Howe Sound Brewpub hosted a Tap Takeover the other day and I would love to tell you about it if you’ve got a couple minutes to spare…
For the uninitiated, a “Tap Takeover” takes place when a licensed establishment temporarily suspends the beer brands & styles they usually have on tap for someone else’s wares to be poured. The customers win, getting exposure to a brand or beer they may not normally have access to. The bar wins, because maybe the event brings more people in to try something new. And the New Kid on the Keg wins because they expand the reach of their particular product and hopefully gain a few new followers along the way. That’s the triple-win model of a typical tap takeover. But this ain’t that.
Traditionally, a Tap Takeover takes place in a bar, pub or lounge; an establishment whose primary source of revenue is selling beer. Not THEIR beer, mind you, but beer in general. So if said establishment chooses to sell a different type of beer, it may be a bit more or a bit less popular than the previous one but overall the establishment is making a similar amount of money. It’s probably obvious but I’ll hammer the point home with a quick example: Bells & Whistles, an upscale craft beer bar in East Vancouver, just had a tap takeover last night where they surrendered their regular line-up to Twin Sails, a brewery in Port Moody. I’d heard from a few folk that it was a good night that had some great beer and presumably B&W did well, as did Twin Sails. But B&W’s model during the takeover was the same as it always is: we sell our customers craft beer. Yesterday we sold our regular line-up of beers and made money, today we sold Twin Sails exclusively and made a comparable amount of money. And so it goes.
So here is the crucial difference: Howe Sound Brewing MAKES THEIR OWN BEER. They make and sell their product on premises and when they sell their beer to people they make money. When they sell someone else’s beer to people a couple things happen. Firstly, whatever the average amount of HSB beer they sell on a Saturday is NOT sold. Secondly, you’re pouring your competitors product. To be clear: you’re selling LESS of your own product and MORE of your competitors. It would be like McDonalds saying, “You know what? Today we’re gonna have Burger King take over our kitchen and fry you up some Whoppers”. This doesn’t make sense, how could it? Maybe it gets worse.
What if the customer likes the other guy’s beer more? Another example, given to you under duress due to its surrealistic nature and the fact that, once my stupid brain thinks a thing, it can’t un-think it:
“Hey MBW, I know you love me and we’ve been together forever but, there’s a bunch of other gentleman suitors I’d like you to consider. This one’s funny, that one’s an oncologist, and see that guy over there? Ya, he’s Cyclops from the X-men franchise and, with the visor off, his eyes are positively stunning. Why not go an a couple dates with those fine fellows and I’ll catch ya later…”
I mean, I’m charming, to be sure. And in a certain light I can pass as, if not handsome then handy. But I don’t have an HBO special, I can’t treat cancer and I can’t shoot lasers out of my fucking eyeballs. What if MBW falls in love with one of these hypotheticals? What if HSB’s customers fall in love with one of these other breweries? I mean loyalty’s a thing and love is love and should prevail over all but I live in the real world. And aside from the love I have for my wife (which burns brighter than magnesium, hotter than the sun and longer than eternity) shit happens and why invite the wolves to the table?
Why, why, why?
Because it’s cool, that’s why. Because the Craft Beer Industry in general and the microcosm that is BC is a crazy-ass, counter-culture kook that says,
“You know what? Conventional wisdom blows donkeys!* These guys and gals are my FRIENDS! And if I wanna have my friends over for beers, even if it’s THEIR beers, then so be it!“
I love it, beer enthusiasts love it, and you know what? Maybe it IS the profitable play in the long-term. I mean, it’s a pretty Boss maneuver. HSB’s so confident and chill that introducing something like a “Loss Leader” situation only strengthens the resolve of their adherents. I’ll bring my bizzaro example back for a second run by saying that Howe Sound hosting a Tap Takeover where 22 other BC breweries were pouring is like me saying to MBW, “Babe, there ARE funnier, smarter, more handsome dudes roaming ’round this MMO game called Life, but our shit’s built on so much more than the avatars next door. Boom. Good one, Howe Sound Brewing.
Anyhoo, the actual event was fantastic. I got there early, intent on speaking with some BC Brewing Industry glitterati that would surely be on hand and, for the most part, I succeeded. I got to speak with Leslie Fenn, one of the owners of Howe Sound, and I don’t think I fumbled my words or played the bumbling fool (a role I often excel at). I spoke to HSB’s brewmaster, Simon Jongsma, but he was actually pretty busy so I let him be. I talked to Shaun, James & Logan from Backcountry Brewing a bit, which was awesome. I gave a respectful nod to Backcountry’s head brewer, John Folinsbee, and made eyes and finger-guns with Kevin Winter, Coast Mountain Brewing’s owner/brewer/broseph, but they were both busy holding down different courts so I let them be. I spoke with Jeff and Caylin from A-Frame Brewing, which is always a delight (Caylin is the delight, Jeff’s okay. Just kidding. No seriously;) and others whose names I’ve misplaced (if you find them, let me know).
If it seems like I hold the names I just dropped in high regard or feel somewhat starstruck around them, it’s because I do and I am. Look, the foundation upon which I’m building this blog consists of two re-bar reinforced facts: I love writing and I love beer. Putting the writing aside for now, beer makes me happy in many weird and wondrous ways, with it’s actual consumption being but one facet. So ya, I fan-out sometimes when I get to meet and talk with people in the industry because… I love what they do. I try and comport myself with a requisite amount of cool but dammit, sometimes the dork comes out to play. ‘Nuff said.
The person I derived the most joy from chatting with that night was not one of BC’s brewery elite. His name is Ken and he’s just a guy that likes beer. Just like me. Just like you. We found ourselves at one of the communal tables across from each other and struck up an easy conversation. Ken goes to Beer Festivals and Tap Takeovers if time and money allow for it, but what Ken likes to do most is experience new places, drink good beer and talk to people. We’d gone to many of the same breweries in this great province but, truth be told, Ken’s reach far exceeded my own. We shared stories, compared the beer list before us, bitched about our phones and basically had a fantastic time in each other’s company. In a perfect world I would have taken down his name and a contact number but I have a feeling our paths will cross again. And that’s the thing, that’s one of the other weird and wonderful facets I referred to in the previous paragraph. Beer brings people together like damn near nothing else!
This is my first post in awhile and, in typical fashion, I’ve let it run a little long. Longer than the “couple minutes” I proposed in the intro. Even though I’ve wandered into the perfect closer (beer’s ability to bring folk together? There ain’t nothin’ better than that!) I can’t shut’er down quite yet. Not before talking about one of the taps taken over. There amongst the wolves, lying in wait and ready to pounce, was the biggest wolf of all. Oh ya, a Game of Thrones-sized Dire Wolf!
The three beautiful breweries that call Squamish home collaborated on a beer that made it’s debut on this, the seventh day of April. A dry-hopped Pilsner was put together by Howe Sound Brewing, A-Frame Brewing Co. and Backcountry Brewing and damn if it didn’t taste like the fellowship of friends in a world demanding foes. In truth, it might have tasted a bit fresh, but only because it was. It’s had another week to settle and I’ll bet it’s perfect by now. And by the time this post makes it into the Matrix, HSB will have the Squamish Collab in cans and I can hardly wait to crack a few open. Thanks for such a great time, Howe Sound Brewpub, you are the boss!
*not in a sexual way, you pervert. ‘Blows donkeys’ pneumatically, like with a high-pressure hair dryer.