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Banded Peak Hoping to Peak in 2016

Banded Peak Brewing LogoWhen going on a hike or a ski day, who hasn’t wished their favourite craft beer came in something other than a heavy glass bottle? The reality is that an increasing number of outdoors buffs are fans of craft beer. The issue is that their lifestyle doesn’t necessary fit with craft beer packaging, at least up until the recent rise of craft cans (which are still a minority of craft beer available).

Alex Horner, an avid hiker and skier from Calgary, understood this problem first hand. “One of my frustrations is that it is not practical to haul a heavy bottle into the mountains”. So, Horner, a homebrewer for the past few years, partnered with two friends to open a brewery that would address that problem.

Well, not just that problem. Horner, like many homebrewers, started dreaming of making his beer commercially.  “We took some of our [homebrewed] beer to a party. People liked it, and we liked sharing it. It got us starting to think in the back of our minds about how to do this. How could we make a brewery?”

Alex had been brewing with two friends for a few years. They came from different perspectives but shared a passion for beer. Alex was a geo-scientist laid off a year ago with the downturn (which is giving him extra time to build the brewery). His partners are Colin McLean who is a urban planner with a degree in Geography and Matt Berard who has a business degree and is finishing up a law degree. The diversity of skills have served the team well.

Things really opened up for Horner and his partners when a mutual friend offered his warehouse space for a homebrewing collective space. They went to town using the collective equipment. This arrangement worked swimmingly for about a year. Then, about six months ago the space was offered to them exclusively (the other users having moved out).

Exclusive use of the space gave them their opening to start a brewery and Banded Peak Brewing was born. They made the jump and have ordered a 10hl brewhouse with  four 20hl fermenters and one bright tank. They intentionally went for a smaller system.  “We are the on small size so it allows us to be adventurous and make a big variety of beer”, says Horner.

They expect delivery of the equipment early in the new year, with beer rolling off the line sometime during spring 2016. The brewery is located on 5th Street and 34 Avenue SE, “about five minutes drive from downtown”.

The vision for the brewery fits nicely into the Calgary outdoors culture. “We want to get involved in the outdoors community and be the beer for after a day of hiking or skiing,” says Horner. “We want to create an adventurous and fun beer. It will always be interesting and balance interesting with approachable.”

While the beer line-up is still in development, they have a broad sense of what they want to do. “I want a diverse beer portfolio and start slowly. We will  have three staple beer: a saison, a hopped wheat ale that borders between an IPA and a Pale ale; and we haven’t decided on the third but it might be a  seasonal rotation”. The anchor beer will likely be the saison, which they fermented a bit on the cool side (at regular ale temperature) to keep the yeast influence fairly subtle. “It will be a crisp, clean and refreshing beer” says Horner. The wheat ale  “will focus on aromatics rather than bitterness”.

Keeping the beer approachable is about establishing a link with the outdoor community. Horner argues a big heavy beer isn’t the best fit for a long hike or a day of skiing. Although Horner does see the seasonals and one-offs as a place to play around more with bolder flavours.

Banded Peak Mountain in Southern Alberta

Banded Peak Mountain in Southern Alberta

The plan is to have a retail space at the brewery with hopefully a fully functional tap room (which is not yet approved by AGLC). “We will have 10 taps in the space to do growler fills”. They will also be the first brewery in Alberta to employ the use of “crowlers”, or as Horner calls them “canimals” (which is what they are called in Australia). Crowlers are fill-able aluminum cans the size of a growler. They are kind of a one-way growler set-up. “I like going to a brewery and buy a growler while I am there, but I may not want to drop $6 for a new growler or when I have ten more at home” says Horner. “It allows for fresh keg beer without the fuss of a bottle”. Horner also points out that the light weight of crowlers would work well for outdoor adventurers (although I suspect there will still be fights over who has to carry it in their backpack…).

Down the road they plan to package their beer in 473ml “tallboy” cans – again likely a first for Alberta (at least so far). “That is down the road as they can be expensive. It is a year two part of the plan”. In the meantime they are in negotiation with one of the portable canning companies to “maybe can a batch or two next summer”, observes Horner.

The name is a reflection of their connection to the outdoors of southern Alberta. “We grew up spending most of our time in the mountains doing outdoor stuff,” says Horner. “Banded peak is a mountain near Bragg Creek. Every winter it gets covered in snow, except for one steep band. For us it is a symbol for the environment that surrounds Calgary and the adventure and outdoors that is important to us and city.”

Like most start-ups, initial sales will be restricted to Calgary, but Horner says they hope to find selected sales across the province. “We don’t want to pin ourselves only to Calgary. We would love to be everywhere in Alberta.”

For now Horner and partners plug away at the million little details that plague all start-ups. With a lot of work and a little luck by the height of hiking season next year, Calgary outdoors enthusiasts will have something new to stuff in their backpack.

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