Author: Gerad Coles

Gerad took to the art of brewing beer very quickly sometime around late 2012 and has brewed many thousands of liters of beer since, striving to outdo himself with every batch. Gerad is a geek who loves to work with his hands just as much as he likes to work on a computer, and is as comfortable with a table saw or chisel as he is programming in Python on a Linux machine.Gerad is the Brewmaster for Prairie Dog Brewing, where he is in charge of developing new recipes and improving upon old ones, piloting new brewing processes and ensuring that quality standards are being met, and managing the fermentation/cellaring of our beer, ensuring it meets quality expectations for appearance, aroma and flavour.

Six Frustrating Challenges to Reopening a Restaurant in the COVID-19 Era

[UPDATE MAY 22, 2020]: When we published this article a week ago, the 16th of May, we hoped that it would be found by a few other restauranteurs and let them know that they aren’t alone, and that the public who regularly follow us would gain some insight into our challenges. However, this article has since been shared all across Canada and even had respectable readership from the United States, viewed over 80,000 times by more than 61,000 people worldwide. It has been shared and reposted on social media hundreds, if not thousands of times, and we’ve spend much of the past week attempting to catalog and answer replies on this post and across various platforms, as well as fielding phone calls and conducting interviews with the press. This post was the top thread on the Calgary sub-Reddit for a while, and placed highly on the Alberta sub-Reddit, as well.

We could have never guessed that our transparency would resonate so strongly with so many people, and we have to thank all of you who’ve left comments, forwarded along to friends, purchased takeout or ordered us for delivery, etc. We especially appreciate the incredible level of positivity and constructive feedback people have given us about this article. Eventually we hope to make a follow-up article to talk about all of the wonderful ideas people have come up with about how to deal with these challenges, including what approaches we decide to take.

A small sample of the press highlights of the past few days:

This article was also republished in Sustain Magazine on May 22, 2020.

[END MAY 22 UPDATE]

We are now at a turning point in the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, where measures taken to flatten the curve are starting to demonstrate that they’re working. Governments have begun to recognize the full economic and societal impacts of the restrictions they placed on their citizens and businesses, and are quickly starting to regroup as they face the daunting prospect of trying to rebuild an economy after 10-30% of small businesses have been forced to permanently close, and unemployment rates begin to approach and even surpass those of the Great Depression, which took a full decade and a world war to recover from.

While Prairie Dog has opted to remain closed for dine-in operations after May 14, 2020 (and very likely past the updated May 25th date announced on May 13), we do plan to eventually reopen. Ever since the May 1st announcement about restaurants reopening, people have been asking us over and over if we’ll be opening on the 14th. It can be difficult to adequately address the various challenges to doing so in a few comments on the phone or in person. When we do finally reopen, guests should expect a very different experience compared to what we were able to provide before. This article attempts to explain the complex and difficult situation we, as restaurant owners, are in when considering reopening to the public for dine-in.

It appears that our government wants to get out of the way of business as quickly as possible and leave most of the details in the hands of the business owner, which is great on one hand, but that means you could have a very different experience at different restaurants based on how seriously each restauranteur or restaurant ownership group takes the threat of COVID-19 to their staff and customers, and how they choose to approach the situation. Desperation leads to risk taking, and in this economic climate, many service-industry businesses are already in a desperate struggle to survive.

That said, what are some of the key points we are considering when thinking about reopening?

Continue reading

Prairie Dog Will Not Reopen for Dine-In on May 14

Prairie Dog Brewing will remain closed for dine-in service beyond May 14, 2020, regardless of the provincial easing of COVID-19-related restrictions.
Click here to see why we aren’t reopening yet.

On May 1, 2020, the Province of Alberta announced that as of May 14th, restaurants will be allowed to reopen for dine-in service with 50% occupancy restrictions, assuming no major increase in COVID-19 infection rates or other related concerns, commencing phase 1 of a staged plan for the gradual elimination of related restrictions placed on businesses and individuals throughout our province. [Edit: On May 13th, the province further delayed Calgary and Brooks’ phase 1 to May 25, 2020].

Since that announcement, dozens of you have reached out to ask us what we are planning. To be honest, we expected the relaxation of these restrictions to come much later, and along with many of our industry friends, we are very apprehensive about reopening to dine-in services on May 14th. With formally-published guidelines for restaurants only being released on May 11th, and with only two weeks after the public announcement to strategize on what reopening would look like for us, we have decided to remain closed to dine-in services at this time. We feel this is the best call for both our staff and customers, especially after observing the experiences at businesses that have tried to reopen elsewhere, where staff have been verbally abused and even violently attacked by customers while trying to enforce legally-mandated physical distancing, mask use, and other restrictions that remain in place post-reopening.

While the date we reopen for dine-in service is still under discussion, we appreciate your continued support through the takeout and delivery services we currently offer.

Press Release: Prairie Dog Brewpub Closed for Dine-In Service

Effective Wednesday, March 18, 2020, Prairie Dog Brewing has closed its doors to the public for both dine-in service and takeout/off-sales, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We plan to reopen in late March 2020 as a takeout/delivery operation, only. All dine-in services will be suspended until after the pandemic sufficiently clears.

[UPDATE: We reopened for takeout on March 26, 2020, with new delivery services coming online thereafter]

Unfortunately, this decision required us to temporarily lay off 19 members of our talented staff. We intend to rehire all of these wonderful people when full operations resume at some point in the future.

Please review the following material for more information about why we had to close and what our plans are for takeout and delivery:

  • Brewpub Closure and financial information, including what you can do to help.
  • Our Takeout Menu, which includes information about takeout beer, food and beverages.
  • Our Delivery page, which lists online delivery services that you can use to have our food and beer delivered directly to your home or office.

Press Release: Electronic Staff Funds Collection

When Prairie Dog Brewing opened for business in June of 2018, we started with a bold plan to buck the traditions of the restaurant industry. First and foremost, we set out to compensate our staff fairly for their efforts, paying higher base wages and providing health and wellness benefits. Next, we developed an alternative to the archaic and sometimes discriminatory tipping model found at most other restaurants, which we call our Staff Fund.

Our “no tip expected” model has been extremely well received by Calgarians and out of town visitors, but as we anticipated, many guests would still like to provide a monetary reward to our staff as recognition for a great experience. To support our customers’ desire, we opened Prairie Dog Brewing with the option to contribute to our Staff Fund directly by “Buying us a beer” for $5, or by “Giving our brewmaster/pitmaster a high five” for $2, which would be added to the customer’s bill at some point prior to payment. Further, we disabled the tip function on our electronic payment terminals to encourage customers to formally contribute to the Staff Fund as described, and to spur on the conversation about our novel approach. Unfortunately, both our customers and our staff have found it awkward or untimely to broach the subject of the Staff Fund prior to payment. This has led to hundreds — it not thousands — of requests by our customers to find a way to use our electronic merchant terminals to collect Staff Funds, similar to tips.

Therefore, we are pleased to announce that as of today, February 10, 2020, we have enabled Staff Funds collection on our merchant terminals. In order to do this, we’ve turned on our merchant terminals’ tip function and provided clear labelling on the machines to indicate that tips are not expected and that all tips on these machines are a contribution to our Staff Fund, as well as placing a new “table talker” card on every table to outline our tipping policy and Staff Fund. 

We have also formalized our method of Staff Funds distribution. We distributed Staff Funds in a somewhat ad-hoc manner in the past, which meant that staff could not be certain of when or how they would receive Staff Funds. From today forward, we’ve committed to paying 75% of Staff Funds collected during each 2-week pay period directly on our employees’ paycheques. Prairie Dog Brewing operates as a team and every player has an important role to play in creating a great guest experience, so all of our employees will be included in this 75% distribution of funds, including our front of house, kitchen, brewery, and administration staff. These funds will be divided equally among the staff per hour that they work during each collection period. We will use the remaining 25% of collected Staff Funds for performance-based bonuses and rewards, as well as staff-driven events/initiatives and other perks.

Unchanged is our commitment to our staff and customers that Staff Funds will be paid out solely to Prairie Dog Brewing employees rather than to our ownership team, and that our employees will continue to receive industry-leading compensation and benefits.

