By: Zach Geldert

Upstreet Brewery, located on Allen street, bustled as the Cadre sat down for an interview with their director of marketing, Mikey, to talk about the businesses success. Naturally, this was done over a beer. I was immediately intrigued by his easy-going nature as well as those of other employees at Upstreet. Everyone moved rapidly yet fluidly. Quintessentially, the employees’ work mimicked the brewery’s rapid rise in the craft brewing game on Prince Edward Island.

Upstreet opened in June 2015 with just a handful of people at the helm. Under the direction of brewmaster Mike (a different Mike), who has been brewing beer for a decade, the business quickly accelerated to its current form with 6 managers, 6 production team members, and 8 staff. I was amazed at how quickly the business had grown in such a short time and asked Mikey what led to such rapid growth. Mikey said that it was a combination of the team’s horizontal collaboration, active community engagement, and timing of market entrance. Mikey broke it down further and explained why each contributed to the company’s success.

The emphasis on horizontal collaboration, which is the open listening and contributing to ideas of all team members rather than the traditional top-down direction of the business, led to a variety of ideas being generated about the direction that the company should take. While not an entirely new approach to business, this model undoubtedly created a sense amongst the employees that they were valued members of the team, rather than simple pawns in one person’s plan. Furthermore, the employees strive to do the best they can for the company when they feel as though they have a real impact on the business.

Upstreet’s success, says Mikey, can also be attributed to their active community involvement. Mikey stressed that Upstreet wants to do more for their community than simply shell out money and throw up a banner when they sponsor a worthy cause. Upstreet prefers to host events at the brewery, such as their bicycle rally so that they are an active part of the community support process. This approach not only puts many faces to the Upstreet brand thereby humanizing the company, but it also encourages people to try Upstreet beer, hopefully creating return customers. For example, a portion of every sale of Upstreet’s Do-Gooder beer funds local art initiatives. At Upstreet everyone wins. Local organizations receive much-needed funding, Upstreet introduces more people to craft beer, and the best part, everyone gets to drink beer. What’s not to love?

Mikey highlights that, while the collaboration and engagement are crucial parts of Upstreet’s success, the timing of Upstreet’s entrance into the craft beer market had a major impact on their success. Until Upstreet opened there was only one craft brewery on PEI, the PEI Brewing Company (PEIBC). The owners of Upstreet realized the growth potential in the craft beer market, with the industry growing rapidly throughout the Maritimes as well as in Maine, and capitalized on the market opening. While Upstreet and PEIBC are technically competitors, Mikey stresses that the two companies cooperate and share in the common goal of increasing the amount of craft beer drank on PEI.

After delineating the company’s success, I asked Mikey if he could look to the future and where he saw Upstreet progressing to. Would they produce more varieties, move to different provinces, and how much of the beer market that he expected that the craft brewing industry would capture within 5-10 years? Mikey started off by saying that brewmaster Mike is always trying out new beer styles (such as the upcoming Indian Pale Ale “Black Tie Affair”) so there is always something new that will be on tap along with the company’s flagship beers. Mikey also mentioned that Upstreet is looking to begin offering 6 and possibly 12 packs of their Commons Pilsner (see upcoming article for a review of this nice, easy drinking, and tasteful beer). On the subject of expansion, Mikey noted that Upstreet is already in Nova Scotia liquor stores and they are looking at moving into the New Brunswick market.

However, if you have friends in other parts of Canada they miss out on trying Upstreet because it is harder to break into bigger markets and often not worth the cost of shipping the product long-distance. That being said, Mikey sees the potential for the craft beer market to grow on PEI and around the country. For example, while craft beer only makes up about 2% of total beer bought in Island liquor stores, it makes up 6% in British Columbia, and close to 25% in Maine, USA. With this kind of growth surrounding the industry, one would assume that there is still plenty of room for Upstreet, PEIBC, Barnone (the smallest of PEI’s now three craft breweries), and new competitors in the craft beer market on PEI.  

I would like to take the time to apologize to all the thirsty beer drinkers reading this article hoping to expand their taste buds; fear not, though. Coming later this week is a follow-up article on the Cadre’s beer tasting at Upstreet. We will bring you the inside scoop on four of the five of Upstreet’s flagship beers, Rhuby Social, Eighty-Bob, Commons Pilsner, and Do-Gooder. Finally, I want to give a big shout-out to Mikey at Upstreet for taking time out of his busy day (he had a large group coming in just as we left) to talk to the Cadre and give us an insider’s look at the craft beer industry on PEI. Remember, when you buy local everyone wins!