Today’s Young Entrepreneurs are Brett Ireland, Alexander Derksen, and Socrates Korogonas, Co-Founders of Bearhill Brewing Family of Breweries & Distilleries, one of which is Calgary’s newest and most unique brewpub, Last Best Brewing & Distilling.
Standing behind the idea that one beer alone will never be able to entirely represent the dynamic and eclectic population that makes Alberta so amazing, their roster of venues and beers are an exciting collection of styles and flavours that reflect the communities they are a proud part of.
Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in a nutshell.
We make small batch beer for the local communities we brew in. The beers we make are a direct reflection of the values and personalities of our customers and our community. It’s our privilege to be the community liaison for beer, and beer culture, and we don’t take this role lightly.
Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?
We launched in 2005 when we opened Jasper Brewing Company. As three best friends who grew up in Jasper (AB), we thought it would be something fun to offer our community. Socrates spent some time on the west coast and in 2005 brewpubs were still a new concept for Alberta.
Beer has been around for 9000 years. But we felt like the last 150 years or so it sort of lost its roots in North America. That feeling of ownership over the beer that is made in a community isn’t the same here in Alberta as it is in smaller European communities where local beers are cherished and celebrated. We felt a responsibility to bring that culture back into Alberta.
We knew we wanted to be in hospitality and we love beer. It’s fun to make beer because it’s a very ‘social’ medium. Experiences around beer always get better when you add more people. In the beginning we basically wanted to hang out with our friends, and beer seemed like the glue to do that.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis?
We look forward to going to work every day because no two days are the same. We constantly troubleshoot, but we also get to be creative, meet interesting people, and make amazing beer.
Our company is comprised of an incredible team of people, and being able to see their enthusiasm embraced by our guests is amazing. Every time we have the opportunity to show people how beer is made and how we make it, it’s an exciting privilege. When you see someone truly appreciate how beer is made, there’s nothing more rewarding.
What is the most challenging part?
The scope of what we do is much larger than we ever imagined it would become. When we started out we were happy with one location, Jasper Brewing Company (Jasper). Today we have four locations, each with its own unique culture: Jasper Brewing Company (Jasper), Banff Ave Brewing (Banff), Wood Buffalo (Fort McMurray), and Last Best Brewing & Distilling (Calgary).
As our company continues to grow, maintaining strong relationships with our staff and customers in each market becomes increasingly difficult. There can be a real disconnect when we are 800 km away, so keeping our fingers on the pulse is challenging. But we have a lot of faith in our teams in each community.
Where do you see your business going in five years?
Living in Alberta we are surrounded by a beautiful sea of barley. Alberta’s strong agricultural industry gives us access to some of the best ingredients necessary for creating delicious beers. We hope to see our company grow as the need and the growth of craft beer in Alberta grows.
We’ll keep expanding as long as people continue to like our beers and the arenas we provide for enjoying the beers. Alberta is under-serviced in regards to local beers; by being in more markets we can keep the beer fresh and focused.
As for our existing markets, it’s about strengthening our identity, because we don’t believe they have fully become what they are meant to be. Banff and Jasper are world-class destinations, and in both parks our locations are becoming a ‘destination within a destination’. Locals now tell people you haven’t had the full experience until you enjoy a pint.
Our company is distilling now too, which adds another layer of complexity. With the laws changing in regards to craft distilling in Alberta, a whole new world of possibilities has opened up. We want to use ingredients that have been produced in Alberta and we have plans to create all kinds of products such as ciders, distillates, and schnapps.
What does success look like to you?
When we develop a culture in Alberta that totally embraces craft beer and people create their own craft beer culture, then we will have been successful. We know we’ve done a really good job if the community we are in takes ownership of the beer, because in our minds it belongs to them.
However, having fun has always been our objective – when we first sat down 10 years ago we made the commitment to one another that we would only keep doing this if we were having fun. So from that perspective we’ve always been successful.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
There have been a lot. Getting the first location opened successfully was definitely a milestone. Opening our second location was a real eye opener, because it was with that second location we really started to think on a bigger scale and saw a feasible opportunity to expand further than our personal community.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
If you are going to go into business make sure you love what you are doing because there will be so many difficult moments. In those moments it’s going to be your love and passion for what you are doing that carries you through.
Do you support any charities? If so, which ones and why are they important to you?
Our philosophy as a company has always been a community-focused one, so supporting, and getting involved in, the communities we are a part of is really important to us. We constantly do things to help strengthen the community bonds between organizations and the people in the community.
What is notable to you?
We’re proud we are changing the way people see beer in Alberta. We want to see a beer culture that’s super welcoming, where conversations about craft beer are free of pretention, and people love the beer because to them it’s theirs.
Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or other?
Android. There are way more options, which lets you do so much more with them.
How do you keep active, energetic, and vibrant?
We are all super active and run regularly. When you work with (drink) beer, being active is a necessity.