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A Parliament of Craft Beer

parliament hill

No, the House of Commons isn’t yet serving craft beer, but Ottawa is catching onto the craft wave.

During my spring travels east (which I talked about a bit here), I spent a few days in Ottawa. I have been to Ottawa a few times over the years and distinctly remember on my last visit (about 2006) being seriously unimpressed by their beer scene. At the time they had one brewpub (Clocktower Brewing) and, of course, the always reliable Beau’s out in the bedroom community of Van Kleek, but not much else.

What a difference a couple years can make. Over the past two years a dozen breweries have opened their doors in the national capital. During my free time I did my best to explore the burgeoning craft beer scene in the land of MPs and Senators.

I discuss my favourite stops in my latest Vue Weekly column, which came out last week (you can read it here). They include a couple of new brewpubs and a couple of breweries. I got to sample the first batches at Lowertown Brewpub in the Byward Market which just started brewing beer a few weeks before I arrived. The beer is decent, if not particularly memorable, but its location is prime. And while you are there, you might as well walk around the corner to the Brothers Beer Bistro (discussed here) which always has some great beer on tap.

The Mill Street Brewpub is most noteworthy for its location, an historic pulp mill right on the Ottawa River. A fabulous place to sip on a pint.

I got most excited by the new breweries I had a chance to visit or try. Beyond the Pale has only been in business less than three years but already has a national reputation. I can see why as their beer is solid. In particular I appreciated their oatmeal stout, Darkness. Bicycle Craft Brewery is more elusive but also received positive comments in my notebook.

But, for me, my highlight because it is something of a scoop, was Waller Street Brewing. When I arrived in Ottawa, I didn’t know they existed. I got tipped off by a brewer at Clocktower. Literally a hole in the wall in the basement of a downtown building hosting a pub and a games cafe, Waller Street is not a full-time operation and has only been open a few months. Despite dropping by three times, I never met anyone associated with the brewery (remember it is not a full-time operation). I also only got to try one beer, as the rest were out (again, not full-time). However Moonlight Porter stopped me due to its fullness, robust coffee roast and silky body. If this is what they can do after a couple months, just imagine what they will be doing in a couple years.

Ottawa has gone from being Borringville, in terms of craft beer, to one of the fastest evolving beer scenes. I wonder where it will be in a couple more years?

 

We Have a Beer Situation

situation logoWhyte Avenue is a fun place. During the day it has a myriad of shops, cafes and sights (not to mention the Farmers’ Market) to satisfy a wide range of tastes and interests. Then there is the nightlife. It may be a bit more “lively” than my middle-aged body is up to these days, but there can be no question it is the most alive neighbourhood in Edmonton at night.

Overall it is a pretty great location in the city.

So, how would you feel if I told you that soon Whyte Avenue will also be home to an innovative craft brewery and restaurant? I can imagine you would be pretty pumped (you are reading this site, after all).

Situation Brewing is a new project setting up shop just south of Whyte at 81 Ave and 104 St (across from Von’s Steakhouse). And it might be something unlike anything Edmonton has seen to date. Partners Wayne Sheridan and Kale Edwards, along with head brewer Matt Cockle (a recent graduate of Olds Brewing College) have a vision of a creating a place that anchors around local, as well as the process of good beer.

Situation started unofficially four years ago when Sheridan and some friends went to Portland for a stag. “It was an epiphany moment,” says Sheridan who says before that he enjoyed beer but hadn’t immersed himself in it. “I said, ‘something spectacular is happening here. Why don’t we have this in Edmonton?’.”

That sparked a fast developing fashion. He and Edwards took up homebrewing and studying everything they could about beer. After a couple years, they started wondering why they didn’t do this as a business. “We thought we are doing this every weekend anyway, why not go commercial”. Their original plan was to turn their homebrew system into a nan0brewery. “Then we pulled out the spreadsheets,” he says, and they realized small was not viable. And thus Situation was borne. Sheridan and Edwards buckled down to find a way to open a full-scale brewery. They scouted a location and recently landed their spot just south of Whyte. “We wanted to situate the brewery in the best location possible,” Sheridan notes.

