Just The Way You Are

Andrés Amaya and Construction Crew from Andina Brewing Co. enjoying the first beer brewed by Mauricio Lozano (Faculty Brewing Co.) while his own “pilot” system resides at Andina’s.

It was extraordinary to witness the camaraderie and collaboration between the local craft brewers. I thought it would be interesting to explore and write about the hows and whys of such comradeship.

A couple of disclaimers before you continue reading: I am a complete rookie in the craft beer industry. I’ve never brewed anything in my life, other than coffee, and I’m only beginning to learn about the process. Before, of course, I enjoyed drinking beer (mainly lagers from big Colombian beer emporiums), but it wasn’t until I came to Canada with my husband Nicolás–cofounder of Andina–that we started trying artisan beers and we fell in love with them. I remember the first time he asked me to try a Maudite from Unibroue. I confess that I liked the bottle more than the beer at the time, but we kept tasting new brews and were blown away by the aromas, flavors and infinite nuances of the craft.

What I really am is a journalist and a writer, primarily in Spanish (I’m so thankful for the editing tools and my very talented 15 year old daughter, who is my proofreader). When Nicolás Amaya and his brother Andrés decided that they wanted to open a brewery, I started doing what I normally do with new projects; I began observing other local breweries we’ve been visiting for years, asking a lot of questions and reading articles and blog entries about craft beer. Well… let me tell you, I am having a blast with the opportunity to write News and Views about the industry now that we are opening Andina. I hope you enjoy our blog and my two cents!

When we first started looking into opening Andina and following the traditional steps to find a good location and subsequently a designer/architect, contractors, suppliers, etc., we made some mistakes. Not irreversible ones, but mistakes that cost us time, money and confidence. Then something amazing started to happen; those same brewers who are going to be our competitors (let’s not kid around, we are all after the same buck) started giving advice and tips to Nicolás and Andrés when they shared our grievances. Moreover, they gave the name of an architect and construction crew they had used (thank you Strange Fellows!); how and when to apply for permits and what mistakes to avoid (Gracias Mauricio from Faculty and cheers! to our next door neighbour Powell); what merchandising provider or Point of Sale System was reliable (Thanks Moody Ales, and again Strange Fellows), and so many more. It was extraordinary to witness the camaraderie and collaboration between the local craft brewers.

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Ryan Parfitt (Luppolo Brewing Co.) & Andrés Amaya (Andina Brewing Co.)

I thought it would be interesting to explore and write about the hows and whys of such comradeship and to find out if is it a quality of the craft beer industry everywhere or just a local phenomenon.

The story about Chris Charron of Steel Toad, Mauricio Lozano of Faculty and Ryan Parfitt of Luppulo sharing a “pilot” system and becoming good friends has been well covered by many outlets. And guess where that pilot system is now? Yup, you got it! It’s at Andina Brewing Co. It will not be used by us because we have our recently acquired pilot system, but Nicolás and Andrés were more than happy to offer space in our big yellow building to accommodate their system. It’s amazing, really!  

You have to understand that we were raised in a culture that is very friendly and open–in South America, we still go next door to ask for an extra cup of sugar. But when we became adults, our professions took us out of the country and that neighbourly environment. My brother-in-law, Andrés, and my sister Rocio (we are two brothers and two sisters at Andina!) went to the east coast of United States and worked in the very competitive hospitality industry for more than 10 years. Nicolás and I lived in the Washington, DC area for a while, and then worked in both South and North America in the media industry. Believe me when I tell you that nobody from the competition is going to advise you how to cover a story faster or get better ratings and more advertisers for your TV program. No wonder we are so blown away by the local craft beer helpfulness!

I took the opportunity to ask some local brewers about the subject during a monthly meeting of the “YeastVan”, or East Vancouver’s Brewers (They are thinking about changing the name. What do you think–keep it or not). During the gathering, I witnessed yet another great example of the camaraderie between local colleagues. They used the meeting to share their experiences at recent events, like VCBW, talk about their needs and issues, and organize the next Hop Circuit, a self-guided open house tour of East Vancouver’s craft breweries. During their very successful 1st circuit, participants enjoyed their local favourites and took the opportunity to have a first look at a few breweries that are not even open yet, like Andina! Hopefully for the 2nd one we will have some beer to offer!

From what I’ve learned, craft beer has always been about sharing and collaboration. When homebrewers spent their time tweaking recipes in their kitchens or basements, they ended up with enough beer to share with their friends and fellow brewers. Some of them got serious about their craft, acquired fancier brewing equipment and became local entrepreneurs. But in essence, the majority stayed loyal to their homebrew roots, and didn’t see other microbreweries or brewpubs as competition. Instead, everyone looked out for one another. Today, this cooperative spirit and community-based entrepreneurship is most evident in British Columbia. Our craft brewers firmly believe that they can achieve much more by collaborating instead of competing with each other. But why? I asked some of the East Vancouver Brewers, and here are their answers:

  • “We can achieve more together than each of us could separately.”
  • “We’re all growing so fast, we’re going to need to help each other in an effort to beat the big guys.”
  • “If we don’t band together and help each other out, we’re not going to grow this market as much as we’d like to. By working together, we’re building a better industry”.
  • We are not just in this businesses to run a profit. It’s our passion!”

When I formulated the same question to our Head Brewer, Andrew Powers, who we introduced here in a press release, he explained that “medium and small craft breweries don’t have the budget for mass marketing campaigns, radio ads, or commercials. Instead they rely on word of mouth and the continued growth of the local industry, with new craft breweries opening everywhere. The fact that more of them are popping up on the same street or neighborhood is not perceived entirely as competition, but rather as an opportunity to fuel collaborations, group events, festivals, and even encourages individuals to organize small brewery crawls. The friendly competition spurs creativity, and the rapport that we have with one another encourages the sharing of knowledge and techniques.”

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Federico Stucchi (Luppolo Brewing Co.), Andrés Amaya (Andina Brewing Co.) & Chris Charron (Steel Toad Brewing).

The common denominator is that our local craft brewers put their heart and soul into what they do and are proud of the beers they produce. If they share their experiences with their colleagues, learn from their mutual mistakes, keep improving the recipes and add to the variety of beer available in their community, everyone will ultimately benefit. Sadly, this is a very unusual culture, and it shouldn’t be. Our West Coast Craft Brewers have created a worthy model that other industries should emulate. Because really… dear local Craft Brewery Industry, “you are amazing, just the way you are”.

In my next blog entry, I will cover the second part of this article, where I will explore whether the comradeship of our craft brewers is a quality of the industry everywhere or just a local phenomenon. Hasta pronto. ¡Salud!

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