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Bent Stick to Offer Good Beer, Straight Up

bentsticklogoA couple of years ago, Bent Stick Brewing (no website yet – here is their Twitter Account) would not have been possible as the laws prohibited their model. As it works out, Bent Stick is on the verge of becoming Edmonton’s newest brewery. Which, for Edmonton beer fans, is a very, very good thing.

You see, Bent Stick – at least for now – is small. Very small. That was something forbidden just three years ago. They are hoping to have beer on shelves in the next few days, once they clear last minute AGLC permitting issues. I had the good fortunate of visiting Bent Stick last weekend and have a chat with the founders.

Bent Stick is the creation of four former Alley Kat employees: Scott Kendall, Kurtis Jensen, Patrick Gaudet and Ben Rix. They actually met while working at Alley Kat, Edmonton’s longtime craft brewery. While they appreciated working at Alley Kat, they all had bigger – or in this case, smaller – aspirations. All four were avid homebrewers and individually thought a small brewing operation would be exciting. However, due to the restrictive minimum capacity rules at the time, such a venture was impossible and so each kept their dream to themselves.

Then came December 6, 2013, the day the minimum capacity requirement was scrapped. “The morning after the law changed, everyone at the brewery was buzzing. We just kind of looked at each other”, says Rix. It was the time to come out and share their to-that-point secret visions. “It was not feasible before. The changes made the dream a reality”.

They got talking informally and that let to more official discussions. “The first meeting was Canada Day 2014”, says Kendall. From there the plan moved swiftly.  The idea was a small, flexible, locally-oriented brewery with constantly changing offerings. “We are not going to have a mainstay”, he notes. Instead they will regularly put out new beer, only circling around again once in a while.

When most breweries try to build a couple core brands, it might seem odd they are eschewing that approach. Rix explains it best. “We hear from other breweries that they brew X beer to keep the lights on”, and create the space for other creations, he says. “When you only have six lights you can brew whatever you want”.

Rix is not lying when he says they have only six lights. Bent Stick is located in a very small light industrial bay in northeast Edmonton. The exact location isn’t particularly relevant because at the moment they don’t have the space (or staff) for a tasting room, retail sales and even growler fills. It is strictly production only. They plan to only release their beer in 650-ml bombers, although they are contemplating keg sales down the road.

“We are so small we can’t meet demand for everybody”, says Kendall. “We want people to be exciting about our product and to have a personal touch with who we sell beer to”. At first they plan to offer their beer at a select number of locations, places that have some kind of personal, community or beer connection. “We will sell to people with whom we have relationships, with whom we know understand local beer”.

“We don’t want our beer to be readily available”, says Kendall. “We want it to be seen as limited edition, good quailty and have a kind of ‘I better get one’ energy”.

Bent Stick's small brewhouse

Bent Stick’s small brewhouse…

While the beer will be constantly changing, they are launching with two products. The first is Swap the Hops, a pale ale with Cascade and Herkules (a high-alpha Hallertauer hybrid) hops. The envision Swap the Hops to be a semi-regular offering with different hop combinations each time. The other beer is Brick is Red, an Northwest-style red ale. On deck is a Farmhouse series for the summer which will offer different takes on that funky, historic style. They plan on releasing a new beer every month or so to fit consumer demand. All of their beer will be bottle-conditioned – a first for Edmonton and a rarity in the beer world.

When you consider the constant beer rotation, bottle conditioning and small scale, you might be forgiven for seeing Bent Stick as not much more than a sophisticated homebrewery. In a way that is true. I did the math and their 3.5 Barrel system is only eight times bigger than my homebrew set-up and it is about one-fifth the size of Alley Kat’s brewhouse, which is still pretty small. But this is a professional operation. They are taking things seriously and making sure, even on their small scale, that the beer is the best quality it can be.

All four have tons of respect for Alley Kat and what they offer Edmonton, as well as what they taught them as brewers. Their decision to go a different direction is a natural progression. “You don’t want to do what your parents did, right?” asks Kendall.

...and their three small fermenters

…and their three small fermenters

The name implies that alternative approach. “To be honest the name is kind of random,” says Jensen. “We were sitting around and someone came up with it. We said that sounds good and it just stuck. We liked it in part because we thought we could tell everyone to ‘get bent’.” But the name does have some connection to their project. “The name encapsulates what we want to do. We are different and we want to be a bit bent”.

The four owners see their project as a joint, equal collaboration. They have self-financed the brewery themselves and they share decision-making. “We do everything by committee and everyone participates in all aspects of the business”, observes Kendall. “We found each other because we each asked who would we like to start a brewery with, and all four of us were on the list. It just went from there”. They all participate in all key steps in the process, although they do defer to each others’ personal strengths. Patrick has a chemistry background, Curt is strong in electronics and mechanics, while Scott and Ben do a little bit of everything.

Don’t expect Bent Stick to be ubiquitous in town. Far from it. They will be the kind of beer people-in-the-know can find. Okay, maybe not that rare. But don’t expect to find it at your local pub. Which is exactly how the gang of four want it.

[1:00pm: article edited to correct a couple small errors. Nothing major!]

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