Things are moving fast now. They have ordered a 10-Barrel brewhouse with 4 20-bbl fermenters and 2 bright tanks, which are expected to arrive next month. Permits are in place and renovations are underway. While the process has taken longer than Sheridan originally hoped he is quite thankful from the support from both the Old Strathcona Business Revitalization Zone and the City of Edmonton planners, who worked to find a space for their concept under the rules (currently Edmonton bylaws forbid a brewpub in Old Strathcona). They hope to open the doors sometime in October.

Their vision is to create a space that highlights the process of beer. “We wanted a prominent location to show the process of making beer”, Sheridan says. “Edmonton has good breweries but people don’t see the process behind the product”. So they designed the space to allow the process to shine through. “We have more brewing space than need so we can host seminars and tours. We want to teach people how beer is made.”

They named the brewery Situation because location is everything for them. “Location is mission critical for us,” Sheridan says.  They want to highlight “where the beer is situated”. Sheridan says they could Continue reading We Have a Beer Situation

Saskatchewan’s Beer Revolution

sask flagOn this site I have recorded the growth of Saskatchewan’s beer scene (as well as Alberta and Manitoba), so regular readers will know that on the prairies, Saskatchewan has had the most impressive jump in its number of craft breweries.

That growth didn’t go unnoticed and so my editors at Planet S/Prairie Dog recently asked me to do an account of that transformation. You can read the entire article here.

The individual pieces of the story – the opening of Prairie Sun, Nokomis, Black Bridge, Rebellion and others – have been accounted for. But only once you put the plotline in one place do you start to see how impressive it all is. Saskatchewan went from two breweries and two legitimate brewpubs three years ago, to more than a dozen today. That is pretty fast growth. And it happened without any real change in government policy or the macro-environment.

There have been some failures – Brecknock and Bin Brewing to name two – but the successes far outweigh the failures. In general, the climate seems positively inclined to homegrown breweries in Saskatchewan.

I realize we are seeing this all across the country. B.C. and Ontario have had a new brewery open almost every week for the past two years. Nova Scotia has tripled the number of breweries in a couple of years. Alberta is starting to take off, with a dozen breweries in the planning stages (some of which I have profiled and other pieces coming in the next few weeks). Even Manitoba, which ranks last in breweries per capita, is starting to see some action.

Clearly craft beer is exploding in our country. But that doesn’t make the rapid expansion in Saskatchewan any less impressive. I like to consider it great news – evidence that the craft beer wave is reaching every corner of the country.

I fully expect to see more Saskatchewan breweries in the coming years. Maybe not at the pace we experienced in the last two, but the growth will continue. Which is a very good thing.

Soon to Hammer Out Good Beer

Barnhammer logoTyler Birch isn’t afraid of making a jump to do what you want. A few years ago he left university to join the family fencing business. He never looked back, and has been busy ever since. Along the way he stumbled across homebrewing and happily spent his off-hours crafting up new concoctions.

Then last April, maybe during a quiet week in the fence business, he started wondering about opening a brewery. Should he do it? Much like his decision a few years before, the jump was quick to happen. He started planning Barn Hammer Brewing Company immediately (no website yet but you can find them on the Facebook, whatever that is).

At first he thought about a brewpub, but an industry insider gave him some good advice. “He said, if you want to make beer, why not just make beer and forget the rest?” Birch took the advice to heart and shifted gears.

Things really sped up when he connected with Brian Westcott early in 2015, who at the time was the head brewer at Alley Kat in Edmonton but was needing to move to Winnipeg for personal reasons. They agreed to partner up and the brewery has been full speed ahead ever since.

They have a location line up (595 Wall Street) and will soon be in possession of their brewhouse, a 15-barrel system with four fermenters and 2 bright tanks. If all goes well they will be pumping out beer before Christmas.

The vision of the beer is two-armed. “One brand will be more approachable, and then a couple more for ‘beer people’,” says head brewer Westcott. Birch concurs, “I want to be as interesting and unique as possible. I am not going for mass appeal. I want to make beer I want drink”. He adds that he still wants to make sure there is something for everyone.

