Month: October 2016

Status update mid October 2016

We have not posted a status update since August, which may make it look like not a lot has been going on, but the reality is that we’ve been quite busy and haven’t found time to put everything into a blog post. I’ll do my best to try to cover all of the milestones that have happened since the prior status update.

Late August: Tyler and Sarah Arrive

Sarah and Tyler go up the hill after fetching many carboys of water.

Sarah and Tyler hauling filtered water from our neighbor’s house up the driveway. Our house has a water softener that wrecks the water for brewing.

In late August our co-founders Tyler Potter and Sarah Goertzen arrived in Calgary, permanently. The two were living down in California up until July and had then taken a long cross-Canada road trip over the summer before arriving in Calgary. Their arrival allowed us to move forward with many more things in parallel, start into serious lease negotiations and legal work, and to do much more homebrewing and recipe development.

Late August: Found a Promising Leasehold

A rendering of a potential facade for the Prairie Dog brewpub.

A rendering of a potential facade for the Prairie Dog brewpub.

In late August we found a leasehold that we think really matches our vision, located in South Calgary near the Calgary Farmer’s Market. We are currently in negotiations for this space and really hope everything works out there for a possession date in January 2017. We are currently working on designs for the interior and exterior of the space.

Late August: Visited Revelstoke

View of a cloudy meadow on Mt. Revelstoke

View of a cloudy meadow on Mt. Revelstoke

At the end of August, all four of us went to Revelstoke for a few days to decompress and to take a tour of Mt. Begbie Brewing, where Tyler’s cousin works. We really enjoyed the brewery tour (and their beer), and partook in some of the other local attractions such as hiking on Mt. Revelstoke and the Pipe Mountain Coaster, and camped while we were there.

Early September: Attended First Yeast Wranglers Meeting

As long as we’ve been planning to move back to Calgary, we’ve been stoked about becoming involved in the Cowtown Yeast Wranglers, Calgary’s largest homebrew club. Unfortunately, we didn’t have an opportunity to attend any of the club’s meetings in the first part of the year before their summer hiatus, so September was the first meeting we could be a part of. The September meeting included judging of a plethora of homebrewed beers made with Red Shed malts. Red Shed had sponsored the competition by donating the malts and helped judge the beers. I was really happy with the level of creativity that the homebrewers showed and the quality of most of the beers. We are delighted to report that homebrewing is definitely strong in Calgary.

Early September: Visited Half Hitch Brewing

Half Hitch Brewing is a taproom/packaging brewery located out in Cochrane and is one of the latest additions to the Calgary-area brewing scene. We were invited out to the brewery by David Neilly, a retired brewer from Wild Rose and founder of the Yeast Wranglers, who is helping the family at Half Hitch with their brewing. We had a really awesome brewery tour with David and talked at length with Chris Heier, Half Hitch’s President, about their experiences so far in the business. It was a really great time and we would strongly recommend you take a trip out there to take a visit.

Mid September: Visited Hobo Malt/Bear and the Flower Farm

Hobo Malt was founded recently by Christopher Fasoli, just East of Irricana, Alberta. Chris has a classic homebrewer attitude, building a lot of his own malting equipment from scratch, and is willing to experiment with small-batch (<1 ton) malting processes to produce unique malts that can only be found here in Alberta. We really liked what we saw and are excited to work with Chris in the future.

At the same time as starting a malting business, Chris and his wife, Jessica, also started a pig farm, which they call The Bear and the Flower. This is not your typical pig farm – pigs are pastured, pampered, and fed a healthy diet of non-GMO, antibiotic-free feed. You can already find Bear and the Flower pigs at several Calgary establishments, and we hope to add Prairie Dog to that list after we open our doors in 2017.

Mid September: First Off-Flavour Tasting Event

Off-flavor tasting night

Discussion at the first Prairie Dog Off-Flavour Tasting Night.

If you’ve been following the blog, you probably already know about our first Off-Flavour Tasting Event, where we brought together a collection of homebrewers and beer enthusiasts and made them drink some really awful beer, for science. The event was a great success and we plan on holding another one sometime in the near future. Please read the blog post linked above and send us a private-message on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram if you are interested in attending one of these in the future.

Late September: Alberta Beer Week and Calgary Oktoberfest

Every September, Alberta Beer Festivals celebrates Alberta Beer Week. The week coincides with Oktoberfest celebrations all over the Northern hemisphere, which celebrate the harvest and availability of beer. As part of the celebrations, Alberta Beer Festivals held a fairly large Oktoberfest at the Stampede grounds. Tyler and I went to the festival on both Friday and Saturday while the girls were out of town. We were pleased to find most of the Alberta breweries present and serving a variety of traditional and non-traditional beer and one-off casks, and the festival had a variety of food offerings as well as food trucks outside. While at the festival we ran into Graham Sherman, a co-founder of Toolshed Brewing. Graham was really friendly and encouraging, and so we set up a meeting with him for the following week to check out the brewery.

