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A Great Beer Harvest

WR ipa packWith the fall equinox fast approaching and the leaves starting to turn, it is likely time for another news roundup. Many things afoot across the prairies as the region’s craft brewers shift from the craziness of summer to a merely very hectic fall. And, of course, who can forget that Oktoberfest is just around the corner.

So here are the latest beer releases and related news, as usual in no particular order.

  • We should likely start with Half Pints, who probably deserve multiple bullets for all they have on the go. First up, TODAY is the annual release of their Oktoberfest, as reliable a fall sighting as Canada Geese flying south. Then, next Thursday (Sept. 25) they are releasing the first Pro-Am Challenge brew. This beer was the best-of-show winner at last year’s innaugral Half Pints Pro-Am Brew Challenge (more on that in a minute). Designed by Dean Kelly the beer, called Simcoe Spruce, is a Pale Ale infused with spruce tips. Its release is just in time for the 2nd Half Pints Annual Pro-Am Challenge. This is a unique competition that pits professional and homebrewed beer side by side, with the amateur winner getting to brew their beer at Half Pints. Entry deadline is September 21, so if you move fast you could likely still Xpresspost a couple of entries (see here for details). Judging will take place October 1 to 4.
  • Moving westward (maybe that is how I will handle it today), Prairie Sun continued their one-off seasonal series last week with the release of Saskatoon Berry Saison. The name is enough to tell you what is going on with that beer. Not sure if there is even any left, but if you are in Saskatoon swing by and find out.
  • Two Calgary breweries have similar releases this month. First up is Wild Rose who has just released a Mixed IPA pack called The Bitter Truth. This six-pack has two bottles each of their regular IPA and two past seasonals, White Shadow White IPA and 42 Session IPA. I haven’t heard whether this is a limited offering or a new year-round option. I suspect the former.
  • Big Rock has just announced its own new mixed pack. The Rad Trad Variety Pack offers two twists on Big Rock’s longtime flagship, Traditional Ale (usually just called ‘Trad’ in Alberta). The Anarchist and The Cascadian are both a bumped up version of Trad (6.1%) and with a more noted hop presence. Cascade, Chinook & Citra in The Cascadian, and Challenger, Progress, Fuggles & Golding in The Anarchist, meaning the former will have a more American character and the latter more British. Three bottles of each are in each six-pack.
  • Something Brewing, the craft arm of Red Deer’s Drummond Brewing, will soon be hitting store shelves in AlAK pink dragonberta. They were at the spring beer festivals and later this month we will begin seeing cans of their first three beer. Gimme That Nut Brown Ale, Dark Side Schwarzbier and Hop Bomb IPA are a marked divergence for the brewery. Launching a true craft line has long been a goal of the Drummond owners, who until now have been competing in the “value” segment of the beer market. An interesting twist is their decision to go with distinctive boxes of 4 cans, rather than the usual six. It gives the case a very noticeable shape and look. No official date on their release, but expect them soon (along with a review of the beer on this site sometime).
  • Up in Edmonton, Alley Kat is releasing its latest Dragon Series beer next Thursday (Sept. 25). Pink Dragon is brewed with Sterling hops and as usual will only be around as long as the one batch lasts.
  • Finally, Yukon’s Longest Night Black IPA is floating around Alberta at the moment. Not sure how much of it there is and how long it will last, but try it while you can.

In other news, Alberta Beer Festivals, the company that organizes the spring Edmonton Craft Beer Festival and Calgary International Beer Festival, has launched a fall version of their events to celebrate Oktoberfest. The Calgary version runs September 26/27, while Edmonton goes October 3/4. Similar to their spring events, the Oktoberfests will offer a bit more German flair and some slightly tweaked processes (including a sample flight paddle). Go here for ticket info.

And since I am talking, I can let you know that the official launch of Stone Brewing’s entry into the Canadian market happens October 21. Stone is one of the most talked about craft breweries in the U.S., and their beer is not for the feint of palate (check out my recent review of their Enjoy By… IPA). Apparently there will be some industry and public events in the days around the event. Keep an eye out for notices.

