"Beer is the commodity that we sell, but our product is community…really what we’re selling is a place for people to be in and to be together in community.”
– Adam Semeniuk
Adam Semeniuk is the owner and operator of Red Bird Brewing in North Kelowna. Adam’s fascinating work history includes lumber mills, tire shops, Disney’s Club Penguin…and gold mining operations deep in the South American jungle. When Adam focused his entrepreneurial spirit on microbrewing beer, the result was Red Bird, a community space where Kelownians can enjoy high quality beer, good conversation, and live music.
In this episode Adam, Jason, and Joel discuss Red Bird’s origin story, brewery recipe development, what can be turned into great beer (anything!) and the parallels between their industries. As a rapidly expanding, multi-billion-dollar industry in Canada, what can brewing beer teach us about innovation, resiliency, and the future of other industries like cannabis?
[0:00] Jason and Joel welcome Adam Semeniuk, Owner/Operator of Red Bird Brewing - a North Kelowna microbrewery, passionate about excellent beer and great conversation. Adam describes his role as “everything:” deliveries, sales, marketing, scheduling, even retrieval of pretzels and propane.
[2:05] Red Bird is more than just “the brewery down the street from the police station” - they’re also available in several local retail locations with big plans for future growth. Adam discusses the challenges of maintaining production volume. Running out of beer – a good problem to have, and a bad one!
[5:00] The trio discuss Wimbledon’s foresight in purchasing pandemic insurance. But for the rest of us, quarantine meant having to adapt quickly. Red Bird’s drive-thru beer sales were so popular with the community that the brewery ran out of many varieties.
[6:27] The origin story: why beer? can cracks open Adam first discovered home brewing from his uncle and was blown away by the quality. His first experiments in a condo resulted in mixed, “sometimes drinkable” results. After working for Disney as a video game producer, Adam knew that entrepreneurship was for him, and considered cannabis before settling on brewing beer.
[11:10] Adam discusses the Kelowna microbrewing community and the benefits of different breweries bringing different vibes and styles of beer to the table. Red Bird’s vibe? Comfy cozy cabin.
[12:46] “So did you crush it?” He might have! But, Adam admits that it was the hardest thing he’d ever done, working a minimum 12 hours/day for 21 consecutive months. He discusses the challenges of securing funding from investors and mitigating risk as well as plans for Red Bird’s expansion. The best and hardest decision he ever made was to start small and grow organically, funding the whole thing himself. “Fortune favours the bold.” And if fortune doesn’t favour you? Leave town, learn how to juggle, and busk on the beach.
[18:00] Adam gives credit where credit is due: he is fortunate to have a great team looking after the quality of beer. Frequent blind tastings help develop new recipes and ideas.
[19:05] Is there a hops catalogue? Yes, actually! Adam discusses Red Bird’s malt sourcing and supply.
[20:04] The trio are enjoying Antipsipation – “the tips” – an IPA which has been known to generate several comical mispronunciations.
[21:20] Not every batch of beer can be solid gold. “I’ve dumped a lot of batches for sure!” Small batch experimentation keeps Red Bird flexible. Adam tells the story of how hops from team member Blake’s backyard a few blocks from the brewery led to a new recipe. Is a Vitalis hop oil brew coming soon to a tap near you?
[23:35] Jason and Joel discuss the many varied applications of CO2 extraction: “you can kind of put any plant you want in that machine…what do you have that grows, and what do you want out of it?” And, CO2 extraction helps to preserve a usable by-product. What used to be garbage is now also a product – sometimes even a product that’s worth more than the original material being extracted.
[26:50] What can we turn into great beer? Water, malt, hops, and yeast…and whatever you want.
[28:40] Adam discusses the formation of Red Bird partner’s current partnership group. Consultants and even landlords became friends and business partners. “I wouldn’t have been able to make the company as successful as it is today without their help along the way and I wouldn’t be able to expand it to what it’s going to be without their help now.”
[30:30] Adam discusses capacity and growth, and working within restrictive liquor board rules. Red Bird hopes to be able to accommodate around 700 patrons between “Big Bird” and “Little Bird” after expansion – even up to 1,200 with parking lot space. Live music has been popular at Red Bird, and the new facility will have two stages, and hopes to become a “middle ground” venue for touring musicians.
[34:44] Jason talks about Apple’s concept of “uncommon sense” – what do you do in a downturn (or pandemic)? If you’re following uncommon sense, invest, and do creative things, and hit the ground running.
[35:24] “Four pillars leaning on each other.” Adam’s partnership group shares common passions but each brings different strong points: a “beer guy,” an engineer, a financial magician, and Adam who brings branding, marketing, and customer experience ideas. This breadth of experience has brought resilience during COVID. Jason draws a parallel to cannabis startups, and the three pillar personas you need on your team to be set up for success: weed, money, and science.
[38:57] Adam discusses team decision-making dynamics. “We’re not fighting; this is how the meetings are!” The team does not stop until the best idea is presented.
[40:24] “You’ve had a century to get shit figured out.” Some say it took 30 years after prohibition to overcome customer hesitancies around alcohol. The cannabis industry is still young and figuring things out. What advice does Adam have for consumers and producers in this burgeoning industry? The trio discuss how the passage of time changes generational perception.
[42:58] Marketing can also help shift these perceptions. Coffee and beer consumers now expect consistency, variety, and great brands. What hurdles must the cannabis industry overcome to trend in a similar direction? Jason, Joel, and Adam discuss some of the confounding rules around alcohol and cannabis marketing.
[47:20] In the cannabis industry, products seem to be differentiating between mass produced, mass marketed, and craft production. How does Adam differentiate Red Bird from the beer “big players” and where does he want to be in the market? What labels does he assume, or avoid? How does Red Bird create an identity, without constantly re-creating themselves?
[51:28] The term craft beer – what doesn’t Adam like about it? “You’ve got to remember, this is just beer. It’s just a beverage.” Faux-pas - like mixing beer with cider, kombucha, or radlers - can be delicious!
[53:26] And then what? Adam discusses the future of Red Bird. What does “dominating Kelowna” look like? Adam discusses the excitement of building a local community space for live music.
[56:45] Adam’s time to ask the questions. What has Vitalis been up to? Lots of R&D and “inventing cool shit.” What other industries can apply these extraction technologies, and how can they be applied downstream?
[58:20] “We didn’t even touch on the Amazon!” It all started when Adam’s dad was 17… Adam discusses moving to Ecuador ahead of Y2K with one hockey bag, and his adventures years later: looking for gold with his father, exploring the South American jungle, and riding a motorbike through a warzone.
[1:07:20] Where do people find us?
Connect with Red Bird Brewery on Instagram at @redbirdbeer.
Connect with Adam Semeniuk:
Connect with Red Bird Brewing:
Selected Links on Topics Mentioned in this Episode:
Wimbledon’s pandemic insurance
Other local breweries:
Hosted by Joel Sherlock & Jason Laronde, Vitalis brings you wise, humorous and sometimes shocking conversations with entrepreneurs and extraction industry innovators on 'The Extraction Insiders'.