Late September: Toured Toolshed Brewing

We met with Graham on a frosty morning for a tour of Toolshed Brewing while they were closed and things were a little quieter. Graham took quite a bit of time out of his day to take us through his entire operation, showing off the new canning line and answering our questions about equipment, ingredients, and methods. What was most impressive was Graham’s willingness to share information about the business side of starting and running Toolshed; he gave us ideas about ways to allow people to invest in our brewery that we hadn’t thought of before, we really appreciate his openness. Since our tour, Tyler has helped Toolshed can beer on a voluntary basis, as well.

Late September: Completed First Draft of Business Plan

Businessing… #prairiedogbrewing #yycstartup #brewpubcomingsoon

A photo posted by Prairie Dog Brewing (@prairiedogbeer) on

So, it may sound silly, but up until the end of September, we didn’t have a completed business plan to show to anybody. We took a bottom-up approach to the financials, which required about eight months to put together and revise to a point that we were confident in them. Further, much of the business plan is dependent on the location we are looking at, so we couldn’t finish it off until we had settled on something. After loads of late nights, we are happy to say that we completed the first draft of our business plan, at over 125 pages long. We are now revising some aspects of the financials based on feedback from lenders.

Late September: Annex Ales Root Beer Launch

#prairiedogbrewing and @iamjeuro hanging out enjoying @annexales rootbeer launch @bandedpeak_brewing

A photo posted by Prairie Dog Brewing (@prairiedogbeer) on

Annex Ales is an up-and-coming Calgary brewing company founded by Andrew Bullied, formerly of Village Brewing. Andrew is still building his brewery space but has been working with the guys over at Banded Peak to brew pilot batches, and has already launched his own craft soda brand, Annex Soda Mfg. Annex held the launch party for its first soda, a craft root beer, at the Banded Peak taproom on September 29, 2016, and we were there to take part in it. The root beer was really great, and it should be — Andrew said it took him something like 35 test batches to arrive at the current revision. We hope that Annex keeps making the root beer after they have their brewery and liquor production permit because we’d love to carry it on tap at Prairie Dog as a non-alcoholic option. Of course, while at Banded Peak, we also needed to partake in some of their excellent beer, too.

Early October: OnBeer.Org Article about Prairie Dog Brewing

On October 3rd, @abbeerguy Jason Foster published an article about us on his website based on an interview he conducted with me sometime in late August. The article did a good job of explaining our ideology and plans, and we really appreciate Jason putting the time into promoting and educating the public about Alberta beer. If you are interested in Alberta beer, please follow Jason’s website or subscribe to him on twitter.

Early October: Went to Denver and Attended GABF

The Great American Beer Festival may be the largest beer festival in the world. With thousands of beers and hundreds of breweries exhibiting their creations, and tens of thousands of attendees, the pulse of craft beer can definitely be felt at GABF. Prairie Dog’s founders all traveled to Denver to attend the GABF this year, as well as to partake in many of the local Denver-area breweries. We also paid a special visit to New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins and Avery Brewing in Boulder. The trip was a huge success; we tasted hundreds of beers, visited sixteen breweries and several tap houses, and of course attended the GABF. Stay tuned to the blog for a larger description of the Denver trip in the future.

Mid October: Set up Calgary BABES

As part of our plan to work with the community and ensure that women are included in the craft beer movement, Laura has founded a Calgary chapter of the Barley’s Angels, a women’s group devoted to craft beer education and appreciation. The chapter name is the Barley’s Angels Beer Education Society of Calgary, or Calgary BABES, for short. The chapter will host events at various local breweries where women can learn about the various styles of craft beer and the offerings of local craft brewers, as well as how beer is made, beer off-flavours, and a lot more. Laura is currently building a facebook page for the group, and expect to see more here on the Prairie Dog website in the future. Please contact Laura at babes@prairiedogbrewing.ca if you are interested in joining the group.

Okay, that’s about all of the status updates I can think of right now, although I’m sure I missed one or two things along the way. All of us at Prairie Dog hope you enjoyed this post and look forward to any feedback you have. Make sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for more real-time updates about what is going on with Prairie Dog and its founders, or craft beer in general.

Quality Management is Our Responsibility

Beer flight at Russian River Brewing in California, a brewery known for its attention to detail and quality management.

We at Prairie Dog are incredibly passionate about Alberta beer and consider ourselves fortunate to reside in the province that grows the world’s best barley and wheat, which it supplies to some of the biggest names in craft beer. In the current atmosphere of incredible craft beer growth, it can sometimes feel like we are perfect. Our beers are great, the people we meet are so positive and awesome, and the industry is a joy to be a part of. However, we worry that this era of bliss can lead to complacency and a false sense of security among brewers and brewery owners. This article is the first in a series devoted to Quality Management, our first defense against complacency and an often-overlooked topic at fledgling breweries, who often struggle just to keep up with demand.