There are a few breweries who haven’t announced their fall plans yet, so I suspect a follow-up post in the coming days or weeks.



Doin’ It Old School at Monkey Paw

monkeypawOne of the highlights of my recent San Diego trip (read more about it here) was lunch at Monkey Paw Brewpub. This funky little place doesn’t look like much on the outside, but it serves up some of the more interesting and diverse range of beer around. As I mentioned before, they pride themselves on never making the same beer twice. They have a good handle on San Diego-style beer (read: drier and crisper and hoppy), but they also have a deft touch with other styles as well. The day I was there they had, among others, a fantastic Scotch Ale (McGavin’s Plaid Monkey), a shockingly dry and light double IPA (Gibbon Back) and a fascinating beer (Sweet Georgie Brown)  that straddled the brown ale, porter and stout categories without seeming out of whack.

The beer (and the cheesesteaks) alone would have made it a pleasurable spot worth noting , but a couple of other elements made it really stand out.

First was the owner, Scot Blair (who also owns the renowned Hamilton’s Tavern). He was a fantastic host, and has a infectious passion for what he is doing. He and I talked beer for an hour and half (pity my lunch companion that day). He has a marvelous palate and the most impressive talent for describing what he is tasting. He and I picked up similar subtleties in the beer we sampled, but I found I always preferred the way he described it. Evocative with lots of rich detail, as the best descriptions are.

The second reason was that, by happenstance, they were brewing the day I dropped by. Their brewhouse is adjacent to the pub in a space smaller than most people’s garage. Current brewmaster, Cosimo Sorrentino, was just finishing up the boil when I arrived. As an aside, Monkey Paw also makes a conscious point of hiring homebrewers as their brewmasters. Not ex-homebrewers who made the jump before, but hiring active homebrewers for their first professional job. Blair tells me this has two purposes. First, it keeps the beer original, creative and playful as no one breaks brewing rules like homebrewers. Second, it is part of a strategy to grow the brewing talent base in the region. Blair sees his pub as a stepping stone for the brewers, a place to launch a professional career.

But back to my main point. The beer they were making that day happened to be a fresh hop beer. That morning they received a shipment of hops (thirty kilograms if my memory serves – I neglected to write the number down) that had been picked the afternoon before. Cool enough. It gets better, though.

They wanted to maximiDSCN0918ze the aroma and flavours from the fresh hops by utilizing them post-boil. But Monkey Paw does not  have any kind of hopback or hop torpedo. So what to do? Well, put them in the mash tun, of course! They poured all the hops into the cleaned mash tun, which nearly filled the vessel (see photo) and then ran the wort back to the top of the mash tun, through the bed of hops, down the false bottom and into a fermenter to await the yeast.

All I can say is it is an ingenious and clever lo-tech solution to an issue. No need to buy more equipment, just re-purpose the stuff you already have.It wasn’t particularly elegant and had one or two potential safety hazards (hot wort, anyone?), but I can tell you while it was happening it was the best smelling brewery I have ever experienced. Plus I realized I can do EXACTLY the same thing at home, which is a pretty exciting prospect.

The only sad thing about the whole experience is that I will never actually get to try the finished beer. I can imagine the hop aromatics on it will be amazing, going from what I smelled in the brewery.


Stone Enjoy By…, Hype or Reality?

stoneenjoybyOne of the most hyped/talked about beer series in recent years has been the launch of Stone Brewings’ Enjoy By… series of double IPAs. This series incorporates into the beer’s name the date before which Stone wants you to consume the beer. That date, they decided, is five weeks after bottling.For the record, most breweries give their beer a six or eight month shelf life.

It is not that Stone thinks the beer will be bad after five weeks. Instead they are saying that after that date the beer will not be as good as it could be, that its peak flavours and aromas will have faded. They want you to drink it while it is “at its best”.

It is an intriguing and highly controversial declaration. The concept behind it is sound for hop-forward beer like IPAs and Double IPAs. The hop aromatics and flavour compounds are fairly volatile and start to deteriorate quite quickly. Within a few weeks it is possible to detect a loss of the fresh hop aroma and flavour. The bitterness also will drop, but more slowly (in the range of months). A six-month old IPA will lack a lot of that sharp hop character it started life with, even if the beer itself is still perfectly drinkable.

