This is the latest instalment in the Hops Among Friends series, which showcases people that make up the craft beer scene on the BC Ale Trail.
My most recent Hops Among Friends interview was with Erin Dale from Barkerville Brewing in Quesnel. At the end of the interview, Erin suggested that I interview David Beardsell of Red Collar Brewing. Red Collar Brewing opened in 2014 in Kamloops on the Kamloops, Shuswap, Vernon and Merritt Ale Trail.
I interviewed David and his wife Annamarie while they were in their travel bus in Powell River at the start of a three-week adventure around BC. The answers to my questions below are often a compilation of responses from both of them.
David and Annamarie are the owners of Red Collar Brewing. David describes himself as the grumpy old man, aka master brewer, aka owner at Red Collar Brewing. Annamarie describes herself as Chief Somebody. She is the “somebody that will get that done.”
Over the years, I met David and Annamarie a few times at Okanagan Fest of Ale, while they were at the Noble Pig, dreaming of starting their new brewery, and once they opened Red Collar Brewing. It was great to catch up with them and hear about their latest adventures.
KL: How did you get started in craft beer?
DB: [Back in the 1980s] I was working at a Cancer Clinic in the radiation oncology department. I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t like all of the bureaucracy and I was looking for a change. I had a science background and so I started looking around for opportunities. Shaftebury Brewing had just opened up in Vancouver, so I looked into schools where I could get an education in brewing. There were only three schools in the world that you could go to at that time to get a brewing degree, so I went to Munich in 1989 for school. I was one of the odd ones back in the day in that I got a brewing education before I worked in brewing. Once school was finished, we moved to England where I worked as a research scientist with the Brewing Research Foundation. I also worked for a couple of bigger breweries in the UK, although I found it was also very bureaucratic working for large breweries.
There weren’t a lot of smaller breweries in the UK at that time, but CAMRA was really growing in the UK and more smaller breweries were starting up there. Also back home, there were only a few small breweries, so we decided to head home. I got a job at Okanagan Spring Brewery in Vernon and stayed there for two years and began looking into starting our own brewery.
With the help of some financial partners, we started the first microbrewery in Kamloops in 1994 called Bear Brewing. There were only about eight breweries in BC at that time. We packaged our beer and sold a lot of it on the coast and in Calgary. We sold Bear Brewing in 2003 to Big Rock. I signed a non-compete and couldn’t work in the industry for five years. During this time, I worked with a non-profit organization in Kamloops, and we built homes for seniors. We also bought a 1959 vintage bus and lived in the bus with our kids and travelled around the continent including time in Mexico and Guatemala.
After our travels, we started the Noble Pig Brewhouse in 2010. We ran this food-focused brewpub for about four years. We got out of the Noble Pig because I didn’t want to split my focus anymore. We had a full kitchen. We had beer, wine, spirits, and TVs. Although the Noble Pig provides a great experience for anyone and everyone, we decided we wanted to run an establishment that was 100% beer-focused. We wanted people to come to the brewery and play a game or talk with each other. That’s what beer is for. In Europe, you’d go to beerhalls and there were no TVs. We wanted to go back to that Old World mentality where if you are going out for a beer, then you go out for a beer.
So, we sold our shares of the Noble Pig in January 2014, leaving it in good hands with our former partners. We started the build and renovation of our new brewery on April 1, 2014, and then opened our doors to the public in October 2014.
Our working brewery name was Black Dog after our black lab Goosey. We couldn’t go with that name because of trademark restrictions. Goosey always had a red collar, and that’s how we came up with the name for our brewery.
KL: You’ve spent the better part of three decades in the craft beer industry. How has it changed over the years?
DB: For us old guys that are still around, things have changed dramatically. We’ve gone from a packaged, distribution-based industry, to one of front-of-house breweries. Every brewery that opens now will have a tasting room.
When we had Bear Brewing, we had a 16-head filler, so we were pumping out lots of beer. We distributed our packaged beer to Winnipeg and all over Western Canada. That’s what you did then.
Today the emphasis is not to go big, but to run a brewery that is interesting and fun. Back in the day, it was all about business. But today, it’s more about creating a business while also enjoying a good lifestyle.
As the industry has changed, we’ve also learned how expensive it is to distribute beer. The more you can sell out your front door in your taproom and to pubs and liquor stores in your area, the better chance you’ll have to stay alive financially. It doesn’t matter how good your beer is, you have to make money, or you won’t stay in business. But then of course COVID comes along and impacts sales in taprooms. For us, we are fortunate because 50% to 60% of our beer is sold as a packaged product, so we were still able to sell our beer even with COVID restrictions.
A hundred years ago, every little town had a brewery. That’s because distribution was so difficult back in the day. The whole industry is going back to that. We’ve also seen a real focus on supporting local. We really saw this with the 100-mile diet. I see breweries succeeding because they figure out their own niche. I’d really like to see more lager breweries. I’d love to see a German-lager focused brewery one day.
The other thing that has changed over the years is the beer itself. I remember that at Bear we had a beer called Black Bear. It was a Belgian-style dark beer with cassis and blackberries. Because it was such a different beer than what was available at the time, people asked us who would buy this beer? As people tried it, the demand for this beer grew until it became our bestselling product. Today, there is way more of an appetite for speciality and unique beers.
KL: How has your brewery been impacted by COVID-19?
DB: We closed the taproom down for about nine weeks, but we had an e-store up and we were self-delivering within 48 hours. We laid off our serving staff during the shutdown, but we brought them all back again once we re-opened. We did not lose one employee as a result of COVID, so we had continuity of our team.