Only five years ago the Alberta craft beer market was sparse, with maybe ten or fifteen breweries dispersed throughout the entire province. Today we are at closer to forty, and that sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t anywhere near the density found in places like Colorado or Oregon, which each have hundreds of breweries (see this map of Denver). There is a lot to be said for (friendly) competition — it tends to drive up quality and consistency over time. Mature, competitive markets produce some of the most highly-rated, innovative craft beer today, and the reason for that is probably that the brewers there have to work hard to stay relevant in their crowded markets, producing consistent, defect-free beer. Quality Management could mean the difference between long-term success and failure of these breweries.

We already have several great Alberta breweries that can compete against those breweries on quality, like Troubled Monk, who won silver at the 2016 World Beer Cup in Philadelphia for their brown ale against 80 other breweries worldwide. Products like this will help push the entire Alberta beer industry forward and elevate the expectations of consumers. However, if we really want Alberta to become known as a world craft beer destination, we all need to do our part by working with each other and putting our egos aside, comparing our beers, seeking out people who have well-developed palettes for constructive criticism, and continually striving to improve quality, even when it already looks excellent.

Quality Priority Pyramid - Brewers Association. This pyramid shows that before a brewery can focus on things like shelf-life or preventative maintenance, it must first focus on good management practices (GMPs), hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), developing standards, etc. Each step in the pyramid relies on the one underneath.

Quality Priority Pyramid from the Brewers Association. Before a brewery works on things like improving shelf life, it must first focus on good manufacturing practices (GMPs), hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), developing standards, etc. Each step in the pyramid relies on the one underneath.

To this end, we brewers need to implement and stand by Quality Management standards and procedures based on industry best practices. The Brewers Association has great information and books about how to do this for breweries of various sizes. Quality Management programs cover everything from what ingredients are purchased to how a beer is brewed, fermented, stored, and served. Quality Management is something that no brewery does perfectly and should be continually improved over time. Even though we are far from opening our doors, our Director of Quality and member of the American Society of Brewing Chemists, Sarah Goertzen, is already hard at work studying industry best practices and building a set of procedures and standards for Prairie Dog. Part of this process is learning how other breweries approach QM and evaluating our processes against those of existing breweries that we admire.

As a big part of Quality Management, we need to invest in qualitative analysis for our beers. This doesn’t need to be a costly affair, but it does require some effort. Here at Prairie Dog, we are working to build a tasting panel consisting of friends, family, CiceronesBJCP judges, and future staff, all of whom have been exposed to a lot of varieties of beer and participate in off-flavour tastings to learn to identify faults like DMS, diacetyl, acetaldehyde, infection, and staling/oxidation in beer. In the future, our tasting panel members will be invited to try new beers before we make them public, providing their impressions of any off-flavours that are noticed. We will conduct triangle tests with our panel on different batches of the same beer to measure and ensure consistency between brews. Most breweries are already giving away a lot of beer to friends and family in some way, so why not make them feel empowered by educating them and involving them in determining the direction of our beer? Everyone has blind spots in their palette and should assume that they can’t taste some of the things in their beer that others can, especially us brewers, who may be blinded by love for our craft.

For quantitative analysis, several laboratories will test beer for various off-flavours that result from process issues or infection, for a nominal fee. It may be costly to lab-test beer on a frequent basis, but it is definitely a good idea to do it periodically to ensure that changes in equipment, ingredients or procedures haven’t negatively impacted the finished product in a way that was missed by the brewers or tasting panels. Some of the lab instruments required for QM are not expensive, like microscopes, plates, dyes, balloons and test tubes, and the American Society of Brewing Chemists has come up with novel ways of testing various characteristics without the use of costly instruments.

Finally, we can never consider a recipe “finished”. Our recipes have to evolve over time with access to ingredients, and our brewing processes will evolve to maintain pace with industry learnings and best practices. As brewers, we need to stay in touch with the rest of the industry about what is going on, first by working with others locally, then by leaving our bubble and attending conferences like the Great Canadian Beer Festival, Craft Brewers Conference or Great American Beer Festival (GABF), where industry leaders give talks and share information, and beer from a variety of areas is available to taste and compare with our own.

GABF is this week, October 6-8, in Denver, Colorado. All of the founders of Prairie Dog Brewing will be attending the conference and touring breweries like New Belgium, Avery and Funkwerks, helping us maintain our connection to the craft beer movement as a whole. Mature and well established craft beer markets play host to craft breweries that have stood the test of time and risen to a level of quality production that we wish to emulate.

A lack of Quality Management at any local craft brewery can leave a bad taste in customers’ mouths and hurts the reputation of our industry. We all have a responsibility to ourselves, our customers and our peers to ensure that Alberta beer quality is just as high as you would find in Denver, Portland, Vancouver or Vermont.

We are interested in knowing what you think of Quality Management in Alberta breweries. Is there something we missed? Have a question or a comment about this article?  Comment below or follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and let us know what you think.

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