For more information about our Staff Fund and our updated tipping policy, please visit http://tips.prairiedog.beer.

Beerfest 2018 Update

The first batch that we ran through Clifford, our BBQ pit, was the oats that we used in our breakfast pale ale collaboration with Last Best.

You should come to the Calgary International Beerfest this weekend, Friday and Saturday May 4th and 5th! We will be debuting nine casks that feature some of the favourite beer recipes we’ve developed over the past few years, and we are proud to announce that we will be serving kegs of our new collaboration with Last Best Brewing and Distilling and a three-way collaboration with Origin Brewing and Malting and Typeface Coffee Roasters. Not only that, but we’ll be bringing along barbecued meats prepared by Chef Jay in Clifford, the big red Texas BBQ pit!

We will be tapping casks on the following schedule at Beerfest, with special guests doing the honours:

Friday, May 4

4:30 PM – Best Bitter

This traditional English style is a sessionable favourite that elevates traditional English malts to centre stage and balances them out with a blend of Bramling Cross and Lemondrop hops, resulting in a unique mashup between the old and new worlds.

5:30 PM – Oatmeal Stout

A rich, dark stout with a thick, creamy head and full mouthfeel, having notes of coffee, caramel, dark chocolate, ash, and smoke character from our in-house-smoked flaked oats.

7:00 PM – Golden Strong

A surprisingly light and refreshing Belgian-style beer that belies its underlying strength. Yeast contribute a spicy, peppery character with notes of red apple. Biscuit-malt undertones and El Dorado hops give this beer an extra dose of flavour and dimension.

8:00 PM – Oaked Blackberry Porter

Prairie Dog’s favourite porter recipe with an addition of blackberry fruit and aged with French oak, leading to a beer with significant complexity and even wine-like characteristics.

Saturday, May 5

3:00 PM – Cinco de Mayo

This “Taco in a Glass” beer was inspired by the savoury flavours of Mexican food. Based roughly on the brown ale style, this beer has about 15% of its grist replaced with toasted flaked corn. Liberal additions of cumin, black pepper and smoked paprika give the beer flavours reminiscent of taco seasoning, and time spent with heavy-toast oak lends underlying complexity to this unique creation.

4:00 PM – IPA

An edgy, modern example of the American IPA category that bursts with lemon, orange and tangerine fruit character. A generous blend of Amarillo, Lemondrop and Mosaic hops were added at the end of boil and through multiple dry-hop steps, for a total of about 4lb of hops used per hectolitre (100L) of beer. In spite of the amazing hop character, bitterness is kept lower to allow the underlying malt flavour to shine through in the finish.

5:30 PM – Oat Mild

Prairie Dog’s take on a pale form of English Mild beer. Extremely sessionable with plenty of body and flavour from oats and other traditional British ingredients, which give subtle hints of toasted coconut.

7:00 PM – Gose Margarita

A fun take on the Gose style, which is a light, slightly tart and fruity German wheat ale style that incorporates coriander spices. Our version dials back the coriander and brings in freshly zested organic lime peels that have been soaked in tequila for sterilization and flavour reasons. This beer has all the fun of a margarita with less sugar and an easy-drinking character that makes it perfect for the patio!

8:00 PM – Dessert Stout

This easy-drinking beer was inspired by the flavours of waffle-cone ice cream and includes real Madagascar vanilla and a variety of other unique ingredients that make it the perfect after-dinner treat or a fun sipper around the campfire.

General Updates

Laura uses a router to trim the laminate countertop above the pony wall that separates the brewery from the dining room.

It has been many months since we our last update here and some people must be wondering, “what’s going on with those guys?”. The truth is that we’ve been quiet because we’ve been so busy with construction and starting up the business! Now, we’ve claimed time and time again that we would be opening in a short few months, and have repeatedly been disappointed by the reality that things just don’t happen as quickly as we’d like them to, suffering from the planning fallacy. However, every day marks progress and milestones continue to pass, and we are finally very close to gaining our occupancy license, which is the big hurdle that we need to jump over before we can start brewing beer and finally open our doors.

Right now it looks like we are about six weeks away from opening. I say that based on the fact that we are nearing the end of construction and starting to go through final inspections, and although we’ve had a few surprises, nothing major has come up. Here’s a few of the recent milestones:

  • On Tuesday, our kitchen was approved by Alberta Health Services for commercial purposes
  • A couple of weeks ago we fired up our boiler and turned on our brewhouse for the first time, moving around water and testing for leaks
  • Our federal excise tax inspection happened on Monday and all went smoothly
  • We had a progress inspection with our fire inspector and have completed all his recommendations
  • This week our mechanical contractors looked over all the plumbing fixtures that we installed and gave us some minor homework, but they believe everything is set to pass a final
  • Our electrical contractor finished up on Tuesday and will book our final inspection shortly
  • We had some setbacks and time sinks with the city planning office related to our painted signage plan, but that was resolved on Wednesday and our signage permit is now pending approval
  • We now have functioning wifi, an alarm system, payment terminals, refrigeration equipment, milling equipment, water softening and filtration, dishwashers, and lots more

Some of the major things that we still need to complete before we get occupancy (and start brewing beer):

  • The outside of our building has to be pressure washed and painted (by us) before we can get our Development Completion Permit
  • We must finish mounting bathroom doors and trim
  • We will install hardwood on the bar top and install drip trays
  • Our tap towers and draft lines will be set up and installed
  • Final inspections for electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and boiler
  • Assembly and placement of tables and chairs
  • Building and fire inspections

So as you can see, we have a lot of things to push through as soon as Beerfest finishes up, and we still have several tasks that could come up against roadblocks depending on bureaucracy. So wish us luck and please, if you are interested in volunteering to help us get things finished up, please send us an email at social@prairiedogbrewing.ca!

Hope to see you all at Beerfest!

January 2018 Progress Update

Jay took this high shot of the dining room, bar and outer kitchen walls. The bar and kitchen walls had been framed, and the short pony walls for our east dining room had started being installed. Floor grinding was ongoing in the visible floor area.

The past several months as a startup brewpub have been incredibly busy, exciting and scary all at once. We began major construction in early November, and have been working at a rapid pace ever since, with new developments and milestones occurring daily. So far our construction is running pretty much on schedule, but we Prairie Dog’ers are taking on pretty much all of the finishing/detail work, so we are anticipating an opening around April or May, assuming inspections, licensing and permitting go smoothly. Each founder has written a few thoughts below about the progress of the past few months and where we are headed.

Brewmaster Gerad

Gerad cut a specialized groove into 4×4 pressure-treated posts to form a waterproof base for our walk-in cooler walls. Here he is cleaning up the groove with a chisel to ensure a good fit. And don’t worry, these wall bases will be completely embedded in cement floor coving and covered by a cementitious urethane, keeping the food away from any chemicals in the pressure treated wood.

Whew! It is difficult to decide where to begin because there has been so much going on, so I’m just going to start by summarizing where we are at in construction right now.

As of earlier this week, all of our walls are framed and partially drywalled, and a substantial portion of our plumbing and electrical have been roughed in. HVAC and ducting is practically finished, and we framed in our bar over the past week, too. We’ve finished a lot of painting of the interior walls and beams with the help of several volunteers (wonderful people, they are), and contractors painted out our ceilings some time ago. Concrete floors are currently being ground and polished throughout the pub and look spectacular in the completed areas. We look forward to our brewery floor coatings being installed later this week, which will allow us to finally place our brewhouse and tanks, unblocking a large amount of work and giving us a chance to get familiarized with new equipment.

To make all that happen, we have more than a dozen trades working in the space at all times, and at the somewhat frenetic pace we’ve been working, it is easy to forget all our construction contributions as founders, which are a big part of what makes the brewpub uniquely us, not to mention saving a huge amount of cash (the only way we could afford to open at all). For example, right now I’m working on building cabinetry and a tap tower of our own design on a centre bar island that I also built, which stands over a pair of 10″ pipes that Tyler and I ran 3-feet down and over 100 feet to our beer cooler — a room that is 38 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 14′ tall, which we also designed and built from scratch together with the rest of our team and several volunteers. It feels really great to know that we are such a huge part of the project and get to leave our mark on a bit of everything. Last night I worked at the pub until 11pm wiring up pot lights in our vestibule, bathrooms and hallway, and earlier in the day I helped our structural welder add beams to the roof to help support our makeup air and glycol chilling units. Who knows what I’ll be up to tomorrow, that’s the fun of this wild ride.

