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Beer Bragging Begins Soon for Bragg Creek

One of the cool things about how Alberta’s craft beer scene is expanding is that the growth isn’t just in the big cities. New operations in small centres are popping up across the province. And for some strange reason, many of those breweries appear to have “creek” in their name.

Take for example Bragg Creek Brewing, which plans to open in the next 12 to 18 months in, you guessed it, Bragg Creek, a small hamlet of about 600 residents southwest of Calgary. Bragg Creek (the brewery) is the brainchild of Kirk Bodnar, Baruch Laskin, Adam McLane and John Jackson. All four have some connection to the area.

Calgary beer aficionados will know Bodnar’s name well. He is the CAMRA Alberta Education Director, beer writer, Cicerone, BJCP judge among other things. Oh yeah, he is also a full-time teacher in the Calgary area. Laskin runs an entertainment company and is a professional magician (I can guarantee he is the only magician-brewery owner in Canada!) and has lived in Bragg Creek for a number of years.

“I met Baruch a few years ago at school,” says Bodnar in a recent phone interview with me. “We turned into beer buddies and he kept talking about getting involved in a concept in Bragg Creek.” About 18 months ago they started to get serious about opening a brewpub and restaurant in town.

Third partner McLean also brings regional connections, coming from nearby Turner Valley. Jackson, the fourth partner, is co-owner of Charcut and Charbar, two popular and highly respected Calgary restaurants, bringing some serious food chops (no pun intended) to the project.

The vision behind Bragg Creek is simple. “Being a destination is a big part of our plan,” says Bodnar. “Bragg Creek is a small, destination community. It draws people who are big into hiking, mountain biking, the outdoor experience. Right now it is under-serviced. The town was hit hard by the flood and lots of restaurants left town.”

So the timing was right to create a brewpub for the hamlet. “We want to bring people to Bragg Creek, support community and be community-oriented”. The phrase brewpub is mine; Bodnar prefers the term “brewery-restaurant” and for good reason. Due to Jackson’s partnership, Bodnar says “the food will be ridiculous!” The food vision remains a work in progress, but Bodnar says it needs to fit the community and the space. “It won’t be a big city concept, the needs here are different.” They see a couple of aspects to the food, including a quality grab-and-go focus in the mornings to serve outdoor enthusiasts. “Meat will also be a component as well,” says Bodnar, referring to Charcut’s meat-y reputation.

Right now they have purchased property by the river and will be building the brewery from scratch. They are currently in the middle of the zoning application process,  hoping for approval in the next month or two. “As soon as that goes through, we start building.” Bodnar is estimated up to 18 months before they are brewing beer.

And what about that beer? This far out they have not yet finalized their plan, but they do expect to have eight to 12 beer on tap at any one time. In terms of their interest Bodnar says they are “interested in a bit of everything.” Bodnar speaks of living in Germany for four years where he developed “a big affection for quality German lagers”, but also a big love for Farmhouse Ales from the time he spent in Belgium.

Their approach is to “target action sports enthusiasts coming to Bragg Creek, so we want to keep it sessionable,” he says. “But if doesn’t have flavour don’t want to sell it. I don’t want any beer that we have to make excuses for.” At the end of the day Bodnar wants to brew beer that “excites me”.

One thing Bodnar is clear about is that a coffee beer will be one of their flagships. “We are also roasting coffee as a separate operation.” Their coffee business is called Moose Mountain Coffee Roasters and will have a product available next month.

Badnar and Laskin toast their new venture. Photo courtesy Okotoks Western Wheel

They are planning a 15-bbl brewhouse and hope to sell 80 to 90 percent of their beer on location. “We want to have them come to us.” They will do a bit of packaging for specialty one-offs and during the slower winter season, but the focus is on the brewpub. Bodnar talks a bit about doing some barrel-aging and maybe even buying a couple foeders, but that is down the road thinking.

While the name is obvious it was still a conscious decision to name the brewery after the town. “We could call ourselves anything but we are going for connection with community. We want to be something for the community and it means a lot to us.”

It is almost unfair to ask a brewery a year and a half away from opening their doors what their vision for five years down the road is, but Bodnar’s answer is telling. “One concept common right now is to create a big production brewery with 30-40bbl. It is an expansion model. It works fine but that is not what we want to do. We want to sell the majority of our beer at our location. As soon as we satisfy that capacity we stay at that capacity. As long as the ideas work, we will be in a good place and will sit on that capacity for a number of years.”

I know it the beer is still a long way off, but is it too soon for people to start bragging about how Bragg Creek will soon have its own local brewery? I don’t think so.


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