Innovation Destination Hartford toured Cold Creek Brewery in Ellington, CT and met Founder Jamie Boucher, Derek Evans, who was running operations for the brewing, and Master Brewer Sean Piel.
IDH: Cold Creek Brewery opened the last week of August 2015. It’s now January. How did the brewery come to be?
BOUCHER: About a year and a half ago and I had the idea for a business. I had been doing some brewing with Derek and his father. Everyone loved the beer. I had the time and resources to be able to make the business out of it, so we decided to go for it.
IDH: So was there a major “aha” moment?
EVANS: My “a-ha moment” was very early on, standing around with my dad and Jamie saying, we should open up a brewery.
BOUCHER: There have been a few “a-hah moments.” Derek’s moment is as vivid for me as it was for him. I would have to add the day we had the equipment delivered and moved into place. It was that day when Derek, Sean, Phil, and my father (Ron) were all here and we were watching the equipment move into place. It was then that what we had was “recognizable” as our brewery. There was a lot of satisfaction that day and smiles from ear to ear on our staff. It just felt good.
IDH: Why the Ellington location?
BOUCHER: I’m a resident here in Ellington.
EVANS: Right, and we figured out that we had a good market here. We’ve had great feedback and good support from customers who live in town—and from the town itself. The town of Ellington has been nothing but helpful. Everything from the economic committee, the Chamber of Commerce, the Town Council, and the Town Planning Office has been very supportive. It’s nice to have the community behind us.
BOUCHER: Derek is spot on about the town and local support. However, more intrinsic is the weekly help we get from our staff and volunteers. When you start a new enterprise such as this, everyone has to be on the same page and you need good help. That is where the dedicated support from Bernie and Diane Evans and my family, including my father, my wife Kelly, and her sister Sue have been extraordinary. The buy-in of our staff and volunteers—in addition to working the long hours that are needed to make a startup succeed—has made all the difference for Cold Creek Brewery.
IDH: How did you find the space?
EVANS: When we got the building in the winter of 2015 it was completely empty. We had been looking for a commercial industrial space. This whole industrial park is owned by an Ellington resident we’ve known for a long time. When Jamie and I walked in and saw the space, we knew. It was perfect. The space is two 2000 ft.² side-by-side. It was exactly what we’d been looking for.
Jamie did a ton of legwork working with architect engineer try to get planning and zoning in the town to allow a brewery in an industrial space and to get all the plans approved.
IDH: Tell us a little about the brewing system and technique.
EVANS: We wanted to bring somebody in before we even got equipment in here to help with the logistics—where the tanks should go, where the line should go, was there anything we were missing?
Sean helped us with a lot of the design pieces, especially with locations of tanks, just how to make things run smoothly. He’s been incredible.
BOUCHER: Sean, Derek and Phil Brunton, who helps with sales, have all been very integral, in addition to our family and volunteers. The brewery needed the experience and the youthful drive of someone like Sean. Unless a startup has that guy who can help with quality, brew house efficiency, and proper sanitary procedures, we would be spending our first six months trying to learn the system and “try” to make good beer. With Sean, we got the best of both worlds.
IDH: One thing that differentiates Cold Creek Brewery from some of the other breweries is that you typically have 10 to 12 different types of beer. So you have a good variety.
PIEL: We do a lot of small batches. We have the equipment to tweak the recipes and stuff like that.
BOUCHER: The funny thing about variety is that it is a double-edged sword in that it can hurt you and help you. We don’t come out with 10 offerings in week or a month because we need to make sure the quality is there. Quality over quantity—and definitely quality over speed.
No one in the beer community gives you a medal for making 10 offerings if you do it fast—the community wants the beer to be representative of the style, and they want you to put your mark on it. Sean’s attention to detail is a great asset for Cold Creek.
IDH: How are you marketing and getting your name out there?
EVANS: From a marketing standpoint, we are using almost every outlet of social media there is.
IDH: Is there a lot of word-of-mouth?
EVANS: Yes. Actually, so far we’ve done very little as a way of typical advertising in the marketplace. We were hoping by the time we opened that enough people had tried some of our beer, and once we started getting into bars and restaurants that the product would speak for itself.
PIEL: A lot of breweries when they’re opening the post it online one or two years before they’re opening.
IDH: To generate a buzz, so to speak.
PIEL: Yes. We were trying to approach that from a different angle and just sort of open by surprise.
BOUCHER: Right, we tried not to pound on our chest to say, “Look at us” two years before we opened. Our intention today, five months after we have opened, is the same as it was on the day we opened and that is to let our product speak for itself. Our idea really circles back to the quality issue I mentioned earlier.
IDH: Did you do a lot of tastings and things like that?
EVANS: Right when we opened we did a couple of events including Hops for Hope in Somers, which is a local charity event. We poured kegs worth of samples that day, and there was a huge buzz about us, which definitely helped with the local area.
IDH: How did you get into restaurants and bars?
EVANS: There’s a bar maybe 2.5 miles from here called The Hidden Still. We’ve known them for a couple years; it’s the local place to go. We were talking with them before we opened and they’ve been on board since day one. Once we had them, it grew exponentially, especially locally in Ellington, Somers, Tolland, and Stafford. And we recently made a huge jump from being local to cross the river. Now we’re available in Simsbury, Farmington and down in Wallingford, Middletown, Waterbury, and Watertown.
IDH: So how many different places are featuring your beers?
BOUCHER: The number of locations we deliver to is now in the mid-40s, but that number fluctuates based on our offerings. Phil has been instrumental in getting many of our accounts on board. Sometimes it takes multiple conversations, meetings, and tastings before a new restaurant or bar will make the jump. Timing is also an issue, along with tap availability.
IDH: Cold Creek beers are in bars and restaurants. Is it available in package stores?
BOUCHER: We are now starting to have that conversation with package stores and such. We plan on hitting that area in January 2016. However, there are some offerings that will only be available for purchase at the brewery.
IDH: As far as the future, do you plan to distribute out-of-state?
BOUCHER: At some point in time we will move to distribute out of state. There are other requirements that have to be met for that to happen. We’ll give it a hard look in 2016, but realistically it could be early 2017 before we pull the trigger.