With COVID, we decided not to re-open our kitchen right away. Instead, we encouraged people to go and get takeout from our local downtown businesses. We invited them to bring takeout food and enjoy it with a beer at our brewery. It created a win/win for us and our community.
We also recently hired a new brewer, Nick Serbedzija. We hired him in February, so he only had about six weeks in Kamloops before the lockdown. As a result, he became part of the family very quickly. Most of our staff have been with us for more than a year, and many since we opened our doors.
The thing that makes me the happiest is when I come into work and the staff is happy and they are happy to see me.
KL: What do you think COVID-19 means for the future of BC’s craft brewing industry?
DB: We have so much admiration for the breweries that have opened since COVID started. For those breweries, one thing that we have heard consistently is that their local community has been very supportive. I really hope that COVID inspires even more support [for local businesses]. It’s a trend that I think, and hope, will continue. Having a vibrant downtown core is key for communities to flourish.
There are a lot of inconsistencies in the way that businesses are operating. I’m hoping breweries will be able to develop more acumen for running their businesses. I think COVID has delivered some tough love for some of the breweries. But we as an industry are resilient, and I think they’ll be OK.
KL: What do you have planned for this fall for Red Collar?
DB: COVID has made it tough for many non-profit organizations. We have always had a close affiliation with our local BCSPCA in Kamloops. Nick, our new brewer wanted to brew a new Baltic Porter as his first solo beer. He brewed it, and we didn’t have a name or label sorted. At the same time, our local BCSPCA branch contacted us to see if there was a project we could partner with them on. So, we made this Baltic Porter a BCSPCA fundraiser beer.
We referred to Goosey, who passed away four years ago. After Goosey passed away, we rescued another black lab from the BCSPCA named Diana. We’ve never named a beer after our dog Diana, so this beer will be called Diana. It will come out on November 1st for our sixth anniversary. It will be available in 650ml bomber bottles in the taproom and at private liquor stores and select regional BC liquor stores. It will also be available on tap in the taproom and local accounts. A portion of the proceeds will go to the BCSPCA.
With this first beer settled, we decided to do this as part of a series to support the BCSPCA. In 2019, we found an abandoned dog in Baja. We rescued her, named her Fidelle, and brought her back to Canada. The second beer in this series will be named Fidelle, and it will be a Mexican Cerveza. We will release it in May 2021 for Cinco de Mayo. The timing of this is around the same time as the Kamloops BCSPCA annual Furball Gala, so again this beer will help support the work they do.
KL: What is it like living in Kamloops?
DB: We live in downtown Kamloops. Because our home is there, we wanted the brewery to also be in the downtown core, and we wanted to be able to have our core customers be able to walk or bike to our brewery. We ourselves walk or bike to and from the brewery. In fact, we only put about 5,000 kilometres a year on our car. To me, this is spectacular. We like being able to walk everywhere. There is densification happening in the downtown core, which is really great to see. There is lots of green space downtown. There are walking trails downtown, and you can walk by the river. We can walk for 20 minutes to amazing hiking. It’s such a juxtaposition from Vancouver and the busyness of the Coast, and it’s something we love about living in Kamloops.
KL: Tell me about some hidden gems in Kamloops?
DB: We have four wineries in Kamloops now. We like going up to Monte Creek Ranch Winery. The view is nice, and the winery building is lovely. We will often have business meetings there, or we’ll go and have a picnic lunch there. You can take a winery tour and go from winery to winery, and they will often stop at a brewery along the way.
We also really enjoy biking and walking along the Rivers Trail. We also like Kenna Cartwright Nature Park which has extensive hiking trails.
Kamloops is a real hub for outdoor activities. There is incredible skiing, hiking, and bike riding. Lots of people really enjoy floating on the river. If you are bored in Kamloops, you just need to get outside. I read recently that there are more than 100 fishing lakes within an hour of Kamloops. There is also a lot of camping within the area.
We also suggest visitors to Kamloops take a walk within the downtown core. Check out the shops and the wide range of restaurants. Go for a walk and burn off some calories so you can enjoy the beer.
KL: What’s next for you?
DB: As we approach our 60s, our era in the brewing industry is coming to a close. A lot of the guys I got started with in this industry are retiring and leaving the industry. We both have parents that we need to support, and we are looking towards the future as we start to plan for our retirement. So, we are in a transition right now.
Our big focus is the transition to the next generation who will run the brewery. We have a new team that is running the brewery, and we are trying to let them. This new team includes our eldest daughter Lara, who manages the day-to-day operations and is the glue between all of the departments, our second daughter Tessa, who runs the taproom, Nick who is our head brewer, and John who is our head of sales. We have spent a lot of time creating job descriptions for these roles, and we have been doing a lot to work to prepare for the transition.
We are trying to limit our work time to 20 hours a week. When we are at work, we do everything we can to help the team. We help run the bottling line, we help with brewing, we help with whatever needs to be done.
We are doing a bit of a test now with us being on the road travelling for the next three weeks. We’re available to support them, but we’re not physically in Kamloops. It’s pretty exciting to see the evolution of our business as the next generation steps in.
KL: Who else in the craft beer industry do you find interesting and why?
DB: One of my favourite breweries in BC is Townsite Brewing in Powell River. I think their Belgian Tripel is the best beer made in BC right now. We were just at their brewery yesterday, and we had a Cherry Wheat Beer that was stunning. It’s such a unique brewery. They’ve expanded their taproom since we were there last. We really admire Chloe and Cédric. They are living in a great little town, raising their family, and running this great brewery. They serve their community and they are such a hub in Powell River.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of the Hops Among Friends blog series, where I speak with Chloe and Cédric from Townsite Brewing. Until then, cheers!