Because we’ve been so deep in construction these past weeks, I haven’t had a ton of time to work on beer, but we were able to play with a lot of fun new recipes in the late fall and early winter, such as a pumpkin-spice beer, several different goses, an oat-based pale English mild, and a Mexico-inspired beer reminiscent of tacos. I look forward to playing with several more recipe variations over the coming weeks in preparation for our opening and the upcoming Calgary International Beerfest, where we plan to have a booth with real Prairie Dog beer and barbecue!

Here are some of my favourite pics from the last while:

Chef Jay

Jay has become our “lighting guy”, and this was part of the humble beginnings of that. Here he is test fitting components from the second-hand lamp posts we picked up and refurbished.

Now, more than ever, I try to get into the construction site early and stay late so that I can marvel at what we have been able to accomplish unencumbered by multiple trades workers. Day by day we inch closer to our opening date. Walls have been built, waiting for drywall. The bar has been framed, waiting to be finished and my kitchen is almost recognizable as a comfortable work space.

This is Clifford, our big red smoker/barbecue pit. This unit came straight out of Mesquite, Texas and is capable of barbecuing 1,800lbs of meat, veggies, etc at once.

Back in mid-December, we at Prairie Dog received an early Christmas present from Texas. It had finally arrived! Our kitchen showpiece, a large red BBQ pit whom we have affectionately named Clifford. I suggest you do a cursory Google search for “Clifford the Big Red Dog” if you are unfamiliar with the classic children’s book series. Clifford stands 9 feet high, almost 10 feet long and 6 feet wide. he weighs 6,700lbs empty and has a capacity of 1,800lbs. Needless to say, I am extremely excited to get him all plugged in and in working order. Because Clifford weighs so much, we needed a way to move him around the construction site until we were ready to sit him in his final resting place. We built what we like to call Clifford’s Bachelor Pad. It is essentially a 2×6 frame with several layers of fire-rated concrete board on top for heat protection.

I was fortunate enough to be able to go home to Ontario for 10 days around Christmas to spend time with my wonderful girlfriend, her family and even see my parents off before they traveled to Texas for the winter months. While bumming around Toronto, I was able to set up a meeting with Pitmaster Terrance Hill at the about-to-open Texas-style BBQ restaurant, Beach Hill Smokehouse. Terrance also has a similar model of the Oyler BBQ pit that we have here at Prairie Dog. He was kind enough to show me around his new restaurant and answer any questions I had about day to day operations of the smoker. He also provided valuable insight into the processes he had to endure having the smoker inspected and eventually approved for use.

Last Tuesday, Gerad, Tyler and I spent about 4 hours at the Sysco Calgary office and warehouse. We had a tour of the facility with the Food Safety Co-Ordinator and Business Development Manager. While there, we were shown the policies and procedures in place to ensure the highest food quality. Chef Chris had 5 or 6 menu ideas for us and made several great dishes for us in his test kitchen. We also spoke with the Protein Category Merchandiser to nail down our local options for beef, pork and chicken supplies. Having worked for Sysco for 3 years in Toronto, I am very familiar with the company, so this was a great opportunity for me to really add value to our company, and it is of utmost importance to me to structure this business relationship in a way that is honest and transparent.​

Here are some fun pics of Jay from the past several months:

Quality Director Sarah

The walls and ceiling throughout our space were all painted a dark teal green, which was really getting on our nerves and didn’t match our tastes at all. Here Sarah applies an espresso-coloured brown paint on our North wall, near the ceiling.

To do any job well, you need the right tools. Now, I won’t need to use a hammer to ensure consistent, high-quality beer (let’s hope, anyway…the head brewer is my husband…). What I do need, though, are instruments, processes, industry know-how and, you guessed it, math.

And where does one keep one’s tools? In a toolbox, of course. I am very excited that the brewery lab has been built! It has walls and a doorway. It doesn’t have a door yet, but there it stands, in the middle of it all. I have a wish list of equipment to populate it, with the most important pieces at the top so they’re first in line to be purchased as we can afford them. Just as the brewery has room to grow over time, I have a growth plan for the lab. I hope that a new round of government funding programs geared towards improving quality in food and beverage production in the province will include brewpubs like our own and help equip the lab sooner. Using tools is one thing, but making them is another. Once we are open, we will need an overall quality program in place, so I have been prioritizing working on the Quality Manual, and researching Good Manufacturing Practices (an overall approach to manufacturing which is standard in several industries, including the US brewing industry) and Good Production Practices to inform how quality should be managed.

Our quality lab has been framed and the exterior drywalled.

Now what’s all this about needing math in the toolbox? I recently researched statistics related to sensory studies. All breweries, from micro to macro, rely on sensory data from panelists to inform decisions about releasing beer. In small breweries, we rely on it heavily since we won’t have all the fancy testing equipment that larger breweries do. Sensory is something that on the surface can seem subjective but, with the right statistical methods applied, is in fact a science. Sensory is the most different aspect of quality control that I have learned about compared to my past life, and giving me some math to work with helps with the learning curve! This knowledge about sensory is another tool that I am eager to add to the quality program.

Head Brewer Tyler

Tyler at the helm of our trusty forklift, Wesley. Tyler is moving our glycol chiller outside to make room for other activities.

Since we last updated you, we have been incredibly busy! First, Beer!

Over the last couple of months, we have continued to brew pilot batches in my garage, in spite of the snowy weather and frigid temperatures. The smell of boiling wort has a way of softening even the most bitter of Calgary’s cold. In anticipation of a springtime opening, we have been brewing with an increased focus on beers that are refreshing, light, crisp, and a little off the beaten path. One beer that I’m very excited for is our Gose. It is a mildly sour and salty beer with a hint of citrus. It goes great on its own, but we’ve been playing with it, adding different flavour combinations to the base beer. We recently brewed a Tequila Lime Gose that tastes like a margarita and practically flew out of the keg. Through the holidays, we were very busy with construction and had to postpone a few brew days, but we’ve hit the reset button and are back on schedule to continue developing recipes.

We also now have all of our big pieces of brewing equipment in the building: our brew house, fermentors, brite tanks and other equipment. Although we haven’t been able to move any of these to their final homes yet, it sure is nice to see all that shiny stainless coming in to work. The brewhouse is like a giant lego set, that weighs hundreds of kilos, and carries liquid, and isn’t colourful, and isn’t made of plastic, and well… There are lots of parts and an instruction manual. Maybe it’s more like Meccano… but I digress.

We are now working on making sure we have all the necessary hoses, pumps, clamps, fittings, and other ancillary equipment to efficiently make beer. Hopefully by our next update, we’ll have some of that equipment placed and put together.

Until then,

Cheers from the brewery!

Marketing and PR Director, Laura

Laura and Gerad worked late into the night to get an early start on our bar cabinetry, where mug club members’ individualized beer mugs will be stored.

Since the last update I have been busy with social media efforts as well as other fun marketing things. We continue to average two new followers a day; we now have 926 followers on Instagram and 1,287 followers on twitter. We are also seeking out events for our founders to attend when possible to further the reach of Prairie Dog’s name, which has helped us network as well as get people excited for our opening.

In December, I ordered our first growlers and t-shirts! I am currently working with the print house on design iterations and other styles/colours of shirts and apparel for our opening. I fully expect to see people wearing Prairie Dog Brewing swag soon.

I also confirmed our first radio campaign, which is set to run from mid February until late March on X929. We have a meeting booked to work with their creative team with the overall objective of the campaign to create broader brand awareness outside the craft beer circle as well as integrate a separate marketing campaign that will kick off in February (more details to come).

A sampling of polymer clay tap handles sculpted by Laura.

