Craft Beer & Cider, Customer Stories

Steamworks Brewing Co.: 28 Years of Craft Beer Trendsetting

At this stage of the game, craft beer and BC go together like malt and hops. In fact, there are currently 200 craft breweries in the province. But only a few have been part of the BC boom from the early days, and Steamworks Brewing Co. is one. Founded by Eli Gershkovich, a law school graduate inspired by the Belgian beers he’d drunk on his European travels, it’s now a West Coast institution.

“Twenty-eight years ago, our CEO, Eli, had a dream of providing craft beer locally in Vancouver,” says Steamworks Supply Chain Manager Cibele Martins. “And he succeeded.”

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Did he ever. Today, Steamworks’ Gastown brewpub is an iconic Vancouver destination, the dignified elder sibling of the company’s two other locations in Burnaby and Mount Pleasant. The name, Steamworks, derives from the steam line running through the historic neighborhood of its original location. That steam fires the kettles that brew the beers, giving Steamworks brew-masters a unique advantage. Since the steam is piping hot the moment it hits the kettles, they can brew with greater precision. Perhaps it’s no wonder that in its earliest days, Steamworks released beers that still command respect. The Lion’s Gate Lager came out in 1995—year one. The Flagship IPA ushered in the West Coast “haze craze”. And the Steamworks Pilsner is a frequently awarded standby.

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But pioneering trendsetters never earn the right to simply rest on their laurels—not in the madly competitive world of craft beer, at least. Steamworks Brewing is no exception.

“Around 2015, when the market in BC started really exploding, the Steamworks team had to meet a lot of challenges,” says Cibele. “We had to ask ourselves what consumers most wanted to drink.”

The team found all the right answers. In fact, in 2016 they won “Best in Show” at the BC Beer Awards. But there was another challenge waiting around the corner—one that would transform their industry for years.

“COVID really impacted the way we had to do business. We started selling so many more packaged products. In 2021, in the middle of the pandemic, we also had to find a new folding carton supplier. And everyone was having major problems with distribution. But fortunately, we found Great Little Box Company/Ideon Packaging (GLBC). They were able to get what we needed to us right away, no disruptions.”

With this new partnership established, Steamworks developed many new SKUs. They went from a company that only dealt in 8-packs to carrying 6-packs and 12-packs. All of this made a critical difference for retail sales. 2023 was a “great year”, according to Cibele.

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“I wouldn’t say that GLBC is managing our inventory,” she laughs, “but it’s almost that way. When one of my guys is pulling lots of Flagship IPA boxes, their team always notices and gives us the heads up about what needs to be resupplied. We share our forecast for the year with their team and they are prepared with the raw materials needed. Supply chains are harder than ever to manage, but not with a partner like GLBC.”

With this expanded line of packaged products, and new brands always rolling out, the Steamworks team is feeling good. And being part of the Vancouver craft scene is just as meaningful as it ever has been.

“I’m really proud when I think of how tasteful our beer is, and the way we work as a whole team to share it with the world,” says Cibele. “The thing about operating in the Vancouver craft beer industry is that everyone sees this as an opportunity to collaborate, not compete. But in order to be part of it, you need to be focused on quality. Which we are.”

Here’s to Steamworks Brewing Co., a truly legendary BC company that we’re so happy to support.

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