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Origin’s Original Approach to Opening a Brewery

We all know the standard craft beer story. Longtime homebrewer (or professional brewer toiling for another brewery) has a vision of starting their own brewery. The pour their passion for beer into getting the new brewery off the ground and start making good beer for craft beer consumers, at either a smaller or larger scale.

That is not Kyle Geeraert’s story. He had a different passion and kind of stumbled into beer.

Geeraert is a member of a fifth generation farming family near Strathmore. They have been growing malting barley for forty years. “We were the first farmers to sign a barley contract outside the Canadian Wheat Board,” says Geeraert. “We signed with Lagunitas in 2012”. He indicates they have always had surplus barley after meeting their contractual obligations, and it was that surplus that got he and partner Josh Michaluk thinking about opening a malting operation.

“We had been talking about how to do more vertical integration on the farm,” says Geeraert. They about a year ago discovered Chris Anderson from Fargo Brewing in North Dakota who had created small-scale malting equipment. Suddenly the prospect of a craft malting operation was feasible. “We said let’s run with it!”. The result was Origin Malting (now Origin Malting and Brewing).

At that point their planning moved quickly. They found a building in Strathmore in March. At that point they realized the building was bigger than their malting needs. “The front addition, frankly, it was a waste of space”, says Geeraert. That recognition led to a moment of inspiration. “We realized it woull be cool to turn the space into a tap house and sell beer made from our malt”.

But Geeraert and Michaluk knew they weren’t beer guys, and so they brought in a friend, Nick Patterson, to be the head brewer. Patterson’s story is much more familiar to craft beer fans. After graduating he started working in transportation. “Night and day it was headache after headache. I got tired of doing the same job all the time,” says Patterson, who has been an avid homebrewer for a number of years. “I wanted to do something beer-related. I did a lot of reading and research into starting a brewery.”

Geeraert and Patterson played hockey together and Geeraert approached him about running the brewing side. “It just worked out. I can just brew the beer and they can worry about the other end of things”. In short order they located a six hectolitre brewhouse with four fermenters and six bright tanks and build up the brewery and tap room. They officially opened the brewery doors on August 4.

The goal of the brewery is small scale. They don’t plan any distribution outside the tap room and maybe a few accounts in Strathmore. “The goal is local, to do something different for the town,” says Geeraert. “In fact one of the reasons is to test and ensure quality of our malt”.

The tap room opened with four beer and now has eight on tap with a goal of having 12 different beer available at a time. They plan on being creative, to experiment and keep the offerings rotating. “We are starting off relatively conservatively and once people get a feel for craft beer and get used to sampling different flavours, we will ramp it up”, says Patterson.”With a small brewhouse it isn’t hard. We can even do half batches, it is not too expensive to experiment”.

They started with a “pilsner ale”, a French Saison with raspberries, an IPA and their surprise best-seller, a Scottish Ale. Next up were  Lime Pilsner, a Grisette, Black IPA, Chocolate Porter, and Rye IPA. A regular feature will be various interpretations of Saisons “I am a big farmhouse ale guy”, says Patterson.

The malting side is somewhat more ambitious. The equipment is expected in September and the hope to be firing up the kilns in October. At the moment they will be able to produce 15 tonnes a week and anticipate doing 800 tonnes in the first year. “We are not stepping on anyone’s toes. We are looking to boost the market and produce specialty malts not available here”, says Geeraert. “We want to focus on European-style specialities like traditional pale malt, pilsner and Munich malts, pulling out more flavour than can get from the guys at the moment”.

Their initial plan is to supply these specialty malts to western Canadian breweries, but have visions of something larger. Geeraert and Michaluk also hold the exclusive distribution rights in Canada for the malting system they have purchased. To that end they hope to expand across the country over time. I asked Geeraert where he sees Origin in five years. “We would like to see 10 Origin [Malt Houses] across Canada in markets where it makes sense”, he replies. “On the brewery side we haven’t given it much thought. Ideally if we have 10 malt houses, we could expand the Strathmore brewery and sell to them”.

“Our business plan does not make sense to compete against any breweries in our area”, he adds. “We are a malt company first”.

The name, Origin Malting and Brewing, reflects “what we do”, says Geeraert. “Our business model is traceability and telling a local story. We plan on having the legal land description of where the barley was grown on every package of malt we sell. We threw a bunch of names around and Origin stuck”.

“It is about the harvest of origin. Nothing tells our story better than the name Origin”.

 

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