I have been working on sculpting tap handles from polymer clay and experimenting with painting them; so far I am proud of how they are turning out and look forward to seeing them behind the bar. Another project I have started is designing posters and a campaign to promote our mug club. I had originally hoped to make all the steins for the Mug Club myself on the pottery wheel, but unfortunately that just isn’t going to work out. Don’t fear though, I have been researching and will procure unique mugs to be used by our mug club members. In the next couple of weeks I will complete the design and order gift cards to be used as promo items on X929 and to have available for purchase. I am also in talks with another graphic artist to help create imagery for posters, promotions, campaigns and potentially art around the brewpub.

Bye for now!

Announcing Our Brewpub Location

Rendering of the Prairie Dog Brewpub concept design

Rendering of the Prairie Dog Brewpub location concept design, looking southeast from the intersection at 58th Ave and Centre St.

Those of you that have followed our progress over the past year through this website may have noticed that we’ve been silent for a long time. We have been working on leasing a location since December 2016, but didn’t want to publicly announce anything about it until the City of Calgary approved our intended use as a brewery and restaurant — the final condition of our lease.We are pleased to announce that the City of Calgary has approved our development permit and change of use for our proposed brewpub location, 105 – 58th Ave SE Calgary.

The exciting/terrifying moment of signing the lease for our location.

So many signatures and initials needed!

With this final condition being removed we were able to officially sign the lease. The map below gives a general sense of where the location is relative to major roads and the South LRT line/Chinook Station.

Map of Prairie Dog Brewing's South-Calgary Brewpub.

The Prairie Dog Brewing South-Calgary Brewpub will be located at 105 – 58th Ave SE, on the corner of 58th Avenue and Centre Street, near the Chinook LRT station and Macleod Trail.

People familiar with the area might remember that St. John’s Music used to occupy this location (they’ve moved here). It is their former space that we’re leasing, and we are thrilled about this spot for a lot of reasons, but here are some highlights:

  • A South Calgary location – this area is extremely underserved by breweries, and especially by brewpubs
  • We are only a few blocks from the Chinook LRT station (about as close as Chinook Centre Mall is to the station)
  • We are very close to several major commuter roads – Macleod Trail, Glenmore Trail, and Blackfoot Trail, not to mention 58th and Centre St./Fairmount Drive, which are notable on their own
  • Our proximity to the communities along both Fairmount Drive and Elbow Drive, like Fairview, Acadia, Kingsland and Haysboro, whose residents can easily take those roads direct to our location (via 58th for the Elbow Dr. communities) without being significantly affected by rush hour traffic
  • We are a stone’s throw from The Vineyard homebrew shop, owned and operated by Papa Bam Bam, Neil Bamford, a staple of the Calgary homebrew scene and aficionado of both beer and smoked meats (a.k.a. external quality control)
  • We like our landlord

About the Location

This is what our future brewpub location looks like today, as viewed from the intersection of 58th and Centre St.

This is what our future brewpub location looks like today, as viewed from the intersection of 58th and Centre St.

This 12,000 square-foot building sits directly on the busy corner of 58th Ave and Centre Street, and features an impressive facade with high, curved parapets and cornices adorning its peaks. Directly beside our building are about 40 parking stalls accessible from either 58th or Centre St., with the majority being on the back (south) side. The building is attached on its east wall to a mall of commercial bays, which feature great local businesses like Canadian Woodworker and Bow Valley Kitchens. The remainder of the mall has an additional 50 parking stalls, which will make parking easier during busy evening/weekend periods (though we strongly encourage people to use the C-Train and services like taxis/Uber to travel to/from our establishment).

A panoramic view showing the interior of the leasehold before demolition

This panoramic view shows the interior of the leasehold before demolition. All interior walls and fixtures are to be removed during demolition.

The building has 18-foot clear ceilings throughout, and has the infrastructure in place for large, 14′ overhead doors in the rear, substantial water and gas lines, and the capability for 600 A of 3-phase electrical, which are major requirements for a brewery and kitchen of our planned scale. The building also has two large HVAC units that we will use to keep the dining room comfortable in spite of the heat from window exposure, brewing and kitchen activities. Currently there are no windows or doors on the north wall of the space, and very few on the west wall, which turns out to be the result of storefronts being closed in at some point in the past. We plan to open up these existing storefronts and reuse as many of them as possible, making the space bright and airy. As shown in the artist’s rendering at the top of this article, we hope to replace some of these storefronts with windowed rollup doors, allowing for a patio vibe during the warm months, budget permitting.

Location Concept Plan

Preliminary Brewpub Floorplan

The preliminary floor plan for the Prairie Dog Brewpub, north at left. Tables and games in this view are placeholders and are unlikely to reflect our final seating layout.

Restaurant Area

Dining Room and Games Area

The brewpub will feature a games area and a mix of communal and standard tables.

Space will be split between the restaurant and brewing operations such that the restaurant is somewhat larger than the brewery. The restaurant is a focal point of our business and we wanted to make sure that guests are comfortable and don’t have long waits for tables. There are no bad seats in the house — seats have clear sight-lines into the kitchen, brewing operations, and bar. We will have a mixture of communal and traditional high- and low-top tables in the restaurant, with quite a number of seats surrounding the bar. The entire space will allow minors, and we will have high chairs and baby changing stations on site. Our floor plan allows for as many as 280 seats within our footprint, but to limit occupancy and ensure that parking isn’t overused, we plan on deploying pods of comfy couches, games, and a large merchandise area (we will have awesome merch), which will consume a lot of square footage and cut seating down to around 200. We will sprinkle USB charging outlets throughout the space to allow patrons to charge devices.

Prairie Dog Brewpub Bar Detail View.

This 3D artist’s rendering of the Prairie Dog Brewpub bar shows the scale of the bar relative to the dining room. The kitchen is visible in the background.

The bar will be a focal point at the centre of the restaurant area, and will include about thirty comfortable seats spread over three sides, with a growler fill station on the corner nearest the entrance (YES, we will fill growlers!). The bar will feature about 16 beer faucets with a mix of rotating/seasonal beers and full-time staples, as well as up to four guest taps for things like ciders, meads, or other awesome beer that we want to share with the community. We will also offer a limited selection of locally produced spirits and wines to ensure that non beer-lovers still have options. We plan to include some televisions, which will be visible from the bar area, but strategically located to minimize distraction to patrons at the periphery of the dining room (we are aiming for a conversation-friendly atmosphere, and feel that too many TVs can detract from that).

Nine bathrooms will be located behind the kitchen at the east end of the dining room. All bathrooms will be unisex with insulated, fully-enclosed rooms, with two being handicapped-accessible.

Brewery Area

I’m excited about the possibilities that our restaurant and brewery scale afford me; I can design a beer without fear or compromise because I have confidence that we can sell 10 barrels of any high-quality beer offered in our restaurant. Gerad Coles, Founder/Brewmaster

Brewery View from Restaurant Over Half Wall

View into the brewery wet area from the dining room, over the pony wall. Fermentation tanks on the left and brewhouse on the right.

We located the core brewing operations directly beside the restaurant seating area and plan to separate them with only a short pony wall, so that patrons will be able to see and interact with us while we are brewing, which we think will help remind customers that they are actually hanging out in an active brewery (like at Cold Garden). We have purchased a 10-barrel (2,400 half-litre pints) brewhouse made by Specific Mechanical out of Victoria, BC. Most of the brewpubs that inspired us to start this business got their start on a similar system, which offers a good compromise between frequency of brewing and ability to brew a lot of small/unique batches, with the brewpub bar being our major customer. As Brewmaster, I’m excited about the possibilities that our restaurant and brewery scale afford me; I can design a beer without fear or compromise because I have confidence that we can sell 10 barrels of any high-quality beer offered in our restaurant.

I’m excited to have the opportunity to set up our lab, which will be key to bringing high-quality, consistent beer to our customers. Sarah Goertzen, Founder/Director of Quality

We plan to start with a quality lab, which will be managed by our founder and Director of Quality, Sarah Goertzen, an analytical chemist and member of the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC). Quality labs are not common in small breweries in our fledgling market, but we believe that starting with a culture of quality will ensure consistency or continual improvement in our beer lineup and help build brand loyalty and longevity, particularly as the market becomes more crowded.

