From Finance to Craft Brewing, an entrepreneur story

Today, Renaud Gouin has two microbreweries in Montreal, he has been one of the key industry innovators in the past decade, seeing the potential for hoppy beers. How did he become a brewer and entrepreneur? We will have a look at his journey, from HEC Montreal to Jukebox and Avant-Garde.

The beginnings

 

At first, Renaud didn’t like beer. Because beers were unflavored, standardised, industrial. When he discovered some Belgian beers, he realised that beer could be fruity with almost a non-existent bitterness.

During his studies at HEC Montreal he started home-brewing and discovered that he could actually brew beers that were above industry averages. He also found out that the community of craft beer lovers was a passionate and dynamic one, ready to share their knowledge and experience through social platforms like the MontreAlers on Facebook. Still an amateur, Renaud accepted a position at Desjardins as a Personal Finance Advisor and decided to explore his new passion further.

A potential for innovation

There is such a diversity of flavors in craft beers: fruity, sour, even salty flavors! Some hops like Citra can create flavors of tropical fruits, litchi, passion fruit, without adding any fruit in the brew! Some yeasts like Brettanomyces can give a sour taste of hay.

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one of the very interesting infographics made by https://vinepair.com 

 

In Quebec, in the early 2010s, over 50 types of beers where still not accessible. There was one particular type that was still not adopted by industrial and medium-sized breweries: that of American Pale Ales and Indian Pale Ales. Their intense bitterness made everyone wince. But Renaud was already creating his own.

When Renaud the corporate vision of life, he decided to take a leap in entrepreneurship but he knew that he could not invest in the heavy and expensive equipment and open his own brewery. He had read a lot about contract brewing and how it succeeded in the US. Without equity, this innovation in manufacturing industry clearly eased the transition to being an entrepreneur for home brewers.

Renaud pitched his idea to Brasseurs de Montreal. At that time, they had never tried the model but as they were not into creating similar products, they decided to go for it.

Introducing hoppy beers in Quebec

renaudRenaud analysed the market and clearly saw an opportunity to catch:

“Unibroue had concentrated their efforts on creating Belgian-style brews while McAuslan was more traditionally focused on English styles but hoppy beers were new to Quebec”

He also wanted to innovate the branding and offer a disrupting image to his beers: unlike industrial or regionally focused images used by the other players, Renaud wanted to offer a whole new world: in 2012, he created his first microbrewery, Jukebox, around the world of rock music. The hoppy flavor of each of the products is as electrical as the guitar on the labels.

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If amateurs and curious gourmets liked his new products, Renaud was still working part-time at Desjardins because he needed cash flow.

“Contract brewing was great for distribution and increasing sales revenues but it did not include representation and promotion which is a crucial part.”

Innovating vs. creating profits

With Jukebox steadily working, Renaud wanted to create new products and innovate:

“One thing is to be focused on growth but I am more interested in creativity, passion and innovation and contract brewing is a perfect tool for testing the market and testing new flavors”

Renaud had met with Shawn Duriez, an ex-brewer from McAuslan. They decided to create new innovative beers together and co-founded Avant-Garde. Shawn’s experience on the ground and Renaud’s entrepreneurial experience made them complementary.

Again, timing was of the essence: in 2016, they capitalised on another innovation in the industry: Julien Niquet and David Cayer, co-founders of Glutenberg, were launching Oshlag Brewery, and offering the first contract brewing service for craft breweries. Renaud and Shawn jumped at the opportunity.

With the high popularity of IPAs, they wanted to offer more classical beers while exploring new flavors. They focused their exploration on barrel-aged beers: the Porter Imperial Bourbon, for example, has a vanilla bourbon nose, mixed with coffee, caramel, even banana flavors. They also disrupt classical recipes with the Nocture Coco, an Imperial Porter made with an unconventional ingredient: coconut!

Introducing the new innovation in craft beer tasting, made in Quebec

If you live in Montreal nowadays, you must have heard of the art of craft beers. You must know that in Quebec, beer consumption can be as refined as wine tasting in France. To make this local strength more visible, Catherine Roux has created an innovative product to help you discover new microbreweries: Passeport en fût.

Create a local emulation

The original idea for Passeport en fût was discussed in August 2015, between Catherine and her co-founder Geneviève. Catherine worked with the Quartier Latin SDC (Société de développement commercial), an organization that helps retailers promote their activities in their local environment. In a neighborhood like Quartier Latin, where there are many breweries, bars and restaurant, she wanted to offer innovative ways to create a bond between SDC and the general public.

With the rise of craft beers in consumption patterns, focusing on microbreweries was the most natural move. Especially as there were no efficient models to help retailers promote their products: there are big events organized every year to promote the craft brewery industry (cf. Mondial de la Bière) but there is no real product or service to encourage people to discover breweries by themselves, throughout the year.

“Microbreweries are real partners, they do not participate to our project, they are fully part of it”

From vouchers to a mobile application

photo Pascale Martel

A new startup was born. The original project was as simple as revolutionary: a booklet of vouchers – 12 vouchers for 12 beers (or non-alcoholic drinks) in 12 Montreal microbreweries, at a very attractive price, for a limited period. The vouchers were mailed directly to buyers. This model really put forwards breweries through a B2C approach.

For the two first editions, in 2016 and 2017, this paper version of the passport proved to be very popular but Catherine received a growing demand for innovating her product: turning the passport into a mobile application was an attractive idea, but it needed capital and expertise to succeed.

In 2017, Catherine met with the founders of a web agency, Okam and got a “professional” crush with its co-founders, Samuel and David.

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With this new partner, she could develop the app and bring her entrepreneurship adventure to the next level: through technology, she could extend the service to the rest of Quebec and serve a wider audience.

In October 2017, the new version of Passeport Local and the app were launched, with the opportunity to discover 12 locations out of 70 microbreweries throughout Quebec.

A new technology startup to promote local entrepreneurship

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The success of Passeport en fût crossed both the provincial and national borders and Catherine is currently working on possible projects in the rest of Canada and the US.

To implement these new developments, she has created another startup, PSSPRT, that specializes in developing technology products dedicated to discovering local companies and their products. Along with her partners from Okam, they are working on bringing personnalisation and customization to a whole new level, to help local companies expand their visibility with mobile tools.

“We are looking at opportunities to expand our technology beyond Quebec by selling usage rights to our app.”

We can’t wait to discover these new innovative products, but until then, a little bird told us that 15 additional microbreweries will join the Passeport en fût this Spring. To discover it all, you can download the app here.