The debate is whether Stone has found a good way to ensure its beer are consumed in best possible condition, a commitment to highest quality, or if they making too big a deal of this and the whole thing is basically a marketing ploy? I cannot resolve that debate, nor will I try. Stone certainly is known for its aggressive marketing strategies and in recent years has been accused of less than ethical dealings at times. But there is also no question they make some fantastic beer. Arrogant Bastard is a brilliant beer by any measure.

While in San Diego I visited the sprawling, impressive Stone facility and had a sample of the the latest in the series, Enjoy By 9.20.14. It had been out about 10 days when I tried it. Given the circumstances I couldn’t take any notes at the time, but I remember being struck by how big and fresh the hop aroma, in particular, was, and that overall the beer was surprisingly light-bodied for a Double IPA.

So I decided to also buy a bottle for more careful consideration. After letting it settle for a few days upon arrival, I opened the bottle earlier this week. What did I find?

First I found that huge hop aroma I remembered. I get pineapple, pine, passionfruit and soft citrus, accented by a slight resiny note. Behind that there is some light malt base for support with a bit of generic estery fruitiness. The beer pours pale gold with what I would describe as a determined, rocky white head. It has brilliant clarity and is lighter in colour than I expected.

In the tasting, the dominant character is a fruity, fresh hop. I get some viney green character, but mostly soft citrus, like pineapple and passionfruit, with a pine accent. The pineapple is particularly noticeable. Hints of berry lurk in the background to create character. The malt is like an ordinary, non-San Diego IPA, which is surprising given the beer is 9.2% . It finishes quite dry and light, with an intense bitter linger and a everlasting piney, citrusy hop taste. Malt is rounded without being too full. the malt character is  almost pilsner-like. The alcohol is very well hidden.

Okay, this is an impressive Imperial IPA, no question. The hop aroma and flavour is pronounced. I was surprised how many layers of hop flavour I could isolate. The hops did taste remarkably fresh. One of my fears was that, being so young, the alcohol would still be quite hot, but they do a nice job of masking it.

Of course at the moment it is still quite fresh, which is the point. To really do a test of the necessity for such a short window would be to try a second bottle in about three or four months. Alas, I do not have one. I debated buying two bottles for that very purpose, but realized it would have meant bringing back one less bottle of something else I really wanted, like Alesmith or Lost Abbey. Science takes a back seat to my greedy palate, after all.

I will have to leave it to others to decide whether Enjoy By… is smart or gimmicky.



Big and Small, San Diego Has it All

DSCN0896Beer people write odes to Portland (including me – check here and here). They wax eloquent about Denver or New York or Chicago. And for good reason. But what about San Diego? Many of you will nod your head, but I predict a larger portion of you will ask what have they got besides Sea World and the Zoo? Some will know they are home to the epically famous Stone Brewing, and some are aware they are ground zero for West Coast IPA with its bone dry malt profile and assertive citrus and pine hop character.

But how many know that San Diego might be the fastest growing beer scene in North America? It is home to more than 80 breweries (with a county population smaller than Alberta), a number that has almost doubled in the last 5 years. And for every well-established brewery like Stone, Green Flash and Ballast Point, there are a number of smaller, newer and lesser known breweries putting out innovative and satisfying beer.

A couple weeks ago, the San Diego Tourism Authority hosted me on a three-day media tour of San Diego’s beer scene. Why? Well, they are trying to drum up Canadian interest in their growing San Diego Beer Week and Craft Beer Festival (November 7 to 16). They have partnered with Festival Seekers, a website devoted to festival tourism to promote the 2014 edition of the festival. Together they have put together a travel package and have even set up a contest for a free trip to San Diego.

My role was simply to do what I do best – drink some beer, get a feel for the craft beer scene in their city and then come home and write a bit about it.

I came away more impressed than I thought I would be. I did my research before leaving and knew there were a handful of beer places and a cluster of breweries that any beer guy should experience. What I wasn’t expecting was the range of beer options.

