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More Peaks Than Valleys for Canmore So Far

Our interview kept getting interrupted by people banging on the locked door, hoping for beer. Irritating? Not really. Instead I realized it was a sign of Canmore Brewing’s early success.

Currently the tap room is only open Thursday thru Sunday, meaning my visit on Tuesday was when they were officially closed. That didn’t seem to stop a regular stream of customers from trying to grab a pint or growler fill. Co-owner Brian Dunn tells me that it is a daily experience and enough to interfere with the work day. They are currently looking for additional staff to allow them to open the tap room throughout the week.

Canmore opened its doors in January and this week was my first opportunity to visit the brewery and try their beer (I did a profile before they opened, which you can read here). Dunn showed me around the well-appointed tap room and brewery, explained the odd arrangement the AGLC has forced them into with RAW Distillery, which shares the space (the AGLC balked at two licenses at the same location), and offered up some samples of their first beer.

I’ll get to the beer in a moment, but first I want to discuss the look and feel of Canmore Brewing. It is located in a fairly nondescript light industrial strip mall near the railway tracks on the outer edge of downtown. But when you walk in, the space seems relaxed and welcoming. They have worked hard to create a coherent branding. The space – and the logo – emphasize a stand-out orange with simple lines and feel. They are the first brewery in North America (yes, this is very inside baseball) to use painted cans with oriented labels (translation: they have pre-printed cans but add a specific label to the lower half for each beer which  needs to be aligned with the painted logo). The effect is to create both a consistent look but still create differentiation between beer.

The more time I contemplated their look, the more I realized it had a noted uniqueness to it. The look is simple but unlike any other brewery I can think of. Orange might be a controversial colour in Alberta these days, but I think the effect works.

The beer seems to represent where they are located. Canmore is a mix of the moneyed , outdoors fanatics and tourists; satisfying them all is not easy. Canmore is going with four core beer and a rotating seasonal. Appropriately each is named for regional landmarks. Ten Peaks Pale Ale (named after the iconic peaks shown sometimes on Canadian 20s) is a gentle, malt accented pale ale that Dunn acknowledges is their gateway beer they offer to people who call themselves corporate lager drinkers. Georgetown Brown (which is a ghost town near Banff) is a rounded brown ale on the sweeter side. Mineside Stout (the old name of the south end of Canmore) is an earthy, full-bodied stout. Railway Avenue IPA has enough hops to be a legitimate IPA but remains quite accessible and balanced. Their current seasonal is Rave Coffee Session Brown Ale, which is a toned down version of their Georgetown with cold-pressed coffee from Rave Coffee infused. It might be the smoothest coffee ale I have tasted in a while. You get full coffee flavour without the harsh bitterness that often comes with the use of coffee. Nicely done.

I find the beer to be well-made, clean and flavourful. None are classics of their style, but every single one has an interesting, enjoyable character that I think will appeal both to beer aficionados and casual beer tourists as well.

These are early days for Canmore Brewing. They are, like many of the  young Alberta breweries, struggling to keep up with demand and trying to figure out how to grow without stretching too far too fast. Plus, I note, they have not yet experienced a busy Canmore summer tourist season. Good luck with that, Brian and company. Given the numbers banging on your doors already, I think you should get ready for an onslaught in July.

[Edited to correct tap room opening days]

 

 

Left Hand Nitro: Embrace the Hard Pour

I know this beer’s (and brewery’s) reputation. I have read the’ reviews extolling its virtues. Yet I remained skeptical. Not sure why. I just did. Maybe I am a natural-born curmudgeon (no comments, peanut gallery!).

I am speaking of Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout Nitro. I wasn’t skeptical about the beer itself – by all accounts it is a high quality milk stout, both the regular and Nitro versions. It was the label’s instructions to “pour hard”. Just tip it straight upside down and let it rip. Really? Felt gimmicky.

But the beer recently arrived in Alberta and so I had a chance to give it a try. So I did.

For the uninitiated, Left Hand Brewing out of Colorado has taken some of its regular line-up and injected nitrogen as a portion of the gas, a la Guinness. No widget, instead they have developed another process for getting the nitrogen in there (which they won’t tell us). Hence their instructions to pour hard.

