End Of Year Spotlight: Dageraad Brewing

From What’s Brewing magazine’s Winter 2020-21 issue

BC’s 200 craft breweries were built to be community gathering places, forgoing TV screens in favour of long, shared tables and mingling. For now, that is no longer the advantage it was.

In this issue of What’s Brewing magazine, a group of industry members discuss how BC craft breweries will survive hospitality’s harshest ever winter with slashed capacity, frozen patios and a raging virus, and what awaits them in 2021 if a wary public continues to stay home. Today, we hear from Ben Coli of Burnaby’s Dageraad Brewing.

Ben Coli of Dageraad Brewing

Q&A with Industry Panellist Ben Coli of Dageraad Brewing

Q: It was great to tour your facility this past summer. How are you holding up, and how busy is the brewhouse these days?

A: I’m pooped. I could use a vacation, but where would I go? A staycation is out of the question. There are two four-year-olds in my house, how would staying there help anything? Might as well go to work.

It’s been a crazy year, extremely stressful at times and unpredictable. But Dageraad is doing well, partly because of blind luck and partly because we’ve done a good job of adapting and leaning into the changes. In the blind luck category, we happened to get a BC Liquor listing for Burnabarian cans right before the pandemic started, and that really helped to take the sting out of losing every single draught account and closing our tasting room for those few months.

Canning has become so important for us that we took the leap and bought our own canner, which has given us a lot more control over our production schedule. With draught way down and bottles and cans way up, we’re making about the same amount of beer as last year. I have no idea what’s coming next, but I feel super fortunate to be where we are and confident in my team’s ability to adapt.

Q: How are things going in front of house operations? What is your capacity reduced to, and how is traffic for you?

A: The tasting room has had to go through huge changes, of course. We’ve had to completely rearrange our seating, but the Province and the City of Burnaby let us set up a patio, which has helped a ton. I think inside and out we can theoretically seat about 40 people, but only if they all happen to arrive in groups of six, which as you can imagine, has never once happened. Our on-premise sales are down by quite a bit, but we still have lots of people dropping in to buy cans and bottles, so sales haven’t been too bad. I just can’t wait to see that room full again, with people bumping elbows at the bar and casually chatting to strangers, but that might be a dream for 2022.

Q: Winter is a big concern for many hospitality businesses. Have you done much outdoor seating, and if so do you have a plan for the colder weather?

A: Yeah, it’s going to be tough for us if nobody wants to sit at our five picnic tables. Patio heaters are impossible to buy now, but we’re looking. Our indoor seating is limited and a lot of people don’t feel comfortable about sitting indoors anyway. I’ve been encouraged by seeing some hardy people out on our patio on cold days lately. I’m hoping that Vancouver develops a BYOB (bring your own blanket) patio culture, and we have just ordered blankets that we’ll sell for as cheap as we can manage.

We’re lucky to have a steady wholesale business, so we’re not totally dependent on the tasting room to pay the rent. I am worried sick for all of my favourite restaurants. We could stand to lose some legendary establishments. The federal government’s wage and rent subsidy programs have kept a lot of people in business, but if business gets slow enough, subsidized wages aren’t going to be enough to keep the lights on.

Q: Have you held any “virtual events”, or do you plan to in the future? Do you see much of a role for “online gathering spaces” in your marketing going forward?

A: We did do a virtual anniversary party back in May as a sad substitute for the epic love-ins we’ve thrown for our anniversary since we opened. It was fun. Mitch and I blathered on a bit about the experience of running Dageraad for six years and then we had a set from Torben Brown, a local musician who has played a few of our parties. We took questions from our online audience and we had sold an anniversary party mixed pack through our home delivery service, in hopes of creating some feeling of togetherness. We couldn’t all be out in the parking lot, but at least we were drinking the same beers and communicating a little. It wasn’t really much of a substitute, but it made us feel better about missing our party.

I’m not really a whiz at marketing or technology, so I can’t really imagine how an “online gathering space” would work, but I’ll be totally happy to copy someone else’s idea if another brewery has success at it. It would have to include a way for people to interact without it being a shouting match, and it’d probably have to be organized around some kind of event, to give people a reason to all show up at the same time. Beyond that, I have no idea how to do it.

Q: Do you think that COVID will permanently change people’s behaviour, and make society less trusting of close face-to-face interactions with strangers, even after vaccines emerge? Do you think craft beer drinkers are more likely or less likely to be mindful of keeping their distance than the general public?

A: It really depends on the person. I think some people are going to be totally traumatized by this and never go back to how they were before. Almost as bad as the pandemic is the mental health crisis that’s quietly unfolding through all of this. I worry about my kids growing up in this. Are these formative social interactions going to make them permanently socially weird?

I think most people are going to bounce back to something like normal, though. We are a gregarious species and most of us love being around other people. There might be some changes in our social customs. I hope that mask-wearing on transit during flu season becomes the norm. I hope it becomes normal to stay home from work when you have a cough. I really hope that we don’t lose hugs and handshakes, though, because I like them; but they might fall by the wayside too.

I would absolutely love to be in a crowded pub right now with about fifty of my best brewing industry buddies and hug every one of them and have loud conversations at short range while swilling pints. Again, that’s probably a dream for 2022. Maybe a little earlier.

Dageraad Brewing
#114, 3191 Thunderbird Crescent, Burnaby, BC

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Dageraad Brewing


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