When it opens in a few weeks, Saskatoon’s 9 Mile Legacy Brewing Company will easily win the title of smallest brewery on the prairies. With their 150-litre brewhouse (when maxed out) they truly can call themselves a nano-brewery in every sense of the word.
And that is exactly how partners Shawn Moen and Garrett Pederson want it, at least for now. The duo have been homebrewing for almost a decade and last year decided to make the jump. But they wanted to do it their way. “We wanted to avoid the capital cost upfront,” says Moen. “We wanted to keep control of our business and capitalize ourselves”. So, they opted to start small, very small, and build reputation and a customer base they can leverage in a couple of years to a bigger set-up.
They have moved into a business incubator space across from the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market and hope to attract both market attendees and the after-work crowd looking for a growler on the way home. “We want them to come taste some beer, buy a growler, maybe a bunch of merch and start to get to know us” says Moen.
That the two men are opening a brewery almost seems like destiny. The idea was born during their first day homebrewing together. “When you get into something you don’t know what you are doing. We did our first batch in the winter. We brought a kit up to boil and then left it outside to cool. It took eight hours to be ready to pitch. So we drank beer and played X-Box while we waited,” Moen remembers. Their dream of starting a brewery was born then. And, like most homebrewers they talked about it for years with out really taking any steps to make it a reality. “Finally Garrett’s wife said either do something about or stop talking about it. So we did something.”
Eighteen months ago the two quit their jobs and started travelling to learn the craft, working at breweries around the world, including B.C., New Zealand and the U.S. They attended the Seibel Institute in Chicago. They came back to Saskatoon a few months ago and started seriously putting the brewery together.
There is another reason the brewery may be destiny. In their travels, the Moen and Pederson realized their families have a joint history going back over 100 years. “We realized our partnership had been happening a lot longer. We have a 100 year history. Our families’ farms were nine miles apart”, near Swift Current. “Our families always found a way to work together,” says Moen, listing off great-grandparents and grandparents who helped each other with the challenges of tilling the prairie soil. “We stumbled into our history but it is who we are”.
It is the reason for the name – 9 Mile Legacy – and for the design of the brewery space. “The space has reverence of those who came before. The bar is an original commission made from my mom’s barn wood”, and there are many other features that honour the two men’s family and agrarian history.
But the central question for every new brewery is “what about the beer?” For now it is about establishing some initial anchors and having fun with experiments. “Our goal is to create a high quality varietal experience. We have a number of recipes we are confident in, that are dialed in. Will eventually create flagship style, but for now are playing it by ear.”
Their plan is to have four beer on tap at any one time. Initial thinking is that an English Pale Ale, a West Coast IPA, a Brown Ale and an Oatmeal Stout might be frequent offerings. “Ultimately it will depend on what our customers like. They can tell us right away and we will work with them.” They have not yet finalized names for the beer.
Moen does admit to a general inclination for their beer approach. “We like ales. The things you can do with ale yeast are a lot of fun”. He says they have “British ale tendencies”. “We will do a west coast IPA but we are more turned on by the southern hemisphere late-hop approach with less bitterness and more hop flavour”. He says the core will be “a tradtional approach to ale styles” but with their one-offs they plan “a lot of radical approaches to beer”.
He means two things by this. First, they want to play around with ingredients. “We will age our oatmeal stout on cocoa nibs and vanilla. Try different, unusual ingredients” to see how they work. He also refers to a planned cask program. “We have 20 extra litres each batch to isolate and do something fun with it,” says Moen. Their plan is to try a variety of cask offerings, as well as some more experimental ideas, including “playing around with different yeasts and additions” to see what happens.
They have been in possession of the brewery space since November and hope to open in late April. At first they will only be offering growler-fills at the brewery with a few select tap accounts in the city. However, the plan is to not remain nano-sized for long. They plan within a couple of years to be in a position to move to a larger location with a more standard-sized craft brewhouse. “The thing about a nano is it is an operational headache,” notes Moen. “But it is a hell of a lot of fun. You get to play around with what you love”.
When they do expand, they hope to stay anchored in the same area of the city , which is one of Saskatoon’s oldest neighbourhoods. “We want to stay in Riversdale,” Moen points out. “Our ultimate vision is to create a unique, destination brewery for Saskatoon. I want peple to come and have a high quality experience and really enjoy the variety that beer can be.”