The beer is still in development but original plans include an oatmeal stout and a red IPA, amongst others. Westcott is clear about one beer. “There will be an IPA, for sure”.

As for the name, it comes from a family story. As Birch tells it, “our family owns farmland. On the land there was an old barn, rotten and falling down”. One day Birch’s father decided the barn had to go. He got an idea in his head. “He decided he was going to pull it down with his old Dodge Journey”. Birch describes how he chained the farm to the bumper of the Dodge and proceeded to hammer the pedal as hard as he could. “He didn’t take the farm down,” Birch notes. “He just made it askew. As a family joke we started calling the Dodge ‘the barn hammer’.”

Besides, Birch says, the name is both unique and generically approachable. The story, I have to say, makes it much more interesting.

Birch doesn’t envision his brewery becoming anything big or corporate. “I would like to stay fairly small. I don’t have any international brewing goals. I want to keep it as local as possible and interesting as possible.”

Birch doesn’t feel the need to demolish the barn. He is happy just making it a bit askew. Look for Barn Hammer later this year.

 

Balanced Doesn’t Mean Boring (Part Two)

beer101logoLast month I started a two-part series on my sherbrookeliquor.com Beer 101 column on overlooked beer styles. These are beer that, despite still being satisfying, delicious and challenging to brew, are often overlooked these days by beer aficionados. My first part looked at a number of styles, including pale lagers, that are unfairly maligned (you can read it here). The second part came out last week and looks at some styles that might be overlooked in a list of being overlooked (if you get what I mean). You can read the second part here.

As in the first part, I highlight a few different styles, explain why I think they are unfairly ignored and offer a couple decent suggestions available in Alberta (mostly). I start with pale lagers darker sister – amber lager. Amber lager gets absolutely no love these days. Not as full or interesting as an Oktoberfest, not as crisp as a pilsner, they fall in to a no-mans-land of beer. Yet, there are many moments when I feel an amber lager would hit the spot.

I also discuss blonde and cream ales, which are not really a surprise they get seen as boring, even though a well-made version definitely is not. I have written my defence of English Bitter before, which is also included. Bitter is a marvelous style (I am sipping on my latest homebrewed ESB as I write this) with amazing malt characteristics balanced by enough hops to keep the beer interesting. However, in this world of big citrusy IPAs, they tend to get lost. Such a shame.

I point to Irish Red Ales and the general red ale thing as well. They too often truly are boring, but the well-done examples are remarkably enjoyable.

My last style may surprise some. I add Pale Ale to the list for a reason. It used to be the alpha male of craft beer. Fifteen years ago every craft brewery worth its salt had to have one. They were the beer for the real craft fan. Fortunately and unfortunately the evolution of consumers’ palates have led them toward  hoppy IPAs, Double IPAs, barrel-aged beer and the like. The bitter but balanced pale ale couldn’t compete. They started to become a second tier beer. Unfairly in my opinion.

I remember ten or so years ago railing against faux-craft versions of pale ale – breweries making an insipid version to capture in on the name. That doesn’t happen anymore, simply because few bother to brew a pale ale anymore. I think that is a shame. As I have said before (here, for example) Alley Kat’s Full Moon Pale Ale was long a go-to beer for me – something I could knew I could always rely on. Flavourful with a nice citrus hop kick but with enough balance you can have more than one. Full Moon, of course, is now an IPA, and there are few quality pale ales left. There are still a few – I am a fan of Collective Arts Rhyme and Reason for example – but they are much harder to find than a decade ago.

Every one of the styles I discussed are quite attractive. They are hard to brew. They offer real flavour. Yet, somehow, they get ignored by the throngs of drinkers looking for the newest, biggest thing they can find. All I will say is: find some time for these old reliables. I promise you won’t be disappointed (if you keep your mind open).

