Red Circle Brewing connects with beer lovers through doorstep deliveries

By Ian Hunter

As the head brewer of Red Circle Brewing, Brett Croft didn't use to canvas neighbourhoods and meet people at their doors who love his beer. Because of the pandemic, now he does.

He looks forward to greeting these folks when Red Circle drops beer on doorsteps around the region.

Croft is the co-founder and brewmaster at Red Circle Brewing Co., a microbrewery in the heart of Kitchener’s Catalyst 137 building. The brewery opened its doors during Labour Day weekend 2018, but soon realized the community was thirsty for more.

“When you write the business plan and roll with it, as soon as we opened, within the first two to three weeks, people were asking: ‘What other beer styles can you make?,’” Croft said. “We went from 7 taps to 11, and quickly after that, we were going to primarily focus in KW for licensees, other bars and restaurants.

“It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been great so far in terms of community support and industry support.”

During the early days of the pandemic, Croft and his team at Red Circle shifted their entire business model from predominantly draft beer to cans. Where 80 percent of their volume was draft beer and 20 percent was canned beer, they pivoted to sell strictly canned beer.

“Within a week of the shutdown, we had to pivot and our tanks were full, so we had to get everything into cans and create an online platform so people could buy our beer, and then create a logistics operation so you could deliver beer in a certain amount of time,” Croft said.

In a matter of no time, Red Circle Brewing set up an e-commerce site to sell their beer and deliver it to people’s doorsteps in Waterloo Region. Croft noticed a great deal of brand loyalty and hometown support throughout the pandemic, as their beer production hasn’t declined much compared to 2019.

The home beer deliveries allowed Croft and his co-workers to interact with homeowners buying Red Circle Beer, a conversation that might not normally take place at the brewery. But the deliveries allowed them to meet face-to-face with the people drinking Red Circle’s beer.

“There are new opportunities that I don’t think anyone would’ve predicted before COVID,” Croft said. “Home deliveries; that was never a thing. So it was cool to see and have that interaction with people ordering your beer and dropping it off. In a strange way, it’s slowed things down a little bit, but it’s allowed for more interaction with people trying your beer and enjoying your beer.”

Croft comes from a prestigious brewing background, as his father spent 30 years in the brewing industry, and the junior Croft studied brewing in Chicago and Munich and boasts over a decade of experience in the beer industry.

He describes his brewing style as “complex, but sessionable”, which makes each of Red Circle’s beers approachable even to the introductory beer enthusiast. Red Circle started with four core beers; the Belmont Village Blonde Ale, the Iron Horse Trail IPA, the Night Shift Coffee Porter and the Sandhouse Hills Farmhouse Ale.

Croft works hand-in-hand with his head brewer Shane Devison and Red Circle’s territory manager Will Hunter. Over the years, they’ve brewed collaboration beers with Ren Navarro of Beer Diversity, Elora Brewing Company, Willibald Farm Distillery & Brewery, Wellington Brewery, Nickel Brook Brewing, and Phillips Brewing out of Victoria, BC.

Despite the Canadian Brewing Awards moving from an in-person affair in Victoria, BC, to a virtual event, Red Circle won two prestigious awards. Croft and his team submitted a virtual acceptance speech for their gold medal for their North American Style Blonde or Golden Ale, and a bronze medal in the Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer category.

While the award in the gold category was a pleasant surprise and a great honour for Red Circle brewing, Croft found the bronze in the barrel-aged category to be the biggest surprise because the brewery has a modest barrel-aged beer system.

“The bigger surprise was the Four Barrels for us, because we just started a barrel program last year with four barrels, because that’s all we have,” Croft said. “Making those beers is more of an art versus the science side, because you’re blending back different beers and making sure the barrel works with the base beer. That one was a shocker. It was humbling for us.”

To no surprise, Red Circle saw the post-award show bump with their Blonde Ale, as many restaurants and bars began asking to carry the award-winning beer on their tap lists. Croft also saw can sales of their gold medal beer increase after the Canadian Brewing Awards.

The increase in sales and awareness are two of the positive side effects, but Red Circle’s previous win at the CBA’s in 2019 opened the door for their collaboration beer with Phillips Brewing in Victoria. Phillips reached out to Red Circle after they saw the Kitchener-based brewery win bronze in the American style IPA category.

“It’s interesting to see based on professional style guidelines where your beer lands,” Croft said. “They’re looking for any off flavours, any defects in your beer. I always joke with people it’s like the cheap way for quality assurance for a small brewery to make sure you’re doing a good job.”

As for what’s on tap next for Red Circle, they just brought back their Night Shift Coffee Porter as a fall-winter seasonal, and they’ll also venture in the second version of their Four Barrels series beer, which won a bronze at the CBA’s.

The fact that breweries had to shutter their doors shortly after the lockdown could’ve had a catastrophic effect on local craft brewers. Thanks to unwavering loyalty and devotion, places like Red Circle thrive in the face of adversity.

“The community support; it’s truly beyond what I could’ve imagined,” Croft said. “People are supporting local now more than ever. I feel like it transcends for people. I was starting to order beer from other breweries. People are really starting to show support within their own community.”

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