by Tim Jerding
Last month, we featured centuries old Brewery Rodenbach here on our blog. Today, we visit with Justin Baccary, owner and founder of Denver’s freshly five-year-old Station 26 Brewing. I often think how such a wonderful time it is to be beer drinkers: we’re able to enjoy both world-class beers from masters such as Rodenbach and explore new companies that are putting out fantastic products such as Station 26, among the countless other young companies across the country. Even elder statesmen like Anchor and Sierra Nevada are young compared to our European counterparts.
The beer culture in this country is so adolescent and ambitious, it’s both thrilling in the moment and thrilling to think about the future. Station 26 is a fine example of a company operating in a thoughtful and intelligent manner in our market. First of all, and most important, the beer is good and consistent. Their focus on self-distribution and a small footprint creates a sense of community and a commitment to that community. Which in turn creates loyalty between the brewery and those consuming their product. Everyone wins. I exchanged an email with Justin recently in which we discuss beer, business, and the future. The following is that exchange.
What were some of your early inspirations that motivated you to get into the brewing business? Were you originally in the brew house at Station 26?
I moved to Colorado 11 years ago and immediately started exploring the craft beer culture across the state, and I can still picture the 750 ml cork and caged bottles of New Belgium’s La Folie that I used to buy in their taproom. Like a lot of brewery founders, I started home brewing as a hobby. I started in my kitchen then graduated to a larger all-grain setup in the backyard. Eventually I quit my finance job and took a brewer job (and the associated pay cut). My motivation to open Station 26 was to create a beer focused “third space” for the Park Hill and Stapleton neighborhoods, which at the time lacked a brewery to call their own.
In the early days of S26 I helped out in the brew house but our brewers have always been better at making beer than I was, so I have always focused my time on doing what I do best – creating the vision for what Station 26 can and should be and leading our growing team on that journey (plus all of the boring but necessary things that all small business owners do on a week to week basis, like paying bills).
What total production will you hit this year and what are your 5, 10, and 20 year goals for the company in regards to production? With the market so saturated in Colorado, and a customer base that is seemingly always looking for the new thing.
We’re celebrating our Fifth Birthday this month and we’ll do close to 7,000 BBLs in 2018. That’s about 6,000 BBLs more than my original business plan called for. We don’t have specific volume goals for 5/10/20 years out, but we’re planning another big growth year in 2019.
While it is true that some consumers only want to drink new beers (note to them: you can drink the same beer more than once!) I believe there’s still power in flagship beers. 303 Lager, Tangerine Cream, and Juicy Banger IPA are consistent, high-quality beers and we know that consumers reach for them regularly because sales of all of them are growing every month.
Our long-term vision at Station 26 is to be one of the go-to breweries for beer drinkers across the state. There are still a lot of drinkers that don’t know Station 26 in the Denver area, and that percentage increases the further you get from the brewery, so we’re focused on making great beer and getting it into the hands of more and more Colorado craft beer fans!
I really love how you self-distribute and understand you’ll be using a distributor for your grocery sales starting in the new year. What are your thoughts on the changing laws and how do you see it effecting your business? Do you foresee self-distributing long term? Do you think you’ll begin distributing other breweries?
I believe beer sales in chain stores was inevitable. While there’s been some grumbling about the implementation of chain sales, I think the compromise that was struck back in 2016 was better than the alternative (immediate sales everywhere without a phased-in component).
We’re still a small team and there’s no way we could handle delivery and merchandising at all of the chain stores ourselves, so we teamed up with a distribution partner that will handle chain business for us. We will continue to self-distribute to all of our existing accounts, both on- and off-premise. We really love self-distributing beer and have no plans to stop doing that any time soon. We’re one of the largest self-distributing breweries in Colorado, and I believe our distribution platform is a competitive advantage for us. We interact with retailers and consumers more frequently than breweries who partner with a wholesaler. We can also be more flexible than other suppliers – we regularly deliver to our key accounts outside of their scheduled delivery day, sometimes in personal vehicles on weekends if necessary!
We currently don’t distribute for other breweries but we have been approached about it and it’s definitely something that we’ve considered. We’re still growing our wholesale business rapidly so that’s our focus for 2019 but I learned a lesson a few years ago so I never say never…
It’s really too soon to say at this point how grocery store beer sales will impact Station 26. We’ll be in a few dozen stores on January 1, and we’ll take it a month at a time. The reality is that no state has done what Colorado is about to do – I think breweries, wholesalers, existing retailers, chain stores, and beer drinkers are all curious to see what happens.
What are some classic beers that really do it for you? Conversely, what new breweries are making beers that have made an impression on you?
I made a comment to my wife the other day that I could probably drink only Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Coors Banquet for all of 2019 and get by just fine, so I’ll say those two classics. On the new breweries side, I don’t get out as much as I used to but I really enjoy the beers that Woods Boss and Liberati are putting out right now. Liberati in particular is doing something that no one else is, both on the beer side and the food side of things, and to me it’s exciting to see entirely new things in a beer scene that can at times seem very repetitive.
A special thanks to Justin for partaking in our series. Happy new year, all.