British Columbia

'Stout' friendships exist between craft brewing rivals

The second part of On The Coast's Hopped Up series tells the story of how B.C.'s craft brewers often support each other in ways competitors in other businesses rarely would.

Three competing brewers shared a 'pilot' brewing system to get their businesses off the ground

(Left to right) Mauricio Lozano of Faculty Brewing, Chris Charron of Steel Toad Brewery, and Ryan Parfitt of Luppulo Brewing all got their businesses up and running by sharing a "pilot" brewing system originally purchased by Charron. (Jeremy Allingham/CBC)

Hopped Up is an On The Coast series exploring competition, challenges and change in B.C.'s craft beer industry.

In Vancouver's craft brewing scene, rival brewers are technically competitors, but more often than not, they tend to get along like peas in a pod — or cans in a six-pack, if you prefer.

Chris Charron of Steel Toad Brewery, Mauricio Lozano of Faculty Brewing and Ryan Parfitt of Luppulo Brewing are an example of this cooperative spirit.

They share a "pilot" brewing system because they see each other as allies, rather than competitors, in the fight to take more market share from large brewers.

Charron purchased the system, which he described as a "souped-up home brewing system" to get Steel Toad started.

With his industrial brewing system online, he ran out of room for the pilot system, which seemed destined for storage. But then Lozano started a brewery right across the street from Steel Toad.

"We ended up putting the system in his brewery and he started doing some recipe development on it," Charron told On The Coast's Jeremy Allingham. "He still allowed me to come play around on it if I wanted to."

'It was awesome to have it'

Lozano described the system as a major boon for his young business.

After he managed to find a place to rent, he had to wait for development and building permits to come through before he could begin operating at full steam.

"I sat on an empty warehouse for about 10 months," he said. "So having the system was brilliant because I had 10 months of pilot brewing in the space. I was able to use it for maybe six days of the week, Chris would use it the other day of the week. We would give feedback to each other, I got a lot of mentorship."

An example of a pilot brewing system. Chris Charron of Steel Toad Brewery, Mauricio Lozano of Faculty Brewing and Ryan Parfitt of Luppulo Brewing all used the same pilot system (not pictured) to start their businesses. (Chris Lexow/Flickr)

But once Lozano got his permits, he no longer needed the pilot system. So, he paid it forward by loaning the system to Parfitt, who was starting his own brewery.

"It was awesome to have it around to work on my recipes … we all got to brew together and learn from each other and help each other out," Parfitt said.

'You help your friend'

Parfitt says not every brewery owner plays nice with the other kids, but those ones tend to be the exceptions.

He says since Prohibition times, brewers have often stuck together, especially in the face of government regulations. The camaraderie seen in B.C., he says, is an extension of that spirit.

"The craft beer industry is still a small share of the whole beer sales. … Collaborating is basically small breweries against big breweries," Lozano added. "It's not just businesses collaborating: we became friends. You help your friend."

The pilot system's latest stop has been Andina Brewing Company, which opened just this year.

And with craft brewing still growing in B.C., it's next stop is anyone's guess.

With files from On The Coast and Jeremy Allingham

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Competition exists, but so does collaboration in B.C.'s craft brewing scene


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