I did as the label suggested. Glass at the ready, I popped the cap and immediately inverted the bottle, allowing the beer to rush into the glass. The resulting sight was something to behold. A rolling caldron of tiny brown bubbles forms and cascades, simultaneously violent and elegant, to the top of the glass. After a few seconds the beer settles in with a substantial dark tan head and a silky looking creamy body.

The beer is inky midnight black. Black like the abyss. The tan head is smooth and pockmarked and persists through the sampling. The aroma is soft chocolate with hints of treacle. I pick up a subtle dark fruit backed by a milky sweetness. In the background there are wisps of burnt chocolate and coffee roast.

The effects of the nitrogen are immediately felt upon sipping. The beer has a quiet, smooth silkiness that melds into a milky sweetness and a subtle coffee. The initial flavour and body reminds me of a coffee milkshake or a rich mocha latte. The middle brings out a light roast and touches of dark fruit to add depth. The linger is milky sweet coffee. The carbonation is almost imperceptible, not getting in the way of the silky flavours.

This is a subtle beer with a cascade of complex flavours.  It is quiet, sweet and delicately complex. It has this dual existence, both drinkable and yet totally a complex, rich experience. The flavours blend remarkably well, and the nitro just adds a silky quietness to the beer that is original and impressive.

A side-by-side with the original Milk Stout would be a cool thing to do. Alas, only the Nitro is available in Alberta at the moment.

I guess I really do need to tone down that curmudgeon voice in my head – sometimes things really are as they appear.

Heads Up! The KGB Is On Its Way

Be warned. Edmonton is about to be over-run by the KGB. (Some Tory MLAs may think it already has under the guise of the NDP, but I digress.)

By KGB I refer, of course, not to the notorious Soviet police force, but to the first release from Edmonton (sorta) gypsy brewery Elbeck Brews (read my profile of the fledgling operation here), which is officially launched Friday at Sherbrooke Liquor.

KGB Imperial Stout may already be known by some longer-in-the-tooth beer fans and older homebrewers in particular. You see, KGB has actually been around for a long time. I remember it first surfacing at some point in the 2000s (I don’t remember the exact year) as a homebrew collaboration between three Edmonton homebrewers – Kevin Zaychuk, Glen Hannah and Bruce Sample (the K., G. and B. in the name – get it?). It won wide accolades among the Edmonton Homebrewers’ Guild (EHG) members and its share of medals in competitions.

Then in 2009, KGB made its commercial debut as a special one-off beer brewed by Alley Kat for Sherbrooke Liquor. At the time Sherbooke offered up a prize where the brewer of the year at the EHG’s Aurora Brewing Challenge competition could have one of their recipes brewed up and sold at Sherbrooke. Bruce Sample won the that year and selected KGB as his beer.

Sample subsequently moved on to brewing professionally at some of Edmonton’s breweries and is the driving force behind Elbeck Brews. The KGB being released today is the same recipe as the famed homebrewed version.

I received an advance copy – as they say in the publishing industry – and tried it last weekend (so for once my review is timely rather than too late).

It is the deepest, midnight black with an abyss-like quality. It builds a formative tan head offering interspersing loose and tight bubbles, leaving a noted lacing on the glass. The aroma gives off big chocolate with a backbone of molasses and an accent of dark coffee roast. I also pick up some chewy dark fruit underneath and a soft, cool vanilla and almond note.

The sip also starts with chocolate, along with dark treacle. Some blackstrap molasses rises in the middle, as does a light coffee roast. At this point the flavours meld to create a mocha effect. It has rich, but balanced body and is sweet without being cloying. The finish is moderately sweet with chocolate, almond and dark fruit. The linger is coffee. I take note that the alcohol (9%) is remarkably well hidden, especially for such a young beer.

My mouth remembers this beer from its previous incarnations. It is balanced, rich and full without being over the top. I think I am most amazed at how well the flavours meld already. I can only imagine what this beer will taste like in two years when you add some sherry notes and smooth out the alcohol even more.

As inaugural beer go, this one makes a pretty big statement. Soviet-era fur caps not included, however, comrade.

