It may only be a short drive, but Canmore is a long distance from the office towers of downtown Calgary. Just ask Brian Dunn, co-founder of the soon-to-open Canmore Brewing. A couple years ago Dunn had grown tired of working investment banking in the oil and gas industry and was looking around for something new to do. After quitting his job he spent a summer cycling in the Canmore area, where Dunn owns a “third home”, his mind started to wander toward beer.
Dunn had always loved beer. “Sometimes volume, sometimes quality,” he jokes. “About 15 years ago I started seeking out good beer. I turned to homebrewing, but didn’t really have the time for it due to my career.” But that homebrewing bug never left and he started contemplating it during his summer off.
“I looked at homebrewing again and contemplated following up on dream of opening a brewery. I put together a pilot system and over the next eight months made some great beer.” About 18 months ago he made his decision. “I am doing this. I started to advance a business plan, writing cheques and planning this thing out”. Then in February his old engineering school friend, Mark Gagne, approached him saying he, too, was tired of the oil and gas industry and asked if he needed any help. Of course, he agreed and “it has been full steam ever since.”
They secured their location, just a few blocks from both the main drag and the hotel strip (by the Safeway for those who know Canmore), in March. The brewing equipment is being shipped and should be in place by October, with beer being sold, Dunn hopes, by year’s end. The brewhouse is 20hl, with 3-20hl and 2-40hl fermenters, along with 2 bright tanks.
They chose Canmore, in part, because they felt there was room for another brewery. “We didn’t want to be just the next brewery opening in Calgary,” says Dunn. But they also want to build a local beer culture in the town.
While they are not full-time residents of Canmore, both Dunn and Gagne really want to make the brewery about local Canmore culture. “We love the town and everything about it,” says Dunn. “We spend a lot of time here, own property here, and made a commitment to use Canmore/Banff people for support,” including tradespeople, marketing assistance and other elements that go into opening a brewery.
“We want to be a genuine. We don’t want the cliché ‘brewed with glacier water’. Instead we want to highlight we are in the mountains and want people to drink our beer while they do what they do. We also want to be a good neighbour and corporate citizen in Canmore.”
Plus they plan to differentiate their brand by linking it to Canmore culture. “It is part of our mission and mantra. We want to make good beer that is part of the great activities we do on daily basis: ski, bike, hike, sit on a patio. We want a mountain beer that is authentic.”
Dunn speaks from experience. One of the reasons he is drawn to Canmore is his own love of outdoor activities. “We are from east coast. I grew up in Cape Breton and went to school in Halifax. I grew up on ocean and the activities we did were linked to that. I was also into bike racing. When we moved west, I changed the things I do. I became an avid mountain biker.”
Their recognition of the link between outdoor activity and beer led Canmore Brewing to decide to package in 473ml cans. “We will put our beer in a can so you can throw a few in your backpack and not worry about weight or it breaking.”
They are aiming for quality beer, but don’t want to get too ambitious at first.”What we don’t want to do is invent something new right off the bat. We know we are new to this, so don’t want to come in with a crazy experimental beer,” Dunn notes. “We want to brew beer we enjoy drinking. We want to produce really good beer. Create styles that people crave but then change them up enough a little to create incentive to try the next one.”
They will start out with two or three beer, and add a few more as they get their feet. “Eventually we hope to have a line-up of four to six regulars and two seasonals at anytime.” The see the seasonals as their space to get more “experimental”. As their first beer they are leaning toward a Rye IPA and a Pale Ale. The pale ale won’t be too extreme. “It will be crafty but will please a lot of folks. We see it as a grounding beer for those new to craft.” Current ideas around seasonals include a porter, a brown ale and a wheat beer next summer.
While he and Gagne are both engineers – as useful trade for someone opening a brewery, Dunn is well aware his a novice at brewing beer on a commercial scale. “I know I have never run a commercial brewery so we are hiring an experienced professional brewer. We will be there with brewer as they brew so we know the system inside and out. Plus we will communicate the plan and philosophy.”
Their primary focus is going to be local sales, but with an eye to elsewhere in Alberta. “We will be a bit of both in distribution,” Dunn says. “We want to be a beer based on tourist population in the area. There are a huge number of tourists in this area. Seven million a year. What we want is when they stop and ask for a local beer, they say you gotta stop at Canmore Brewing.” As a result the tasting room will loom large in their business plan. The are designing it to be a tourist stop in town.
However, they will also move their beer across the province. “You can’t ignore Calgary for population and access to market. Plus we plan to go into Connect [Logistics] to create a provincial reach.” In five years Dunn has some hopes of reaching into neighbouring provinces and wouldn’t say no to the idea of U.S. export. “Lots of US beer comes here. We wouldn’t mind being one going the other direction, if that works out.”
Finally, I ask Dunn how he thinks things might work with cross-town competitor/partner Grizzly Paw. “We respect they have been there for 20 years and have done a fantastic job,” he replies. “We want to co-exist with them just as Tool Shed and Village co-exist. We realize the more craft beer drinkers the better. We don’t want to take a Grizzly tap in Canmore. We want to ensure pubs have both to create more craft selection for people in town.”