BC Craft Beer Spotlight: Red Collar Brewing

In the Winter 2020-21 issue of What’s Brewing magazine, a group of industry members discussed how BC craft breweries are surviving hospitality’s harshest-ever winter with slashed capacity, frozen patios and a raging virus. One of those industry panellists was Lara Beardsell of Red Collar Brewing in Kamloops.

The Beardsell family is honest-to-goodness BC craft beer royalty, having been in the beer business for over a quarter century, and Red Collar is Kamloops’ oldest craft brewery. If you haven’t been, you must go.Here’s how is was presented in Striking Gold in Kamloops, from What’s Brewing Fall 2020:

Any beer tour of Kamloops has to begin with the luminary of the local brewing scene, Red Collar Brewing Co. We don’t assign such classifications gratuitously; given the brewery’s pedigree, it fits. This first-rate outlet is operated by the Beardsell family, founders of Kamloops’ original craft microbrewery (Bear Brewing, 1995) and brewpub (The Noble Pig, 2010). They no longer run those businesses, directing their energy toward Red Collar in 2014.

Of course, it’s pretty understandable if you can’t get to Kamloops anytime soon. Fortunately, it’s reasonably easy to find Red Collar beers at liquor stores around BC.

With that said, let’s hear what Lara had to say about the state of things since the onset of the current pandemic.

In the Red Collar tasting room

Q&A with Industry Panellist Lara Beardsell of Red Collar Brewing

Q: When the shutdown hit in March 2020, how bad was the shock?

A: The initial shutdown itself wasn’t a huge shock, we saw it coming and we were ready. What was a shock was how long it lasted. As weeks turned into months and our tasting room remained closed, we realized we were going to have to get creative to survive this, not just wait it out.

Lara Beardsell

Q: How much did you shift to retail, packaging and online sales, and how much of your staffing were you able to retain?

A: During the initial shutdown we had to lay off our entire front of house staff, and were only able to retain three salaried employees. We quickly reopened for takeout retail sales and we were able to rehire a couple of team members for very minimal hours. We also launched an online home delivery service within a couple of days of the shutdown beginning, and then developed an entire online store.

In May, when we were able to reopen for sit-in customers, the entire crew was able to return to work, but noone was been able to return to pre-COVID work hours. However, I’m really proud that we’ve been able to retain all of our staff.

Q: How did things go with reopening? What was the most inconvenient aspect?

A: We kept our reopening very simple. We chose not to reopen our kitchen right away and served only beers and small snacks, “old school tasting room” style.

Thing were really most inconvenient from a staffing perspective. Dealing with staff getting sick (a cough or something minor) and having to treat that like a potential threat requiring a two-week quarantine period was distressing for all team members. Also, we weren’t able to bring anyone back full time, meaning that no one was been able to get off CERB, which was concerning as the program was coming to an end.

That being said, our reopening went relatively smoothly. We are very fortunate to work with a strong team that was able to adapt to the new situation seamlessly.

Q: Many tasting rooms around BC began filling up again by Summer 2020, and tourism came back to certain parts of the province. How was traffic for you last summer?

A: It certainly could have been worse! We definitely experienced lots of British Columbians coming in from across the province (we poured lots of flights!). There seemed to be a large amount of people embracing the “Explore BC Local” idea. 

We didn’t see much foreign tourism, of course. A large part of the Kamloops tourism scene is the Rocky Mountaineer train, which was not running, so we certainly saw a tourism slowdown as a result of that.

We have been fortunate to welcome new faces to our tasting room every day, and to have a core group of local regulars that keep us busy. That being said, we certainly didn’t see the same numbers as 2019, both as a result of the COVID situation and the fact that we were not serving food.

Q: Are you waiting on or affected by any legislation? What do you think the province or your municipal government should be doing next?

A: We were heavily affected by the CEWS program and were actively pursuing that support from the Federal Government. We would love more support from our municipal government, even in the form of relaxing certain by-laws so that we could operate more effectively and efficiently.

Ultimately we do feel that a large amount of aid has already been offered on the Federal and Provincial levels which we are extremely grateful for. Going forward, we would just like policy makers to keep in mind that many of the businesses and employees heavily affected by this situation are also seasonal businesses which have lost out on their biggest money making period (Summer, from April to September). Even if we had been able to get back to 100% normal after that, the damage of losing these vital months has been done.

Red Collar Brewing Company

Red Collar Brewing
355 Lansdowne Street, Kamloops, BC

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Beer Me British Columbia: since 2012, BC's #1 resource for craft beer reviews, BC beer industry insights and career opportunities.

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