Community

A sense of community is extremely important to Prairie Dog and its founders. Read about our involvement in community events and local business.

Beers Around the Table

Our team enjoying beers during the “Hump Day” celebrations at Village.

About two years ago, while we were in the very beginning stages of planning the brewpub (including the planning of our move from California to Calgary), we were researching our “competition” in Calgary — many of whom are now good friends. During that research we happened upon Cold Garden Brewing’s blog. At that time they were at the stage we are in currently: building, waiting on equipment, figuring out finances and all the other fun that comes during start-up. In one post, she pauses to tell a story of meeting Jim Button of Village, socializing at the brewery and about how friendly the craft beer industry is. During the story she tells of how at the end of the evening, Jim dug around in their utility closet to pull out a red card table, giving it to the folks of Cold Garden.

Jim Button telling the story of the card table that was their first board room table.

And so the journey of the Beer Planning Table began, an object that has been gaining a reputation in the local brewing community. Village was a startup not so long ago and when they were just getting started one of the team brought in an old card table to act as their board room table. It seemed to have brought the brewery luck and good fortune and Jim wanted to pass that on to another startup — and that startup was Cold Garden. Once we heard this story we became even more excited to be a part of and nurture the craft beer community in Calgary.

Once Cold Garden opened and found some success they, with Village, decided to pass it along to a new startup, choosing Common Crown as the next recipient. We have become friends with the guys up at Common Crown and can’t say enough good things about them. A couple months ago we were at a cask event supporting some amazing local breweries when the fellas at Common Crown pulled us all aside with Jim Button to tell us they had discussed who would be the next recipient of the beloved beer planning table, and they had decided on us.

Village, Cold Garden, Common Crown and Prairie Dog Brewing in camaraderie.

A few of us may have jumped up in giddy happiness that these other breweries see us as worthy of the table, or maybe they think we could really use the luck and good fortune that tends to follow the table!

Gerad talking about our brewpub and accepting the table.

Village hosted us during their “hump day” on September 6th with folks from Cold Garden and Common Crown. Jim told the story of the table and Gerad spoke about our brewpub plans and who we are. He also took the responsibility of drawing our name on the table top. It is an incredible feeling to know that these other breweries have confidence in us and in our potential for success.

Gerad making our mark in the table.

Something we have learned over the past year and a half is just how wonderful the craft beer community is in Calgary (and everywhere really); the people who are supposed to be competitors collaborate with each other and contribute to each others’ success. When we set our sights on Calgary as the location for our brewpub we envisioned ourselves working closely with other local breweries to foster a community that wouldn’t view each other as competition. We had no idea at that time if people would be receptive, heck, we didn’t even know if there would be anybody to work with! But we are so happy to see that Calgary’s beer scene is growing faster than any of us imagined, and that breweries like Village are working to build a community just as we envisioned ourselves doing one day. We are honoured to be the next recipients of this table, which has brought so much luck to our friends at Village, Cold Garden, and Common Crown, and we hope that it brings us as much good fortune as it did them.

The object of beauty and fortune!

The team each signing our names to the beer planning table in its new home at our brewery.

Status update early August 2016

Prairie Dog Level at the Palliser One parking garage in Calgary, AB.

Prairie Dog Level at the Palliser One parking garage in Calgary, AB.

TL;DR: Not all founders are full-time in Calgary yet, but we met up recently to finalize plans, visited with other brewers and got a good a feel for Calgary craft beer. We’ve been looking at properties and are getting serious about a couple of them, but nothing picked yet. Finalizing business plan and making a lot of beer to develop recipes, can use feedback. Anticipating opening no earlier than July 2017.

Starting a new business is a complicated affair. Being a producer of alcohol, a brewery may be one of the most regulated businesses you can start up, even more so when you add food production to the mix. There is a lot for us to do and a lot of things have to go on in the background before many of the sexy, customer facing announcements can be made. However, there have been a few interesting developments of the past few months that we can talk about.

The Three Ranges Brewing Company are a small-town company making full-flavoured beer in Valemount, BC.

3RBC are a small-town company making full-flavoured beer in Valemount, BC.

In late May Laura and I went up to Valemount, BC to work at Three Ranges Brewing Company (3RBC), which was founded by our cousins Michael Lewis and Rundi Anderson. We spent about nine days in Valemount, and I spent most of my time at the brewery helping Michael and his assistant brewer Clayton in all capacities. While there I prepped and filled a lot of Sanke kegs, learned to use industrial chemicals like caustic and peracetic acid to clean out tanks post-fermentation, harvested and reused yeast, mixed a honey addition for a batch, and of course brewed a lot of beer. Laura and I also spent time learning more of the back-office side of things, getting familiarized with software and accounting, ingredient purchasing, and filing for excise tax and provincial markups. I also learned about tap maintenance and even made a delivery to a local customer. It was a lot of twelve to sixteen hour days that felt like three weeks of work condensed into one, but we had a blast and were able to learn a lot of things that you just can’t do at home as homebrewers. A huge thank-you goes out to Michael for letting us monopolize his time for the week and for taking so much of his limited personal time to go over our financials and assumptions with us.

