Brewer Magazine Q&A: Carlin Walsh, Elevation Beer

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the brewing community from across the U.S.
Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from Brewmasters, Head Brewers, Brewing Managers, Sales Directors, QCQA Managers, and others each weekend to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.


Carlin Walsh, owner and CEO, Elevation Beer — Poncha Springs, Colorado

BREWER: How do you feel your job has had to adapt in the beer market compared to a few years ago?
WALSH: Oh man, there is not enough ink in the world to cover this question. The beer industry is complicated to begin with and changing at disparate rates across various perspectives. For example, consumer demands are changing faster than larger breweries can release quality products. Employee benefit expectations are changing faster than management practices and labor laws. These dichotomy’s that both owner and CEO balance is challenging. My greatest adaptation has been to accept the rise and fall of trends and build a company that can remain steady, yet flexible, in times of rapid change. I am not looking to build the trendiest and coolest brewery around, we are just a humble group of people, swinging for the fences every day. This mentality helps us stay grounded in focusing on what we do best and not chasing trends.

BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
WALSH: Gary Bray . If you know Gary, you know why I am saying this. Gary has been in the beer industry longer than most people in the beer industry have been alive. He comes from the proverbial good ol e boy days and has had to dramatically adapt to this new world of beer. His past was always on the distributor side, but he recently switched to the supplier side working for a large craft supplier. Gary, some of our team, and I will occasionally get together to bitch and moan about the industry. But Gary always brings us back to reality, “it is just beer, and for all our challenges, it is a goddamn great industry to work in.” And he is right, for all the challenges we face, for all the complaining we can do, it is just beer, we are not making bombs or dealing with people’s life savings. So, chill out, and have cold one.

BREWER: Can you share a success story that you are proud of in your job or maybe a story of how you learned from a situation that has altered your thoughts on how you do your job now?
WALSH: While we were starting Elevation, I was attending graduate school in Denver, a three-hour drive, once a week. We had a new born — Fiona — and my wife, Michelle, was working. We admittedly and understandably, struggled, but kept at it because we love each other and are committed to each other, we “stuck to our knitting”. Fast forward seven years, Fiona and Elevation share more than a similar age. They both have tantrums, they have moments of joy and moments of fear. But they are both incredible for who they are becoming. Similar to how my wife and I stuck to our knitting, that is the focus of how I do my job. Keep trying, persevere, fail and try again. My intestinal fortitude for failure has markedly increased, my empathy for life has deepened, and my tolerance for laziness and mediocrity has reached its lowest level ever.

BREWER: Can you touch on something your brewery has added lately that’s unique or making your business more successful (it could be equipment, technology or people)?
WALSH: Yes … we recently switched to the oldest, most timetested, most touted, highestrated and least practiced business model called simplicity. I simply do not understand why we did not do this earlier. By simplifying our business means production, sales, marketing, and general business management has all become more streamlined. Everything is easier: communication, consistency, quality, inventory management, and maintaining everyone’s sanity. If you have not tried it recently, it is the hardest thing we have ever done, but hands down the best.

BREWER: If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry, what would it be?
WALSH: Keep beer clear and lagered … do I sound like an old man saying that? Our brewers and many of our team enjoy making and drinking the latest beer creations. And we proudly have a rotating beer series that allows our team to explore fun and unique beers, and these beers are always delicious and well executed. But for me at the end of the day, I just want a crystal clear, clean tasting, easy drinking Kölsch, Pilsner, or Lager. In all seriousness though, we as an industry need to end the in-fighting. Budweiser, Coors, and Miller are doing what they do best — making an incredible volume of consistent beer in an incredibly efficient way. We should be learning from them. The more we in-fight, the more consumers we will lose to wine and spirits. It is time to move on. Everyday, about 10,000 people turn 21. These people have grown up on soda pop and Lord knows what other weird shit. The welcoming message the beer industry is sending is: 1) drink this incredibly hoppy, bitter, hazy, and expensive beer and 2) Budweiser is the devil. Meanwhile, wine and spirits are welcoming these new entrants with no drama and approachability. Who do you think is going to win? Let’s move on. P.S. I always have Banquet in my fridge, alongside 8 Second and Pilsner.

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