Dueling Grants and More Beer Policy Stuff

Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci delivers Budget 2017.

It has been rather quiet on the beer policy and politics front recently. No updates on the ongoing legal disputes around Alberta’s mark-up policy and brewers’ grant program (for a summary read here), no big announcements or controversies – just the usual. Saskatchewan is plugging away at privatizing many of its liquor stores, but it is too soon to judge the effects and Ontario spreads its new beer in grocery stores (sorta) policy.

However, two announcements caught my eye in the last couple weeks. They are not beer-related, per se, but I do think they have  implications for the ongoing debate about beer policy.

Two weeks ago, the Ontario government announced a new $5 million grant program for small cideries and distilleries (read the coverage here). They money, spread over three years, will take the form of grants to eligible producers. The government currently provides $1.2 million in funding to the Ontario Craft Brewers Association and in the past has had grants for breweries as well.

Then, in last week’s Alberta provincial budget, Finance Minister Joe Ceci boasted about the beer grant program and promised an extension to craft distillers. To quote him: “The Alberta small brewery grant program is creating jobs and driving new investment. This year, we are going to build on the success of our craft brewing program and work to model a similar program for Alberta’s craft distillers.”

No details have been released but if it works like the beer grant it will take the form of regular payments linked to production levels.

Other than the expected applause from craft cideries and distilleries, the response has mostly been crickets. I find this curious given the uproar over the announcement of Alberta’s beer grant last year. What a few months ago was decried as a horrible violation of inter-provincial trade laws, is now no big deal? What’s the difference?

I have two answers to that last question. First, craft cider and (in particular) craft distilling are much earlier in their development as an industry. Craft distillers are very small and, for the most part, restricting sales to their region. There are few established Ontario craft distillers selling in Alberta (a quick search found a single product), or vice versa. Beer, on the other hand, as a more mature craft industry, has sizeable players who ship product to many provinces. A beer grant for Alberta producers ruffled the feathers (and threatened market share) of some established parties. In contrast, in distilling, no apple cart can be overturned because it hasn’t been built yet.

Second, the close proximity of the two announcements makes it hard for anyone to take specific umbrage with either program. With beer last year, the Alberta government could be isolated and singled out as they were the only ones making changes. People’s short memories had forgotten the millions handed to Ontario breweries by the Ontario government because that had been standard practice for years. Alberta seemed like an outlier, and thus vulnerable to criticism. Throw some partisan politics into the mix and  you get a controversy. An Ontario distillery can hardly cry foul about Alberta’s grant program when their government announced one days earlier.

Clearly the political and economic dynamics are different with cider and spirits. It is possible some one launches a complaint against these new grant programs, but somehow I kind of doubt it.

Swap the Malt? Troubled Monk’s Malt Experiment

Photo courtesy of thebeerdiaries.tv

So lots of breweries engage in hop experiments – swapping out varieties of hops to experience the flavour effect. Most breweries are not so fast to play around with their malt. Malt is the anchor for a beer. It lays down the core flavours that create a beer’s character.

I don’t want to exaggerate. Some breweries  have played around with single malt beer to isolate malt flavours. It is just that particular practice hasn’t caught on the way single hopping has. I think because the flavour effects of hops are so in-your-face, like a crazy guitar solo, while malt is more like a solid bass line, laying down an essential groove but in a way many don’t even notice it.

Why do I say all this?

Because Red Deer’s Troubled Monk decided to play around with malt to see what effects it has on beer. It took is Golden Gaetz Golden Ale, its light blonde ale, and made three versions using different malt and put them in a mixed six-pack. To tell it is a mixed pack, you have to read the labels carefully as from a quick glance it looks like their normal pack.

The beer is an excellent candidate for a malt experiment as it has a low hop regime and the malt bill is quite simple, just 90% 2-row base malt with 10% carapils. They held the carapils constant and swapped out the base malt. The first beer is their regular recipe, with 85% Copeland malt from Rahr Malting with 15% Synergy from new Alberta craft maltster Red Shed. That is their control. Beer two is made with 100% Synergy from Red Shed. The third beer is 100% Bentley, also from Red Shed.

