Home | Business in Action | January 09 | Big Rock Brewery

Big Rock Brewery

Proudly Serving Canadians for More Than 20 Years

Big Rock brews nine types of beer, and if you live in Canada, you’ve probably tried at least one. Big Rock produces, markets, and distributes bottles, cans, and kegs of specialty beers (craft beers) out of Calgary, Alberta. Big Rock also has sales and distribution facilities at the brewery in Calgary as well as in Edmonton. The company sells its beer in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. The company is successful because of the many people who have devoted themselves to brewing Big Rock’s premium beer. Their passion mirrors that of Big Rock’s founder – Ed McNally. He says that many of the people who originally worked with the brewery when it was in its beginnings are still with Big Rock (if they’re not retired, of course). “Some of the people at Big Rock have been here since we started, in 1985. Of course people like working in the beer industry, but people really like working at Big Rock.”

Big Rock beer is brewed under the Reinheitsgebot, a Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, which means that it’s brewed with only four ingredients: malted barley, hops, yeast, and water, and there are no preservatives. McNally says that there is a rhyme and a reason to brewing beer the way Big Rock does – and it has everything to do with creating something unmistakeably Canadian- and unique.

Looking for the next venture
The entrepreneur in McNally awoke when he was a barley famer getting paid a very poor price for barley in Alberta. McNally had decided to farm after several years working as a lawyer, and the hard work associated with farming convinced McNally that he had the stamina and drive to create a beer business. The only problem was that he wanted to start a brewery in one of the worst periods in Alberta’s economic history – during the aftermath of the early '80s recession.

“I had found a brewmaster, I just needed a brewery. This was not a great time to start a venture or this magnitude – 1984. Our province was flat on its butt. But I kept investigating the option, and not starting my brewery was not an option.”

He says things happened faster than he could have ever expected. With the help of his friends and family, McNally did what he needed to do to start his business. “We found a building, bought it for much less that asking, and we bought equipment that no one was interested in. We kept imagining the business and things would just appear for us – even people. The right people were attracted to what we were doing and came to help.”

McNally’s entrepreneurial will has made Big Rock’s beers known all over the country, although at retirement age, he insists on keeping an eye on all things Big Rock.

A responsible Canadian beer maker
This past quarter, the company commissioned an environmental study reviewing its operation and as part of recommendations in the study, Big Rock has hired an environmental management team. The seven employees on the environmental team are responsible for making sure Big Rock is environmentally sustainable, and the company has a goal to reduce resource use and utility costs in future months. In addition, at the many Big Rock music festivals across the country, patrons drank their beer from compostable cups as part of the company’s environmental initiatives.

Easing the pain of economic hardship Impressively, for the quarter ended Sept. 30, 2008, volume sales were up 10 per cent in the third quarter of 2008 compared to the same quarter in 2007 – this despite the state of the economy. Sales volumes in Alberta were up 12 per cent, British Columbia 19 per cent and Ontario was up 4 per cent. Says McNally “we’ve had a terrific few months; it seems that more people are buying our beer during rough times, to soothe their worries. We’re currently in a good financial position, and selling new products. We’re canning a hard cider and that is also selling very well.”

McNally says that deciding to start a brewery was a good idea, and he’s happy to be part of something that’s growing, despite the risks involved along the way.

“I think an entrepreneur has to be blind in a way. You have to have tunnel vision, and I think my success was based on smarts and stupidity in equal doses. Of course, if I had known some of the things then that I know now, I wouldn’t have taken some of the risks. But you have to do things even if other people think you’re making risky decisions. I thought other people were nuts for questioning me at times.”

All the names of Big Rock’s beers are attributed to Ed McNally, as well as the name of the brewery itself.

Big Rock products are available in Canada’s Eastern provinces through third party agents, and the company also exports its products to Korea and to Canadian Embassies throughout the world.

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