I’m excited about all the space we have at the old St John’s Music; it let us lay out the brewery just how I wanted – highly efficient, with room for growth, and with most brewery operations close to our guests, allowing them to see beer made up close, and giving me someone to talk to while brewing. Cheers! Tyler Potter, Founder/Head Brewer

Our brewery is designed with growth in mind — we plan to be able to add cellar capacity for quite a long time at this location. Our cellar will initially consist of four 20-barrel unitank fermenters, which will allow us to brew up to about 200 batches a year (about 2,400 hectolitres). We have planned to support one additional fermenter in our brewery wet area (with sloped, epoxy-coated floors and drainage), but are setting up the infrastructure to allow us to expand the wet area to the east, effectively doubling our fermentation capacity and/or allowing us to build a large visible cooperage of barrels. Instead of using glycol-cooled, jacketed brite tanks to chill and clarify our beer, we will have a large walk-in beer cooler that includes six 20-barrel serving tanks and keg storage. Beer faucets will be fed by a flexible arrangement directly from serving tanks and/or kegs like you would find at many great brewpubs worldwide. We plan on selling some of our beer to the wholesale market, so will have a large keg inventory to support that as well as our own uses in the pub.

Kitchen Area

Our kitchen will always be in co-operation mode with the brewery, communication and collaboration will be an essential part of how we operate. Our brewery and kitchen pass are directly across the hall and open to each other to encourage communication and help maintain close ties between our Chef and our Brewmaster.

So often when designing restaurants the kitchen is treated as an afterthought. It is designed as a workshop in which to efficiently pump out as many meals as possible while allowing more space in the dining room for more tables to turn over and increase profits. It’s often a place where you’re working elbow to elbow in tight spaces with your fellow cooks. We are starting with a clean slate at this location, which has enabled us to design a kitchen that allows us to focus our menu on some key areas of popularity. We will have space devoted specifically to our smoker for brisket, ribs and pulled pork as well as separate spaces for our pizza production and storage for pickles and other fermentables.

Jay Potter, our Executive Chef and founder, is particularly excited about the potential of our kitchen to serve the large lunch crowd surrounding the location of our brewpub:

There is an enormous volume of local businesses and offices in the area that are currently being under-serviced during lunch hour. I know we can fill that need to have guests in and out in 45 minutes. Jay Potter, Founder/Executive Chef

Timeline for Open

As you can see, this is a massive space which will require significant demolition and construction. We have hired Leading Edge Developments as our prime contractor for the project, and are currently working with them to finalize our construction plan and file building permits. The folks at Leading Edge have plenty of restaurant build experience, with projects like Hayden Block, Fergus and Bix, and the recent Brewsters renovations under their belt. How long the project takes depends partially on how much investment we continue to raise, because additional capital avoids the need for us founders to do some of the construction ourselves (are you interested in investing in a cool local brewpub unlike anything Calgary’s ever seen? Check out our invest page!). Either way, it is safe to assume that you won’t be able to visit our brewpub until at least December 2017.

2016 Year in Review

Happy New Year, everyone! The passing of 2016 marks fifteen months since we decided to leave our pampered, Silicon Valley lives and return to Alberta to start a brewery, and this past year has been a huge one for all of us, full of highs and lows. In the first part of this article, I will talk about the people and places we’ve visited throughout 2016, and then I’ll give some updates about the recipes we’ve been working on, as well as status updates for our location search.

While still in California in early 2016, we spent a lot of time developing and expanding our vision for the brewery, created financial projections and cost estimates (which have since doubled twice over), and researched the rapidly changing Alberta market as much as possible from a remote position, but we knew we needed boots on the ground before we would really get a sense of what was happening and understand the community here.

Laura and I arrived in Calgary in April of 2016 and set to work visiting other local breweries and familiarizing ourselves with the local beer scene. It was amazing to see how much things had evolved in the four years since we left; in early 2012, Calgary only had a few well known breweries – Big Rock, Wild Rose, and Brewsters, and only one of them was significantly packaging beer at the time (now all three have large packaging operations). When we returned, Village and Tool Shed had only been open a short time but had already become pillars of the brewing community, and newer breweries like Dandy were gaining notoriety for their fearless creativity and use of unusual ingredients. Last Best also opened while we were away; we were so happy to finally be able to visit the brewpub and have an opportunity to chat with Phil Bryan about the operation in the early Summer.

First visit to Common Crown Brewing Co here in Calgary. Right out of the gate, they are already making very tasty, high-quality beer.

Since we arrived, we have attended the openings of several breweries around town. One of those was the Trolley no. 5 brewpub on 17th Avenue, where we were lucky enough to bump into owner/operator Ernie Tsu, who provided us with a lot of good information and helpful industry contacts. Late in the year we also observed the opening of the Mill St. Brewpub on 17th Ave, giving Trolley 5 and Last Best some healthy competition. We also attended the openings of Banded Peak, High Line, Common Crown, and Half Hitch in Cochrane (pre-opening), and have enjoyed beers from Boiling Oar and Cold Garden, two new Calgary breweries that are currently not open to the public but have beer on tap at other fine craft beer establishments. We were also lucky enough to try some of Patrick Schnarr’s beer as he was preparing to launch Outcast Brewing, which is now available on draught at select locations, and to visit Canmore Brewing Company as their equipment was being installed. We also spent a great morning out in Bragg Creek with Baruch Laskin, a founder of the upcoming Bragg Creek Brewing and one of the friendliest guys you could ever meet. Finally, we attended the launch of Andrew Bullied’s Annex Ales Project craft soda line, which currently consists of a delicious non-alcoholic root beer.

Speaking of Annex Ales Project, we look forward to seeing their production brewery opening very soon (follow them on social media to stay in the know about their opening date). 2017 is going to be a year full of brewery openings, and we also look forward to Caravel, Civil Beer Co, Goat Locker, Inner City, The Well, Zero Issue and several other rumoured breweries opening their doors around Calgary and Alberta this year.

Late in 2016, we joined the Cowtown Yeast Wranglers, Calgary’s only notable home-brew club, which was founded by former Wild Rose brewer David Neilly, who is still engaged in the club and working closely to help other local breweries get off the ground. We also met Andrew Ironmonger and spoke with his wife Erica Francis, who are both editors and publishers of the new and excellent Alberta Craft Beer Guide, and managed to get an entry into the “Sooneries and Rumories” section. Make sure to pick one of these up at your nearest craft brewery or beer establishment, as it is really well put together and has all the info you need to find the breweries in your area.

Prairie Dog Brewing is now featured in the Alberta Craft Beer Guide.

In 2016 we also met Matt and Joe Hamill, founders of Red Shed Malting, a craft micro-malting operation near Red Deer, and Chris and Jessica Fasoli, who have founded the Hobo Malt craft malting business and an ethically-produced pork operation near Irricana, and are planning on opening a full-blown brewing operation in Beiseker.

All along the way we’ve met some of the most friendly, down to earth people imaginable; people who are willing to help out and share information in any way they can. That is what the craft beer industry is all about — good people working together to make good beer, and that was what attracted us to start a brewery more than anything else. To summarize, the Alberta craft beer scene is healthy, vital, and positive, and we are excited to be a part of this brewing community and the overall business community here. The events of the year and the people we met along the way have solidified our belief that leaving California was the right thing to do.

Now for some updates from the past couple of months.

Location Search

We are pleased to announce that we are now assembling an offer for another South Calgary location, this time in the Chinook Centre area. This location has a ton of potential as a retail establishment with a prominent corner location, lots of parking, and close proximity to the C-Train. We have also engaged Korr Design to help us vet properties and create a compelling offer to a potential landlord. Later, Korr will also help us build detailed plans for our space and layout. We have been thrilled by Korr’s level of knowledge, professionalism, and techniques so far.

Wish us luck in the offer process! Also, if you know of any spaces that you think would be an excellent brewery location in South Calgary, let us know.