No Troubles So Far for Troubled Monk

troubledmonk_logoI reported last week that Red Deer’s Troubled Monk Brewing quietly opened its doors in June. The Bredo Brothers, Charlie and Graeme, have traveled quite the path in the past couple years. I profiled their plans back in January (read here) and at the time mentioned they were one of the first new breweries to get a license under the relaxed AGLC regulations. Their initial thinking was to be an all-out nano-brewery, operating on a 50-litre system. Those plans changed quickly, however, when they started doing the math on the viability of a brewery that size.

Instead they jumped up to a 15-barrel brewhouse with four fermenters and one bright tank. In June they opened both the brewery and their 60-seat tasting room (which, again due to new rules, can serve full pints). I thought an update might be timely and so I sat down with Graeme to see where things are at.

The tasting room, Bredo says, will for now be the anchor of their operation. Open Monday-Friday 1-8 and weekends 11-8 it will serve beer on tap and do take-away sales as well. Their plan is, of course, growler fills, but they also intend on packaging a portion of their product in cans, following a growing trend among new breweries. At the moment their beer is NOT available in liquor stores, as they are still ramping up production but they hope to expand their availability in the Red Deer area and select Edmonton locations in the coming months.

Their brewer, Garret Haynes, is one of the first graduates from the Olds College Brewery Program, and is working on tweaking recipes with the Bredo brothers. At the moment they have four mainstays with a series of seasonals and rotationals planned.

Their four beer include Golden Gaetz Golden Ale, Pesky Pig Pale Ale, Open Road American Brown and Homesteader Saison. Golden Gaetz harkens to the history of Red Deer and its main street, Gaetz Avenue, while Pesky Pig is an homage to Francis the Pig, a plucky porcine who in 1990 escaped the clutches of the meat packing plant in town and spent months on the lam in Red Deer’s parks and green areas.

At the time of my visit with Bredo, their first one-off was Accidental Amber, which was intended to be the first batch of their Brown Ale. However, their malt order came with the wrong kind of amber malt. They decided to try brewing it anyway and it came out lighter and more like an amber ale than a brown. It is dry-hopped with Equinox to still give it a hop flavour kick.

I had a chance to try the first batches of Golden Gaetz and Pesky Pig. The Golden Gaetz is a light-bodied blonde ale with a delicate grainy malt and just the slightest hint of grassy hops. It reminds me of a fruity pale lager (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). The body is delicate and the malt touches are subtle, but it offers a summery experience. Bredo says they were aiming for a “saltine cracker” character, a description that I both love as a writer and think is quite accurate. I plan on stealing the phrase in the future.

Pesky Pig is an assertive pale ale with a sharp, piney, grapefruit hop character backed by a dry toast malt and touches of light fruit. The linger is quite resiny with grapefruit rind accent. Cascade and Mosaic  are the feature hops in the brew.

Like all new breweries, these beer, along with the other two when they are ready, will shift as they tweak the recipes. That is half the fun of tasting beer from baby breweries; you get to go along for the ride. So far I am not seeing a lot of trouble brewing for Troubled Monk.

CTF Weighs in on Beer Mark-Ups

liquor store coolerLast Friday in the Calgary Herald, Paige MacPherson, Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation (CTF), wrote a guest column taking the Alberta Small Brewers’ Association (ASBA) to task for its position around beer mark-up rates. You can read the column here.

Personally, I found the article odd both for its timing and for the fact the CTF felt a need to weigh in on this issue at all. For those of you who don’t know the CTF, they are a right-wing advocacy group who lobbies for lower taxes, lower spending and greater financial accountability in government. Some observers call them an “astro-turf” group with an ideological agenda (for example, see here), but I will sidestep that for the moment.

The issue in question is the differential mark-up for small brewers and that this mark-up is applied to all small breweries regardless of location. This issue has percolated for some time and I have written about it extensively (here and here and here, just as samples). The basic argument lines up like this: Alberta brewers feel the policy puts them at an unfair disadvantage in the marketplace, especially given restrictions in other provinces; meanwhile advocates for the policy say it enhances consumer choice.

