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Calgary’s Summit Brewing Reaching for New Heights

Over the last few weeks some of you may have seen an unusual beer pouring in selected bars in Edmonton and Calgary. Something called Finnigan’s Irish Pale Ale, which is not a style we are used to seeing.

It is the product (sorta) of Summit Brewing (no website yet, but here is their Twitter account), which will soon be opening in Calgary. For the moment they are contracting with Half Hitch Brewing to make a couple of beer for them to get their name and brand out there. I recently spoke with owner Troy Kamphuis-Finnigan (the Finnigan behind the beer’s name) about his plans for Summit.

As it turns out his Irish Pale Ale reflects what he envisions for the brewery as a whole. He wants to put out beer that resemble styles people are used to, but have their own unique twist. As for the Finnigan’s, he explains it this way: “It is something that wasn’t being done. There are lots of IPAs, New England Pale Ales and the like in Alberta right now. I wanted something different.”

Kamphuis-Finnigan currently is a liquor importer, specializing mostly in wine, operating his own agency since 2008. His business takes  him around the world seeking out new product. “I import a lot and spend a lot of time in Ireland, touring microbreweries around there,” he says. As for the Finnigan’s,  “I like the American Pale Ale style, but I also like the nuances in Irish beer – they are drier on palate. I wanted the hop aromatics, but not the bitterness. I also wanted a dry, sharp mouthfeel”. And his Irish Pale Ale was borne.

Even though he is a wine and spirits importer, he does have some connection to the beer world. “About five years ago I was approached by Wildrose to come as a consultant”. It was around the time Wildrose was getting serious about building a new brewery. “Bill McKenzie [then CEO] got me to stay, so I did. I stayed four and a half years doing marketing and business development”.

His time at Wildrose was instructional, where he was part of the build-out of the new brewery. “It was an incredible opportunity to build a brewery and build a brand and figure out what to do”. It gave him the idea of building his own brand. Last fall he left Wildrose to work on Summit Brewing.

Kamphuis-Finnigan has ambitious plans for Summit. His vision is not a small, neighbourhood operation but something bigger. “It will be a mid-sized brewery, one of the bigger ones in Alberta. It will be somewhere between Village and Wildrose. We will focus on commercial brands with the aim of making them big brands.” His long term plan is to be a “national player” with significant exports across Canada.

As a consequence of that plan, the vision for the beer is “very approachable, easy drinking yet flavourful beer”. The first releases, such as Finnigan’s, will have a hybrid character. His second release, coming this summer, is Rocky Mountain Lager, a pale lager with a continental twist. In the fall comes Finnigan’s Irish Red which he describes as a “northwestern amber ale with Irish feel and a little lighter body”. He plans a fourth flagship but has not yet settled on the style yet.

As a counterpoint, he sees his eventual taproom to be his “innovation centre where the brewmaster has carte blanche” to create imaginative and one-off beer.

“The business plan is based on the commercial viability of brewery. I am not opening tap room to make money. Lots of smaller places sell the majority of their beer out of their tap room. I want a destination environment, based on the premise that commercial volume will pay for brewery”, thus allowing the taproom to be used for experimentation. “Anything goes in the taproom”.

Kamphuis-Finnigan is currently in negotiations for a space in Calgary. His timeline is to have the full-sized brewery up and running by the end of 2018. In the meantime he will continue to contract brew to create some brand awareness. The kegs of Finnigan’s Irish Pale we have seen so far will later this month be accompanied with cans, with the release of the lager in the summer and the red ale in the fall.

Kamphuis-Finnigan is happy to join Alberta’s quickly growing craft beer scene. “It is up to each of us to differentiate ourselves and find our niche. Lots of room to grow”. As for Summit, he hopes that in five years “we will be a major regional player closing in on being a national brand”.

Lofty ambitions. Definitely fitting of the name.

[NOTE: Edited to change the title to prevent confusion about the brewery’s location.]

 

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