Full disclosure: Faculty Brewery is my favorite brewery in Vancouver, and I told Mauricio so when we first met: sitting in a sauna bus on Cortes Island and singing along with about six other people to “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
(A sauna bus? It’s precisely what it sounds like.)
Mauricio is a scholar, of course—hence the name—but he’s also a self-described jack-of-all-trades, which has meant he’s done everything from HR to balance sheets to rewiring the electrical system at the tasting room, all in service of moving his business forward. His newest challenge is sales, which he had always shied away from: “I didn’t think I was a person in that role,” he says. “I didn’t think I could pull it off.”
Still, he says, he has found it a rewarding challenge to take up, particularly after consulting a friend who does sales. His friend reassured him that his accent would make him memorable, and the fact that he’s the owner of the business would make him its strongest, most knowledgable brand ambassador.
Of the various tasks he’s taken on in addition to beer-making since founding the brewery in 2015, he says he’s learned to adopt a universal can-do attitude, particularly about things he’d previously believed he couldn’t do.
“It just always has to get done,” he says, laughing. “If it’s something small, I’ll think, ‘I’m not going to hire someone for that.’ Everyone can learn everything. If you’re unskilled, you practice, and you learn it.”
I ask if that’s something that distinguishes a successful entrepreneur.
“Hands down,” he says. “It’s that willingness to get it going, and figure it out.”
For a time, Mauricio and his wife Alicia lived in a shared house with several friends. Alicia was always the more handy of the two, and owned a variety of home improvement tools. Someone would come to borrow a KitchenAid mixer, and would ask Alicia. (It was Mauricio’s.) When they’d be in search of a cordless drill or some other tool, they’d go to Mauricio. “You have to ask Alicia; it’s hers.” These days, Mauricio is more comfortable with tools of any kind, but opening the brewery was his catalyst for picking up those skills.
The pair met in high school back in Mexico, where they grew up in Puebla, two hours from Mexico City.
In 2007, they wanted to try living outside Mexico for a time, so they each began applying to masters programs around North America. Alicia wanted to study architecture, and Mauricio, food science.
They each applied, and got in, to a variety of schools that were good for their fields: McGill, Guelph, Purdue, NYU.
The couple figured they’d end up in different cities for a time, but they were prepared to make long distance work.
But then, each got an acceptance letter from the University of British Columbia, and their path forward was clear.
Mauricio says that early on, it wasn’t necessarily their plan to stay on in Vancouver forever. It was more looking forward in the short term and then, making repeated choices to temporarily remain.
“First it was: ‘Let’s get some work experience.’ Then, ‘Let’s stay until Alicia gets permanent residence,’ then ‘Let’s get her citizenship.’”
Now, he says, the move is permanent, and the brewery is their anchor.
Still, founding and operating a successful business in Vancouver hasn’t come without its challenges. For one thing, the mercurial nature of the property values here is a roller coaster. When Mauricio first took up occupancy in his current space, the property was valued at $600K. Four years later, it’s valued at $2.4M, quadrupling its value.
Plus—and this was news to me—renters in commercial spaces are responsible for managing property tax. The landlord passes that bill, when it comes, on to the tenant.
The municipal government also presents obstacles in the form of unnecessarily stringent zoning laws. (ed. note: I’m annoyed about this on the breweries’ behalf, so the tetchy descriptor there is all me.)
In Canada, at the federal level, the regulations are pretty wide-open in terms of what food and liquor establishments can look like and how they’re allowed to operate. B.C. is a little more restrictive, but still fairly lax.
In the municipality of Port Moody, they’ve accepted B.C.’s regulations without stipulating further restrictions, so the breweries and tasting rooms there are larger, can stay open later, and can have patios.
Here in metro Vancouver, though, breweries operate under lock and key. The neighborhood that encompasses Faculty, along with about ten other breweries, is zoned as light industrial. Tasting rooms weren’t even allowed here until 2012; producers before that could only sell their beer wholesale. Nowadays there are regulations about operating hours (no later than 11 p.m.), room size (80 square meters, or 262 sq ft), and customer capacity (about 67 seats). And unless the place is food-forward, the brewery can’t attach an outdoor patio to the space, which competitors* like R&B Brewing Co. have navigated by occupying an adjacent building and creating a restaurant that also serves beer.
* I say competitors, but I think competitor-partners is probably more accurate.
“We have a political system that is great,” Mauricio says. “In many ways it works very well, but it’s sluggish. And governance never keeps up with innovation.”
Innovation being something Mauricio knows a thing or two about.
That’s evident right away in the method of ordering at the tasting room. I adored from the first time I visited the brewery that the beers were all accompanied by university-class-listing style numbers, which seemed a fun and unique branding choice, but I recently learned there’s more to it.
“The numbers — the way the brand got designed, is meant to be educational,” Mauricio says. “Everybody, at any level, can learn about beers. So how do I get somebody who has no idea about beer to be able to drink it? By using a school-numbering system. Math 101 is the easiest math. So 101 is a lager, 107 is a blonde. 400 are the pale ales. 729 is a very hoppy, big beer. Whereas 250 is London Fog—pretty accessible.”
(That concept—that everyone can learn everything—sounds familiar, no?)
“The thing that makes our brand unique is that we’re open-sourced,” he says. “A lot of ideas come from staff, or home brewers giving us ideas.”
One of the prizes at Van Brewers (a homebrewing competition in Vancouver) is the chance to collaborate with Faculty on tweaking the recipe of the winning beer, which then is released in the tasting room. In 2017, Jason Fuller was the winner, and the brewery collaborated with him on a saison.
Also in 2017, a homebrewer named Paul Bichler contacted them, and the brewery collaborated with him on a Belgian Pale Ale. It was a hit. Paul’s Belgian Pale Ale made it into the regular rotation at Faculty (#430). It’s rare but not unheard-of for beers conceived of in this way to make it into regular rotation at the brewery.
Mauricio isn’t kidding about the open-source mindset, either: If you’re a home brewer and feel like whipping up your own batch of Minzeweizen (#241) or Ginger Saison (#314), they’re all there on the Faculty website, with detailed recipes and brewing instructions.
Mauricio and the team at Faculty are also careful to make innovation a regular part of their internal business model. Since 2017, they’ve been doing Experimental Beer Thursdays, rolling out a brand-new and limited quantity beer for folks to try in the tasting room, and they do it every Thursday night without fail. Recent examples include an ESB with cardamom (nicknamed “Extra Special Bobby” for the colleague who helped design it), an Oaked Stout with Balsamic Reduction, a Tamarind Blonde, a Rooibos Honey Hefeweizen, a vegan Dark Chocolate Porter, and the inventive list goes on and on.
“Every Thursday, there will be something unique: a spice added to a beer, or a full-on pilot. There’s always something new to try. So if you like our brand, there’s a lot more of it to get into.”
It can be pretty hard to find a seat at Faculty. I tell Mauricio about some acquaintances who live nearby, who said they’ll stand on their balcony and look down at the brewery to see whether there’s an outside lineup before they’ll risk walking over.
“It’s one of the busiest,” Mauricio agrees. “With Thursdays, we’ve just added one more busy day.”
Mauricio Lozano is owner, head brewer and jack-of-all-trades at Faculty Brewing. He serves on the faculty at BCIT.