Located in Milton, Ontario, Third Moon Brewing Co. is still a young business, yet it’s already become one of Canada’s top microbreweries. With a national presence in Canada and some international distribution, the company is off to a great start. It’s navigated COVID-19-related issues, showing resiliency to adversity.
Founders Chris Steininger and Steve “Bebo” Pilotto started Third Moon because they loved craft beer. Both were working day jobs, with Pilotto homebrewing in his free time. Realizing they could make a good product, the pair thought up the brewery idea about five years ago.
Still, in the early years of operation, Third Moon has some notable sustainability practices and community involvement. They use recycled and compostable packaging, give spent grain to local farmers as animal feed, and have implemented some water diversion and treatment in their facility. They are also participants in the Black is Beautiful beer campaign, donating to Black activism nonprofits through the imperial stout’s sales.
Steininger and Pilotto joined The Business Download for an interview, where they discussed their experiences as business owners.
TBD: Chris, Bebo, thanks very much for joining me today. What was the inspiration to start Third Moon?
CS: We were just like you: big craft beer fans. We both have that in common. Then Bebo was homebrewing. We were planning this brewery for five years before we opened it three years ago. So it’s been almost a decade of doing this. Bebo was home brewing, and we both had normal day jobs. But outside of that, all we’re thinking about and talking about is beer. So looking for that opportunity to kind of become one person again, instead of this dual identity where we pretend we’re interested in our day jobs, but really, we want to do beer.
SP: I think it was just like a shared passion, excitement for traveling, trying all these crazy beers and wanting to bring them home, and there was a gap here. There weren’t too many breweries making the kind of beers we were into and getting excited about. So, we figured there were enough people that were like us that hopefully they can sustain us. So it was a combination of those things.
Photo Courtesy Third Moon Brewing Co.
TBD: How has your experience as brewery owners been?
CS: Trying to run a business in beer is a whole other thing. And we opened two months into the pandemic. So that was another curveball. And so what we’ve learned with any small business is you got to be ready for anything. It’s been a wild ride. We see consumer trends changing every six months.
Obviously, the pandemic impacted that. People had to drink beer at home, so packaged beer sales went up for every brewery, and then when the pandemic was over, then everyone wanted to drink on a patio. Everything shifts to draft sales.
And now we’ve been on the edge of a recession. That seems imminent, so it’s just constantly trying to guess where we should go next. So for Bebo and I, being the two business owners, even before we were running this business together, we found it very easy to get on the same page with the way we see things, the opportunity we recognize, and the direction we want to go.
This whole time we’ve just been going with our gut and what feels like the right thing to do. To us, it’s a function of everything we’ve learned as craft beer fans. So it’s kind of really easy for us to think about the customer experience because we’ve been customers, and we’re really putting into practice the best experiences we’ve had from our favorite breweries over the last 15–20 years. We did this because it’s all we think about, and we’re really passionate about it. So we’re trying to stay true to our values and just deliver an experience that our fans can relate to.
TBD: You said you have some international distribution set up. How did that come about?
SP: A lot of our exposure came from Untappd. There was this company in Europe that helped called Interbeer. They found us on Untappd and reached out, so I thought we’d be interested in bringing some beer out there.
We also sent a few shipments to Australia. That kind of came up in a similar way; they were working with some other local breweries. And trying to add some folks and then spread across Canada. We haven’t yet gotten into the U.S. That’s kind of the big one. We’ll tackle it at some point.
TBD: Let’s talk about the label design. Why the darker label? I personally love them.
SP: We were both really into darker imagery, horror movies, heavy music, stuff like that. It was a natural fit for the artist who does basically all of our work. His name’s Casey. He goes by yardwolves. He really matches that vibe and does a lot of dark, moody, and spooky stuff.
We gave him a lot of flexibility. When he comes up with something cool, we’ll figure out how to make it into a beer label. Or if we need him to make us, for example, we have some beers where they’ll have like a peanut butter cup on the label but add a little skeleton hand in there to keep it dark and keep the vibes where we want it.
We also wanted to stand out in the market where there are not too many kinds of darker, heavier themes. We wanted to bring out our personalities and also felt that it would resonate with people.
Photo Courtesy Third Moon Brewing Co.
CS: In the local scene here, all we saw on the shelves were colors and shapes, save this and save that, whether it’s music or beer or art of any form. We feel like, for our personalities, we want to go hard at something we really believe in, and we’re not here to play it safe. Let’s just go hard at what we love, and that’s really going to resonate with our fans. And that’s definitely been the case.
TBD: What would you say is your specialty beer?
SP: We do a lot of hazy IPA New England-style IPAs — doubles and triples. We do a lot of pastry stouts and a lot of smoothie sours — so heavy fruit and some other fun ingredients. We have a pilsner that we’re really proud of we have available all the time. Some porters, some kind of lower alcohol stuff, but the big three for us are hazy, hoppy beers, pastry stouts, and smoothie sours.
Photo Courtesy Third Moon Brewing Co.
TBD: It’s safe to say you guys are still a young establishment. What advice would you offer to those trying to open their own microbrewery?
CS: After the crazy curveballs of the pandemic and supply chain issues and then the increased costs of all the ingredients, if you want to make high-quality beers and pack a lot of really good quality ingredients into them as we do. There’s not much margin on these beers. These are costly beers to make. And we decided we want to make the best beer we can make no matter what that cost, but then sell it at a market price.
If you want to open a brewery, you really need a crystal-clear vision of what it is you want to do. That’s something that we’ve had since the beginning.
My advice would be to make sure you’ve got a crystal clear vision, and you investigate what the consequences of that are going to be, and know that challenges are going to be on the path that you choose to take.
SP: Owning your own business or a small business completely consumes your entire life. My advice would be to do what you want to do. If we were doing this in a different way to try to be commercial or try to tone down our message, we’d feel like we’re completely getting ripped apart. No matter what, all the struggles and challenges and bumps on the road or whatever, we’re still doing what we want to do the way we want to do it. It still feels like no matter what happens, it’s always gonna be worth it.