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Taking Beer to a New Level

What happens when two guys with a bunch of degrees between them and a couple Olds Brewmaster certificates decide to start a brewery? I think it would look something like New Level Brewing. New Level will soon be the latest entrant into Calgary’s exploding beer scene.

New Level is the creature of brothers Drew and James Ross. Both are recent Olds College graduates. Drew has a PhD in Philosophy and James also has extensive university education. “We are basically both unemployed philosophers”, says Drew.

Both were restless in their careers and started looking around for a new direction. Drew describes stumbling across the Olds program. “I applied for different programs including law school and the beer program. When I got my acceptance to Olds , I knew immediately what I wanted to do”. When James heard the news, he jumped on board too. “When I heard Drew got in I thought I should go too and, surprise, I got in”.

When the started the program together they talked about “one day” opening their own brewery. But as they watched things develop in the provinces, “things just accelerated”, says James. “We said, maybe one day is now. Maybe we better get in while the timing was right”. The brothers point to all the changes happening in Alberta, including the new mark-up policy, Calgary’s new zoning bylaw and the apparent openness to local among consumers. The Ross’ point out their location – in southeast Calgary a few minutes from the Chinook Mall – would have been off-limits before the bylaw change. “We are close to a variety of small businesses and near the C-Train”, says Drew. They are also near the future location of Prairie Dog brewpub (see my profile here), and hope together to create a beer district in that part of Calgary.

They have been working full-time on the brewery since September and have been moving fast, having applied for their production license last month. “The equipment arrives in June, the build should be done by August and we will have beer hopefully by September”, says James.

They plan on approaching the beer in a unique way. “We have a different business model”, says Drew. “We will have two permanent beer and as many rotationals as we can do. We are looking at the customer who always wants something different but want to position ourselves that they can buy always buy one of ours and get a variety”. The flagship will be a blonde ale which they are “hoping will be a beer craft beer nerds say, wow, that is a great blonde”, says James. They will also have an IPA series where each batch will change in some fashion.

They are also looking at playing a lot with styles. “We are not strict with style guidelines”, says James. “We are more about is this an interesting beer”? You can see that when they list off some of their ideas, including a “Lime Saison which doesn’t check off all the boxes for a saison”, a Milkshake IPA and their own take on ESB and American Porter, along with more saisons.

They have gone a bit bigger with their brewhouse, opting for a 40BBL system with four 80BBL fermenters and two conditioning tanks. However, their fermenters are designed to allow 40BBL batches (the glycol jacket can be set to only go half way). Their reasoning is efficiency. “We are trying to cut down on labour”, says Drew. “Other breweries are maxing out their 20BBL system and doing 3 brews day. If move that volume we can do 1.5 batches per day, giving us more time to focus on other aspects of business”. Also with the larger tanks they are making better use of their vertical space.

Their opening plan is to start with growler fills and keg sales, as well as sales out of their 50-seat tap room. After they are established they hope to hit retail with tall-boy cans, with plans to use West Coast Canning’s mobile canner to package. They also hope to maximize the use of their 50-litre pilot system to create tap room-only one-offs “to get immediate feedback”.

And what about the name? New Level is part of their vision. “New Level is what guides us in decision making”, says Drew. When we talk to each other when lifting weights or playing video games we talk about ‘taking it to a new level'”. They want to apply that ethos to beer. “We want to open a brewery for craft beer nerds by craft beer nerds”.

The other unique thing about New Level is that, to my knowledge, they are the first brewery in Canada to issue what they call “Beer Bonds”. Think Canada Savings Bonds for beer. Individuals loan them money and receive a guaranteed rate of return on a fixed maturity date. As an added bonus they get some beer-related perks. “It is debt securities, basically an IOU”, says Drew. “We have a lot of people who want to invest but don’t have lots of cash and want their money back sooner. With bonds we can set the time limit”. Currently they have three bond offerings for two ($1000), four ($5000) or eight ($10,000) years. Beer perks include merchandise, exclusive beer and, for higher levels, naming rights for barrels and/or fermenters. The Ross’ see the proceeds of the bonds going to building the tap room.

New Level is a good lesson in what can happen when you educate a couple guys who are passionate about beer. Before you know it a brewery appears! Look for New Level soon in Calgary.


2 comments to Taking Beer to a New Level

  • I am excited to see more craft beer in South Calgary along Macleod Trail, which has been a craft desert. With Annex recently opening their taproom near the 39th ave train station, and New Level opening just South of Glenmore, and us (Prairie Dog) in between, the Chinook area is primed to be a destination for craft beer by the end of 2017.

    • Drew

      That’s really what we are hoping for at New Level. It’s a great area and Annex and Banded Peak are already killing it. Our dream is for Calgary to be a beer tourist destination and for our little hub to be a must visit area.

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