Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

A look inside the Alberta craft beer boom

Four grads share thoughts on the rapid rise of local beer

You might say that breweries are to barley what refineries are to crude oil. They transform a raw material – much of Alberta’s barley crop (which is Canada’s largest) – into a more valuable product, creating jobs, building supply chains and generating revenue.

The difference: one of these industries is booming.

Alberta has more than doubled its number of craft breweries since 2014, from 18 to more than 50 (with even more rumoured to open this year), partly due to relaxed provincial regulations that previously hampered small operations. But what’s really got business bubbling is the creativity and drive of homebrewers who’ve scaled up with much support from local consumers and restaurants.

We asked 4 grads – 3 brewers and a chef – for perspectives on Alberta’s latest efforts to turn a fundamental resource into something fabulous.

Dog Island Brewing, opened in Slave Lake in 2016

dog island brewing, chad paulson and ben fiddler

Ben Fiddler (right, Instrument Technician ’01, Electrician ’02), owner/brewer
Chad Paulson (far left, Instrument Technician ’09), owner/brewer

Why did you start a brewery?

Ben Fiddler: It’s always been a dream of ours. So, you know what? It’s a downturn, let’s just do it.

Response has been awesome. So let’s play with the big boys now, right?

Have your trades backgrounds helped?

Chad Paulson: Everything [in brewing] is to do with flow, temperature and all that kind of stuff. We do all our own electrical, tubing. We have access to fittings, valves – anything.

Fiddler: We don’t have to source a guy to come calibrate our instruments every three months. We do that. If something goes wrong, we’re like, “How can we make this more efficient?” We haven’t needed one tradesman.

Business is booming now. Where do you think it’s going?

Fiddler: There’s such a big demand for beer in Alberta, I think it’s still five or 10 years before it peaks. In the [United] States, the craft beer revolution has been going on for 20 years. That’s where we’re looking. That’s our big picture – world domination.

Craft Beer Market, opened in Edmonton in 2013

peter skwaruk, craft beer market executive chef

Peter Skwaruk (Culinary Arts ’02), executive chef

As a chef, what do you like about craft beer?

Seeing what you can do with all the different beers. You’re not pigeonholed as with wines, where it’s kind of red or white.

With beers, you can cook so many different things. Every beer tells a different story. Whether you’re cooking with it or pairing beer with the food, it’s a totally new experience.

What impact has craft beer had on Alberta’s restaurant scene?

We’re seeing more restaurants increasing their tap selection to be competitive. People are going to certain restaurants for the beer and not just the food anymore. When you have a beer that people are going after it’s the same draw as having a great food item.

Is brewing good for Alberta?

It’s another opportunity for us. We’ve worked on certain sectors for a long time and now we’re seeing something new. It’s huge for  diversification. Even with the recession we saw independent breweries open up. Everyone who loves beer, I’m sure, would like to take a shot at it. It’s going to give people the opportunity to make their dreams a reality.

Bent Stick Brewing, opened in Edmonton in 2016

kurtis jensen bent stick brewery

Kurtis Jensen (Electronics Engineering Technology ’05), owner/brewer

What is Bent Stick’s approach to craft brewing?

We started as homebrewers. As homebrewers you just brew the beer you want.

We’ve taken the same approach to production brewing [and] tried to make easy-drinking beers, nothing too over the top – less bitter beers. We’re trying to brew beer for us and then sell the other 700 litres to somebody else.

What do you like best about it?

I like the challenge of coming up with new brews and then when you give somebody the beer and they taste it, there’s that split-second wait. Then they have this “pop”: that recognition that somebody made this and it tastes very different from what most people assume beer to taste like.

Where do you see Bent Stick in 5 years?

I hope we’re selling more. Further distribution. It takes a while. If you’re not out there pounding the pavement, making sales, your money coming in can be a bit slow. We’re seeing some growth in sales and we’re seeing our return come back quicker than before. [I’d like to] get a bit of a cult following – enough that we can quit our day jobs and do this full time.

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