Building Better Partnerships: Old Flame Brewing and CanCraft
Canada’s most-awarded craft lager brewery is on a mission to make people fall in love with lager. To that end, Old Flame Brewing’s core lineup features five fantastic bottom-fermented beers, including a Blonde Helles, a Red Vienna, and even a Schwarzbier if you can believe it. We connected with Old Flame’s Richard Park to learn how CanCraft has helped the brewery put this plan into packaging.
BSG: Thanks for joining us, Richard! Could you tell us about your role at Old Flame and a bit of your background?
Richard Park, Old Flame Brewing: As the Vice President of Operations, I have the privilege of helping lead several projects at our three locations. Our first brewery opened in our hometown of Port Perry eight years ago. We opened our second during the pandemic, about 40 minutes away in suburban Newmarket. Most recently we opened a third brewery in downtown Toronto’s Distillery District. Managing Operations, Production, and Logistics across the three facilities is my top priority right now.
Prior to Old Flame, I was a B-School kid, and my first job out of business school was with Labatt. I was in a program called the Global Management Trainee Program, and I had the opportunity to see things from the other end, at the Macro scale. While I was there, I rotated around the different functions of business, from sales and finance to marketing and brewing systems. A few years into that, I developed the itch to apply some of these skills and knowledge in an entrepreneurial arena. I went back to school, for Niagara College’s Brewmaster program here in Ontario. I wanted to marry the corporate, business know-how with the technical ability to produce recipes and work in a system. When I graduated about six years ago, there was only one brewery I wanted to join forces with. That was Old Flame.
BSG: And what’s Old Flame about? How did it come to be?
Richard: The Founder and President Jack Doak caught wind of the craft industry around ten years ago. He traveled to the U.S. to watch his son play hockey and identified a trend he could seize here in Ontario. I knew Jack and had the privilege to see Old Flame go from a business plan and develop into what it is today. The brewery was conceived in 2013 and opened in the summer of 2014.
At that time, [craft brewing] was basically an IBU war. But a case study showed 90% of Canadian beer drinkers were drinking lagers. Rather than fighting over a small piece of the pie, we wanted to grow the craft segment by competing with some of the macro lagers out there and serving beers people could enjoy. That was the core of our inspiration to focus on lagers. At the same time, Old Flame is romantic and nostalgic for the past. What’s more authentic than to focus on traditional German lager recipes? Malted barley is our number-one tool for showing people what we can do.
BSG: Authentic and successful, from the sound of it. Old Flame has been recognized as Canada’s most awarded craft lager brewery, correct?
Richard: Yes. Just last year, we were anointed Canada’s most awarded craft lager brewery by the Canadian Brewing Awards. No brewery has won more medals – let alone gold medals – in the Lager category. This includes our core lagers: our Blonde Helles, our Red Vienna, our Keller Helles, our Munich Dunkel, and our Schwarz. We commit our time and effort to these recipes, and to win awards over and over for them, as a brewery, it speaks volumes for consistency, process, and quality. Anyone can make a great beer one time or win an award once. But can you do it over and over?
BSG: What drew you to Old Flame?
Richard: When Jack came and built the Old Flame brand, he rooted it in romance and nostalgia. The idea that past loves and past partners build you into who you are and that they are worth remembering. That’s our tagline: “Worth remembering.” So, I recognized this was a brand that could be scaled. It wouldn’t be limited to the confines of Port Perry, Newmarket, or Toronto like so many “Town Name” Breweries. Old Flame is truly a human experience, and it has the potential to go as far as we can take it. That’s what excited me.
BSG: The beer you brewed “From Bamberg, With Love” brings those ideas to life. What can you tell us about it?
Richard: This was a collaboration with BSG, CanCraft, and Weyermann®. It was essentially a love letter back to Bamberg. I’m a networker by heart, and I had sent a note to Sabine Weyermann and the family to tell them how we’d just became the most awarded craft lager brewery in Canada using 100% Weyermann®. We connected with Axel, and they let us know Weyermann® Isaria 1924® was coming down the pike. We were one of the first breweries in Ontario to be able to provide a commercial test, and we were able to launch that beer with the cans, the labeling, and the grain with BSG and CanCraft supporting us at the Ontario Craft Brewers Conference. It was received with tremendous positive feedback from the industry. We’re committed to high-quality lagers and everything that requires, and it was a great example of what this partnership could be going forward.
BSG: How long have you been working with CanCraft?
Richard: At the scale we were at about five years ago, it was very difficult to manage printed cans for five brands. We were getting printed cans from another supplier in Calgary. We had a few beers we liked, and we decided to expand our lager portfolio into five brands. We knew we wanted to transition to sleeve, and we explored that with Jacqueline. Working with the CanCraft team allowed us to forecast out 12 months and secure a really strong per-unit base.
BSG: What’s important to you when working with a can supply partner?
Richard: The people are the most important thing. People get you out of a hole. People respond quickly when you’re in a pinch. The number of times Jacqueline [Fell, Director of Business Development and Darien [Gopee, Technical Sales Manager] have come to the rescue – it’s huge. It’s been huge.
And for me, it’s a two-way street. How do I make life easier for CanCraft? It’s about forecasting, making projections, and building long-term stability. Jacqueline was a big part of that. One of the reasons we have been able to survive and thrive is because of this relationship, the stability, and our ability to forecast out farther than some of our competitors. During the pandemic, we were able to secure all the inputs we needed, and we didn’t experience any supply chain disruptions.
BSG: Has Old Flame used CanCraft’s design services?
Richard: Outside of “From Bamberg,” we’ve had design help with one other beer. We’re launching one of our core West Coast IPAs in a 473mL sleeve. We used a little in-house design and asked CanCraft to help retro-fit it to the 473 Sleeve.
BSG: What would you say to another brewer considering partnering with CanCraft?
Richard: We actually did it. There’s a local cidery here, Two Blokes Cider. We recommended that they check out CanCraft because the people are smart. They’re flexible in as many ways as they can be. Their response to quality concerns is impressive. They take accountability and provide great communication.
BSG: Thanks for the wonderful chat, Richard. We look forward to tasting those lagers one day soon!
If you’re interested in seeing where your brand can go with CanCraft, get in touch today!