You see, San Diego is known for West Coast IPA. It might be the epi-centre of this sub-style. The first thing I can say is that after three days in the city, I come away with a much bigger appreciation for what a West Coast IPA is. I used to think it was too dry and too thin, but after having more than a dozen authentic versions, I come to see how that dryness accents the citrusy hops and offers a unique beer experience.

I did the requisite stuff. I toured Green Flash and Stone Brewing. These are killer breweries, regardless of marketing and hype. But I also got to spend some time in San Diego’s lesser known beer corners. For example, Monkey Paw might be the most unapologetic brewery in the U.S. right now. This little brewpub has won dozens of competition medals, developed a local reputation and has done it without ever brewing the same beer twice. They embody the spirit of craft brewing – small, local and constantly trying new things.

Or there is Hillcrest Brewing, the U.S.’s first openly gay brewpub (that is their claim, which I can’t confirm). The beer is solid, in particular the Perle Necklace Pale Ale and the Crotch Rocket Irish Red. As you can sense, double entendres are the name of the game at Hillcrest, which I totally enjoy. Continue reading Big and Small, San Diego Has it All

Real Ale Fest a Real Blast

EGA cask festival 2014 006Saturday was the 2014 Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous Real Ale Festival. Due to scheduling conflicts I had not been able to make previous incarnations of this unique event, but was pleased to finally have darkened its doors this year.

For those unfamiliar, the EBGA Real Ale Festival is a one-day event celebrating traditional cask ale. This year 14 Western Canadian breweries sent a cask specially designed for the event. All were tapped at the beginning of the afternoon and were served until the beer was gone. About 150 people (alas, mostly men) were in attendance in a cozy community hall in south Edmonton.

When I arrived, the room had a quiet buzz about it. Tables of beer-shirt attired attendees were hunched over their half-pint of beer, quietly sharing thoughts with their companions, some taking notes. It reminded me, in a strange way, of an English pub (except it was in a community hall…). No music, no fancy accoutrements, all the focus was on the beer. Twelve casks were lined up at the serving station and a steady stream of empty glasses awaited to be filled. (Sadly, two of the participating casks – Yukon and Paddock Wood – never made it to the final destination and were mourned as transportation casualties). While it was still early in the day, I felt pretty confident that no drunken antics were going to emerge. These were people serious about their beer appreciation rather than party types. Now, a good chunk of the room had the explicit goal of sampling every ale on offer, but they were doing so either in teams or had a carefully timed pace.

EGA cask festival 2014 010Because I only had a couple hours, I jettisoned the hope of sampling all the offerings, but still tried to get to a few. And there was a lot of interesting beer on offer. Every brewery took the project seriously, providing an interesting cask ale. There was everything from a hefeweizen dry-hopped with Mt. Hood (brewed by Wood Buffalo), to a brown ale with vanilla and cocoa (Brewsters) to a variety of dry-hopped IPAs and an Oak-aged oatmeal stout (Alley Kat).

In the end I got to seven of the twelve in some form of sample (including sips from others’ glasses). The most surprising was Jasper Brewing’s Sutter Hill Pilsner with ground chocolate and roasted barley added. The additions transformed the beer entirely. Olds College Brewery also stood out with an Imperial IPA dry-hopped with Citra, oaked with four kinds of oak cubes and primed with dark candi sugar. I will lay odds many of the festival attendees will have docked it points for the thin, dry body. But having just been in San Diego (more on that in coming days), I was impressed by just how much the beer had in common with San Diego IPAs. I also discovered that Red Racer IPA tastes good no matter what form it takes. Finally the Alley Kat 61/2 Bears Stout was a nice finisher, the oak-aging taking some of the roasty edges off it, but adding an earthy complexity.

It was a fun event. I can think of far worse ways of spending an afternoon than sipping on pints of real ale, chatting beer with knowledgeable, passionate people and generally just relaxing. I wish I could have stayed another hour or two. Now I just gotta hope I keep the date free in 2015 so I don’t miss it ever again!



