We've come to discover that the craft beer industry is full of innovators, hard workers, and people gravitating to the simple fact that beer brings people together. One app involves all of those great people/elements and brings new people through the door of local breweries. It's name? Craft Beer Passport !
We chatted with the app's founder, Mike, about its origins and exciting future! The Craft Beer Passport allows you to purchase "stamps" to redeem at craft breweries across Ontario for a $2 beer. The perfect app for a beer drinker looking to discover some of the amazing craft beers that we've had the privilege to pour from our mobile bar and tap truck.
1. How did the idea for Craft Beer Passport come about? Do you remember where you were?
I had been traveling in Europe and Asia and found that most of my adventures involved walking around in a new town or neighbourhood and making pit stops at various bars and breweries. I was using those establishments as 'anchors' for my exploration! When I returned to Toronto I missed it terribly and began thinking about how I might help recreate that experience here in my hometown and offer it to others. Also, this was back in 2014 when the LCBO still had a terrible beer selection and there weren't online stores, so the only way to really get to know the amazing beer offerings we had here in Toronto was to visist the breweries and better beer bars directly. I dreamed up the Craft Beer Passport to help give people the push they need to go out there and explore their local beer scene!
2. When you first got the experience going, did anything really surprise you about the behaviour of craft beer drinkers or the users or Craft Beer Passport?
When it started out the Passport was a paper card with 20 establishments on it. I was surprised to find that many people interpreted this as a implicit challenge to 'collect all the stamps' and some (regrettably) set off to do this in a weekend or even a day! This isn't really possible today with over 120 establishments but i'd still like to introduce a bit more 'gamification' into the app...visit all the spots in a neighborhood get a bonus stamp as a reward, anyone!?
3. Which brewery was first to join? How have you seen them grow as a business and brand from when they started on the app?
The first establishment to join was out pals at Handlebar who really helped us out in so many ways along the way. The first brewery was Rainhard Brewing who were just opening their doors when they first appeared on the Passport. They've grown enormously since having nearly doubled their brewing capacity--with a kick ass barrel-aging program--and amazing events every weekend at the brewery and in the parking lot area which they share with neighbouring Shacklands Brewing and Junction Craft Brewery; all of whom are also on the Passport!
4. What part of your app experience would you say people need to take more advantage of?
Can I have two? The first would be using the map to plan out afternoon beer crawls or trips out of town to visit nearby breweries! Down the road we'd like to develop a way to plan and share suggested routes with others for this purpose! The second would be our referral program. You can share your code with a friend who will get 1 stamp upon entering it (stamps are good for one $2 beer at any participating establishment) and when they use that stamp you as the referrer will get 1 stamp in return. Round up 4 friends and take them out for a beer and you'll add 4 stamps to your account! Get the picture?
5. What have you discovered about the world of beer in your time building Craft Beer Passport, and how has your view on the industry changed if at all?
I feel like the industry is always changing which makes it a really fun one to be a part of. However, there are few things which I think have been true of it from the start and continue to this day. For instance, despite the vast number of breweries in Ontario today it remains a highly collaborative industry. We see this most obviously when two or more breweries make collab beers together but behind the scenes they also lean on one another for expertise, supplies and support. It's also always been an industry focused on innovation. Again, this is most obvious in the styles and flavours of the beer itself but it trickles down to aspects as diverse as label design, taproom decor, beer names, approaches to financing--and key to the success of the Craft Beer Passport--events and marketing! I've always been made to feel welcome in the industry because I think at the end of the day it's full of passionate and fun loving people who don't always take things so seriously!
6. What’s your favourite beer right now?
Kensington Brewery just started putting Tuckerbox in short cans and i've been all over it lately. This is a Sour Farmhouse Ale that balances its fruit (pineapple) and spice (lemongrass?) notes perfectly with just enough pucker to it. I'll be contemplating this one all summer by the water, for sure.
7. If you were to expand the app to another country, where would be the first stop? A specific brewery?
Funny you should ask. We've got a paper Passport running in Newcastle, England as we speak! A close friend moved there and was impressed by the local beer scene so we made it happen! I still feel like we've got a LONG way to go in Canada but I think the USA makes a ton of sense next. I'd love to see it in NYC...a city I visit often and Other Half Brewing comes to mind as a clear fave.
8. What’s next for Craft Beer Passport?
Expand coverage across Ontario and continue to develop features that makes the experience that much more fun! We've just opened in the Muskokas this month and want to get to Niagara and PEC soon after that! For the app, we're working on notifications to remind you to use up your stamps before they expire, a 'My Passport' section to log your beers and keep track of where you've been and as mentioned earlier, enhancements to the map that would let you plan routes!
(editor's note: this is all amazing.)
9. What part of the Ontario Beer scene do you see changing for the better?
Thanks to the efforts of writers like our pals, Ren Navarro (https://www.beer-diversity.com/), Robin LeBlanc (https://thethirstywench.com/) and SOBDL (https://ladiesdrinkbeer.com/), an industry historically dominated by white men is becoming more and more diverse and inclusive. It's change that we'd like to see in all industries, but I think it is important to appreciate how important diversity is to an industry where collaboration and innovation are keys to success. Despite the sad history of exclusivity in the beer industry, the craft beer industry--as a reversal of so much that was wrong with macro-- is primed to correct this too and become a leader in inclusivity.
This summer, be sure to try Craft Beer Passport and plan a day out with friends!