I thought it would be cool to see if I could tell the difference between the three beer. Turns out the subtle packaging made it easy for me to blind the taste test. I covered the label, mixed up the cans and gave them each a number. I handled all beer the same, opened at the same time and poured them into identical glasses. I only revealed which each was after taking my notes.

I won’t keep you in suspense and will tell you there was a noticeable difference in colour, body, flavour and aroma across the three. The regular version poured slightly darker and had a more intense aroma, offering both a sharper grain and a bit more floral character. The Synergy beer had a bit of a haze to it and the aroma had more honey and a noted oatmeal cookie character. The Bentley had the softest aroma of the three, with a soft graininess.

I will re-produce the flavour notes verbatim as there is a degree of complexity in the comparisions.

Synergy: Gentle, soft sweetness of honey and light fruit at first. Malt character is strongest in the middle, rising to a soft earthy graininess. I pick up a toasted rice character. The finish is gentle with a grainy sharpness blending with hops, smooth, almost creamy body.

Control: Has a fuller sweetness than the other two upfront with a berry character and a sweet mead note as well. Less creamy than the others, but offers a fuller note reminding me more of a Czech pils malt base. Malt is more forward on this one, slowing dropping into a moderately sweet finish. Seems more “cooked” in a decoction kind of way. It is fuller and a bit sweeter.

Bentley: Has the softest texture of the three with muted honey and a soft grain sweetness. Sharpens up a bit more in the back end, leaving a grainy linger. Most neutral of the beer overall although the linger is the most pronounced, with an earthy hop/sharp grain mix.

The control beer was markedly different than the experiments, both darker and fuller. Even across many days I think I could tell it apart from the other two. However, the differences between the two experiments are present but subtle. If I tried each beer on different days, I am not sure I would identify the difference.

I found this a fascinating taste test. I can’t say I am surprised to have found such complex and nuanced differences between the beer, but the results still have me intrigued.

Brewers (myself included) sometimes take our base malt for granted, I think. Sure, we want high quality malt, but we spend most of our energy working with the specialty malts to bring out the flavours we want. This test demonstrates what a significant difference the base malt can make. Swapping out only the base malt produced measurable changes to colour, aroma, flavour, body and linger.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the bass player isn’t as important as the lead guitarist. And don’t let anyone tell you base malt doesn’t make a difference.

 

Oldman the New Kid on the Beer Block

If I were to ask you where Lundbreck was, I am pretty confident you wouldn’t really know. As it works out it is a small hamlet on the Crowsnest Highway between Pincher Creek and the towns that make up the Crowsnest Pass.

If you didn’t know, be sure to mark it on your Google Maps as soon you are going to want to make sure you stop there if in the area. Lundbreck is soon to be home to Oldman River Brewing (no website yet, link is to their Twitter page). They are currently assembling their brewery and tap room and hope to have beer for sale sometime in May.

I recently spoke with the three partners involved in the project, husband and wife Brittney and Adam Wilgosh and longtime friend Dan Christensen. All have lived in the Lundbreck area for years. Dan runs the town tire shop (located across the street from the brewery – have a pint while waiting for your tire rotation!). Brittany works for an accounting firm in town while Adam is a fly fishing guide who runs a small construction company outside fishing season.

The idea for the brewery started at the same time many of Alberta’s new breweries got off the ground – when the government eliminated the production capacity minimums. “I was away at work and Dan texts me. The government had just changed the law”, says Adam Wilgosh. At that point Adam had been a homebrewer for about 10 years and he and Dan had many beer-filled conversations about opening a brewery, but nothing serious. “From that moment discussion got more focused and we started wondering if we could put it together”. Adam adds that, as beer lovers, he and Brittany had long talked about opening a pub or some other beer-related venture.

Shortly after, Brittany found a job posting online for an assistant brewer at the Olds College Brewery, associated with their brewmaster diploma program. “I said to him, why not apply? You have nothing to lose,” says Brittany. “He got the job”.

Adam lasted for a school term. He considered it a “feeling out period” to decide if opening a brewery was feasible. It was enough time for them to make the decision, and the brewery was born.