Pilot Batch Brewing Updates

Porter and Variants

Of all the beer recipes we’ve developed, our porter is probably the one we are most proud of. We designed this beer to sit on the English side of the spectrum, malty and easy to drink, finishing on the dryer side with plenty of dark chocolate and toasty flavour and aroma, as well as notes of caramel and yeast-derived stone-fruit esters. The beer tastes three dimensional, finishing with a different set of flavours than it starts with, taking the taster through a variety of taste sensations that beg for another sip. The beer clocks in at a respectable 5.5% ABV, making it possible to partake in a couple of these guilt-free.

Over the past few months we have brewed this recipe several times, and it is always a crowd-pleaser. To switch things up a bit, we decided to try splitting a batch of the porter into three, turning one of them into an bourbon-oaked blackberry porter, another into a peanut-butter chocolate porter, and keeping the third part unadulterated (see more about this in our previous status post). So, how did these beers turn out?

The oaked blackberry came out wildly different than the original porter. The oak and blackberry tartness changed the perception of the beer to being very dry, almost tannic like a red wine. The blackberry is not very noticeable in the flavour but there are hints of it in the aroma, which adds to the red-wine like quality of the beer, which still has plenty of chocolate and dark toasty flavour, as well. Several tasters enjoyed this beer, but we think it could use some development before we would consider putting it on tap at the brewpub.

The peanut butter chocolate porter was more complicated to make, requiring the addition of lactose, bourbon-soaked cocoa nibs, and PB2 peanut butter powder for a small secondary fermentation, as well as a couple weeks of additional aging for the flavours of bourbon and peanut to blend into the beer and the peanut butter powder to settle out completely. Between all the flavour additions and racking the beer off the peanut butter sludge, we lost about 1/5th of the volume of finished beer, limiting the quantity by quite a bit and making the beer even more expensive to produce (per litre). However, all that was worth it as the beer is quite fun to drink and has no shortage of nutty peanut flavour and a smooth, milky mouthfeel (like a milk stout). The goal for the beer was “peanut buster parfait”, and I think it really nails it. Some tasters felt like the peanut flavour was a little too intense, while others thought it was right on, and the chocolate flavour from the nibs was not very noticeable compared to the malt-derived flavours. We will likely brew this beer again in the future in a full-batch quantity, testing different amounts of peanut-butter powder in secondary fermentation and using malt entirely for the chocolate flavour rather than cocoa nibs.

One thing is for sure, it is very hard to believe that either of these variations started as the base porter, demonstrating the flexibility we brewers have to radically alter our beers post-fermentation. One important exception to that is the removal of undesirable off-flavours; a bad beer is a bad beer, no matter how you try to cover it up.

Berliner Weisse

Berliner Weisse is a light, refreshing wheat beer style originating in Germany and notable for its strong lactic acidity. In its home country, the beer is often served with sweet fruit or herbal syrups that complement its tartness. At around 3% ABV, these beers are very easy to drink and thirst-quenching because the acidity avoids some of the palate fatigue associated with sweet maltiness (the same reason Coke is loaded with phosphoric and carbonic acids). Few breweries outside Germany have focused on making authentic-tasting Berliner Weisse, and we want to be one of them. To that end, we’ve been working on many iterations of our Berliner, experimenting with techniques for souring the beer with wild lactic acid, as well as playing with the malt components.

Our most recent batch was an improvement over prior ones in terms of the level of acidity resulting from our sour mash, but after the yeast fermented the beer, the pH levels came up significantly, and the beer was not anywhere close to as tart as we had hoped. However, the base malt flavours were quite enjoyable so we will probably not do a lot of tweaking to the malt-side of the recipe at this point. We already have another Berliner Weisse batch in our brewing schedule and will be taking another crack at this in February.

IPA

A hoppy West-Coast IPA is something we absolutely need to open with. Our brewing background started on the West Coast and we want to bring a little piece of that to Calgary in the form of our IPA. As such, this is a recipe that we’ve put a lot of work into over the past couple years. However, scaling a home-brew recipe up to commercial production has some complications, particularly with respect to access to ingredients. As a new brewery with no long-standing relationship with hop producers, and being a very small fish with little to no clout, we are going to be pretty much last in line for hops, which means that some of our favourites may not be available to us at a cost we can afford or in the quantities/freshness we desire for a mainstay beer. That has forced us to take a second look at our recipes and try a few different things with the hops to come up with alternate versions of our IPA. Fortunately, we were recently contacted by a Canadian hop supplier, who looks promising in terms of accessibility to some of the more exotic hops as well as their own Canadian-grown varieties, so wish us luck that we are able to do as hoped with our hops.

Our most recent batch of IPA was brewed in mid-November and disappeared very quickly (we have a few reference bottles of the beer, but the kegs ran out weeks ago). One could surmise from the pace of the beer disappearing that we are happy with this beer, but no, it has a way to go. We dry-hopped with a large hop bag, but we found out after we opened the fermenter to clean it (post-packaging) that the bag got caught up on the cooling coil and didn’t make adequate contact between the hops and the beer, explaining why the hop aroma came out quite weak on this beer. We had also tweaked the recipe to try to get some additional malt complexity and a darker copper colour, but the beer turned out darker than hoped, so further iterations are required (also an excuse to drink more IPA).

Session IPA, or ISA, or Hoppy Pale Ale, or er, Whatever

The Session Beer Project defines a Session Beer as being 4.5% ABV or lower in alcohol, flavourful, balanced such that multiple pints may be consumed without becoming either cloying or wrecking your palate, conducive to conversation, and reasonably priced. I like that definition because it gets at the point of the word “session”, which really comes from the English tradition of a bunch of fellows going out after work and each buying a round of beer for a “drinking session”. It is common for English beer to be below 4% ABV, making it possible to have four or five pints without getting oneself into trouble later in the evening. Applying this logic to IPA, which typically starts around 6% ABV but often weighs in at more like 7 or 8% ABV, one imagines a beer that has assertive bitterness but is much more about the hop flavour and aroma. Scaling a regular IPA recipe down in terms of the simple quantity of the malts would result in a very dry, perhaps even watery session beer, so work has to be done to add body/mouthfeel to the beer. Further, the bitterness added by the hops in a 7% beer would be incredibly unpleasant in a 4.5% one, so those also need adjusting. You get the idea.

Session IPAs are known by a lot of names, but all names are debatable and it would be a separate blog post to try to go over them, so let’s just stick with Session IPA here. Ours has gone through a lot of revisions, and we’ve really enjoyed almost all of them along the way. If you read the section on IPAs above, you probably could put two and two together and see that we might have the same issue with hops in our Session IPA as we do in the IPA, so many revisions are likely to continue to occur in the future as we play with different hops. We are also still experimenting with different methods for improving the body and head retention in the beer (e.g. flaked oats, flaked barley, mash temps, special malts, etc.). Over time we will likely use this recipe for showcasing new and unusual hop varieties, as well.

Purple Hefeweizen

A Hefeweizen, or German Weissbier, is a wheat-based beer dominated by aromas and flavours of banana and clove, which are byproducts of the unique yeast used to ferment the beer. Our version started as Tyler’s first home-brew recipe. Living in California at the time, Ty wanted to put something in the beer that made him think of Canada, and blueberries were his top choice. After the first batch we realized that the blueberries give the beer a deep purple colour, but not much flavour compared to the yeast-derived esters and phenols (blueberries don’t actually impart much flavour to beer, extracts or artificial flavours are often used). Though it could be seen as a bit of a gimmick, a lot of people liked the purple colour and the beer has always tasted good, so it has stuck around in our rotation. We are still playing with the recipe to make it finish a little dryer, add more notes of bread, etc., as well as experimenting with non-purple versions and additions of fruit at different times in the process (boil vs. secondary fermentation), and purees vs. flash-frozen fruits. Our next iteration of the beer is going to be fruitless, literally, because we want to be able to evaluate the base beer on its own, and try adding various flavours in the glass rather than in an entire batch of beer.

English Brown

An English Brown style can vary greatly from something like a thin, light Newcastle Brown all the way to something coming closer to a porter in intensity and colour. Our version was designed to be an easy-drinking 5% ABV, with plenty of malt backbone and flavours of biscuit and chocolate, as well as some caramel and sweeter impressions, but still finish on the dry side (again, a dryer beer is easier to drink more than one of).

