Golden Plates 2021: Still fiercely committed to doing things a little differently, Superflux takes Best New Brewery award
Even before opening a physical location in the heart of industrial East Vancouver, Superflux Beer Company had a reputation for paying loving attention to detail. In a world where branding is everything, owners Adam Henderson and Matt Kohlen were the guys with the labels that hit a sweet spot between relentlessly tasteful pop-art and Wallpaper-chic cool. As for the beer in those beautifully decorated cans, Superflux decided early on that it was going to do things a little differently, and then did precisely that with innovative IPA offerings.
“Initially, we wanted to do things that we thought were, I suppose, close to experimental,” Henderson tells the Straight in an interview. “We wanted to try and push limits, even though we didn’t know exactly what those limits were. There were a lot of other breweries that looked the same in terms of what their branding was, or what their output was in terms of the liquid. That’s fine, because every town should have a brewery named after that town—one that makes a lager, a stout, and a pale ale. But we didn’t want to be that.”
Superflux started out a half-decade ago, making its own beers on-site at established facilities like Callister Brewing and Strathcona Brewing. It didn’t take long to catch the attention of Vancouver’s craft community, with much of the initial buzz tied to Kohlen’s eye-catching label designs and a superior take on IPAs.
“When we started at Callister, we found that IPA worked really well for us,” Henderson says. “First, no one at Callister at that time was making IPA, and people really like IPA—it’s the number-one selling craft beer. So that worked really great for us—to quickly become known as IPA folks. We always like hoppy beers, and felt that there was room to add more hoppy beers to B.C.”
The downside was that tracking down a four-pack in stores or finding Superflux on tap was sometimes like an Easter egg hunt. But when you scored, the payoff was doubly satisfying. Things have changed today.
Flash forward a few years, and—following a name change—the company’s unique vision has led to a physical location in East Vancouver. And, speaking volumes about how excited beer fans are about Superflux having a permanent home, that spot has taken home a Best New Brewery in this year’s Straight Golden Plates awards.
Somewhat ironically, despite always having a clear vision, Henderson and Kohlen learned pretty quickly that sometimes it’s best not to overthink things, especially when things are out of one’s control. After realizing they were onto something, the two looked into trademarking the name Machine Ales, only to be told by lawyers that would be difficult.
“A lot of people in beer don’t trademark their name, but we really wanted to build a brand so that we had something we could invest in,” Henderson says. “We were kind of dejected because we’d spent a year making a bit of a name for ourselves. So anyway, we came up with a list of names, and Superflux was the one that we both liked.
“It didn’t really come from anywhere, and didn’t necessarily mean all that much at the time,” he continues, “but we said ‘Superflux! That’s it.’ We started making some labels, and made two different beers based on the ones we’d been making at Callister—Colour & Shape and Happyness. And, even though they’ve evolved a little bit, those are still our two core beers today.”
As we’ve all learned over the past pandemic year, life can be unpredictable. Henderson and Kohlen learned that after they decided to stop brewing at facilities owned by other folks and instead set up their own operation. Initially they planned on opening in the District of North Vancouver. When red tape made things too complicated, they were able to get out of a lease and refocus, settling on an East Van space formerly occupied by a printing shop.
“Just as we were exiting that place this place came onto the market,” Henderson says. “We looked at it and went ‘It’s bigger—twice as big as we thought we wanted’, but the lease rate was good and the landlord really wanted a brewery. So we went ‘Let’s just do it, and we’ll figure out how we’ll pay for it.’”
Just as the finish line was in sight for the opening of Superflux, COVID-19 hit. The brewing tanks showed up on March 17, 2020, which also happened to be the day that all restaurants and bars were forced to close because of the pandemic.
“That meant that half of our customers would be gone,” Henderson remembers. “We didn’t even know when we’d be allowed to open. It was supposed to be a really happy day. It’s kind of brewery opening day when the tanks show up—you take videos and photos of these big shiny beautiful objects. Instead it was a bittersweet day and very strange. If you’d told me what was going to happen prior to that day, I probably would have very seriously tried to get out of this venture.”
Now, Henderson and Kohlen couldn’t be happier at how things have unfolded. With a dedicated fan base already in place, Superflux had zero trouble attracting customers when its tasting room and then kitchen opened in the summer of last year. While the business model has changed with a permanent location, the core of the operation remains the same. Kohlen continues to design Superflux’s labels, and the brewery continues to amaze beer fans with its risk-taking. If you’ve been lucky enough to sit down with innovative offerings like Heavy Fruit (think sour meets smoothie), Fountainbier (a peach-gummy marvel made with milk sugar) or Coconuts (a hazy dry-hopped IPA) then you understand why Straight readers named Superflux Best New Brewery.
“I’m really happy the way that things have turned out,” Henderson gushes. “We’re in a really great building and we were able to come up with a really cool space. It fits in the neighbourhood. We have a component where we’re kind of a downtown brand. We wouldn’t be the right fit if we were in a community with only one brewery. We’re a bit niche, so we love being where there’s tons of breweries. We’re in the middle of it all just doing our thing, and that’s worked out really well for us.”