They are currently in construction on the brewery and tap room. “We are right downtown Lundbreck. You can’t miss us”, says Christensen. Unlike many of the new breweries opening up in the region, Oldman hasn’t opted for “a shiny, attractive new brewhouse”, as Adam puts it. Instead they have cobbled their brewery together with a lot of second hand equipment and some new pieces. Their brewhouse is sourced from a closed brewery in Edmonton. They also picked up a variety of tanks from various sources. The only new equipment are their hot liquor tank and a new mash tun. “We are just putting things together to make it work”, says Adam. When finished they will have a 20hl brewing capacity with 3 fermenters, 2 bright tanks and 4 conditioning tanks.

In a move that quickly wins over my heart (read here to see why), they say the plan to bottle in stubbies. The classic Canadian beer bottle may make its return with this intrepid trio. Kegs and growler fills will also be on offer.

The group knows they are opening up in somewhat uncharted territory by being in the Crowsnest Pass area. “Our vision is to be local to our area”, says Adam. “There is nobody else in our area. This is a place that appreciates good, honest beer”. The three owners also want to anchor around Continue reading Oldman the New Kid on the Beer Block

Olds, Homebrew and the Future of Beer

This past weekend, I headed down to Olds to judge at the Mountain View Homebrew Open, organized by the Olds College Brewmasters Program students. It was a good day of judging with a group of knowledgeable and convivial beer judges and professional brewers who donated their time to evaluate and score the 150 or so entries. I opted to stay the night and got to spend some in the pub after with some of the students and some beer industry people.

On the drive home Sunday morning I got to reflecting (as I am wont to do) on the previous day. I come away with a few observations about what this little snapshot of beer says about the state of craft beer in Alberta and where the future might take us.

First, I was impressed with the overall quality of the entries – from homebrewers across western Canada. Some opined that it was the result of the five entry limit per contestant, but I actually think it is part of a broader trend. I judged my first beer competition (I think) in 2002. Over the past 15 years, I have observed a general increase in the quality of entries. There are fewer absolute stinkers and there are more clustered in the higher score range, making medal decisions harder. In short, I truly believe homebrewers are getting better.

This matters because homebrewing is often the training ground for the next generation of small craft breweries. Most people opening a brewery have had some degree of homebrewing experience. Having homebrewed does not guarantee success at the commercial level, but it does inspire passion and instill a respect for brewing and the process. If homebrewers are getting better, that is a good sign for craft beer.

Second, the Olds students impressed me. They have true passion for beer, have that insatiable appetite for learning that young people can have, and seem truly interested in understanding the intricacies of operating a brewery. Many left far more lucrative careers for the program and the joys of working very hard for significantly less money. There is a valid debate about the Olds Program curricula and whether it emphasizes the right elements, etc. – I am in no position to offer a useful opinion – but there is no question it is producing year after year a crop of dedicated, knowledgeable and passionate brewers.

I say this because I think it bodes well for the future of the industry. The traditional programs in Germany and the U.S. have long produced first rate brewers, but their expense, inaccessibility and selectivity mean they simply cannot produce the number of brewers needed to support the rapid expansion of craft beer in North America. Programs like Olds fill an important role in creating locally-produced, educated brewers who can operate on a small scale.

Combine an experienced homebrewer opening a brewery with an Olds College graduate, you might just have the recipe for a successful brewery (it has already happened a couple of times in Alberta).

Finally, I was wrong about something. When the Olds program first opened a few years back, I privately worried that there wouldn’t be enough jobs for all the graduates they were putting through. That, of course, was before the explosion we have seen in western Canada. Virtually every graduate who wishes it is working in the industry somewhere in western Canada (some have chosen to pursue other paths). Maybe it really was a case of build it and they will come.

By the end of my two hour drive back home, I must say I was feeling pretty good about the present state of craft beer in western Canada and even better about the near future.

Town Square to be a Gathering Place for Beer

Three committed families and a big vision can accomplish a lot. That is the case of Town Square Brewing, opening this summer in south Edmonton. Three sets of couples (and their young kids) are the people behind Edmonton’s newest brewing project. The Boutins (Megan and Brandon), McNaughtons (Tyler and Katrina) and Nordins are longtime friends and (for some of them) family who have long been beer enthusiasts who longed for something more.

