“I think any successful person or entrepreneur grabs any opportunities within reach, and at the right time,” says Manjit Minhas, co-founder and CEO of Minhas Breweries, Distilleries and Wineries.
And she has certainly proved her point, successfully building the business from scratch as well as helping others on CBC’s Dragon’s Den. Minhas has lived all her life in NW Calgary; her father was an engineer with Pan Canadian, but was laid off in the downturn of 1993. With his redundancy package — but no experience — he took the plunge and opened three OK Liquor Stores. His children also studied engineering.
“That’s what you do if you are good at math and science in this province,” Minhas laughs. But while working holidays with her parents, she soon discovered there was an opportunity, and with her brother, started a business bringing in a private label line of spirits for their parents’ stores.
“We really hit it out of the park with our tequila and our Blarney’s Irish Cream, which has been number two in Western Canada for the last decade and a half,” she says. They did very well in their parents’ stores, but wanted to get into the beer business.
“We felt there wasn’t enough competition, and too much product available that wasn’t very good. We decided that only four real ingredients were going to be in our beer, and we’re going to make it a bit stronger, because we’re Canadian, to give it a bit more bang for the buck,” she laughs. Brewed under contract in Wisconsin, Mountain Crest Classic Lager launched in 2003, and was an instant success.
“Beer is what made us famous and really successful,” Minhas says. “But it was a dream come true to actually make our brewery here five years ago in Calgary. It’s been a continuous learning experience for sure; it’s been fun, lots of challenges, lots of failures along the way, but our spirits have never been broken. We’ve always learned from the experiences. My brother and I really love what we do – and it’s fun!”
Now, they produce beers for many different customers, including Kirkland beers for Costco. So what bottle is Minhas saving for a special occasion?
“We were doing well and we wanted to buy the brewery (in Wisconsin),” Minhas explains. “It’s the second oldest brewery in the United States; it’s been continuously running since 1845, and has a lot of history.”
The first day they officially owned it, they took the first bottle of Mountain Crest Classic Lager and the first can of Boxer off the line, and kept them.
“At that time we didn’t know where things were going to go,” she says. “Every penny we had was in this building, and in this country that we didn’t live in either, so it was a scary time. Exciting, but scary nonetheless.”