Churchill Brewing is the brainchild of brothers Ryan and Curtis Peet and they hope over the next couple years to make a fairly big splash in the Saskatchewan beer scene. Involved in the restaurant industry, the Peet brothers saw the shifting terrain around beer. They could sense the potential for craft beer in the region. A couple of years back (before Prairie Sun and 9 Mile Legacy) they scanned the market and felt there was room for a new brewery. “I’m an entrepreneur and I saw an opportunity in Saskatchewan,” says Ryan Peet in a recent interview with onbeer.org. “Paddock Wood was the only one in the market doing it right. I saw an opportunity for someone to do something big and great.”
Actually the Peet brothers’ dream of opening a brewery goes back farther than that. “I have wanted to do a brewery for seven years” says Ryan. “We did a tour seven years ago at Wild Rose in Calgary. That really got me thinking.” At the time, though, he felt the time wasn’t right and so he sat on his idea.
So far this is a fairly standard story of a craft brewery start up. But this is where things diverge a bit. Rather than build the brewery and then fight to get sales, the Peets, with their knowledge of the restaurant industry, saw a different kind of opening. As they built the brewery, they struck a deal with Original Joe’s in Saskatchewan (and later Manitoba) to make their house beer on contract. For the past year they have been the supplier of OJ branded beer in the two provinces. “It gave us guaranteed sales to get us started”.
But OJ’s was just a means to an end. “I didn’t want to be the OJ’s brewery. I don’t want to be labelled that way” says Peet. He wanted to use contract brewing as a way to establish cash flow to give them the time to build their own brands.
As the Peet’s were not brewers, they hired on a trio of professional brewers to handle that side of the operations. Gary Johnson, a former brewer at Great Western. ex-Grizzply Paw brewer Jay Fisher and recent Olds College grade Dylan Stus run the show on Churchill’s 10-hl brewhouse. The size seemed right at first, but Peet is quickly realizing they need to expand and fast. They will soon be moving to a new location – “we are running out of three buildings right now” – and are considering installing a 40-hl system to handle the capacity.
With their own brands, they are trying to move slow. They launched a Belgian White in summer and have released four other products since. “We are going at it slow. We don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver. We have just recently been picked up by other bars. We are starting to get interest around the province.” One of their challenges is juggling building their own brands while meeting their volume commitments to OJ’s.
The Belgian White, called Sundog Belgian Wit, is a keg-only product but the others are being packaged in standard 355-ml cans. The four canned beer are: Churchill Blonde Lager, Plainsmen Pilsner, Rivermen Red Ale and Britisher English Brown Ale.
As one can tell from the style selection they are aiming for a broader spectrum of the market. “We are not trying to do anything crazy at the moment. We want to be the craft brewery for every day drinker. Very approachable, no weird beer, no flowers infused.”
“Our five beer are geared toward mainstream beer drinkers and this is how we will proceed”, says Peet. At least for now. “We want to launch an IPA and a stout later. And down the road we may get creative. Sour beer, Barley wines, but not until we have capacity.” For Peet, their focus is on being consistent, reliable and trustworthy. “We are not about changing up our line up. We want constant brews in our line up to build our brand.”
In keeping with their go-slow motto, they are not in the SLGA yet. “We don’t want it taking off too quick”. However, they are in select private liquor stores and on tap in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Alberta is down the road a while. “We would eventually love to launch in Alberta, but not yet”.
The name Churchill Brewing comes from a respect for the geography of the region and the Peet Brothers’ history. “The name came to be out of an appreciation I have for the north and some great memories I have from camping and fishing along the Churchill River in Northern Saskatchewan as well as a tribute to all who pioneered this land and their use of the river systems” says Ryan Peet.
Peet isn’t sure what the future will hold for Churchill Brewing. When I ask him what he sees five years down the line he responds “we are still working it out”. His main focus is more immediate, noting they are a year away from serious capacity issues and still trying to work out a strategy to grow their brands.
Peet sees Churchill as moving with consumers in Saskatchewan. “Palates have moved, even mine. A few years ago craft beer had a bad name in Saskatchewan.” Peet remembers people would say they don’t drink Saskatchewan beer. This wasn’t due to Paddock Wood or Bushwakker; I believe it was a consequence of the proliferation of pseudo-brewpubs that littered Saskatchewan’s beer scene solely to get their hands on off-sale licences.
But Peet thinks things are changing, and quickly. And he hopes Churchill becomes a part of that change.