’t worry, the bottles will still be around (in Ontario at least). It turns out that apparently cans sell better than bottles out in Alberta and B.C., where Steam Whistle is starting to gain a foothold, hence the move to package some of their product in cans.

Time for a tour. We were given a beer–yay!–and headed out on a tour led by a guide who was used to answering questions from the general public. Alas, she was somewhat flustered by questions about external calandria, hopping systems, and decoction mashes. Luckily a member of the on-shift brew team happened by to help her out.


Ken & Sonja await us (with beer!) at Black Oak

On to our next brewery. No wait, I’m lying. During our Steam Whistle tour, the bus developed a mechanical issue, and we had to wait nearly an hour for a replacement bus to take us to our second stop, Black Oak Brewing.

I have a confession to make: Black Oak is the brewery that employed me during the summer time. (The reason I didn’t name Black Oak is that when I was writing about my summer job, I didn’t want to focus on where I was working, but rather what I was doing. But I digress…)

There are several similarities between Black Oak and Steam Whistle–both were opened in 2000, and both have a small number of labels–Steam Whistle, of course, only has one beer, while Black Oak for many years only had two–a  Pale Ale and a Nut Brown Ale. But where Steam Whistle set out to become a “showcase” brewery, moving into an old Canadian National Rail locomotive roundhouse beside the Skydome, where they now welcome thousands of visitors a year and employ 160 people, Black Oak set up shop  in an industrial mall in Oakville, later moved to another industrial mall in southwest Toronto, and stayed relatively small, with only 5 people on staff. Several years ago, Black Oak jumped on the seasonal wagon, and now produce several each year in addition to their two flagship brands. They have also recently started packaging a portion of their beer in 650 mL bottles, again a trend in craft brewing. In addition, Black Oak is also the place where a number of contract brewers make their product, including Cheshire Valley, Radical Road, Snowman and Sawdust City.


The Bouncing Bomb, Trafalgar’s brewpub

Back on the bus for our final destination, Trafalgar Brewing. Like Black Oak, Trafalgar started in an industrial mall on the west side of Oakville, then picked up and moved a few years later… to the east side of Oakville. Then they reversed course and came back to the west side of town. Like Black Oak, Trafalgar has a very small staff, and a similar-sized brewhouse, but whereas Black Oak’s equipment is in a very large warehouse, Trafalgar’s building is small, and feels a bit cramped. Unlike Black Oak and Steam Whistle, Trafalgar has always made a lot of different beers, and also moved into mead production a few years ago.

Trafalgar also has a brewpub , the Bouncing Bomb. Needless to say, that is where we gathered at the end of the day.

Day 518

February 8, 2013

In a few short weeks, we will all be out looking for jobs, and undoubtedly some of us, at least for a time, will end up as sales representatives, spending our days going from bar to bar trying to convince the manager to buy a keg of our beer. That’s exactly what our Sales & Promotion special guest does for a living– Adrian Pennachetti is a sales rep for Steam Whistle Brewing of Toronto, responsible for the Niagara region of Ontario.

Steam Whistle is one of the big success stories of Ontario craft brewing, started by three dudes who had formerly worked for Upper Canada Brewing. Upper Canada was the second craft brewery to open in Ontario way back in 1985, but by 1998 they had become a bit unfocussed, producing 9 different beers. They got bought up by Sleeman, and pretty well everyone in the company–including the three dudes mentioned before–were fired. In 2000, the dudes decided to start up a new brewery, and almost named it Three Fired Guys before settling on Steam Whistle. (“3FG” is still stamped on every Steam Whistle bottle as a reminder of the name that almost was.) The three fired guys decided that their new brewery would be a bit different. Most other Ontario craft breweries of the time were tucked away in industrial malls, which didn’t exactly attract a lot of visitors. Steam Whistle, in contrast, put up a shiny new shop in the historic CN Roundhouse beside the CN Tower, and became known for their tours as much as for their beer. (Several hundred thousand people visit the brewery every year.) Steam Whistle differed from other breweries in another important aspect–whereas most breweries in Ontario in 2000 made several different types of ale, Steam Whistle settled on producing one single beer, a lager, packaged in a distinctive 1940s-style green bottle. And Steam Whistle has become a giant success story, brewing upwards of 32,000 hectolitres annually.

So Adrian described the sales pitch he makes to the bar manager when he cold calls (just drops in), seeking to get Steam Whistle on tap. Part of Adrian’s pitch is that he can provide all sorts of promotional support for the bar. Steam Whistle has its own in-house creative department so if one of Adrian’s accounts is having a special event, Adrian can get the in-house designers to whip up a special banner or poster. Steam Whistle also provides a line-cleaning service that visits the bar and cleans the Steam Whistle line regularly. And Steam Whistle has a retro bus that can come and pick up the bar staff and take them to the brewery for a tour and party.

So although Adrian had some good advice for us regarding how to approach bar managers, he also has some serious advantages in his back pocket–an in-house creative department and dedicated line-cleaning team?–that most craft brewers can only dream of.

In Brewery Management, we discussed a recent news article about University of British Columbia, where the student union decided to open a student-owned brewpub. We also discussed the possible effects on craft brewers if beer sales in Ontario were to be allowed in grocery stores, in convenience stores, or possibly in combination craft wine and beer stores.

After that little warm-up, we talked about a building for our brewery. Should we buy or lease? Ditto for equipment–should we buy our brewing equipment, or lease it? Keeping in mind that equipment depreciates in value but real estate appreciates in value, the bottom line seemed to be that we should lease the equipment but buy the building–if we have the money.

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