Wild Craft Brewery a First for Lethbridge

wild craft logoWithin the next year Lethbridge will be getting its first new brewery since 1901. In late August Wild Craft Brewery broke ground on its 21,000 sq. ft. production facility and restaurant. It will be Lethbridge’s first craft brewery. Lethbridge has been without a brewery of any kind since the old Sick’s Brewery (home of the original Lethbridge Old Style Pils, but owned by Molson since 1959) closed in 1989.

After hearing about the start of construction, I tracked down co-owner, Scott Crighton, for a chat about who Wild Craft is and what their plans are.”I have a long history in Lethbridge in the liquor business,” says Crighton who has run liquor stores and currently owns a small chain of pubs in southern Alberta (of which he will soon be forced to divest himself due to AGLC rules), “and craft beer was always my favourite part. And as it kept growing it just made sense to jump in”.

“Lethbridge has a strong brewing history,” Crighton points out, “and the trends tell me the timing is fantastic for Alberta.” However, this is not a johnny-come-lately project for Crighton. Four years he started plans for a brewpub in Lethbridge, only to have the deal fall through. He has been working seriously on the current project for over two years.

His vision is to create a full beer experience at the brewery.  “There is so much out there right now in craft beer, little brewpubs and such. I am trying to put the whole experience together: a full brewery, tours, and a brewpub feel. Through the experience I hope to create loyal customers”. The brewery will have a large staging area for tours, a catwalk circling the brewery and a private tasting room. And of course there will be the Wild Side Restaurant attached. “My hope is to make it a tourist attraction in Lethbridge”. Given the brewery will be located at Lethbridge’s busiest intersection, there is most certainly a chance of that.

The brewhouse will be 35 hectolitres with an unspecified number of fermenters and will be fitted with a bottling line for retail sales. There will also be a small pilot brewery (either 3 or 5 hectolitre – they are still deciding) for one-offs, restaurant exclusives and special event beer. In an interesting twist, they are partnering with an un-named B.C. brewery (Crighton was unwilling to divulge the name at this time) to economically permit production in both cans and bottles. The B.C. brewery has a canning line but no bottling line and so the two breweries will do a tit-for-tat. Wild Craft beer sold in cans will be produced at the B.C. brewery, and bottles for the B.C. brewery will be produced in Lethbridge. Wild Craft has also temporarily contracted all production of their beer with the B.C. brewery until the Lethbridge plant is operational.

What this means is that the Wild Craft brand will be available on store shelves in the next month or two. The restaurant will be open in April 2015, while beer will start flowing from the brewery sometime in summer 2015.

And what will those brands be, you ask?

Crighton says they will start with two beer. “In keeping with Lethbridge history our first beer will be a Pilsner”, noting it will be in the Czech tradition. Why a pilsner? “The market is still really young. Pils is easy drinking beer, easier to break into market that not used to IPA”.

The second beer will be what he calls a “Canadian-style Pale Ale”, which I got him to admit means slightly lowering the IBUs. Eventually he hopes to develop a year-round stable of six beer, ranging in styles. “As the market grows we hope to do a real IPA”.

Crighton says that they are intentionally starting with more accessible beer to reflect the realities of the southern Alberta market. “This is old farm country, these guys are set in their ways. Our joke is that my dad will walk into the brewery Continue reading Wild Craft Brewery a First for Lethbridge

Greening Your Beer, Part III

beer101logoEarlier in the summer in my Beer 101 column for Sherbrooke Liquor, I began a three part series on beer and the environment. Parts I & II (here is the onbeer post summarizing both) looked at the carbon footprint of beer in general and at the age-old bottle vs. can debate.

However, I promised when I started the series that I wouldn’t do the standard enviro-thing and leave you all depressed and feeling everything is hopeless and we are doomed ecologically (we might be, but I didn’t want to end on that note). So, the third part looks at environmental success stories – practical, real things breweries are doing to make their operations more sustainable and earth-friendly. You can read Part III here.

I find I have been growing weary of breweries bragging about how they send their spent grain to  local farmers to feed cattle, and how they capture fugitive heat and use it for secondary purposes. It is not that those are bad things – they are indeed good things – but it is just that almost EVERYBODY does that these days. It makes good business sense as much as it helps the planet. Organic ingredients also make a difference, but that still feels like a rather simple shift.

