Who are you and what is your background?
My name is Kenton (Kent) Donaldson. I graduated from UBC in 1984 with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Geological Engineering (Applied Geophysics Option). I spent 20 years in the Alberta “oil and gas patch” engaged in seismic geophysics to pick exploration well locations. It was great fun and eventually highly profitable.
Your job and current title?
President & Chief Beer Officer at Whitetooth Brewing Company Ltd.
In what city?
Golden, British Columbia, population 3,800 which is surrounded by five national and provincial parks.
A word to define what type of worker you are:
Where does your interest in microbrewery come from?
The “oil and gas patch” was exhilarating work but when it came time to retire, I needed something else to do to maintain brain activity. I decided to pivot towards what I call the “beer patch” because I had always been obsessed with beer culture. During my “oil” years, I had become an avid home brewer and acquired BJCP certification. My wife Shelley and I had also been traveling to the US west coast and in Quebec checking out breweries. I suppose you could say that while we were enjoying the beer, we were gathering intel.
Eventually, five years ago I made a trip to Belgium with a group of friends from Vancouver and it was a revelation. I sampled 158 unique beers in 18 days. Belgian beer and its culture had a profound effect on me. I remember sitting on the terrace at the Waterhuis in Gent sipping a triple when I realized that I was going to have to build a brewery to feed the obsession.
What makes your beer unique? Why?
We brew two lines of core beer styles – one with Belgian yeast and one with a British yeast – which we refer to as Belgian-Inspired and West-Coast Influenced. Sometimes we use German yeast strains for our limited releases. It provides our tasting room customers with a great deal of variety. We occasionally brew to BJCP style but for the most part, we brew hybrid styles.
What is the size of the brewery (number of barrels per year, etc.)?
We have a four vessel 18hL brewhouse built by Newlands Systems. We brewed 1046 hL in 2018 after 2.5 years of existence (we opened 01Dec16).
What tools are essential to your life (app, software)?
I love Google’s cloud application workspace because it is versatile and allows for work mobility. Our IT guru also set up a cool app on my phone to input keg and bottle orders which helps to structure deliveries. We use Hubdoc and Quickbooks Online for accounting, TouchBistro for point of sale and EKOS for brewery management software.
What does your office space look like?
I run two offices – one at my home in Calgary, Alberta and the other at the brewery. Both spaces are spartan and focused on functionality. We like to keep paper retention to a minimum…
Do you have a way to organize your days to optimize your work?
Google Keep and Calendar augmented with just a plain old pen and a pad of paper…
Any “tips” to improve productivity?
Work-life balance is essential. Frequently engage in activities that reset your brain and body. I ride my mountain bike and ski powder snow as much as I can. It makes me focus better when I do spend time in the office.
Can you give us a tour of your local craft beer brewery scene?
The local craft beer scene is very small given the size of the town. Whitetooth is the only brewery in Golden. Our tasting room is very popular. We’ve managed to convert a few people from mainstream beer to craft beer, while also satisfying experienced beer geeks.
How do you control the growth of your microbrewery?
We are debt free. We live within our means. We rely on organic cash flow growth to fund and grow brewery operations. We are not in a hurry to become larger but might strategically leverage if we could de-leverage quickly afterward.
What is your strategy for making your beer known? (tastings, festival, etc.) Why this strategy?
We attend a few festivals to build brand awareness and as perks for our staff. Mainly we rely on word-of-mouth and social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) to make our beer known.
About design, what does your brand represent/reflect?
We celebrate the mountain culture found in Golden BC, especially outdoor adrenaline sports, accompanied by the perfect beverage (Whitetooth beer) afterward. Our tagline is: “Beers to Toast your Ultimate Moments”.
Design: how was it designed? By who?
Hired Guns Creative, located in Nanaimo, BC, designed our logo and labels after we filled out an extensive intake questionnaire so they could get a feel for what Whitetooth was all about.
Whitetooth Brewing was named after the local, historic ski hill in Golden, BC – so Hired Guns decided to design our logo taking cues from outdoor adventure gear and Swiss style design. The logo is comprised of a monogram “W” with an abstract set of teeth and an iconic black diamond in its negative space. The labels reference National Parks posters and outdoor adrenaline sports activities.
What inspires you and motivates you to go to work every day?
My grandparents and parents inspired me to do my own thing. When your family is entrepreneurial, your own motivation comes easy.
What is the best advice given to you?
1) Minimize debt. 2) Under-promise and over-deliver. 3) You can’t manage what you don’t measure. 4) Maintain a bias to action. Execute.
What are your end and start routines?
I prioritize goals and tasks for my upcoming day at the end of the previous day. Same goes for weeks and months.
What were your biggest challenges as an entrepreneur?
Realizing that making mistakes is essential to growing the business. You have to take calculated risks. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. No worries. Starting with no capital was very challenging but once you build up your own funds, you can chart your own destiny. I always told myself that if you become really skilled at doing something, success will ultimately follow.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start a brewery?
Respect the beer, first and foremost. Quality should drive every decision you make from your supply chain to equipment selection, to water profile. PS: distribution margins are thin, tasting room margins are thick so plan accordingly.
Apart from your computer and your phone, what gadget cannot you do without?
Fujitsu ScanSnap IX1500 compact desktop scanner which helps minimize paper retention.
Any new projects coming soon?
We are doing our first mobile canning trial for two sessionable beers this summer to meet the demand for packaging that can be taken into the outdoors without risk of breakage.
At the end of the day, what kind of beer do you drink to relax?
I love drinking classic, old-school west-coast style IPA – as long as it’s fresh.