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Alberta’s First Nanobrewery is Just Dandy

Dandy culture is about to invade Calgary's beer scene - sort of.

Dandy culture is about to invade Calgary’s beer scene – sort of.

A mere months after rule changes permitting nanobrewing in the province (see my analysis here), Alberta is about to get its first operational nano. The Dandy Brewing Company (not much on the website yet, nor is their a logo) is a partnership of four young Calgarians. They had been homebrewing as a team for the past six years and decided with their mix of knowledge – the group includes a chemist, a chef, a teacher and a liquor retail expert – they should make the jump to commercial brewing. The brewhouse is being installed this week and they are expecting to have the first batches rolling out sometime in June, if all goes well.

I spoke with Benjamin Leon, the spokesperson for the group, a few days ago to get a sense of what Dandy Brewing is about. Leon says their goals is to take advantage of the flexibility that comes with small batch brewing. “We want to have fun with different styles, different ingredients to create a super premium product”. And by small batch, he means small. They have custom built a 4 hectolitre system with 4 fermenters to start.

The initial plan is to package in casks and 650-ml bomber bottles only [edit: the Dandy Guys tell me it will be casks, not kegs, that they release their beer], and to restrict the number of locations where it can be found. Rather than hit any and every liquor store possible, the plan is to offer their product to “a selection of stores in Calgary who will be able to educate consumer”.

“We are starting with two beer, but we are going to expand to five mainstays with a different seasonal every two months” says Leon. The first two beer are Dandy in the Underworld, a sweet oyster-style stout (with no oysters added). Leon says they want to change the way people think about stouts. “We want to break down preconceptions of what stout is about. We want it to go with seafood on hot summer days”.

The second beer is Golden Brown Dandy Ale, which Leon says is hard to pin down. It is not overly bitter but has a complex hop schedule and is generally a “labour intensive” beer. He says it is designed for “the Trad drinker who wants someething more interesting. When pressed, he volunteered that it might be roughly similar to Fuller’s London Pride.

For the moment none of the partners is quitting their day job, so the brewery will be a weekends and evenings thing. “We see brewing two batches a day a couple times a week”. When asked how sustainable full time jobs and running a start-up brewery will work, Leon laughs “good thing we are all young and strapping”.

Leon says the initial part-time status is temporary. “we want to step toward full time venture. This is the building block. We have lots of room to expand. We are going to keep our nose to grindstone, keep our eye on detail, and build”. But they are not creating the next Big Rock here. “It is controlled expansion. We are not looking to be a major player, size-wise. We want to maintain control. We like control.”

The name of the brewery comes out of their homebrewing days.  “We are nuts about British ales, everything we did was based on British style ales”, Leon reports. “We started naming beer after British people. We were kind of into the Dandy culture, with the top hats, etc. We just started calling the homebrewery the Dandy brewery.”

Leon explains that Dandy culture is extravagant and carefree.  “A Dandy is someone who indulges. They don’t care much for the severity of things. It is very much ‘I am going to buy this sequined tuxedo or this giant art piece – just because’. When we buy beer, it is just for us, it is self-indulgent. It won’t end world hunger, change politics, it is just beer, but it is fun.”

Some of that Dandy-ness will come through in their seasonals. “They will have a Dandy flourish. It will be a style people would be familiar with, but with a dandy flourish, creative ingredients, and such.”

When asked whether people are skeptical about making a nanobrewery work in Calgary, Leon responds “it is more doable than people think”. He says by keeping tight control over every aspect of the process, including custom designing a simple, pared down brewhouse, they were able to keep costs quite manageable. “There was a moment when we said ‘wow, we can do this’ if we put work into it”.

As indicated, the brewhouse is being installed this week, with test batches to begin almost immediately. Leon says if testing goes well, we can expect to see the first beer rolling out sometime in June.

A new nano in Calgary? Sounds Dandy.



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