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Sample-Worthy Beer Expected Soon from Elbeck Brews

Edmonton’s newest “almost” brewery officially got its license to sell beer last week. Sure, they don’t have beer ready yet, but that will be coming next month or so – you have to get your ducks lined up after all.

I am talking about Elbeck Brews (the website is just a placeholder for the moment). Elbeck is the project of Bruce Sample, a longtime member of the brewing community in Edmonton. Most recently Sample had been the brewer at Yellowhead Brewing and before that the ill-fated Hog’s Head Brewing. He started his professional brewing career back in 2006 with Alley Kat.

People like me, however, have known Sample for a long time as a reliable and respected member of the Edmonton Homebrewers’ Guild, which is how he built his impressive brewing chops.

Sample is a true Jack-of-all-Trades. He grew up on a farm outside Edmonton and in his early years worked a series of blue collar jobs in town. He and his wife moved to Texas in 1988 to help her find a job. “She is a nurse. She graduated from nursing in 1987 just after the Alberta government cut funding to hospitals and declared a hiring freeze on new nurses.”

While in Texas Sample caught what he calls “CBS – Craft Beer Syndrome”. While living in Texas he found himself “searching for beer that were different, that didn’t taste like horse piss.” He found a few candidates, including Shiner Bock. But the beer that first “made the light go on” was Celis White – the beer that was the original Hoegaarden, brewed by its founder who had transplanted to Texas after selling his company to what is now ABInbev.

One thing led to another. He sought out increasingly interesting craft beer, then started hombrewing, “quickly progressing from kits to extract to all-grain”. He was fully in the grips of CBS, which he says “makes you want to brew, then get a bigger system so you can brew more beer”. In 1997 he finagled his way into a select brewing program in Torrance, California taught by renowned beer author and expert Ray Daniels (author of Designing Great Beers). By the time they returned to Edmonton in 1999, he was a full victim of CBS and was searching for a way to make brewing his career.

His previous life experience made him uniquely suited to craft brewing. “I’ve grown barley, having grown up on a farm. My dad was a gasfitter by trade. I worked at Palm Dairies learning production systems. I worked on the bottling line at Pepsi. I have serviced coolers and then went to school to learn refrigeration and brewing.” In short, he can handle all aspects of a brewing operation.

However, at the time a lack of brewing opportunities existed in Edmonton and life and family commitments led him to a series of jobs in refrigeration and HVAC (which he had also trained in), while he waited for a brewing opportunity. Once it came, he jumped at it.

Brewing for other breweries was a valuable experience for Sample, but he decided recently that the time was right to break out on his own. The result is Elbeck Brews. At first he plans to contract brew. The first batches will be made at Two Sergeants in early January, with an expected late February release. He sees himself as something of  a gypsy brewery at first. “I hope in a year or so to be brewing at three different breweries, offering different packaging and style options.”

His initial beer will be KGB Russian Imperial Stout. Longtime Edmonton residents will remember this beer as a Sherbrooke-house brand arising out of a Best of Show at the Edmonton Homebrewers’ Guild annual competition a few years ago. The new version will be faithful to the original homebrew version. And he promises to be very “hands on” with the brewing to ensure it turns out the way he wants it to.

Sample wants to launch with a strong beer for two reasons. First, “it is something unique” in the market to make him stand out. Second, it takes away some of the pressure of selling the beer quickly. “If it sits in the warehouse for awhile it is okay. It can age at Connect and it is no big deal.” He contemplates only brewing the KGB once a year, creating a vintage stream.

Bruce Sample doing what he does best.

There are other offerings to come shortly after. He is currently working on a porter, trying to decide what special additions to add. He is down to the two options of orange rind or honey. One of his ideas is to release a new porter every season with new additions. He is also thinking of releasing an IPA made with oats, which he hopes to call OPA (Oatmeal Pale Ale – get it?). He has other unique creations in mind. This might give you a sense of what Sample is up to. Sample’s vision is to “make beer people will really, really enjoy, want to share. I want to develop flavours and character with hops and malt they haven’t seen,” says Sample. ” I want to create a product that uses ingredients that people don’t think should go together but they work.”

Samples sees himself as something of a beer chef. “I am like a chef. I don’t pay attention to style guidelines. I put bits of this and that together to create something original.”

Sample sees contract brewing as a means to an end. “My goal right now is to build the brands up and generate interest among the consumers, which I hope will leverage people who want to invest so I can build a place.” At the moment his vision is a brewpub with some production beer for general release. “Given where I started getting into craft beer, the brewpub will have a Texas theme and the beer will be influenced by the Texas beer that still affect me today.” But that project is still a way off. For now he wants to make beer that stands-out from the crowd to introduce people to his brand.

The name is something of an homage to Sample’s brewing origins. “Elbeck is the street we lived on in Houston where I first caught CBS [Craft Beer Syndrome] and started homebrewing in the garage”.

While Elbeck will be a contract brewery for a while –  it might even be eligible for “gypsy” status – the firm goal is a bricks and mortar brewery serving the thirsty residents of the greater Edmonton area. So, stay tuned – there will definitely be more beer news from Elbeck, made by Sample for sampling.


3 comments to Sample-Worthy Beer Expected Soon from Elbeck Brews

  • bruce G Sample

    Thanks Jason. Brewski

  • AbBeerGuide

    Very cool! I cannot wait!

  • Sitting here sipping a couple of BEAU’s and a six pack of Common Crown begging for my attention it made me think again why we waste all that energy shipping products across the country ? With all the great micro breweries lately in Alberta it makes one think. Thanks Mr Sample will be buying your beer. On a side note I am heading to Didsbury in the next couple of days to purchase a couple of growlers from the mystery brewery. Thanks Jason

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