You might think the MacDonald brothers, Mark and Kirk, named their soon-to-open Calgary brewery, Zero Issue Brewing, to communicate trust that their beer would have zero issues with quality or satisfaction. If you did, you would be wrong. To understand what they are up to you have to put your geek on.
“The zero issue is a special release comic book, generally it has more info about the story behind the plot – how a story got started,” says brother and co-founder Mark. “It is the origin story, something that happened before the story started”.
The name fit because both brothers readily acknowledge they are comic book and sci-fi aficionados. “We wanted a comic book focus, it just seemed to fit, and so the name is our origin. This is us getting started, our origin, so to speak, of what we want to do with our lives”.
As origin stories go, Zero Issue has an interesting one. “It is a funny story, actually, kind of random”, says MacDonald. “About seven or eight years ago, it was November, Kirk came over to my place and says ‘know what we should do, we should brew beer’. We went over to a homebrew store close to us and bought each other kits for Christmas”, he says. “They were the standard basic kit. We tried it. Mine turned out terrible, his quite good. It was fun, and before we knew it we fell down a rabbit hole”.
Before long they both had all-grain set-ups and were brewing regularly. Kirk ended up being a student in the very first class in the brewmaster program at Olds College. He only lasted a year (of the two year program) before Village Brewing scooped him up. “It was the job he hoped to get when he graduated. So he asked me if he should do it and I said yes”.
The idea of opening a brewery remained a vague dream, however, despite Mark’s shift in occupation. But when the Alberta government eliminated the production capacity minimums, they realized it might actually be possible. Their interest and research increased and they finally decided to take the plunge in November 2015.
Opening a brewery seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity for the brothers. “It was a chance for my brother and best friend and I to do something together, merging passions we have always had for beer with the other passions we have, like comics,” says Mark. “The brewery is a family project. Our parents are helping with construction. My wife and our uncle are investors. This is really is about just trying to be us. We love beer and it seems to make sense”.
They are in the middle of building their brewery in Northeast Calgary, not far from Dandy Brewing. In addition to the brewhouse they are building a 40-50 seat tap room. They are installing a 15-barrel brewhouse with four 30-barrel fermenters and two 30-barrel bright tanks. Pretty standard stuff. What is definitely not standard is that they also bought a 20HL foeder, a large wooden vat designed by the French to age wine. In recent years North American breweries have been using them to explore new approaches to wood-aged and sour beer.
The foeder plan will tip you off that sour beer will be a core part of their line-up from the beginning. “Kirk loves sour beer. I am working on it,” Mark says with a laugh. “Kirk is coming at it from his love, he wants to see what he can do with sour beer. Me, I am looking at it more like a business decision. It is something to capture attention”.
But while sour will feature in their plans, they are not the mainstay. “The sours are special releases,” Mark points out. As for the main line up it is mostly “beer we want to drink. Our first hurdle when deciding is ‘would we drink it?'”.
Their line-up, at least initially, is locked down. They are opening with two beer to start: Dystopia White IPA and Multiverse Pale Ale. They will then add a couple more beer in the coming months: a summer beer they are keeping under wraps and Terraform Porter in the fall.
From the names you can easily tell their love of comics and sci-fi will show through in the beer. “The labels will feature comic book art”. They have found a well-respected Winnipeg comic artist to create their label designs.
Their initial plan is to package in 473-ml cans along with the usual keg sales and growler fills. Their current estimate is to be brewing in late March with first beer available at the end of April. At first, they are focusing only on Calgary with plans for the rest of Alberta to come later. “We would love to send product up to Edmonton, but don’t want it to sit in Connect’s warehouse. We will get in there as soon as we feel our name is well enough known and there is enough interest in our beer”.
Like most new brewery owners the MacDonald brothers are completely focused on the thousands of details involved in getting the brewery up and running. However, I ask Mark anyway where they want to be in five years. “Hopefully profitable,” he laughs. Then he adds, modestly, “I’d like to think we will still be putting out great beer, be excited about putting out different things like seasonals, special releases, and tap room exclusives. Mostly we want people to be coming down and having a beer with us. We want to be an integral part of the Calgary beer scene”.
Personally I have zero issues with that plan. Look for Zero Issue in Calgary in the next few weeks.
[edited to correct spelling errors]