Prior to Rustic Reel’s launch, we sat down for a talk with Susi Foerg, the woman that built the business single-handedly from the ground up!
1. Hi Susi… tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: Sure! Hi I’m Susi! I was born in Germany and immigrated with my family when I was a little tot. I’ve lived the majority of my life here in Kelowna and absolutely love the Okanagan. I spend most of my time outside, going fishing, camping and hiking in the summer and fall, skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Even though my favorite activities are summer ones, I truly love the winter time, so Kelowna is a great place to be.
2. Has fishing and the outdoors always been a part of your lifestyle?
A: Yes definitely. Although most of my fishing memories from growing up involve my poor dad not getting time to fish, because he was busy untying my brother’s and my tangled lines, hahaha. In Germany a big activity is hiking, as there’s always a cabin at the top of the mountain with a little restaurant. My parents spent a lot of time with us kids going for hikes, and if we weren’t doing that, we were biking the KVR, swimming….. we were always outside.
3. What made you want to start a brewery?
A: About five years ago I was camping on the Sunshine Coast with a friend, and we went to Persephone Brewing. I IMMEDIATELY fell in love. Everything about it felt right – there was a comfortable, “friends and family”-type of vibe that I just hadn’t experienced anywhere before. I came home and shortly after started to look into creating something similar here in the Okanagan. With the ALR regulations shifting even further away from allowing breweries on farmland, I needed to adjust my vision, but building a brewery with the right type of feel remained, and that’s what I’m hoping to create at Rustic Reel.
4. How did you come up with the idea of Rustic Reel Brewing Company?
A: Rustic Reel is meant to be a place with an inviting and welcoming atmosphere, where everyone feels comfortable and included. I took what I liked about places in Germany, the feeling of a lakeside cabin, and then mixed it with some clean and simple elements. The look is a cleaned-up fishing cabin; rustic, unpretentious, cozy, with hand-picked details that stir up feelings of nostalgia. Imagine seeing an old thermos and cooler, remembering how your grandpa sat on the dock with you, teaching you how to tie a knot while eating a sandwich your grandma packed for you.
5. What is “The Tackle Box”?
A: The Tackle Box is our retail marketplace within Rustic Reel’s building. People visiting the brewery can fill their growlers here, pick up some brewery treats and merchandise, and a variety of items created and produced by companies throughout the Okanagan. It’s our chance to support local and give smaller companies a space to introduce their product. It’s one of the pieces of the project that’s most exciting for me.
6. Did you have experience in the craft beer world before you began your journey?
A: Hahahahahahaha!!! Oh my gosh, no! Before I began this journey, I worked in the financial industry and administration for 15 years. I must say that it’s been a huge asset in putting this business together, but it wasn’t until I spent six months down in Vancouver working at a new craft brewery that I learned about the brewery world.
7. So you trained in Vancouver for six months?
A: I spent six months in Vancouver helping out at Electric Bicycle Brewing. They’re truly an awesome group and are about to celebrate their 1-year anniversary. I was lucky enough to spend time and learn what takes place in the months working up to opening day. I took home so much experience and knowledge that I felt very prepared to open Rustic Reel.
8. As a female owner in a historically male dominated industry, are you finding any challenges or opportunities entering the craft beer world?
A: It hasn’t felt challenging as a woman; it’s just felt challenging because I’ve taken a little idea and now have an enormous vision! Hahaha! This industry is so amazing – everyone’s been in my position before, so established breweries are really willing and open to sharing information and giving support where they can. The opportunity I do see, is to create a space that is a bit more female-friendly. I have an amazing designer, Tara Reavie, who is incredible at adding just the right elements to give Rustic Reel the feeling and atmosphere we are aiming for.
9. What have been the largest hurdles in building towards owning your own brewery?
A: Honestly, there haven’t been any huge hurdles that couldn’t be dealt with. Matt Ryan of Electric Bicycle Brewing gave me a great piece of advice: “just settle in”. It’s about figuring out a solution, putting your head down and plowing through, because you’ll look back later and realize it really wasn’t such a big problem, and you’ve got the next issues lined up ahead of you, waiting to be dealt with.
10. Can you tell us about the actual size of the brewery system?
A: Our system is a 15 barrel brewhouse, running on steam. We have four double fermenters (30bbl), one 15bbl fermenter, and two double brite tanks
11. Will you be packaging beer as well or only focussing on selling beer through the tasting room?
A: Yes we’ll be packaging also. You’ll be able to purchase packaged beer in the Tackle Box, and as we grow hopefully in local retail stores.
12. What do you see as your main role with Rustic Reel… will you be brewing?
A: Oh boy. I’ll be wearing a LOT of hats, that’s for sure. I won’t be the brewer, no, although there may be times where I need to step in to help out. I’ll be there to support each one of my staff members, and all areas of the operations. I’ll be the person pouring beers, filling growlers, running food out to guests, slicing tomatoes in the kitchen, cleaning up messes… basically everything! I’m excited to get to interact with the public again, and also to support my staff. At my past places of employment I’ve had some amazing managers, and some terrible ones. I’m taking what I’ve learned from both sides, and hope to be the kind of employer that people love to work for.
13. What styles of beer are you planning on producing and will you have a signature beer or beer style?
A: We will be producing easy-drinking beers. While there’ll always be something on the menu that’s unique, I want everyone who comes to our brewery to find a beer that they’d like to enjoy again. I’m putting out beers that you can drink on a hot summer’s day, after a fall hike, and on a snowy afternoon.
14. Kelowna alone will soon have 10 (currently open or announced) or more local craft breweries… do you worry about the “bubble bursting” or the novelty of craft beer to wear off in the Okanagan?
A: No, not yet anyways. Look at how many wineries we have!!
I don’t see craft beer as being a novelty; it’s a culture that can and should grow in the Okanagan. Having more breweries together in an area brings more clientele as the culture is to have a beer with your friends at one microbrewery, then walk over to the next one, and then the next…. It’s a very social. The Okanagan continues to have tourists come year after year, the college and university brings new and returning students. Giving people more opportunities to meet, socialize, and visit the Okanagan is just what we need. The bubble won’t burst for quite some time.
15. Where do you hope to see Rustic Reel Brewing in 5 years? 10 years?
A: Running smoothly!!! Honestly, that’s all I hope for: to have a business that is running successfully, with clientele still enjoying our brewery, and staff loving their workplace. I’m not here to become the biggest, the best, the most unique, the most… etc. I just want to create a place that people are happy to come to.
16. Is there anything else you would like people to know about you and Rustic Reel Brewing Company?
A: This project means everything to me. I’ve put every ounce of energy and time into Rustic Reel, and hope that when we’re open and you come visit, you’ll get the experience and feeling that I’ve envisioned! Can’t wait to see you this summer!