Shortly after this time we began an engagement with First Key Consulting out of Vancouver, who are providing us with feedback and advice for our business plan. We learned about First Key on recommendation from another startup brewery owner we had met in Valemount, Bjorn Butow, who is founding CrossRoads Brewery in Prince George, BC. FYI – CrossRoads are currently looking for a qualified head brewer and brewery manager, spread the word if you know someone.

In early July our partners Tyler and Sarah relocated their belongings to Calgary, leaving the San Francisco Bay area behind. At the same time, our Executive Chef flew to Calgary so that we could all be together and get on an even footing, finalizing many of the details about our business plan and familiarizing everyone with the local Calgary scene. The Calgary Stampede was going on at this time, adding to the sense of what Calgary is all about.

During our “business summit”, we visited several local businesses and breweries. At Trolley 5, another brewpub that opened only a couple of weeks prior to the Stampede, we were lucky enough to bump into Ernie Tsu, one of the owners and a veteran of the Calgary scene. Ernie gave us a private tour and had a lot of great advice for us — we were thrilled that he was so eager to share information and give us pointers, and we are certain that he will be a good friend of the brewery moving forward. And he took the time to do this during the first Saturday night of Stampede!

Later on the same night we visited Last Best, and quickly made a connection with Phil Brian, their Director of Operations and brewmaster. Phil shared samples of his latest Berlinerweisse from a brite tank and ended up chatting with us over pints of his other excellent beers for over three hours! We had been looking at leasing space nearby and asked Phil what he thought about having another brewpub within spitting distance of his own — his answer, “Wonderful!”. Phil believes that the more breweries we have in Calgary the more we all benefit, and having breweries clustered together makes it a lower-risk proposition for someone to go to the effort of commuting down to the Beltline and spending an evening there, since there would be more options if their first target was packed or closed for a private event, making the area more of a brewery destination. We really like the Beltline area and are currently in talks with a landlord there about a space, but there are significant financial and logistical barriers to entry here, so we are also considering other options.

Also during the same week we made pilgrimages to BrewstersWild Rose and Dandy. We would have loved to visit many other breweries as a group but unfortunately ran out of time. Tyler and Sarah left after our summit to begin a six week cross-Canada road trip, something they had to do before starting full time on the brewery, knowing that it could be a long time before any of us get the time to be away for more than a few days at a time. We expect Tyler and Sarah to return to Calgary in early September, and will be out and involved in the scene much more after they return.

One thing we can’t forget to mention is our visit to Red Shed Malting near Red Deer, Alberta. We have always planned on using ingredients from locally-owned businesses, and Red Shed fits the bill perfectly. We met up with brothers Matt and Joe Hamill, who have set up a small but relatively sophisticated malting facility on their family farm. Matt and Joe are homebrewers turned businessmen, and are no slouches when it comes to malting. The two use barley from their own family farm and surrounding fields to produce both a base malt (pale 2-row), which forms the majority of backbone in a beer, and more complex roasted varieties that can give beer caramel, raisin, plumb, chocolate and coffee flavors and aromas. We toured their facility and picked up some of everything so that we could get a feel for the different malts and develop recipes that exemplify the terroir of their local barley. Since the visit we used their malts to brew up a batch of Southern English brown ale, specifically chosen because it is a malt-forward beer that highlights the qualities of the malts being used, and is easy to drink at about 4.5% ABV. The beer came out quite delicious and I can find very few faults with this first recipe, which I developed specifically for the malts available, which begins with a delicious nuttiness and finishes with coffee and toffee dominating and leaving an aftertaste that begs you to drink another. The beer is deliberately dry for a brown, without a lot of residual sugar or cloying aftertaste, which I prefer in my beers in general. Definitely expect to see this beer brewed again and more Red Shed malt used in Prairie Dog’s future!

Beautiful day at Red Shed Malting

A beautiful day out at Red Shed Malting near Red Deer, AB.

As we mentioned earlier, we have been looking around a space for lease for quite a while, all the way back to April or May. We have visited many locations and found more than one with good potential to be a brewpub. Every space has benefits and drawbacks either based on the space itself, the location, the mentality of the landlord, or cost. At this point we haven’t committed to any single location, but have engaged with a couple of landlords to begin more serious negotiations, one in the Beltline and the other in South Calgary near the Calgary Farmer’s Market. The location we choose will have a tremendous impact on the details of our business plan; a location downtown would have a very different set of demographics, operating hours and costs than a location in a business park, so our plan will not really be finished until we have settled on one location.