Instead I wanted to look at breweries that have gone the next step, who have made significant investments in making their breweries greener. I actually found quite a number of breweries who have taken serious steps to reduce their environmental footprint – something that makes me feel quite optimistic, actually. In the column I point to Steam Whistle’s bio-diesel trucks and to Anderson Valley’s solar panel array.

I pay most attention to two breweries – Alaskan Brewing and New Belgium. I choose them both because they deserve it (they may be leaders in North America. on this front) but also because their particular initiatives are just plain cool! Alaskan’s spent grain-fueled boiler and mash filter press are simply genius. I love that not only is their mash filter press less-resource intensive, it actually has a higher conversion efficiency.

And then there is New Belgium. I likely am giving them too much exposure, really, but it is hard to write an article about green initiatives and NOT talk about their smart energy system and bio-gas water treatment and go-generation plant. They are the closest brewery on the planet (that I am aware of) to being carbon neutral. That deserves a few column inches, I think.

In short, folks, we are not screwed. If the ground-breaking innovations of breweries like Alaskan and New Belgium filter through the rest of the industry, then we have the potential of making the world of beer making truly sustainable. And wouldn’t that be a good thing for our grand kids when they hit drinking age?



La Folie is Hardly Folly

new belgium la folieI think I have been fairly clear over the last few months just what I think of New Belgium Brewing (if you are not sure read here and here). Their entry into Alberta has been nothing short of fascinating for someone who watches the beer scene. There has been a level of buzz about their arrival among Alberta beer drinkers unparalleled by anything else I have seen. Is it too much? Maybe. The price point sure seems higher than it need be. But there is no questioning that Albertans have embraced New Belgium.

Most of the interest is over their Fat Tire and, to a lesser extent, Ranger IPA. But the agency has brought in some other stuff from them as well, which is flying more under the radar. I recently picked up a bottle of their La Folie (2014), which is a wood-aged sour as part of their Lips of Faith Series.

The label says it is aged from one to three years in french oak. I take that to mean the final product is a blend of younger and older but I can’t be entirely certain of that. My instinct is that this is being brewed as a Flanders Sour, most likely a Red.

To begin, the appearance is perplexing and intriguing. It is dark burgundy red with a tight, unbelievably tight tan head that hangs around for hours and leaves behind some intense lacing. The head is almost like that from a stout. The aroma gives away the beer immediately. It i s distinctly tart with a earthy, woody, nutty, caramel malt undertone. The other aspects create complexity in the aroma, but really, this is about the sour. Like a darker, richer version of Duchess or Rodenbach. First impressions suggest a beer landing somewhere in the middle between Flanders Red and Oud Bruin.

A slightly sweet nutty malt flashes across the tip of my tongue, but only for the briefest of nanoseconds. Then in comes the behemoth of tart. It has two layers, starting clean and lactic but then becoming more woody and phenolic. The strongest point is just before the swallow, where it feels the sourness will suck your tongue straight into the roof of your mouth. The linger eases off a bit, allowing touches of soft malt to return to create a bit of beer character.

La Folie is an intense, tart experience. Not as clean as traditional versions – more rustic and rangy in its feel. A full 650 ml bottle is too much for one person – needs to be shared. Overall I think lacks the finesse of traditional Belgian sours I have sampled but still a fascinating beer. If you like your sours, then it is likely worth a shot.

Why Portland is Amazing, Redux

The now-famous Portland Beer Truck.

The now-famous Portland Beer Truck.

I know I raved about Portland a couple of months ago and how incredibly amazing the place is for craft beer. Well, the columns I wrote about my trip have been trickling out, giving me another opportunity to wax eloquent about Portland’s charms. (You can read the Planet S version here).

In short, it is what all other cities aspire to. Huge local beer culture, craft beer in virtually every pub, and a friendly competitiveness that spurs quality and innovation. I know, the prairies feel like a million light years from that place. And while we have a long way to go, I actually think we can get there quicker than we think. It will take effort and some major re-thinking on part of government/business/consumers, but it is doable.