We originally developed the brown recipe to showcase Red Shed malts, and the first batch was a huge crowd pleaser, requiring little to no iteration. However, we have a lot of creative ideas that revolve around brown ale base beers, so we are using the base recipe and making minor tweaks for each variation.

Our most recent experiment was a Gingerbread Brown Ale, designed to replicate the flavours and aromas found in gingerbread, which revolve around molasses, ginger, and mulling spices like clove. We brewed a batch of the beer during the lead-up to Christmas, hoping that the beer would be ready for the festivities. Unfortunately, the beer came out spicier than hoped, and issues with our temperature control resulted in a stalled fermentation. So, we took the original recipe, made a few tweaks based on tastings of the first beer, and brewed it again, this time without adding the spices. After fermentation had been underway in the new beer for a couple of days, we used a deeply-cleaned and sanitized pump and hoses to thoroughly blend the two batches together, allowing the active yeast from the new beer to get access to the sugars in the original one, and cutting the spice levels in half. Sure enough, after another week and a half in the tanks, the beer was palatable and we kegged it off just in time for New Years celebrations. As I write this post, I’m sipping on this beer, which has mellowed out in the past couple weeks but still has plenty of aroma resembling an eggnog. The base beer finishes thicker and sweeter than the original because we brought the hop bitterness down a bit and mashed for more body. Molasses is less noticeable in the aroma now than it was at first. Definitely the beer is quite enjoyable and we would consider putting this on as a seasonal, but it will require a few more iterations before the next holiday season demands it.

Expect to see more variations on our brown ale in the future.

Wheat Beer

We feel like a fresh, bready beer with notes of cracker and grainy character is great for reminding customers that beer is an agricultural product, starting a dialogue about where the wheat and barley used in our beers primarily comes from — Alberta! We use flavourful late-addition hops, as well as dry hop to add tropical flavour and aroma; bitterness is kept fairly low — this is not a wheat pale ale.

Our last batch of this wheat beer went on tap back in August and received a lot of great initial feedback from friends and family; we just brewed it again a few days ago and are eagerly awaiting it to finish fermenting so that we can receive additional feedback and continue to iterate on the recipe.

Raspberry Wheat

Everybody makes a raspberry beer, so why do we need to make one? We like some of those other raspberry beers, but we feel like something is missing. Some raspberry beers taste too sweet, others don’t taste like real, fresh raspberries ever found their way into the beer. When one tastes a fresh raspberry fruit, they are greeted with a sweet, acidic aroma that is unmistakable for raspberries, and that is the first thing we focus on with our beer. Second, when you bite into a raspberry, you experience a thrilling sweet sensation that quickly fades into the tart finish of the berry. Our beer finishes drier to let the berry tartness shine through in a similar way. We used an American Wheat base beer recipe, as the style naturally lends itself to fruit additions with low hopping rates and background bready malt flavours, as well as a lack of yeast-derived flavours that can interfere with the berries.

We’ve been working on this recipe for quite a while now and have made minor changes to the malt and hops, but our focus has been on the yeast and raspberries. We’ve used several American and English yeast strains, and are now using our house strain, which is an English variety (English yeast in an American Wheat, go figure). On the raspberry side, we’ve tried flash-frozen organic and non-organic raspberries, as well as Vintner’s Harvest purees in various quantities. Puree resulted in the best results because it has been strained for seeds (anyone that has chewed on seeds knows that they can be quite tart and astringent). Finally, the puree was easier to handle as a liquid than solid berries were, and the process of creating a puree pasteurizes it, so the risk of infecting our beer with wild bacteria or yeast from the fruit is significantly diminished.

Kölsch-style Ale

Kölsch is an appellation for a low-alcohol (~4% ABV) ale brewed in Cologne, Germany, so we aren’t allowed to say that we brew a Kölsch. In many ways, this style resembles a pale, European lager, because Kölsch yeast ferment cooly and don’t produce as much fruity, estery flavours at these temperatures, much like lager yeast, and because European hops are typically used in the beer. Further, the beer is usually lagered (stored cold) for longer than your typical ale before it is served, allowing further clarification and smoothing out of flavours. However, Kölsch is an ale and as such, has a much shorter turnaround time than a typical lager. Kölsch beer is delightfully balanced in every way. Malt is prominent but not over the top, hops are there but only enough to balance out the malt, yeast is subtle, and the beer finishes medium dry with a refreshing level of carbonation. Alcohol is mild and not really noticeable. You could drink these all day.

We first brewed a light, 3% ABV Kölsch recipe as a base beer for off-flavour additions for our tasting events. Because the style is so light and balanced, it offers an excellent platform for tastings (at a recent CAMRA off-flavour tasting event, Last Best also used their Kölsch in the same way). However, we brewed an extra quantity of the beer and kept it on tap at home, and it became a favourite, so we will be hacking on this recipe a little more and bringing the intensity up to the typical range for the style. Note that the beer looks a lot darker in the picture above than it was in reality, the dark countertops and Instagram photo filter made it much more intense looking.

I hope that gives you a sense of what we’ve been working on. We appreciate you staying with us until now and all your support. We’re going to need all the support we can get in the coming months and are super happy to have people like you. We have a lot of other ideas on new beer in the pipeline, but please, if you think we should brew something, let us know at beer@prairiedogbrewing.ca or contact us on social media (see the links at the top or bottom right).

 

 

Status update mid November 2016

It’s been a month since our last status update, and through that time we’ve had some really encouraging moments and some really disappointing ones. Follow our progress over the past month, since mid-October.

Property Search

Blackfoot Dining Room Rendering

A rendering of the interior floor plan for a location near the Calgary Farmers’ Market that Prairie Dog Brewing was considering leasing before pulling their offer due to issues with the landlord.

We decided to pull our offer for the South Calgary leasehold near the Blackfoot Farmers’ Market, which we’ve been working on since late August, and are back to square one with respect to our property search. Our decision to end the offer largely revolved around the dismal behaviour of the landlord over the past several months and other red flags that arose during lease negotiations, which we couldn’t ignore. We won’t say the name of the landlord here but over the past few months we have heard many warnings and stories about them, so perhaps this won’t come as a surprise to those of you that do know who they are. Anyhow, we are engaging with more brokers and widening our search parameters, as we are blocked on moving forward with of our project until we have a location secured. Although we are getting really impatient and chomping at the bit to get a space, we won’t sign a lease for a location unless the landlord can demonstrate that they truly want their tenants to be successful in addition to themselves (which they should want for a variety of reasons).

AGLC

We recently met with the AGLC representative that will be assigned to our business on an ongoing basis. The AGLC is the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission — the government agency responsible for taxing beer sales in the province and ensuring that liquor is served in a manner consistent with our societal values and ideals. The AGLC are the ones we have to answer to if we make a mistake, so we were a little nervous meeting up with them for the first time. However, any nervousness was dispelled within a couple minutes of getting in a room with our rep, who didn’t fit the stereotype of a regulator in appearance or the way he spoke, which was candid and friendly. We really appreciated the meeting and learned a lot from the AGLC, much of which we wished we knew months ago. We definitely recommend that anyone seriously considering opening a brewery get in contact with the AGLC as early as possible; there is a lot more to know than what is found in the handbooks and the regulations are constantly changing.

Calgary Economic Development

We were in touch with Calgary Economic Development (CED) back in early Spring, but we were not in Calgary yet and the relationship dissolved as we got busy with our move and subsequent priorities. Finally, we made the effort to get in touch with the CED and were thrilled to find out that they have a representative whose job it is to foster the creation of Calgary agricultural jobs and industry, from the farm all the way to the table, as well as scientific research and development. Guess what, that includes breweries! We scheduled a meeting with CED to discuss our business plans, and they have already been connecting us with other Calgarians and local businesses that we are engaging with in various ways, or will engage with in the future. CED is partially owned by the City of Calgary, which gives them an “in” with the City and could help in cases where permits are held up or where information is just hard to come by (as well as other things like helping with real estate). On the private side of things, CED is owned and led by a consortium of Calgary business people that are well-connected and able to provide valuable guidance. Regardless of your industry, if you are planning on starting a business in Calgary, CED are your friends, talk to them as early as possible.