Like many young couples, they have been busy working to support their families, raising their kids and generally living life. Their current careers cover the range of occupations, including mechanic, designer, pipefitter, teacher, real estate agent and hairstylist – many of which might prove quite useful to opening a brewery (Lord knows more brewers could stand a good haircut). But they talked regularly about other dreams and plans.

“The original dream was to open a pizza shop that offered good beer,” says Brandon Boutin, considered by the group to be the driving force behind the project. “But as we developed our business plan we started to think ‘why not make our own beer?’.” Not much after Town Square Brewing was born. The three men had been homebrewing for a few years and saw how much the Alberta beer scene was changing, giving them the courage to explore a brewery.

Town Square will still offer pizza – that part of the plan did not go away. “We see ourselves as a brewery and eatery,” says Boutin. “Not full service food. Lighter fare food – charcuterie boards, pizza, that kind of thing.” Boutin says they are planning a “flexible” menu.

The goal is to create an inviting space where people can meet up, talk and re-connect. “The Millennial generation, we are connected via phone, text, social media. We can do all that but still be alone, more than ever before,” observes Boutin. “We want to build a place where we can bring people together to connect, eliminate what distracts them.” That means no televisions or loud music – they want to create a place where people come to talk.

The space itself is in south Edmonton on Ellwood Drive near Ellerslie Road and 91 Street – so when I say south, I mean it. The location was intentional. “We come from the south side,” notes Boutin. “We wanted to stay away from central Edmonton and all the stuff going on there. We want to offer something different, offer something to the growing communities of south Edmonton.”

Being located in the burgeoning neighbourhoods of south Edmonton (the fastest growing area of the city) is important to the group, as giving back to the community is a core value for the brewery. “We are community-based. We want to give back to the community that we hope will support us.” They will have a permanent charity beer and pizza where proceeds of every sale go to a different charity every month. But for the group it is about more than raising money; they plan on getting their hands dirty helping out. “We will organize community garbage pick-up drives, bottle drives for local charities,” and generally become engaged with the area’s community groups.

As for the beer, their vision is “to express some artistic spirit, be adventurous, incorporate weird concepts but always go with what our customers want.” Boutin mentions a recent experiment to make a lavender and cucumber beer: “didn’t work out they way I hoped, but we will try again,” which might give you a sense of the kind of adventure he is referring.

The regular line-up is still in development, but they are currently looking at offering Continue reading Town Square to be a Gathering Place for Beer

A Beer to Stop Pipelines?

I learned of a political beer initiative the other day. It is called Coule Pas Chez Nous!, and it is a collaboration beer by an advocacy group of the same name partnering with 20 Quebec breweries. Some of the proceeds of the beer will go to fund the group’s campaign to stop the Energy East Pipeline. The beer, the organizers say, is also intended to raise awareness of the risk to Quebec’s rivers by the proposed pipeline, hence the tagline “A beer for our rivers”. It is a limited edition beer that will be sold in various outlets around Quebec. Here is a story about the beer. And for those of you that speak French, here is the campaign’s website.

I am going to stay a million miles away from any debate about whether Energy East is a good or bad idea – this site is not the vehicle for such a discussion. But the beer does bring two questions to my mind that I do ponder.

First, what is the role of beer in advancing a political cause? Most of the time breweries shy away from strong political stands for fear of offending a segment of their consumers. And most often when they do engage in community-based activities it is of the feel-good variety. Of course, we see breweries take stands in their own interest – over beer policy, taxation and the like – but that is more self-interest than political stance.

So this beer is unusual. Should these breweries be making such a public statement? As someone who is fairly interested and engaged in politics, my first inclination is to think “sure, it is their right”, but as I think about it a bit more I feel more mixed. How would I feel if TransCanada (the company proposing the pipeline) partnered with a brewery to brew up a pro-pipeline beer? Same issue, but now with a big corporation rather than a grassroots advocacy group. Or if  a pro-death penalty organization created a beer to raise awareness for their campaign to bring back the death penalty? This is something I personally oppose and so I am using it as an example of an issue that would rub me the wrong way. Does it change my opinion?

