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Hub Town to be the Centre of Things in Okotoks

I have a suspicion that the friends and family of Lisa and Mark Watts knew it would lead to this. From the sounds of it this life-loving couple are always on the go, always coming up with new adventures and ideas.

Lisa admits as such. “We are a goofy couple that way. We are always in market for fun and excitement,” she says pointing to trips, outdoor adventures, new hobbies and activities – all while juggling two full-time jobs and a couple of kids.

The two are the driving force behind Hub Town Brewing, currently a small operation with much bigger ambitions. The Watts live just outside Okotoks (southeast of Calgary), and their home –  for the moment – is the focal point of their brewing dreams.

At the moment Hub Town produces custom-made, small batch homebrew kits (more on that in a bit) but the Watts hope to soon turn that small venture into a full-sized brewery in Okotoks.

While Mark always “loved beer”, Lisa was originally cooler on the beverage.Neither new much about brewing or the beer industry – both work in the oil and gas industry (Lisa as a chemical engineering technologist and Mark in IT).

Their passion for beer started with a rather innocuous looking wall-mounted bottle opener. “We went on a trip to Idaho and saw this funky bottle opener on a wall. When we got home – Mark is a hobby woodworker – he built us a wall-mounted opener for our kitchen. It got us talking about what other interesting things we could do related to beer,” says Lisa. At this point she still wasn’t overly enamoured with beer.

“Then we went to Montana and did a tour at Bonsai Brewing, a nanobrewery in Whitefish.” Lisa says the beer they made and the flavours they put into it turned her onto beer.  “It inspired us beyond belief. Experiencing all these flavours I didn’t know existed. That marked it. Wanted to bring it home somehow.”

Mark says they started researching homebrewing. “We studied and studied before brewing our first batch.” They realized standard full-batch brewing would be a challenge for both space and time.

“We tried extract brewing once, but quickly decided it had to be all-grain,” says Lisa. “Plus being a classic woman I didn’t like what was on market . All these plastic buckets all over my house, it was ugly. We decided to build our own brew station – and that was the beginning of Hub Town.”

The Hub Town Mini-Brew Kit

Mark designed a wood station that held all the tools needed to brew up a 1-gallon batch of all-grain beer. Soon after they started selling the stations to aspiring homebrewers in the area. “It is a brew-in-the-bag system,” says Lisa. “We provide the bag. All they need is a pot and colander. All tools are stored in this beautiful piece of furniture. Their wife is not going to say get that out of here its disgusting. It looks beautiful. You won’t get grief from your spouse”. They provide ingredients for 10 different recipes, designed from their own homebrewing.

“We are starting to get return customers, so starting to supply bulk hops and grain, although most of our clientel are new brewers or their spouses buying a present,” notes Lisa. They have also been developing  an education program to advance homebrewing knowledge.

This is all a very interesting story, but what about the brewery? There will definitely be a brewery, sooner rather than later.

Not long into offering up the homebrew kits the Watts had people approaching them asking if they would brew beer for them, for an event or such. It didn’t take the ambitious couple long to realize their might be real potential in opening a full-scaled brewery.

“It will be located in downtown Okotoks,” Lisa points out. “It will be a 15-Barrel system, no smaller. Want to be able to scale up as we go.”

They are still working to finalize a space but are fully committed to opening up in the core of town. “We want to be in the downtown core, make it the hub or anchor for the core, that is the vision.” Lisa talks about a consultant report commissioned by the City a couple years back on how to revitalize the downtown. The report recommended two or more microbreweries could not only make a go of it, but serve as a key anchor for the economic development in the area. The Watts want to jump on that.

At the moment they are hoping to have the brewery open sometime in the next 18-months, although Mark is quick to hedge that promise: “sometime in 2018 would be good”. The central feature of the brewery will be an inviting tap room. “We want people to feel comfortable,” says Lisa. “We talk about [the television show] Cheers all the time. It is our generation. When coming into the bar we want it warm and welcoming and very personal.”

As might be expected at this point in development, the beer line-up is still a work in progress. “We will go with a selection,” opines Lisa on some of their initial thinking. “Six beer on tap at one time. Definitely a good IPA – we have a recipe we really like, just needs some tweaking. A Scotch Ale I am in love with, a lager that is better than standard offerings, and a pale ale.” The beer that stand out and sell will be added to a permanent list with ongoing rotationals

What they do know is that their aim is more “delicious and palatable. Fresh and solid quality,” Lisa suggests. “We are not into the really unique beer with weird and outrageous flavours and ingredients.” They also commit to have a regular selection of beer from other regional breweries, both to support other small breweries but also to provide a greater range of choice.

The two plan to operate the brewery themselves. But before you roll your eyes and think they are small-time homebrewers overstepping their abilities, they are well aware it is a big step from brewing in your kitchen to operating a brewery. So, both of them completed a 23-week intensive program in brewing science and engineering at the  American Brewers Guild in Vermont (I told you these two have no shortage of energy).

The name Hub Town may already be obvious, given their vision. “So we said, why not call ourselves Hub Town, we can be the hub of the town in tersm of beer and people gathering,” says Mark. Interestingly, their original name was Strange Brew, a homage to the Bob and Doug McKenzie movie in the 1980s. However, that named had been incorporated already, so Hub Town it was.

I felt the need to ask the Watts about the other brewery hoping to open in Okotoks, Six Corners Brew Works. They were effusive of that project. “We love their beer!,” extolled Mark. Lisa points again to the consultant’s report and suggests that there is plenty of room in town for both operations.  “There are clear differences between us and Six Corners in terms of approach,” she notes. “They have an affinity for bolder, high gravity beer.”

If the Watts’ past track record is any indicator of things to come, I fully expect Hub Town to be a hopping, happening place in Okotoks sooner than people might think.

 

 

 

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