How Doing It Differently Paid Off for Superflux Beer Company

It’s been a long road for one of Vancouver’s favourite breweries.

“We just said let’s do something cool and kind of fucked up,” is how Superflux co-founder Matt Kohlen describes the layout of the East Vancouver brewery he and Adam Henderson opened in August after several years of planning it in their heads.

That apparently means a throwback to the days of old, when breweries literally had no other place to seat customers than right on the factory floor amidst the kegs and dolleys. That certainly isn’t the case with Superflux, which has about 10,000 square feet in a former printing shop on Clark and Pender.

But doing things differently isn’t anything new to Superflux. Henderson and Kohlen met while the former was operating a liquor importing company and the latter was bartending at the Local in Kitsilano. They started talking about starting a brewery together and began operating Machine Ales out of Callister Brewing. That was 2015.

Though they’re now known for finely crafted IPAs and (until now) not having a physical location, only one of those was originally by design.

“None of the other groups at Callister made IPAs,” recalls Henderson. “When we made an IPA, [the still standing] Happyness, it sold out immediately, and then another one sold out, people just kept wanting IPA. And that was kind of the trial and error, where we were like, ‘we should just make IPAs.’”

And though they watched as numerous breweries opened their doors, the duo was perfectly fine taking their time and getting their name out there, says Henderson: “The plan was always to establish a business and then open a room. Most breweries just naturally do it the opposite way.”

Eventually, the Superflux brand was born, with Kohlen creating the design by literally typing “Superflux” in a specific font, and they moved from Callister to Strathcona Beer Company, with just an Instagram account and cans in specialty liquor stores the only mark of their presence.

Again, doing things differently, Kohlen still makes all the brewery’s labels. That includes the recent dry-hopped Nova sour, which both founders agree is their most attractive can to date. They also agree it would look good on a shirt. (There is, however, some difference of opinion on whether Kohlen was paid during the very early days, but it seems like he’s willing to let that one slide.)

So it is that, when the brewery officially opens (right now they’ve got tasters and merch with limited seating in the front area—they’re hoping to fully open sometime this month), patrons will be sitting essentially in the middle of the brewery floor. The room has the capacity for 67 people, but it will see considerably less than that for the time being, for obvious reasons.

Superflux also has both the moral and legal obligation to feed people from a relatively very small kitchen. And while tacos and burgers were the initial plan, that shifted when costs and space became prohibitive. The solution? Hot dogs. But good ones, with high quality cuts from North Vancouver experts Two Rivers and Black Forest Meats.

So far, the results have been positive. The tasting area has been packed (as much as possible, anyway, with distancing restrictions in place) in Superflux’s first few weeks, and Vancouver beer aficionados are no doubt happy that Henderson and Kohlen decided to pay the premium that comes with staying in city limits.

For that, they have the District of North Vancouver to thank. “Initially, we did not want to be right in Vancouver, we wanted to be somewhere like Squamish or North Vancouver, somewhere closer to where we wanted to live, for affordability reasons,” says Henderson.

Even though Superflux’s offerings aren’t exactly cheap (a four-pack of tall cans will run you around $17 at the brewery and more than that at the liquor store), the profit margins aren’t exactly massive. “All of our prices are based on premium hops, really expensive to make,” says Kohlen. “If we charged any less, especially in the early days, we wouldn’t have a business.”

So a space in the now-crowded North Van craft beer scene was pretty desirable—the pair even had a space leased there for about a year. “We started the permitting process with the District, I didn’t know there were two North Vancouvers until we got the keys,” laughs Henderson, referring to the differences between the city and district. “It was very difficult dealing with the district. We had that place for most of 2018, and we walked away from it in January 2019.”

As it stands, in its new Vancouver digs, Superflux is making about two-and-a-half times more beer than what it did at Strathcona. At Henderson’s best estimate, they’re in the top 20 or 25 breweries in B.C. in terms of production. He also thinks they have the capacity to get closer to the top 10.

“We had a crazy lineup on the first day and still couldn’t run out of beer,” recalls Henderson. “Anything we had on the first day we still had the next Saturday.”

In any case, Henderson and Kohlen are happy with the outcome and both still live in Vancouver, but they admit that there may be some commutes in their future. “With a brewery, even when it’s successful, you’re not pulling down enough to have the sort of lifestyle you might want in Vancouver,” says Henderson. “But we love the city. Obviously it’s been through a lot of change, the last five years especially, but it’s been good to us. And there’s something about us that’s a city brand.”

Kohlen seems to disagree at first, but thinks on it for a second and reverses course: “It’s true, if we were elsewhere, we’d just end up shipping it all back to Vancouver.”

That would be different, one supposes.