I was really exited to get some one-on-one time with Steve Beauchesne to chat about what makes Beau’s beer soooo tasty and their special brand of social goodness. Steve is an easy going, intelligent guy who has spent a serious amount of time thinking about beer and it’s place in our society.
Tell me a little about yourself?
I started the brewery in 2006 with my dad but the story of the brewery starts a couple of years before that. Here is the pre-story to the pre-story. I grew up in Vankleek Hill. I moved out when I started college because I was really into indie music and loved the idea of living in a big city. I moved to Toronto, went to school, stayed for a while. During this time my dad was running a textile business in Vankleek Hill. Just as he was gearing up for retirement the whole textile industry in Canada went off shore. In a very short period of time he went form running a successful business to closing shop. In 2004 he came to visit me in Toronto and said he had to shut the doors on his business because he had no customers left. We spent that afternoon, a nice sunny day, having a couple of pints of beer, and somewhere during that conversation my dad said “Steve, you are always showing up with these nice beers, you are brewing at home, what do you think if I were to open up a craft brewery in Eastern ontario?” I said “Well dad, not only do I think that is a really cool idea, but if you would want I would quit my job, sell my house and move home to start a brewery with you!”
I had a job I really liked. During the day I was doing business planning for the Ontario government and at night I was running a record label and playing in a band. I loved the night life and I loved the job I had during the day. As much as I liked everything I was doing the idea of getting to run my own brewery was just so exciting that it trumped everything else.
So what is it about beer that you find so irresistible?
Music and beer are two of my passions. I was already a home brewer. For my 18th birthday I went to Montreal and discovered Boréale beer which back in those days was so mind-bogglingly different from everything else you could possibly try. From there I found St. Ambroise stuff and got into Quebec’s scene in the early 90s. In Toronto, there was Amsterdam then Steamwhistle.
I can get pretty esoteric about this question why beer is important. People have a visceral connection with beer. It stretches back to the begining of civilization. There were several points in human history if not for beer humanity would have failed. Medieval times, the patron saint of beer was the first person to realize that people were dying from the plague because the water was filthy. When you make beer you have to sterilize the water. The local priest decreed “don’t drink water anymore, drink beer”. The amount of invention, industry and commerce, as well as, things like taxation, have all been based around beer.
This visceral response to beer may be the same kind of emotional response I get when I am walking home on a cold day and I smell a wood burning fire. Growing up we never had a wood burning fire. This memory isn’t from my youth. This is something that I am connected to through generations. I can’t smell a wood burning fire on a cold day without having that feeling of comfort and warmth and everything wonderful in the world. It’s the same thing when I have a really good beer. That first sip gives so much comfort and warmth and creates a connection to the generations of the past.
Wow, that’s pretty deep
I wouldn’t have had this answer for you when I was starting the brewery. At that point, I don’t think I understood why I loved beer as much as I do. Ten years of reflection have helped me gain this level of insight.
Beau’s gets involved in a lot of causes. What drives your decision to get involved?
I like to think of the brewery as a piece of performance art mixed with a bit of social experiment more than I think of it as a business. I subscribe to Andy Warhol’s philosophy “art is good, business is art and the best art is good business”. He was one of the first artists to recognize that commercial success wasn’t a good thing or a bad thing. It is just a thing. What you decide to do with it makes it either good or bad.
The unfortunate thing in business is that the prevailing philosophy is that the only thing the business should be doing is maximize shareholder profit. I think that is a fundamentally flawed principle. If you are only focused on maximizing profit and you don’t take into account your stakeholders and the environment I don’t think you are ever going to achieve your full potential. For me the business is the vehicle and profit is the fuel. If we don’t make money, we can’t keep the lights on and we can’t do anything good, but if profit is the goal, then you aren’t really doing anything. For me it is very important that we have a higher purpose that transcends beyond self-sustaining. It’s important to do things that are impactful and I feel very fortunate that the brewery allows us to do these extra things. To me these extra things have a lot to do with why we are successful in the first place. It becomes this self fulfilling initiative. It also allows us to excite our employees more. It changes what we do from making wigidts to doing something important. For our customers it changes them from being customers to being fans. It’s not just a matter of ‘they make good beer’ but also ‘they do this thing I really care about’.
Can you talk about some of the causes Beau’s has donated to?
We started awards for diversity and innovation in brewing at Niagara College. Some things we fund are pet projects my father, I, or someone else at the brewery is passionate about. Other times people reach out to us. There are so many worthwhile causes out there. I would have a tough time saying we only support a single cause. We support more than a hundred charities a year and we have donated over a $1 million over the 10 years of business. It allows us to support causes that don’t have big marketing budgets behind them. We are currently helping a woman entrepreneur in Rwanda get a brewery off the ground. Beer tastes better when you can feel good drinking it.
Where do you see your company heading in the next ten years?
As we approached our ten year anniversary we took a moment to define ourselves not for the next ten years but for the next hundred years. We decided to start focusing on legacy. That is what participated the move to employee ownership because that protects our legacy of being independent. Our project helping to open a craft brewery in Rwanda is legacy from a global community perspective. The award and scholarship with Niagara College is our legacy for the brewing community. Looking at Ottawa in particular, because Ottawa has been such a key market for us, our involvement in Ottawa 2017 is a way to say we want to make significant investments in community building in Ottawa.
When we look at our next hundred years, what are the core values we can ensure will endure for generations. We also looked at ourselves from a short-term and medium-term perspective and that includes what kind of cool beers we want to make and kind of techniques we want to use. We have a long list of tactical based things we are taking on. By next fall at the latest you can start to expect some kind of sour or wild beers coming from the brewery. We are going toBrazil to start some collaborative projects with a Brazilian brewery.
The interesting part for me out of this long term exercise is that we want the core principles to be the same. They should never change: family run, local, award winning, certified organic, do it yourself. Some of these labels will change but the values behind it will stay the same. I think this is one of the reasons we have been as successful as we have been.