This month, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Mike and Blake, founders of Toronto-based Ace Hill Beer. Interested in learning more? RSVP to our Creators of Toronto Breakfast Series on August 30th, to hear from the founders about their experience launching a start up in Toronto.
Tell us about Ace Hill.
Ace Hill is a beer brand focused on quality and simplicity. Our flagship Pilsner is an easy-drinking, award-winning beer with the right balance of smoothness and character for any occasion.
Ace Hill is served at 175+ wonderful locations around Toronto, including popular nightclubs like Apt. 200, culinary standouts like Bar Raval, music venues like Danforth Music Hall, sports pubs like Dog & Bear, casual hangouts like Boxcar Social and big patios like Ceili’s Cottage.
Ace Hill is also available at 50+ Beer Stores and grocery stores in Ontario and will be launching very soon at the LCBO.
What differentiates Ace Hill?
Ace Hill is an easy-drinking craft beer that can always hit the spot. It uniquely combines the quality and care of craft with a beer that’s highly sessionable.
Our community and brand are also differentiators.
How did Ace Hill start and who’s involved?
Ace Hill was sparked by our co-founder Blake Anderson, who was a homebrewer for many years. When Blake started winning national competitions for his beers, it caught the excitement of a few like-minded friends from the startup, hospitality and marketing worlds.
Our other co-founders are Mike Wagman, Richard Lambert (from The Social Group) and Noah Gill.
Mike came from the tech startup world and is also a former lawyer and MBA. He fell in love with the idea of a millennial beer brand focused on “premium simplicity.”
Richard has been a leader in the Toronto hospitality industry for 15+ years through The Social Group. He’s seen the beer business from many angles and believed there was a big gap in the market for a product like Ace Hill.
Noah came from the marketing side where he had worked on campaigns for world-class brands like Red Bull. He’s been a driving force behind our community and brand.
How has Ace Hill built its presence in Toronto?
Launching a new beer brand is hard work, but we felt like we had something special. First and foremost, we have a lot of pride in our product. It took countless test batches and tastings for Blake and our production partner Big Rig to get the product to where it is today. This has been essential as every customer relationship requires a great experience with the product.
From there, we’ve worked passionately on distribution and awareness. Based on the type of beer, the quality of the beer, thoughtful branding, strong industry relationships, obsessive customer service and a relentlessly dedicated team, we’ve been able to get some great traction.
What have you found to be the most successful marketing tactics for building the brand?
We’ve really focused on our community – doing early samplings with them, listening to their feedback and getting them educated and excited about Ace Hill.
We’ve had a great response on Instagram, where we share images of the product and highlight accounts, friends, collaborators and other things that inspire the brand.
A recent favourite was our photo of Le Pavillon, the remarkable pop-up restaurant by Honest Weight and Joe Beef at The Hearn during Luminato. We were the only beer served there and got a really flattering compliment afterwards from the guys at Joe Beef, who wrote under our post: “Such a delicious beer. Wow.” That kind of engagement from our community is super rewarding for our team.
We’ve also had solid results with our merch, including our hats. We seeded them with our community of bartenders, restauranteurs, musicians, clients and other creatives around the city. People seem to genuinely love them and we’ve been grateful for all the brand support.
We’ve even had celebrities asking for our hats. Meghan Markle (Rachel on the TV show “Suits”) got her hands on one and sported it in a few Instagram posts.
What advice would you give to other startups disrupting in a traditional industry?
You need to be doing something exceptional – and exceptionally relevant to your customer. That’s the only way to succeed. Stay focused and be obsessed with the quality of your offering and the excellence of your execution.
What advice would you like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs in Toronto?
Do it! Life is short. It’s so tempting not to follow your dreams. It’s so easy to become complacent and to feel safe in your day job.
If you have a powerful new product or idea, work tirelessly to make it happen.
Why do you give 1% of your proceeds to environmental causes?
We donate 1% of our sales to clean water causes, because without good water, there would be no good beer.
What’s the story with the name “Ace Hill?”
“Ace” is a reference to quality. And a “hill” is a simple form of nature that elevates above its surroundings. So the name refers to our brand values of quality, simplicity and nature.