On the surface I think I could still say it was their right, and simply avoid purchasing that particular beer. But there is an unease in my mind that won’t go away. Something just doesn’t quite sit right with me about private companies engaging in politics in that way. I think we naturally come to see our local small craft breweries as members of the community – and it a significant way they are. We come to know them as people. But, at the end of the day, the brewery itself is a for-profit company. Sure, the people behind it might be good people, but I think there is room to question whether the company (as opposed to the owners of the company who have every right to speak their minds, donate to causes, etc.) should be engaging in this activity.

The Dieu Du Ciel Brewpub

Now, I come from a place as someone who, for example, supports banning union and corporate donations to political parties. I think democracy is for people, not companies. So take my musings in that context. Is a brewery, no matter how small and how much we like the people running it, all that different than some other business? I am not sure it is all that different.

My second question has to do with Dieu Du Ciel. The participating Quebec breweries are mostly brewpubs and small, locally-focused operations. So for them, the business downside is likely quite minimal. However, Dieu Du Ciel is also involved. I am not particularly surprised by that – I have met the owners and they are quite open and vocal about their politics (which I am fine with). But, DDC sells beer in Alberta (and other places). How might taking an anti-pipeline stance (in this case) affect their sales here?

In practical terms, I anticipate not much as most consumers will never hear of this one-time Quebec beer. However, follow my theoretical. Say you are an unemployed oil industry worker. You like craft beer. You hear about DDC’s stance on Energy East and their participation in a group opposing it. Do you stop buying their beer?

I can’t answer that question as I am not in that situation. But I can see how something that personal might affect consumer choices.

I bring this up just to raise questions. I have no clear answers in my own mind – which means, I suspect, the same may be true for many of you. Makes for good conversation over a pint or two, that is for sure.

 

 

Zero Issue Has One Goal – Good Beer

You might think the MacDonald brothers, Mark and Kirk, named their soon-to-open Calgary brewery, Zero Issue Brewing, to communicate trust that their beer would have zero issues with quality or satisfaction. If you did, you would be wrong. To understand what they are up to you have to put your geek on.

“The zero issue is a special release comic book, generally it has more info about the story behind the plot – how a story got started,” says brother and co-founder Mark. “It is the origin story, something that happened before the story started”.

The name fit because both brothers readily acknowledge they are comic book and sci-fi aficionados. “We wanted a comic book focus, it just seemed to fit, and so the name is our origin. This is us getting started, our origin, so to speak, of what we want to do with our lives”.

As origin stories go, Zero Issue has an interesting one. “It is a funny story, actually, kind of random”, says MacDonald. “About seven or eight years ago,  it was November, Kirk came over to my place and says ‘know what we should do, we should brew beer’. We went over to a homebrew store close to us and bought each other kits for Christmas”, he says. “They were the standard basic kit. We tried it. Mine turned out terrible, his quite good. It was fun, and before we knew it we fell down a rabbit hole”.

Before long they both had all-grain set-ups and were brewing regularly. Kirk ended up being a student in the very first class in the brewmaster program at Olds College. He only lasted a year (of the two year program) before Village Brewing scooped him up. “It was the job he hoped to get when he graduated. So he asked me if he should do it and I said yes”.

The idea of opening a brewery remained a vague dream, however, despite Mark’s shift in occupation. But when the Alberta government eliminated the production capacity minimums, they realized it might actually be possible. Their interest and research increased and they finally decided to take the plunge in November 2015.

Opening a brewery seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity for the brothers. “It was a chance for my brother and best friend and I to do something together, merging passions we have always had for beer with the other passions we have, like comics,” says Mark. “The brewery is a family project. Our parents are helping with construction. My wife and our uncle are investors. This is really is about just trying to be us. We love beer and it seems to make sense”.

They are in the middle of building their brewery in Northeast Calgary, not far from Dandy Brewing. In addition to the brewhouse they are building a 40-50 seat tap room. They are installing a 15-barrel brewhouse with four 30-barrel fermenters  and two 30-barrel bright tanks. Pretty standard stuff. What is definitely not standard is that they also bought a 20HL foeder, a large Continue reading Zero Issue Has One Goal – Good Beer