A longtime brewer and most recently a COO for Boulder, Colorado’s Avery Brewing, Steve Breezley moved over into the same position for Durango, Colorado’s Ska Brewing, which also runs its Mod Brewery brand.
It’s a move to help alleviate some of the management duties from President and CEO Dave Thibodeau, who was also running day-to-day operations. Breezley had been working with Ska’s management for the past three months in a consulting capacity, Thibodeau said in a press release.
“He cares genuinely about the people involved in what we do,” Thibodeau said. “He also cares deeply about the beer and brings with him a wealth of brewing knowledge that will help us remain relevant as we continue to grow as a company.”
Brewer contacted Breezley recently to discuss the shifting craft beer climate and his thoughts on how Ska will continue with his role being established.
BREWER: Where does a craft beer producer in this climate of business look for growth? Has the definition of large, or “successful” growth changed over the past few years?
BREEZLEY: I do think “successful growth” has changed in the past couple of years for many breweries, especially as things have slowed down out there. At Ska we’ve talked about this, and we don’t view success based upon how many markets we’re in, or our overall barrelage. We want to be successful in making our company better for our employees — helping them grow individually, and improving salaries and benefit packages. Lifestyle and culture are intertwined in our brewery, and we’re successful if our people are living the lives they want to. In regards to growth, we feel we can “grow” by expanding our portfolio, and pushing ourselves in new beer directions. It doesn’t need to correlate to more barrels sold, but if that happens, that’s okay too. We just don’t want to rely on that growth to feel successful.
BREWER :Do you see Ska reaching for a certain size (be it in capacity, territories, etc.) where that’s the most you want to do as to not lose quality or freshness in distribution?
BREEZLEY: Great question. We are big believers in not over-reaching, and extending ourselves into markets we can’t support or sustain. We’re not in a position where we need to do this. We always want to be as strong regionally as we can, and then supply what we have left to fans in other places. This doesn’t mean we won’t still open some new markets, but we’ll continue to be VERY selective, and only do it in places which show the ability to sell our beers well.
BREWER: What sort of innovation in craft beer excites you?
BREEZLEY: One of the fun things at Ska I was introduced to when I started, was their new program of brewhouse sours, and some really innovative techniques for making some Gose-esque styles, and other beers which defy style. I loved this! I’ve been lucky to have past experience with barrel aged sours at other breweries I’ve been a part of, but the way Ska was doing things was very innovative, and just plain fun. You’ll be seeing a brand new beer called Pink Vapor Stew (the name is from a Fishbone lyric, played at our 21st Anniversary party) — it’s a tart, sour beer made with beets, apples, ginger and carrots. Very weird and innovative, and probably not for everyone. On a very separate note, I also view innovation in another way — I think you can be truly innovative by making the most of whatever equipment or raw materials you are committed to. For instance, quite a few of us in the industry are carrying more contracted hops than we’d probably like. We’ve challenged our Ska crew to work within our existing hop portfolios to create some new and innovative beers from this — that can be very difficult, but I believe it really shows that innovative spirit as well.
BREWER:What was it about Ska that during your consulting made you want to be a part of the brewery in a full-time role?
BREEZLEY: I always knew Ska had great “culture”, but it truly blew me away how welcoming everyone was to me when I first came down to Durango. By the end of my first week there, I felt I had been working there for years. This, coupled with their vision of what success means, just drew me in…I also want to be in one of their comics someday!
BREWER: What has Ska “done right” in the past and how will you help continue those positives and add to it for this future?
BREEZLEY: So many things! What I always admired about Ska was the way they were viewed in their community, and how strong of a regional brewery they were. They are true partners with Durango and the Four Corners region, and it shows in how people value their beers. At the same time Ska had also garnered such an incredible national and international reputation for their beers and attitudes. They were badasses, being at the leading edge of the canning revolution, second only to Oskar Blues. That was pretty damn cool for a little brewery in the SW corner of Colorado. I’m coming in humbled to be a part of that reputation. I can’t wait to immerse myself in the Durango community as well, and share my experiences and knowledge.
BREWER: How will this free Dave up from daily operations and how will that also help the company?
BREEZLEY: I’m excited that Dave will be able to choose his involvement levels moving forward, and focus on the parts of the company he enjoys most. We have a very strong team, and I can take the day-to-day responsibility of guidance and oversight off of Dave’s shoulders. Dave is so talented on the sales and marketing side of things, that we would be less of a company if we didn’t continue to include him, especially in those areas, but again, we’re freeing Dave up to do what he wants to do…which will also probably include more bike riding and hanging with his family!