Behind the Brew: Side Launch Brewing Co.
June 19, 2018
To relaunch our Behind the Brew Series, we trekked down to Collingwood, ON to visit the Side Launch Brewery. It’s fitting that we’ve profiled Side Launch. As we breathe new life into the series, they’ve been brewing up something different, too – and taking their beers, and brewery – in a new direction. Read on for our Q&A with Dave Sands, Side Launch’s VP of Operations, as we chat about the importance of team spirit, his philosophical approach to brewing, and Side Launch’s 5-Year Plan.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, and what you do at Side Launch. Why beer?
I have the lofty title of Vice President of Operations, overseeing all the bits that ensure great people turn first-class raw materials into fantastic beer in our accounts. In a small business like ours, a day in my life can be everything from pilot and scale Brewing, to Packing cases on the can line, to budgets and strategic planning, to shoveling snow, and everything in between. Of course, there is a great team of people also doing these things at Side Launch each day with me, and most often better! I became a Master Brewer and started my brewing career 17 years ago because I loved beer (and needed a job) and haven’t left since because I love the people, the craft, the places and the industry.
While visiting Side Launch, we were struck by the sense of comradery and team spirit amongst your brigade of brewers. Do you intentionally encourage a philosophy of shared responsibility? If so, why?
Absolutely. I might start calling the group ‘The Brigade;' it has a ring to it. I guess the group approach is an extension of the collaborative nature of the brewing and a metaphor for life. Most brewers I’ve met want to learn about their craft, their industry, new brewers or breweries, and beers; there’s always something to learn from someone else. Furthermore, there aren’t too many achievements made in isolation. We have a great staff across the company who are passionate about beer and our company. We come from different professional, education and personal backgrounds. We’ve had different life experiences. Why not draw on the totality of that to make great beer and make us better brewers and people each day?
Side Launch is best known for brewing well-made, classic German beers. Is this a reputation that the company has purposely sought out – and will Side Launch continue to brew according to that tradition?
You could arguably trace the time-tested Bavarian portion of our portfolio back to the Reinheitsgebot, via Denison’s association with the Kaltenberg Group, but brewing has come so far since that tax law was enacted in 1516. I am so grateful that modern Craft Brewing has the benefit of generations of history and experience yet isn’t beholden to tax law, Appellation laws or other such limitations that stifle creativity, innovation, and progress. It is because of this freedom that we as beer consumers have so many wonderful locally made styles and beers to choose from these days and on into the future. I would expect that as our portfolio evolves, along with the industry and consumer, it will be filled with both Traditional and New World beers that are well made, flavorful and remarkable. At the end of the day, a large part of our beer making a decision is brewing beers we as a group want to drink ourselves and our tastes are ranging.
We are very excited for Side Launch’s newest release. Walk us through how your team went about brewing this – and scaling it up. Why a Dry-Hopped Sour?
It makes me thirsty just thinking about it… last summer we were making a handful of different sours on the Pilot kit in a host of different ways. Kettle sour, mash sours, single organism, multi-flora, barrel sour. You name, it we probably tried it once. Frankly, the biggest challenge was how to scale one for a seasonal without foeders or a barrel program, that we could make consistently, not shut down the brewery to make and not infect our other products. In parallel to this, we saw a gap in our portfolio for a summer beer that was flavourful, sessionable and refreshing. So, we put our heads together and figured out how to make it at scale, found the right bug to sour with and played with the dry hopping in a few iterations until we liked it. Why a dry-hopped sour? We liked drinking it last summer and thought others would too.
What’s the 5-year plan? Does Side Launch have their eyes set on expansion, and how do they hope to achieve this?
Ahhh…the million-dollar question! If I had all the answers to this, I would be retired. As you know the number of Brewers is growing by the day. The notion that if you make great craft beer it will sell itself forever doesn’t really ring true anymore; there are many brewers making wonderful beer. As an established producer, we need to be sure we continue to find the balance between producing our current portfolio consistently every day while introducing new beers to ensure we maintain our relevance and hold a fleeting consumer’s interest. We are fortunate to have an experienced and knowledgeable team and a world-class facility to our advantage to do this.
Around the time of this interview, you will have recently returned from the 2018 Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville. What were the major highlights this year? Any take-homes for Side Launch?
The CBC is so energizing and reminds me that I have the greatest job in an awesome industry. One of the best things about modern Craft Brewing, particularly the US segment, is how curious and fearless the brewers are and how science and technology is now part of the norm in Craft. Who’d have envisioned a decade ago a few hundred-people packed in to hear about dry hop research, but also PCR techniques and technology. Or the buzz around the hop merchants flogging not just new varietals and but also novel processing techniques. There’s no interest resting on one’s laurels in Craft Brewing. Innovation and creativity are at the essence of the Craft Brewing movement these days.
As for the highlight…it was admittedly not in Nashville, but the weekend prior in Mills River, NC at Sierra Nevada. The brewery is a temple and should be on the bucket list for any Brewer or Beer Aficionado.
We heard you spent some time working at a malt house many moons ago. What was your role, and how did that experience inform your approach to brewing?
I was fortunate to have a couple roles involved with Malting. One as a Manager of National Brewing Raw Material Quality (not sure how that fit on a business card!) and another as the Plant Engineer at a malt house in Minnesota. The most important thing I learned from my time in malting was ‘never blame the maltster’. A sage old Brewmaster taught me that. I have never forgotten it and have passed it along many, many times. I also learned how hard folks in agricultural related businesses, particularly in rural communities, work every day. Our staff at the malt house in Minnesota was in large part from farming families. They worked their butts off every day, on the kiln floor at temperatures above 50 °C or in the grain elevator when it was 40 below, never complained and were so proud that they had a hand in making world-class beers. Then they went home and worked on the farm! Some of the unsung heroes of the brewing industry that deserve interviews like this instead of me.
Favorite beer ever produced by Side Launch?
This is a deadly question. It’s like asking which of your children do you love the most. I’ll leave it open and say ‘the next one’. I love the creative process in brewing, it’s cliché, but it marries art, science and technology to create something tangible that you can consume. It’s a rewarding adventure each and every time we make (and get to taste) a new beer.
Dealer’s Choice! Who would you like us to interview next in our Behind the Brew Series? What would you ask them?
Mark Murphy from Left Field. I’d like to know Mark’s recommendation to fix the Blue Jays this year!
Did you miss the Side Launch Dry-Hopped Sour Tastings at Beertown? No fear! You can pick one up at LCBO's near you this summer! Stay tuned for more from Side Launch at www.sidelaunchbrewing.com. You can check out past Behind the Brew interviews at www.beertown.ca/buzz-blog or let us know about a brewery you'd like to see featured on Behind the Brew at firstname.lastname@example.org.