The Glory of Canadian Craft Beer

As Wild Rose Brewery prepares for its twentieth anniversary, CEO Bill McKenzie continues to push the company in new directions so it remains Alberta’s favourite craft beer

Alberta welcomed Wild Rose Brewery to the province in 1996, and suds enthusiasts quickly fell in love with its craft beer, which utilized all-natural, local, unpasteurized ingredients with no preservatives, and a plenty of Albertan attitude and spirit.

“Our beer is only sold in Alberta and we’re proud of that,” says Bill McKenzie, who took over as Wild Rose’s CEO in 2012. “We certainly won’t rule out future expansion; however, that’s not our top priority. We simply want to keep making world-class beer and we’ll let the customers decide how successful we can be.”

Wild Rose operates out of two separate locations. Its taproom is located in the Currie Barracks and includes a full restaurant along with a pilot brewery used for innovative and one-off brews. In 2014, the company opened a larger brewery in the city’s southeast industrial park that now produces 90 percent of the brewery’s volume.

Since McKenzie’s arrival, Wild Rose has undergone a series of positive changes. He has spearheaded efforts to rebrand the logos, revamp the workforce, build a new brewery, and introduce four of its brands in 355 millilitres cans.

TAPPING INTO THE NUMBERS

46

Employees: 31 in brewing operations and 15 in the taproom

2

Breweries

$9M

Net sales

6

Core brands plus four seasonal

20k

Hectolitres of beer produced

“With beer, you always have to look at refreshing your branding,” McKenzie says. “Trying to get a bit more attention toward our brands at retail is very crowded and competitive. The reason behind the rebranding was that Wild Rose was mainly marketed as a draught brand and our customers constantly requested that we be available in retail beer stores.”

The decision to create a line of cans came last year and opened up Wild Rose to more functions and events. “Albertans like to drink beer in cans; 66 percent of the volume is consumed in cans in this province so the demand from our customers for canned beer was overwhelming,” McKenzie says. “We needed to make sure that it met all of our quality specifications and we certainly achieved that.”

With the growth and expansion that Wild Rose has gone through over the last three years, the area McKenzie had to focus on the most was the staff. “Getting the staff ready to be a part of a company that’s growing was a challenge, but something that we were able to do was provide good communication with them, and recruiting people to come in to fill gaps that we weren’t great at,” he says. “It’s important to me that we built one team versus a whole bunch of departments. We were successful in doing that. The only way we’re going to be successful is if all of our departments communicate.”

Part of McKenzie’s philosophy for success relies on fostering a lively company culture. “When the new brewery was built, there wasn’t money to build offices so through necessity we built an open-concept office area,” McKenzie says. “It’s noisy but the layout forces communication and allows everyone to interact.” Along with the layout, the company also has areas within the brewery where workers can relax and have fun with basketball hoops, a ping-pong table, an air hockey table, and a variety of video games.

“We built such a good and strong team and it’s pretty cool to see what they are doing,” McKenzie says. “Everyone needed to realize that they succeed through others and that the beer business needs to be a fun business. The guys that make our beer are unbelievably talented. The people that market and sell our beer are just as talented so it’s almost like a perfect storm. I love this team”

Wild Rose is planning to throw a party in June to celebrate the brewery’s 20th anniversary and thank the many people who have been supporting it since day one.

Wild Rose created the 2014 Unity Brew—an India Pale Lager—for the Alberta Small Brewers Association’s sixth annual collaborative beer

“There’s a lot of people that have been employed with this brewery during those 20 years and they need to be acknowledged and celebrated. So it’s not as much of telling everybody, ‘Hey, come cheer for us; we’re 20 years old!’ It’s more of a thank you for everybody that’s allowed us to do what we’re doing,” McKenzie says. “Everyone who’s been to Stampede knows that Albertans love a good party—I don’t think we’ll have any trouble throwing a pretty wild birthday party.”

One thing McKenzie has learned in his almost three decades in the trade is that you can deliver world-class quality and still have a lot of fun doing it in the beer industry.

“I want to make sure that our consumers realize that we take our beer seriously, but we don’t take ourselves all that seriously,” he says. “To be able to go to work everyday and know that it’ll be a fun day and that you’ll be laughing with people that you really like is a special thing, and no matter how our business evolves we’re going to make sure Wild Rose remains a great place to work.”

5 Questions with Bill McKenzie

What does innovation mean to your company?
Wild Rose’s brewers are the most innovative brewers in the business. Beer drinkers want variety but not at the expense of quality. Our Wild Rose Rare program allows us to develop very small-batch in very innovative ways and I’m sure some of these brands will eventually be full-time brands for us.

Is there a technology trend or idea that’s driving your company forward?
Not really. We do have a brand new brewery so our equipment is more advanced; however, we don’t necessarily utilize the new technology as much as we could. We still believe that the brewer who brews our beer is more important than the equipment he or she uses.

There are always new trends developing within the beer industry. We are constantly sampling new types and we often brew new types of beer in our one-barrel brewing system.We have a rule at Wild Rose, the brewing team has veto power to decide what types of beer we produce. If the guys aren’t comfortable with the beer we won’t market it.  I think this speaks to the authenticity of our brewery.

Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next 5 years?
We’ll continue to have the same amount of brands five years from now, however as some brands lose relevance we’ll simply replace them with one of the many new recipes that our brewers have came up with.

How do you cultivate innovation within your workforce?
We make sure that our employees who want a voice get a voice. Innovation isn’t only about new brands; it’s also about how we do our jobs throughout the brewery. Our team constantly tries new ways to get the job done and keep improving.

How can a company encourage innovation without breaking the bank?
We built this brewery and set up our innovation centre to allow us to innovate. We realized ahead of time that we needed the infrastructure to innovate so we built it and made it available. We also make sure to hire people that understand the importance of innovation. Our brewers can come in and try a recipe in the one-barrel system. If the brew works out that’s great. If it doesn’t than we learned something.