FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Jochen Fahr
December 13, 2016
Do you wonder what Gen X’ers look like and what they are up to?
This is one worth paying attention to. His business card reads: Brauerei Fahr and you might expect to find that brew in a small German town named Singen in Bavaria near the Swiss border … rather than southern Alberta. Think again!
His family ties to beer are long standing. In the Black Forest area of Germany they’ve been glass blowers (and makers of beer bottles) since the 1500’s. His father worked in a brewery for 40 years. And, like most German boys he grew up to have a fondness for a good brew. Were it not for a connection with just one Canadian, a Calgarian, Jochen [pronounced yoke-in] Fahr might have become Germany’s latest brewing star – which would have been just fine in a place where his family has not strayed more than 3 km. in hundreds of years … but then he came to Calgary. So, he’s ours to keep!
Combining hobby – he started home-brewing in 2006, career – he’s a biomedical engineer and ‘traditions’ – he’s got a very interesting recipe brewing. I first met him last year – introduced by my friend Simon Batcup [he’s been doing some consulting work for Jochen] – I found him head-strong, extraordinarily smart, focused and passionate. We knocked some ideas around. He’s the sort of guy who leaves an indelible impression whether you spend a few minutes, or a couple of hours as we did recently for this interview.
His entry into the crowded craft brewery space is a unique one – he is the only one brewing under strict German traditions: water, hops, malt and yeast … and he’s winning medals for his beers. His brews are on tap in a number of Calgary venues with more to come very soon. Coming soon, to a bar near you - you’ll find Fahr beers in more local venues in 2017 – they will be available at all CRAFT Beer Market locations in Alberta in January, National Pubs in January and Earl’s in February. Production started in March 2016, and most recently a prized Silver Medal. Who came first? A 140 yr. old brewery … so it seems this young-star has considerable promise.
The back story:
Born in Singen, youngest of three children, mom is a retired hair dresser, dad is a retired machinist who worked for a brewing company in logistics for 40 years. Following public school Jochen did a three-year apprenticeship was in IT - the company was producing aluminum packaging products for Alcan. Then he attended university. He obtained a B. Eng. in Biotechnology [that involved 1 yr. as an exchange student at University of Calgary] from Furtwangen University, which he followed in a Masters program he didn't complete - because he fast-tracked to a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Calgary in 2013. What followed were jobs in project management in ‘his field’ with several Calgary firms. He met and married Heather [they met in graduate school], a project coordinator at TransCanada Corporation. They have a son. And a dog. And a brewery!
Why are you successful? “my last name is Fahr, which means ‘drive’. I’m stubborn and driven, an eternal optimist. Fearless – to a degree. A really really really supportive wife. I like breaking new ground. We’ve won 10 medals in three years, three since April – so I think that indicates we are doing some things right. I’ve come here with nothing – now I have a house, a dog, a kid, a wife … it is really quite incredible.”
What has held you back? “Money – not being rich. Money isn’t everything – but it does simplify a lot of things.”
How do you see your business – brewing beer – going forward over the next quarter?
… good. Bad. Scary. All of those! Juggling many things – and things are really taking off. This year alone, from March through December, there are 25 new brewing operators in Alberta.
And over the next five years?
… there will be lots of consolidation at some point. We are the ONLY brewery offering ONLY beers which adhere to the 500 yr. old German tradition: if it’s beer it has only four ingredients – water, hops, malt and yeast. What distinguishes one from another is ‘process’ and recipe. Most new players in the market behave differently. All I will say is this, “I will NEVER produce an orange blossom cherry infused chocolate porter – or anything like that – EVER!” [I detected a disdain for 'trendy designer drinks']
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… price of everything matters – it has to be economic, but I’m looking for intangibles, responsiveness. I check people out. I care about how issues and problems get solved, about after-sales care.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Fahr beer, to choose Jochen, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… quality of my product – best recipe in this market, and something lasting. In terms of me, ‘what you see is what you get’, I’m an open-vest guy. I show my cards. In my family I have instilled in me a strong code of ethics – and in my schooling, in my field, that was drilled into me.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… right now it is ‘just me’ – all our production is done under contract in ‘other plants’ but we’ll be adding staff once we have our permanent production facility. In previous jobs I’ve had no more than three direct reports, so it is hard to answer this question. I’m a beginner, but whether it is employees or suppliers – I like to give people a lot of creative freedom. I have the big picture in mind - I’m not inflexible about how we get there …
… yes, for the most part.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I’m a new business owner – so, everything!
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Wendy Hutchins, a prof at U of C – our first contact was in 2005, a year before I came to Calgary – the only Canadian I’d ever spoken with, only contact I had when I came here. And ‘coming to Calgary’ – first time I’d been away from home, I didn’t know anyone and I started at Motel Village, the vacancy rate in Calgary was 0% - getting established and transitioning to Canadian culture was challenging. I knew English from school, but I didn’t know how to be ‘not be European’ … I was my own way-finder, and I found lots of kind people willing to help me.
… cross-country skiing, snowboarding and playing with our son.
What do you read?
… mystery and crime novels for fun. For work – everything I can find on marketing literature. So much of this business is marketing, marketing, marketing …
… 2010 Ford F150 – for hauling beer. My wife drives a Ford Escape.
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