Home-Brewery Move

We’ve talked many times about how we brew at home frequently in order to develop our recipes and try new styles of beer. Laura and I have been living with my parents since we moved back to Calgary, and Tyler and I have been brewing out of my mother’s single car garage, completely taking it over and forcing her to park on the street. Recently Tyler and Sarah found a great house for rent in Douglasdale with a large, insulated double car garage, with ample space for all the brewery equipment and even an  indoor office area for our lab equipment (yessss!).  So a couple of weeks ago we moved everything over to their place and spent much of our time since then building a more permanent, well-organized brewery in the garage.

We originally intended to move our homebrewing setup to our leasehold, where it will be used as a commercial pilot system, as soon as we gained access, but our visit with the AGLC made it clear that we won’t be able to do that until we are licensed to sell beer, so we will be brewing at home for a long time. Throughout the move we also added a third conical fermenter and expanded our homemade glycol chiller setup, which ensures that fermentation temperatures never get too high (which can cause a variety of off-flavours in the finished beer). Today we brewed a Berliner Weisse and it was the smoothest brew day we’ve had since back in California, purely on account of the improved layout and organization of the brewery.

Fun Beer Experiments

Over the past year, the majority of our brewing efforts have been focused on beer that the average Calgarian would find approachable and could enjoy over and over again, especially if their reference point and expectations are based on the typical selection of styles already found on draft throughout the Calgary area, such as tame wheat beers, raspberry-flavoured seasonals, hefeweizens, and IPAs. We love those styles and drink them often, but we want to introduce our community to a wider variety of flavour combinations in beer. With us nearing completion on many of our “approachable” beers, we are finally able to move onto a few of our more interesting beer projects. Here are a few we are working on now – some of these may end up in the Prairie Dog brewpub, some may not.

Oaked Bourbon Blackberry Porter

Porter, with its slightly sweet caramel or toffee notes, dark chocolate undertones and robust maltiness, is a style ripe for experimentation. Much like with chocolate, many other flavours are complementary to the style, such as fruits, nuts, coffee and even tropical flavours like coconut or mango. To this end, I’ve always wanted to try a dark fruit like blackberry in a porter. I’ve tried a few blackberry porters in the past, but I’ve never liked them very much — something was always missing. To my mind, the smell and taste of blackberries recalls an intense, fruity red wine sipped deep in a cool wine cellar somewhere in Napa county, with the smell of oak barrels permeating my nostrils and commingling with the wine in some magical way. Why can’t beer do this? Of course it can! We drew a portion of our most recent batch of porter into an alternate vessel to prepare it for the experiment. Into the beer we added wonderful smelling lightly-toasted oak chips, which had been soaking for several days in American Bourbon whisky (which itself smells and tastes of intense oak and sterilizes the oak chips). Finally, we added several pounds of pureed blackberries to the mix, which will cause it to undergo a secondary fermentation over the coming few days. We will take samples of the beer daily and keg it off when the oak flavour is at desirable levels.

Chocolate Peanut-Butter Porter

As mentioned above, porter is great for experimentation with nuts, and the style already tends to have some chocolate notes from the malt, so why not try making a chocolate peanut-butter porter? Of course, when anyone thinks of chocolate and peanut butter, it is hard not to think of Reese’s Pieces, which I have to admit may have been an inspiration for this beer; however, it is important to remember that Reese’s Pieces are extremely sweet, and it would be very difficult to achieve anything resembling that flavour in a beer without forgoing fermentation altogether, not to mention the beer would be very hard to drink in any quantity. So instead we set out to make a beer that resembles dark milk chocolate with peanuts, like the toppings on a Peanut-Buster Parfait.

Because we wanted to work from a common base porter and make all our additions post-fermentation, we needed a way to add sweetness and body to the beer. Lactose, the sugar found in milk and unfermentable by beer yeast, does the job nicely. Further, the lactose may help the drinker recall the flavours of ice cream treats with dark chocolate and nuts.

Now for the peanuts. Peanuts are full of oils and fats, which are an enemy of beer both because they stale rapidly and because the fats destroy head retention. We are not equipped to remove the fat from peanuts, but thankfully someone has already done that for us with a product called PB2. PB2 is made by squishing roasted peanuts in a specialized press until the oils and fats separate out and can be removed. In the end, less than 15% of fats remain, making the product better for beer making than anything else. Additionally, because the peanuts are pulverized into a powder, they are easy to introduce at various points throughout the brewing process, such as into the fermenter, as we did after mixing the PB2 with finished porter on a stovetop and boiling for sanitation.

Finally, the chocolate. The base beer already has notes of chocolate derived from specially roasted malts, but we really want the beer to scream “chocolate”, so that isn’t enough. We found high-quality organic cacao nibs that would do the trick nicely; we wanted to add these to the fermenter too, but they must be sanitized first, which presents other opportunities. Much of the flavour of the cacao nibs is soluble in alcohol, but the low levels found in our porter may not be enough to extract sufficient flavour from the nibs, so we soaked them in the same American Bourbon whisky that we used for the blackberry porter above. Why Bourbon in this beer? Well, aside from the obvious woody complexity it adds, Bourbon is loaded with vanillins pulled from its oak cask. The vanillins impart typical vanilla flavours and aromas, and a perception of sweetness much like you’d find in vanilla ice cream.

This beer will undergo a small secondary fermentation due to some sugar in the PB2 mixture, and will probably be ready to drink in 4-5 days – we are very eagerly awaiting its completion.

Berliner Weisse

Berliner Weisse is a highly carbonated, refreshing straw-coloured beer of German origins with very low levels of alcohol (around 3% ABV) and noticeable acidic or tart character. Though the beer can be quite sour at first, it is very easy to drink and gaining popularity rapidly. The tart acidity is the result of higher than normal levels of lactic acid in the beer (the same acid that makes your muscles sore after a workout, or that makes yogurt taste sour). How a brewer gets the lactic acid into their beer is a matter of preference and personal style, and can be as simple as directly adding laboratory-grade acid to the finished beer, or complicated by the use of probiotic bacteria to create lactic acid from the sugars in the beer.

Since late last year, we have been working on a method of safely and reliably culturing wild Lactobacillus, a bacteria that creates lactic acid as a by-product of sugar consumption, and the same organism that makes milk go sour. The culture grows in a “sour mash”, which starts as most beers do with a typical mix of grains and hot water, but is cooled after saccharification to a temperature where lactobacillus thrive. After cooling, the mash is inoculated with some Alberta barley, purged of all oxygen, and sealed for a number of days while being held at a warm temperature. Some days later the sour mash mix is opened, tested for taste and acidity, and blended back into a regular non-sour wort to achieve the desired flavour profile before boiling/sterilizing it. The past several days we have gone through this process using Alberta two-row barley as our inoculant and equipment that we’ve adapted to facilitate our sour mash procedure. This morning we brewed the remainder of our base beer and blended with our sour mash to the desired effect, perfectly achieving our planned sugar content and acidity range. The beer is currently fermenting away and will not be ready to try for at least a week, but samples of the beer as it went into the fermenter are promising.

Expect to find a write-up here at some point in the future about the sour mashing process we have developed.

CAMRA Cicerone Training

CAMRA Alberta is a volunteer-driven organization devoted to the growth of craft beer culture through education and promotion, and are involved in many of the beer-related events throughout Alberta. We have been members for a few months now and are happy to be a part of such an organization. CAMRA’s latest events are part of their Master Class Beer Education Series, are a three-part course devoted to training attendees about beer styles and off-flavours, with the goal being to better prepare attendees to pass a Cicerone exam (the Cicerone program is the beer equivalent of the Sommelier program for wine). Several members of Prairie Dog have taken part in the training so far, which has been quite informative, and we will be attending the upcoming off-flavour class, the last in the series. We are eager to see how well we perform at another round of sensory analysis and curious to compare CAMRA’s methods for setting up and organizing the tasting against the methods we recently developed.

Well, those are all of the interesting events and developments of the past month that we can think of. Interested in how our beers turn out? Want to learn more about our sour mash? Follow us or message us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, we’d love to chat more.

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