I have been careful to be open-minded in my analysis on the issue. I understand there are legitimate positions and interests involved on both sides. Many small non-Alberta breweries, especially those based in Canada, need the lower mark-up to allow their beer to be price competitive in Alberta. Conversely, I can see the argument that the Alberta government owes more of an obligation to Alberta companies than those from elsewhere.

But allow me to turn to Ms. MacPherson’s column. My concern is that she demonstrates both a lack of understanding of the beer industry in Canada and a strange sense of timing. The odd timing is self-evident, as she has to chastize the ASBA for not yet taking a post-election position and has to resort to a 2-year-old position as a straw man. Now, it may be the ASBA continues to hold the same view, but their decision to refrain from commenting suggests they are reacting to the reality of a new NDP government, something MacPherson seems to miss. One might argue the ASBA is being rather smart in its strategic silence. Nor has the government made any announcements regarding the policy as of yet. As a result, MacPherson is punching at ghosts.

It is when she turns her attention to the substance of the matter where she really goes off the rails. She displays a noted lack of familiarity with the beer industry. I will ignore the fact there is no such thing as “Big Rock Rig Pig Ale” which she proclaims to enjoy (Rig Pig would be a Brewster’s product, by the way) and instead focus on a couple of more salient issues. In short her arguments are simplistic and misleading. And I say this as someone who can see both sides on this issue.

First, the differential mark-up rate is designed to acknowledge that small breweries lack the economies of scale that large breweries possess, yet (and because of it) create more jobs per unit than large breweries. In other words, they are good economic engines. From that logic there is an argument to be made that the differential should apply only to those breweries that actually generate jobs in the jurisdiction. To put it more bluntly, there is legitimacy in arguing it is not the responsibility of the Alberta government to support the job creation efforts of breweries located in Ontario, Wisconsin, England or Czech Republic, which is what the lower mark-up applied to everyone can be perceived as doing.

MacPherson tries to turn the argument into a battle between Alberta craft beer vs. Canadian craft beer from other provinces. She fails to mention that the lower mark-up applies to international imports as well. It is the international importers that disproportionately benefit from the lower mark-up, as they experience higher transportation and duty costs than a Canadian brewery.

MacPherson also neglects to point out that the position to restrict the lower mark-up to Alberta brewers is supported by Labatt’s, part of the largest beer corporation in the world. It is hard to argue Labatt’s is being protectionist.

Second, MacPherson dismisses the reality that other provinces erect barriers to import beer by equating it to a sales tax. “We wouldn’t impose a sales tax just because New Brunswick has one.” As much as that generates guttural reactions from Albertans it is an entirely disingenuous connection. The issue is that Canada is rife with protectionist rules around beer. Alberta breweries face huge hurdles getting into other provinces. Alberta’s single-handed decision to remove barriers can be seen not as brave but as foolhardy. It puts Alberta companies at a competitive disadvantage.

Had MacPherson called on the government to take a lead in advocating removing inter-provincial barriers around beer, she and I would have common cause. However, Continue reading CTF Weighs in on Beer Mark-Ups

The Smoke Whisperer

schlenkerla lagerIf you like rauchbier, then you love Aecht Schlenkerla. At least that is what I say. One of the original Bamberg rauchbier brewers, they continue to show an unbelievably deft hand at producing a variety of lager styles that accent smoke. The smoke is always an anchor of the beer but never overpowers other aspects. Read here and here for examples of what I mean.

I have made a habit of picking up each and every different Schlenkerla beer that crosses my path. And I am yet to be disappointed.

Then I cam across this: Helles Schlenkerla Lagerbier. A helles-style lager with – wait for it – absolutely no smoked malt added. Just an ordinary German pale lager. Huh? What’s up with that?

I almost – almost – gave it pass. I appreciate helles lagers, but wasn’t particularly in the mood. But at the last second I relented an scooped up a bottle.

And, oh man, was I glad I did.

Rather than explain, I will first describe. It pours medium yellow with a thin, wispy white head. Great clarity. Looks exactly like a Helles. So far so good. The aroma first gives me a soft graininess, a bit of grassy sweetness, all accented by the tiniest  hint of smoke.