Once we sign a lease for a location, the rubber will finally meet the road on this project. From the moment we have a location picked out we can begin working with designers, architects and engineers to design the space and decide on any necessary building modifications. All of these modifications and a full sets of drawings must be submitted to the landlord for approval, then to the city for permitting and approval of the land use. A condition of our lease will be obtaining city approval for our land use and building permits from the city, which may take two to four months, after which we could physically gain access to the space and begin work such as demolition, adding floor drains and sloping floors, bringing in a boiler and building the boiler room to contain it, upgrading electrical service, HVAC, fire suppression systems, sewage, and water, as necessary, and at some point, ordering and obtaining our brewhouse, fermenters, and serving tanks. After this we need to build the restaurant and kitchen, update building facades, get inspections from the fire department, health department, and building inspectors, as well as putting in our applications with the AGLC and Federal Government to be allowed to produce and sell beer. After the brewhouse arrives, we have a ton of setup to do with the manufacturer, and plumbing in of various systems such as steam, water, and glycol. At least one chiller system will need to be installed on the roof of our building, as well. Then we have to think about staffing and start sourcing ingredients, building out menus and brewing calibration/test batches.

As should be abundantly clear by now, this is a massive project and it will take a long time to get to a point where we are actually producing beer and opening our doors to the public. We anticipate it taking until at least July of 2017 before our doors open based on our current situation. In the mean time, we are doing our best to get out there and meet other local business owners and as many brewers as possible, and we will be working to meet with more of the local homebrewers through the Yeast Wranglers club and other efforts.

Glycol chiller got a facelift and now will cool two fermenters at once. Also all protected behind a GFCI.

A photo posted by Gerad Coles (@geradprairie) on

We are brewing a lot of beer at home right now, iterating on recipes as much as possible so that we have a large set of well-developed and proven recipes to draw upon at opening. We recently increased our homebrewing capacity from 10 to 15 gallons per batch as well as adding a second fermenter, allowing us to now produce about three times more beer than before. If you are interested in learning more about the process of brewing beer, shoot me an email at the same address and we can arrange for you to work with us for a day while we brew beer.

We are also very excited because we have tickets to the sold-out Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver, Colorado in October, where we hope to learn more about what others are doing in the industry around North America and taste many fine examples of beers made from high-quality local ingredients by passionate brewers, just like ours.

Local Business Builds Community

A community of drinkers cheers with their glassesPrairie Dog Brewing’s founders are passionate about community and having a positive impact on it. We believe that a locally-owned business that spends its revenues on other locally-owned businesses creates a positive feedback loop, allowing the local economy to grow and support more jobs while retaining more money; the ultimate in long-term sustainability.

Consider vibrant, cosmopolitan cities like San Francisco. There you find a thriving local economy where consumers turn their noses at chain restaurants and stores and flock to small, independent local businesses. Conversely, dull, unmemorable places where the economy is flat or declining are often full of chain stores and restaurants. That is no coincidence. Businesses are focal points for local currency, and if a business employs a lot of people or spends a lot of currency on other local businesses, the impact of that currency on the local economy is multiplied because it gets a second chance to be spent at another local business, and so on. However, when businesses divert currency out of the local economy, the spending potential for that currency is lost and the local economy can sustain fewer jobs. Unfortunately during hard times people are pressured into buying from non-local businesses to try to stretch their dollars further, but in the long-term this only takes away market share from other local business and puts more local people out of work who then have to stretch their dollars further, forming a vicious cycle.

Unfortunately, the Canadian brewing industry has long been dominated by large, foreign-owned corporations that focus on keeping costs low and prices high, employing a fraction of the staff per unit of beer produced compared to small craft breweries. Further, macro-breweries use their clout to force down the costs of ingredients like wheat and barley, putting pressure on Canadian farmers that are already struggling to make a living. This leads to higher suicide rates among farmers and farm closures, and the purchase of farmlands by foreign-owned conglomerates that in turn use sophisticated mechanization to employ fewer people, and rely on pesticides and GMO crops to produce more pounds of food per parcel of land than would be possible with conventional agriculture. As a result there are fewer jobs and less money in the local economy (doubly so, because not only do the farmers lose their livelihoods but the farming profits are sent overseas to foreign shareholders), as well as increased pollution in the form of pesticide runoff and a loss of genetic diversity in our food chain.

We vow to do our part in stopping the vicious cycle by paying our employees fair wages and supporting locally-owned businesses like coffee roasters, bakeries, and small-scale farmers, as well as new Alberta industries such as hop growers and micro-maltsters. Please help us work towards a sustainable local community by purchasing craft beer and other products from locally-owned businesses. The next time you are out at your favorite brewpub or restaurant, ask your server who the owners are and where they are located — get to know who you are supporting.

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