SASKATOON – Great Western Brewing Company is celebrating 25 years of business in Saskatoon. It’s Saskatchewan-owned and operated and distributes product to all of western Canada.
The company’s president and CEO Michael Micovcin says Great Western has become one of the country’s most successful regional brewers.
Originally built in 1927, the Saskatoon brewery has been operated by a number of companies, including O’Keefe Brewing. In 1989, O’Keefe Brewing amalgamated with Molson Brewing Company, which led to some tense times.
“As part of the merger, Molson was going to shut down a number of the plants coast-to-coast, including the one in downtown Saskatoon, so they came in January of 1989 and told the employees that at the end of the year the brewery would be shut down and for the most part, most of the people would lose their jobs,” said Micovcin.
“By the fall of 1989, 16 employees decided to risk it all and with the support of the Saskatchewan government convinced Molson to sell them the brewery and in March of 1990 it reopened again as Great Western Brewing Company.”
Micovcin even attributes their success today, in part, to the “Original 16”, a premium brand of beer launched as a tribute to its founders who saved the brewery. He says it is the number one selling premium product in the province.
“These were 16 production employees who knew how to make great beer, really had no experience in running a company but decided to risk it all to save the brewery, save the jobs and we were very proud to launch that beer in tribute to these great people,” said Micovcin.
Of the 16 founding members, four are still working at the brewery, eight are retired and four have since passed away.
Great Western is holding a celebration to reflect on its past 25 years with an event Wednesday night at the Sheraton Cavalier Hotel and expects all founding members to be represented in some way.
Sixty people now work out of the Saskatoon brewery and approximately 90 people in total are employed by Great Western across western Canada.
The company produces nine different beers at its 2nd Avenue location in Saskatoon and all are now made with Saskatchewan-grown barley. Today, the capacity of the brewery is 360 bottles and 480 cans per minute.
Micovcin says the financial health of the company has never been better with 2014 being a record year.
“We’re coming off the most successful year in the history of the company, we’ve got a lot of momentum a lot of confidence and there’s a lot more we want to do,” said Micovcin.
“We want to be a success story throughout all of western Canada, not just Saskatchewan.”
Great Western is currently evaluating new product categories for the future to innovate and compete with the industry.
“There are other products that we’re looking at, both within beer, possibly outside beer but it’s a challenging industry, beer sales are declining by the day, people’s taste preferences are changing,” said Micovcin.
“There’s a few barriers but we’re pretty confident we can work through them and continue for this company to grow.”
Great Western was the official beer of the Canadian Football League and 2013 Grey Cup when the Saskatchewan Roughriders won. Its latest sponsorship focus was with the Tim Hortons Brier.
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