If you were a couple of frat boys with 10,000 unopened cans of beer, what would you do?
For Ivey School of Business graduates Michael Woolfson and Jack Jelinek, the answer was obvious: get
to help sell them.
Woolfson and Jelinek, members of Sigma Chi, hatched the idea of creating a new craft beer brand while studying in London. They were looking for something affordable, crushable and easy to mix with fruit juices for people to create their own radlers.
Working with Equals Brewing, the contract beer company in London, they hit on a recipe using Magnum and Perle hops from Germany. Crank Lite Lager, 4.4 per cent alcohol, was born.
“Recipe development started with the premise of creating a really light, smooth, drinkable beer that our target market would really like,” Jelinek said in an email. “We also wanted it to be as pure and high-quality as possible with value in mind. Most mainstream value beers contain fillers like corn syrup, and we wanted to avoid that.
“We wanted to avoid any undertones of odd or exotic ingredients. Nothing specific about Crank Lite would stand out. It would just be very easy to drink and resonate as a good beer with no aftertaste.”
They ordered an initial batch of 10,000 small boy cans brewed late last winter with a business plan to sell them to restaurants, starting with 6,000 cans to the Belfort night club on Oxford Street in time for St. Patrick’s Day and for a fraternity-sponsored tent party at Western University. But that became impossible when the pandemic hit and left them with their stock stored — safely, it incredibly turns out — at Sigma Chi.
It also left them draining their bank accounts to pay an $11,000 beer tab at Equals.
Enter Molson and its Canadian Case promotion. That special case featured beers from microbrews — Powerhouse and Toboggan of London, Natterjack of West Lorne among others — and despite the controversy it generated among fans of independent craft breweries, it was an opportunity knocking for Crank to get out of a jam.
“We were aware that the Canadian campaign was controversial and we completely understood why some independent microbrews weren’t getting involved,” Jelinek said. “We discussed it and came to the conclusion that it was the right fit for us given all the factors at play.
“We’re a small startup company in our first three months of operation, and we’re bootstrapping. We have a zero marketing budget right now. We also launched during lockdown, which eliminated a lot of opportunities that a small beer startup like ours would normally use to gain visibility in the marketplace.
“We thought it was important to get our name out there, it was a good marketing opportunity, and we thought it would help legitimize what we’re doing, so decided we would go for it. We thought we’d have some fun with it in the process, asking fans to support us in ‘helping the little guys at Molson’ by mentioning the campaign in social posts.”
Now, Crank Lite is in several locations of the Beer Store in London, Hamilton, Toronto, Cambridge and Oakville. It’s also available online at
at $36 for 24 355-millilitre cans featuring a spiffy bicycle gear logo.
“We wanted to hyper focus on our target market (of youthful, budget-conscious drinkers) and come up with a name that really resonates with them,” Jelinek said. “The word ‘crank’ is part of our target market’s daily vocabulary. It’s synonymous with drinking and getting together socially to drink, for example, ‘What are you cranking tonight? Where are we cranking?’ We also liked the image of a crank and all the industrial vibes associated with it from machinery to bicycles. It hits on that idea of cracking a cold one after working up a sweat that a lot of people relate to.”
Now living at their parents’ homes in Oakville and Hamilton, the co-founders are focusing on new retail channels. Long-term, the admirable vision is to open their own brick-and-mortar microbreweries in neighbourhoods close to universities.
Perseverance and pivoting — these newly minted beer entrepreneurs have shown lots of each already. Let’s see where beer fans on a budget take them from here.
NEW AND NOTED
Herald Haus, which opened two years ago in Stratford, will be reappearing at Heritage Hops Brew Co. after losing its space in a former newspaper office. As Herald Haus, it nabbed a silver medal at the Ontario Brewing Awards and a bronze medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards for Dingman Dark.
The pandemic has forced Anderson Craft Ales in London to cancel one of the most anticipated beer events in the city. Its fourth anniversary beer fest can’t happen, so instead the Old East Village brewery is including special Anderson Turns Four shirts in anniversary cases featuring its new Session Hazy IPA, Cream Ale, Amber and Original IPA. It’s available at the brewery and online for $70.
Heritage Wit is back in the cooler at London Brewing. It’s a Belgian-style wheat beer brewed with locally-sourced heritage grains. One of the best at London Brewing.
Wayne Newton is a freelance journalist based in London.