What’s your favourite thing about the craft beer industry?
Most people’s first reaction is to say “well, obviously the beer!” It’s a smart response! The beer is fantastic! But let’s be honest. If a big brewer like InBev or Molson really tried hard, they could craft delicious beer too. They employ good brewers who genuinely want to make the best beer possible in a large scale production model. And many of Big Beer’s crafty subsidiaries do pretty good work.
A few weekends ago, I took a solo trip to Bell City Brewing in Brantford to grab some beer for our Advent Calendar. And it was during this visit that my number one reason for loving craft beer was solidified.
It’s the people.
Walking through the door at Bell City, I was greeted by Kevin. There is no doubting Kevin’s love for his job. Decked out in an ugly Christmas sweater, red shorts and red converse shoes, he was genuinely excited that I was there. That made me even more excited to be there!
He was quickly out from behind the counter and we started talking beer. Bell City’s offerings have really expanded in their short time operating in Brantford. So, Kevin took me through samples of their beers I hadn’t tasted before.
Have you ever been in a store where the employee makes you feel like you’re somehow inconveniencing them? Imagine the exact opposite of that and you’ll know how I felt. Kevin was super excited to talk about their beer. I could have walked out without buying anything and he’d have still been happy that someone tried a new beer.
This is the craft beer experience. Everywhere we visit, employees at craft breweries are amazing. They want to engage in conversation, ask you about your preferences, want you to be open about what beers you disliked, and trade notes on other breweries. I’ve yet to be in a brewery where an employee hasn’t recommended another brewery to try. What other industry is like that?
If someone comes in and says they hate a beer, I thinks that’s great; it means we’ve actually made something different – Kevin (official job title is Employee of the Month, March 2006. Bell City opened in February 2015)
It wasn’t until the end of my visit that I mentioned to Kevin that I both operate a craft beer blog and work in the industry. And the best part is that the level of service didn’t change at all. It was “oh, that’s really cool” and we just kept on talking about beer. I loved that. It means every customer is being treated like an insider. It totally changes the relationship with the product and the people making it.
All that said, I still need to talk about the beer. And one beer in particular.
Brewed Awakening Black Coffee IPA
This one-off beer was released on November 27. When I arrived a week later, they were on their last keg of a 12,000 litre production. This beer went fast!
Bell City teamed up with Blue Dog Coffee Roasters of Brantford for this unique beer. And the brewers let the coffee talk. With one sniff, the aroma made me feel like I was in a café. Although very dark in colour, this isn’t a malty, sweet beer. It’s an IPA, so there is a very nice, but not overpowering, bitterness. The coffee flavour is the star of the show and lingers beautifully. Interestingly, they brewed this beer to have the bitterness come from the coffee rather than the hops, so it’s a different experience.
This is, without a doubt, one of my favourite beers ever. It blew my socks off! Kevin was lucky the master brewer wasn’t there that day, or else I’d have broken down a door to hug him. I’m really and truly considering a petition to get this as a permanent offering from Bell City. Because it was a one-off brew, there is a possibility I never get to taste it again. But I’m not going to think about that, because I’ll end up watching sad movies and eating ice cream for weeks to try and deal with my depression.
Bell City is quickly becoming one of my favourite breweries. They’re getting experimental in their seasonals, their social media presence has great personality and they have a dedicated following of beer lovers.
But they also helped me pinpoint my answer to that initial question. As amazing as the beer was, it wasn’t the reason I wanted to write an article. Any brewer worth their salt can make a delicious beer. But it takes a very particular dedication to beer drinkers to make the experience match, or exceed, the beer. The people behind the scenes of the craft beer industry understand this, and they’re doing it very well.
To Bell City, and all their independently owned colleagues across the globe, I raise a glass to you. You’re doing damn good work.