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Be Sure to Get a Hold of Some Freehold

Passionate commitment to Alberta meets culinary artistry meets craft beer, all in a heritage building. Welcome to Freehold Brewing, one of the roster of breweries slated to open in Calgary in the coming months.

Freehold is the creation of Matt James and Tavis Agnew who met in their respective corporate world jobs. But their day jobs weren’t the relevant connection; beer and food were. James had a long history in the food industry, in kitchens and later in leading teams and project management. He longed for a re-connection to the culinary arts. Agnew had discovered homebrewing a few years ago and was taking the craft quite seriously when they met. As James recounts, “when Tavis introduced me to the brewing side of things, it was a natural fit with my culinary background in creating recipes and marrying flavours”, he says. “We started brewing some good beer, and learned a lot about the science end of it. We decided we could make a go of it”.

They have been working actively on Freehold for the last two years. “Our first focus group was three years ago”, says Agnew. ” We spend a year convincing ourselves, doing recipe design and building the business plan. Then a year of pinning down real estate”.

The historic C.C. Snowden building

And, boy, did they pin down some impressive real estate. The brewery and restaurant will be in the historic C.C. Snowdon building, located southeast of downtown on the way to the popular Inglewood community (home to Cold Garden and Highline). The Snowdon building was built in 1912 and housed “one of Alberta’s first oil and gas operations” according to Agnew. The building has been sitting derelict for years until Agnew and James opted to locate Freehold there. The building will house the restaurant, which they envision will offer a unique, well-refined culinary experience. They are building a separate building onsite to house the brewery.

Despite having a location, the brewery is still likely a number of months away. At the moment the guys are hoping for an early 2018 opening. “The original plan was to be open by now” says James, but as often happens unexpected issues have delayed construction.

As mentioned, their plan is not a simple taproom, but a full experience restaurant. “I am quite opinionated about food”, says James. “The overall experience when I go to a brewpub is that they offer everything under the sun. The menu is difficult to go through, people become undecided about what they want to have. It can be jarring. I want to be focused around food with a smaller, more focused, well executed menu”. James says the food will be “Alberta contemporary” as he strongly believes Alberta’s food scene is under-rated. “We have some of the best product available and I want to showcase that and instill some pride in how awesome we are”.

As for the beer, Agnew says their goal is carving out their own space. “It is important to be innovative. Our approach is not about BJCP guidelines and hitting the style right up the middle. Our process is iterative. We want to bring an incredible amount of flexibility to the beer”. The plan on starting with four of their own core brands along with four rotating seasonals and then also offer four guest taps to fill out the menu. At the moment the plan is to have the four core beer be a pale lager, a farmhouse ale, an IPA and a stout.

“Our real focus is on farmhouse and saison style beer,” says James. “It tends to be our favourite and most interesting style. Plus it aligns well with agricultural roots of province, which we will be hanging our hat on”.

The core listings may sound basic, but Agnew says there will be an original twist on each. “Our lager is based on some flavours, the saison same thing”, he says. “We want to be known for flavours and for being approachable. We want to impress beer aficionados and also ensure neighbourhood and the  community can come in and not get scared away by something that is unapproachable”.

So, what is behind the name Freehold? Agnew says it is about honouring their passion and commitment to Alberta. “Settlers would be offered a freehold title coming out. It meant opportunity”, he notes. “They came across country to start a new lilfe. To be successful they had to have those values we as Albertans hold dear – self starting, hard working, and working together”. Their commitment to Alberta is demonstrated through their tagline, “Alberta by Choice”.

Freehold is not concerned about entering a beer market that is quickly getting crowded. “The market in general is focused on packaging and the retail side”, says James. “We are seeing a lot of entrants coming to market offering a tasting room experience. It is great but 80-90% of their energy is focused on putting beer on shelves. For us, it is not where we want to be. Knowing we have a culinary background and restaurant management experience we feel having the full service offering would the differentiator”.  They plan on selling the bulk of their beer out of their restaurant, with accompanying off-sales and growler fills.

The experience of quality food and beer anchors their vision. In five years they see themselves doing basically what they are planning now, but maybe a bit bigger.  “We like bringing people in to an experience we can put in front of them, give them the entire package” says Agnew. “In the future we see ourselves still doing that model. We may open another location or two. We love delivering our vision that way”.

Look for some Freehold beer in Calgary in the coming months. Along with some amazing Alberta-anchored food dishes.


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