So, what were my favourite parts of Portland. For one BEER TRUCKS!! Best thing ever (see the post here). I wish we had them everywhere. Beyond that it was simply the ubiquitous presence of craft beer. Sure, I drank some amazing beer in some amazing beer pubs – which I chat about in the above-mentioned columns. But I was most struck by the sheer availability of local craft beer. As a test, I walked into an average sports bar – you know, the kind of place that has too many TVs and who think they are being edgy by offering a tap of Shock Top. I was floored. Despite a plethora of Bud and Coors paraphernalia on the wall, half the taps were local breweries and they even had 4 IPAs. I found that amazing.

That is why I find Portland to be an exemplar for the rest of us. It shows us where craft beer can go given enough time and support. For god’s sake, 45% of all beer sold in that city is craft! Imagine that!

I am not saying Portland is the be all and all. Every city and region  has its craft beer highlights, and we need to support and value our local craft breweries, since they are our neighbours and friends. But you will forgive me having a bit of a Portland crush right now.



Nokomis Knows Ales

nokomis logoWhat do you do if you are a carpenter living in a town of about 450 residents? If you are Jeff Allport, you open a brewery! The prairies’ newest brewery, Nokomis Craft Ales (note, this is just a placeholder site for the moment), is located in the non-metropolis of Nokomis, Saskatchewan. Allport, a former Vancouver resident tired of the bustle of the big city, moved to this tiny town mid-way between Saskatoon and Regina a couple of years ago with his girlfriend to hit the reset button on his life. As a carpenter he knew his skills were transportable, but it was his homebrewing and not his hammering that led to his next big project.

Allport has been a serious homebrewer for “quite a few years” and, like most homebrewers, he dreamed of one day starting up his own brewery. With recent changes to SLGA rules around capacity he realized maybe, just maybe it might work out. Partly appalled by the state of beer in Saskatchewan (he quickly excepted Paddock Wood and Bushwakker), and partly intrigued by the opportunities a small town afforded he decided to give it a shot. “Every homebrewer dreams of the idea of starting a brewery. I never would have considered in Vancouver – tight marketplace and much more expensive to get a business off the ground in urban centre”, he says.” Our cost of living is quite low here and affordable to get a business off the ground”.

After developing a business plan he approached the Nokomis town council and purchased three-quarters of an acre of land from them for $1 (try THAT in Vancouver), where he mostly by himself built a small building to house the brewery. He then scrounged and saved and borrowed and begged to self-finance the purchase of a small 7-barrel brewhouse with 2 fermenters and 1 bright tank. And then he started brewing.

He sold his first beer less than two weeks ago. The plan is to go exclusively with kegs and growlers, selling to select bars and at the Saskatoon and Regina Farmer’s Markets (the province recently allowed growler fills at farmers’ markets). “I don’t foresee ever getting to packaging, just kegs and growler sales”. Partly this is due to his limited capacity.  At the moment he can only brew 800 litres a week, mostly due to the limited fermentation space. Although he hopes to double that capacity in the next year or so, the plan is to always remain small and local. “I just need enough to pay the bills and pay myself. I don’t want to compromise quality and freshness by stretching too far”.

What he gives up in volume, he will gain in flexibility and innovation. He plans on using the extra land around the brewery to plant hops and intends on getting into micro-malting to create truly local beer. “They grow great two- row barley right outside my back yard” he notes. “It is crazy to have to ship it somewhere and then buy it back”.

As for flexibility, when I ask him what his beer line-up will be, I get an unexpected answer. “None. Not packaging frees me from having a flagship beer”. Instead his plan, in true homebrewing tradition, is to constantly brew up new things and rotate through styles. However, he does admit that “I will likely always have an IPA available, but I might mix up the hop varieties and stuff like that” to keep the beer new and interesting. To give a sense of what his approach is he walked through his first few batches. “My first batch was a dry-hopped American wheat ale, the second an IPA, the third a brown Ale, there is an American pale ale in the tank, and today I brewed an oatmeal stout”.

For the moment Nokomis truly is a one-man show. He brews, he cleans, he delivers, he sits at Continue reading Nokomis Knows Ales