When you think of kegs, beer and frat parties come to mind. But Banff's Matthew Hendriks is turning that idea on its head.
To be a start-up with any level of success in the competitive world of Alberta distilleries and craft breweries, you've got to have hustle. To make your way into a growing list of bars and restaurants, independent liquor stores, onto the golf course and at weddings, you've got to have hustle and a product people want. And to get your product into rotation at the world-renowned Calgary Stampede, you've got to have all the above and something like destiny.
"It was an eventuality. Matt's one of the hardest working, most focused individuals I know," says longtime friend, former colleague, and fellow Saskatchewan transplant Chris Bolt, who is also director of food and beverage at Banff Park Lodge and the first client of byHendo keg cocktails. "I've known him ever since he was making hooch in someone's basement. I'm not surprised at the success."
Meet Matthew Hendriks, who has called Banff home for some 20 years and parlayed that penchant for playing with flavour combinations behind the bar, and as master distiller with Banff’s Park Distillery, into his own fledgling cocktail company, byHendo.com.
"It's been an amazing ride so far, to have a family, house and career here in my adopted hometown. We're all in," says Hendriks who, with the blessing of his wife Sarah Schaefer and four-old daughter Piper, adds, "They know I've got a passion for this."
Earlier this summer, Hendriks and his small staff put on 15 pop-ups in big party bars in downtown Calgary, sharing the story about the local brand of keg and canned cocktails and getting, "liquid to lips. We're big on exposure," he says, adding the gig at Calgary Stampede was, "Crazy. A dream. Start-ups don't even get a seat at that table, so we wanted to take full advantage of it."
Though opportunity based on Stampede exposure is yet to be seen, the bread-and-butter of the business thus far has been the keg cocktail. Have you ever imagined a margarita on tap? Maybe a strawberry-gin-type quick pour from the kegerator? As a pioneer of the cocktail industry in the province's premier tourist town, Hendriks has put an upscale twist on the casual appeal of a keg. It's out of the box (or the keg) thinking - a move beyond the 'wine, beer and Jeger' tradition of old that's taking the entrepreneur down new roads in the industry, inspired by his roots as a bartender.
"We started producing our first kegs in late 2021, and it was a slow roll to start. I didn't know if keg cocktails could be a thing, but I wanted a tool for the hospitality industry; something bartenders could put on for a happy hour to make their lives easier. Within a half a year, we knew we had something," says Hendriks of a lineup that includes a couple of varieties of keg cocktails on tap, and a newer line of canned ready-to-drink offerings under the Highlights and el cocktails labels. Flavours like grapefruit, passion fruit, and lime figure prominently on the low sugar, low carbonated beverages, made with 100 percent real juice.
"Customers like it because the quality is there and even if we're busy behind the bar, the cocktail order is ready at the same time as a beer."
That's key to the quality and taste, says Hendriks, admitting it has been a challenge to figure out how to keep the juice from settling, especially in the keg products.
"We're still a start-up - so educating a bar about the benefits of using a keg cocktail or getting shelf space at the liquor store - it's all part of creating brand awareness," acknowledges byHendo mountain district sales manager Monica Bouius, who spends much of her time doing tastings at liquor stores and delivering product to customers throughout the Bow Valley. Day trips to and from Jasper aren't uncommon either. "I don't like driving - at all - but I like podcasts, so I learn things as I drive. And I feel like folks are happy to see us, especially any place that does high volume. That's where we excel."
Bouius says to prove her point, she often challenges bartenders to make a margarita. "They take three minutes to make it; mine is a four second pour from the keg - and it tastes better. It comes down to using real juice," she laughs, adding she and Hendriks are in-sync as the company grows. "We're both sort of workaholics. I see more of Matt than my own partner."
Hendriks' drive keeps him up at night, he admits, with thoughts of getting his keg cocktails into local ski hill lounges and beyond to spots like Revelstoke. It's that motivation that has seen the pony kegs (about 20 litres, half the size of a standard keg) of lime Margarita (the top seller) and others like Strawberry Smash and Pineapple Express cycling through venues in the Bow Valley and into BC. Tapping that tough BC market is a feat on its own, with varying provincial regulations that stymie many a producer. But byHendo is making tracks into Golden and Invermere - even the Okanagan, with brand reps at the helm there. Plans for a coastal rep are on track for next year.
Bolt says using byHendo's keg cocktails for mobile events and in the lounge has been a no-brainer. "Pulling a five-ounce cocktail is as quick as pulling a beer. It saves on time, on having fruit on hand, and on labour," Bolt says. "Customers like it because the quality is there and even if we're busy behind the bar, the cocktail order is ready at the same time as a beer. Same at weddings when couples might like a signature cocktail for their guests - this meets that demand. Speed and convenience are key."
With the addition of sales managers for Edmonton and Calgary, a rep in the Okanagan and production manager Brad in Airdrie, Hendriks and byHendo.com continue to build. Hendriks says once busy patio season is done, he sees hotel conferences and events needing a mobile bar to keep keg sales up year-round.
"Matt has his finger on the pulse, he's always watching trends," Bouius adds. "And something like the strawberry smash can be dubbed 'the blushing bride' at a wedding's mobile bar - there are so many possibilities." She points to another bartender's favourite, the company's O.G. Shaft on tap - a four ounce, 'pick-me-up', vodka/espresso cocktail-sized shot. "We don't even market it, but it's popular with our clients. Matt always has the bartenders in mind."
To that point, Hendriks isn't worried a keg cocktail will put bartenders out of work - he forever sees himself as one of them. There is still a need for custom cocktails in any establishment, he says, where bartenders can still put their own twist on an Old Fashioned, make a new cocktail or add foam or unique garnishes to others to show off their creativity. Hendriks says his keg cocktails are a right hand to a busy bartender; a consistent supply of a couple of classics to take pressure off when the going gets busy.
Amid the steady growth of Banff's cocktail culture and byHendo.com, Bolt says he hopes his friend will take a breather, step back and see what he's accomplished so far. Hendriks agrees a little down time is in order, but then adds, "If you work hard, the sky's the limit. We want to see the industry grow as a whole, because we know we can't be everywhere all at once."