Podcast Episode 290: Jason Spaulding of Brewery Vivant and Broad Leaf is Getting Comfortable with Less

After chasing larger volumes through distribution for the past 12 years, the pandemic led to reckoning and reconnection for these two breweries in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Now, they’re sizing down to let customers and brewers, rather than distributors, drive the creative narrative.

Jamie Bogner Feb 12, 2023 - 7 min read

Podcast Episode 290: Jason Spaulding of Brewery Vivant and Broad Leaf is Getting Comfortable with Less Primary Image

Photo courtesy Brewery Vivant

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Jason Spaulding, cofounder of Brewery Vivant and Broad Leaf Brewery, has been around the proverbial block. He cofounded his first brewery, New Holland, in the mid-‘90s, and after leaving that brewery and spending time away from the industry, he launched Vivant with his wife Kris about 12 years ago. Operating a brewery with a niche focus comes with benefits as well as challenges, but Vivant has always focused on beer, food, and hospitality with a particular Wallonian-inspired flair. Their take on Belgian-style beers is a bit more earthy and a touch more subdued than the American norm, but their audience has followed along.

There’s a temptation in every business to chase growth, no matter the cost, and Vivant followed a proven path through the early 2010s—they put beer into grocery stores through distributors, and when distributors told them which beers to make more or less of, they listened. Rather than dilute the Vivant brand with styles that didn’t feel germane, they launched a second brewpub out in the ’burbs—Broad Leaf Brewery & Spirits—dedicated to progressive styles such as hazy IPA and fruited kettle sours. Then, through COVID, the bottom all but dropped out. They made it through, but the broader conditions were an existence-level threat.

Now, the Spauldings are rethinking why, and how, they make beer. The 60-barrel tanks that needed three turns of their 20-barrel brewhouse to fill are gone, replaced by a pair of 20-barrel tanks. Rather than feed the distribution beast, they’re refocusing on making beers their customers want in the quantities they want it, packaging any extra that isn’t earmarked for their own locations. It’s been a tough to scale back the earlier aspirations, but the health of the business requires it, and the ability to be dynamic and creative at this smaller scale is creating a new excitement.

This isn’t a typical episode of the podcast—more business than brewing—but it’s an honest look at how this longtime brewer is facing the present challenges of the business.

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Jamie Bogner is the Cofounder and Editorial Director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email him at [email protected].