Whaa!?!

Confused, I trudge on.

The flavour begins with a soft, stalk-y malt, with clear pilsner quality. I also pick up medium honey and some grassiness up front. It first strikes me as light bodied and gentle. The hopping is fairly low. The middle starts to add a vague earthiness that builds into a slightly smoky accent to the linger. Ghosts of rauchmalt whisper across the roof of my mouth.

I can’t quite be sure that I am really tasting smoke. Yes, I can tell it is there, but it is elusive. It plays just at the threshold of my taste buds. It takes me a few sips to convince myself that I actually am tasting smoke and it is not just a trick of my imagination, triggered by the familiar label. It ends up being a wonderful tasting experience. The smoke persists but never raises its voice above a whisper, meaning the clean, grainy character of the Helles gets to speak volumes.

As it turns out, the folks at Aecht Schlenkerla are not lying. They add no rauchmalt to the beer. That ghost of smokiness comes entirely from using the same kettles as the rauchbier. Clearly smoke has seeped into every pore of that brewery, coming out even when they don’t intend to make a rauchbier. Brilliant, fascinating and almost magical.

I will admit I was totally blown away by this beer. From what would have been a normal, pedestrian Helles, the hints of smoke lift it into a new category. Actually using rauchmalt would be too much and overpower the beer. The light body of the beer needs nothing more than a kiss of smoke, and that is what it gets. A truly unique drinking experience!

Aecht Schlenkerla does it again!

The Past, Present and Future of Craft Beer in Edmonton

Graphic courtesy of Vue Weekly.

Graphic courtesy of Vue Weekly.

The current issue of Vue Weekly is their annual Beer Issue, where significantly more column inches are devoted to the grand elixir than the usual To The Pint column every couple weeks. This year I am the author of three pieces in the section. And I decided to go with a overarching theme, looking at the past, present and future of craft beer in Edmonton and Canada.

The cover story looks at the recent Canadian Brewing Awards and in particular at Alley Kat‘s big win with Beer of the Year. I also look at some of the other Alberta-based winners and even stick a toe into the Minhas debate. I won’t go into that piece much as I wrote extensively on the CBAs on this site (here). But you can read the whole cover story here.

Given that the cover looks squarely at the present, I shift gears in the second piece to offer a quick history of craft beer in Canada ( read it here). I work through the pioneers of the industry, including Horseshoe Bay, Granville Island and others, but what I think the piece really contributes is a recognition that craft beer has grown in waves and each wave had its distinct character. The first wave in the mid-1980s included Big Rock, Upper Canada, Amsterdam and others. By today’s standards their beer were/are fairly safe – brown ales, wheat ales, moderately hopped pale ales – but we need to keep in mind that at the time those beer were ground breaking. They weren’t yellow lagers. And everyone of those breweries had to chart a completely unmarked and uncleared trail.

The second wave consisted of the mid-1990s breweries, Alley Kat and Wildrose among them. There were dozens that popped up about 20 years ago. These brewers differed from their older siblings by branching out a bit farther. They played more with hops and branched out the kinds of styles they were willing to play with. I also think these breweries – possibly learning for the experience of the first wave – were more focussed on local markets. They didn’t (and for the most part still don’t) have big ambitions to sweep across Canada or into the U.S. like Big Rock, Granville and Okanagan Springs did. I think they figured out that anchoring in community helped build loyalty.

The third wave is just emerging. Their breweries are smaller and more intimate but their beer are big, brash and bold. For the latest round of brewers hops is a mandatory flavour as they are closer to emulating their American cousins south of the border. It makes sense to me. This is a generation that has only known a world where craft beer is available. It expands their horizons and sense of what is possible in a way that Ed McNally could never have imagined.

The third article (read here) turns its attention to the future. What will happen in Edmonton’s beer scene in the coming years? Now, the piece ends up being a bit of a thought piece, exploring why Edmonton lags in terms of craft breweries and brewpubs and how that might shift in coming years. It teases at some announcements in the coming weeks and months (keep your eye on this website for scoops!) and suggests that while Edmonton continues to be behind other cities of similar size, things are starting to change for the better.

