Crafting Connections Through Beer and Books at Small Gods Brewery

Small Gods Brewery in Sidney BC

“When the least they could do to you was everything, then the most they could do to you suddenly held no terror” – Terry Pritchett, Small Gods.

Opening a new microbrewery is not for the faint of heart. We recently sat down with Christopher Bjerrisgaard of Small Gods Brewing Co. to discuss the challenges, risks, and the spirit of resilience in the craft beverage industry.

Beer with books, beer in books, books about beer – the combination is oft mentioned in literature from Ulysses to The Fellowship of the Ring. Literature is also part of the brewery’s DNA. It is nestled in the heart of Sidney on Vancouver Island, a bustling, 12,000-strong town known for having more bookshops per capita than anywhere else in the country. Its German pilsner, “Neverending” is named after “Neverending Story” by Northern German author Michael Ende. “Rascal King”, a New England hazy IPA, is named for the biography of a New England politician. 

And why the name Small Gods? The answer to the brewery’s most frequently asked question lies in the poem of the same name by Jim Harrison.

Founder Christopher Bjerrisgaard stresses the importance of creating a brand that reflects the local environment. After setting up shop in a haven for book lovers, and with his wife being a writer, the brewery naturally evolved into a space where literature and beer intersect. “The literary theme was my general thesis on breweries in BC,” he shares. “If you’re going to open one, find a town that is underserviced and then go. Once you’ve found one that’s underserviced, become a pillar of the community. Do something. Fit within your community.” 

He added: “I knew what we had to do was create a safe and inclusive community living room as a business. Because I want to move as much of my products through the front door as I can. And the way you can do that is by creating a space for your community.”

Fundraising Challenge

Like the stories that influenced Small Gods Brewing, Bjerrisgaard’s journey into the brewing industry was beset with trials and tribulations. In the early stages, financial and operational challenges were significant hurdles. Together with his business partner, Jonny Kostiuk, being well-capitalized was key. He says, “Real money was a huge part of it, which is quite often the case.” 

For the rest of the starting capital, the business partners took calculated risks and focused on reducing their financial liabilities in the early stages to avoid the cost of carrying debt, a smart move in an industry where cash flow can be unpredictable.

Operationally, the complexities of running a brewery were amplified by the decision to incorporate a deli food service. “’I am operating three businesses,” Bjerrisgaard says. “I have a hospitality business, I have a wholesale manufacturing business, I have a distribution business. They all do the same thing, sell the same thing, intertwined. They’re not calculated as different things on the balance sheet. But I have to look at them that way.”

Magic Mix

A lot of people get into the brewing business without knowing how hard and complex it can be, Bjerrisgaard warns. Driving revenue and profitability requires a nuanced strategy and an astute understanding of product lines and market dynamics. “It’s about knowing your product and understanding the market,” Bjerrisgaard explains.

Bjerrisgaard recalls having an “aha moment” at Great Notion Brewing in Portland. After estimating the cost to produce the beer he was drinking to be a “small fortune”, he looked over to see a line out the door of people eager to enjoy it. He noted when it comes to balancing volume with revenue, a larger production does not always equate to higher profitability. In his words, “There’s a magic mix of brand, product quality, finding a consumer willing to pay the more premium.”

Small Gods goes premium on a large number of new releases, choosing to build the Small Gods brand over individual brands in its portfolio. Bjerrisgaard says that while this contributes to an abundance of consumer choice, it is not viable for everyone.

“I do feel we’re in a state of correction in the industry,” he said. “Where there are too many breweries on the market without the operational understanding of how complex these businesses are, and that will result in less brands on the shelf in the long run as the less skilled, less attentive operators will go by the wayside.”

For Small Gods Brewing, growth is not just about scaling production, it is about crafting an experience that consumers are willing to pay a premium for. This strategic approach shows that quantity is not always better than quality if you want to succeed in the competitive craft brewing market. 

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Keeping an Eye on the Horizon

In an industry where the only constant is change, forward-thinking strategies are key to longevity and success. Small Gods Brewing demonstrates the power of innovation. 

“It’s about doing things differently, about seeing opportunities where others see challenges,” Bjerrisgaard says. He stresses that success for breweries will increasingly hinge on their ability to connect with their local communities. “Our brewery is more than a business; it’s a part of the community, a steward of the environment,” he notes. This holistic approach could redefine the role of breweries in society, making them not just producers of beer but contributors to social and environmental well-being.

The future strategies for breweries, as exemplified by Small Gods Brewing, revolve around innovation, diversification, community engagement, and sustainable practices. These strategies not only ensure business growth but also contribute to building a loyal customer base and a responsible corporate identity. Christopher Bjerrisgaard’s vision for Small Gods Brewing embodies a roadmap for the future, where breweries are seen as dynamic, community-focused, and environmentally conscious establishments in the ever-changing landscape of craft brewing.

Need help crafting your micro’s brand story? Brewfundr can help. With our suite of marketing and community fundraising services we can help you get to the next level. For more information contact us today or book a meeting for a free consultation.

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Bret Conkin

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