From the early struggles of Horseshoe Bay brewpub in Victoria, to surpise victories at the CBAs, to the latest barrel-aging program of the upstart breweries in the province, craft beer has charted an interesting course over the past three decades. And I am looking forward to being around for a couple more decades to see what happens next.

 

A Vision of Good Beer from Blindman Brewing

blindmanlogoOne of the great advantages of small craft brewers is that they can anchor themselves in community. They can sink deep roots into the life of the town/city where they reside. When it comes to roots, few can likely lay claim to deeper ones than Hans Doef. You see, Doef is part of the longstanding family-run Doef’s Greenhouse in Lacombe, just north of Red Deer. You need to know about roots to grow tomatoes, cucumbers and, oh, so gorgeous eggplants year-round in this climate.

Why am I praising Mr. Doef’s family eggplants on a beer blog? Doef, along with an impressive and eclectic array of partners, will soon be opening a new brewery in his hometown of Lacombe. Blindman Brewing is in the final stages of planning and will soon be in possession of their brewhouse, with a slated September opening.

Doef and his longtime friend Dave Vander Plaat dreamed up the idea of a local Lacombe brewery more than a year ago. Both are avid homebrewers and with Doef’s experience running a business and Vander Plaat’s background in mechanical engineering (always helpful in a brewery), they saw no real reason not to start up a brewery. “Local food is a passion of mine, anything local. People gather around craft beer, you can create more than a business,” says Doef. “We have a pretty good thread of connections in Lacombe and we thought the time was right.”

They started plotting on their own, but then through some good fortune came across a trio of Edmonton beer guys also looking for a start-up opportunity. Adam Campbell (a former brewer at Alley Kat, Grizzly Paw, and Propeller Brewing), Matt Willerton (current Alley Kat employee) and Kirk Zembal (beer aficionado and savvy business guy) joined the two original partners six months ago. The trio brought some professional brewing experience as well as a raft of Edmonton connections.

Then three months ago, Shane Groendahl, he of Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous fame (and electrical engineer who was also contemplating a dive into craft brewing), signed up, completing what is unquestionably a powerhouse ownership group. In fact, I wonder if they are the first Supergroup of Alberta craft brewing?

Blindman has procured a 4,000 sq. ft. space in the industrial part of Lacombe and a new 15-barrel brewhouse is on order and should arrive next month. They plant to start with two 15-bbl and one 30-bbl fermenters and a single conditioning tank. I wondered aloud if that might create a bottleneck, but Doef and Groendahl weren’t worried. “We will be fine for a while and get our mains styles in production,” Groendahl replied, adding that adding more brights as needed is part of the plan.

Blindman’s vision is simple. “We just want to make really good beer for people who like really good beer,” says Doef. Groendahl adds that they want to push the market as well. “We want to step up the game of the styles being produced locally and the quality of the beer being produced, to pose a challenge to others to get better as well”.

“We want to make the best beer in Alberta,” says Groendahl.

As for the beer, they have not finalized on names but are planning on launching with three beer initially with hopes of adding more down the road. The first beer is tentatively being called River Session Ale. “It is a 4.5% session ale. Big hopping with mosaic, it will be very aromatic and drinkable. We are calling it an ‘light pale ale’,” says Doef. Then there will be a stronger IPA using “a combo of simcoe and citra”.

The third beer will be a saison, which they plan to split the batch. “We will pull off some for souring, flavour additions, barrel-aging,” notes Groendahl. If all goes well they are considering adding a pilsner to the line up next year.

“The beer will be a balance between what we love and what will sell” observes Doef. “The session ale and IPA are good entrances for this kind of market for us”.

Doef says they will try to take advantage of their greenhouse connection as well.  “We have good access to year-round flavouring – we grow herbs in greenhouse, peppers, tomatoes. Lots of opportunity for funky beer for our seasonals”.

Following what is clearly a trend these days, their plan is to package their beer Continue reading A Vision of Good Beer from Blindman Brewing