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Meet our Executive Chef!

Big news from Prairie Dog Brewing! We have mentioned in the past that we are working with a chef, but kept his identity under wraps, until now!

Meet our Executive Chef!

Executive Chef and Founder Jay Potter

We are excited to introduce Jay Potter, our Executive Chef and a founder of Prairie Dog Brewing. Jay has more than 20 years experience in the food industry. From humble beginnings as a general helper and dishwasher in a popular Italian bakery then a fast-food taco jockey, Jay got a feel for the industry throughout his teenage years. Never one to stray too far from a kitchen, Jay worked his way through College and University in popular chain restaurants. After completing his apprenticeship and Red Seal accreditation in Ontario, Jay moved to Calgary for a couple of years to work for some of the finest chefs that the West has to offer. Now after three years back in Ontario working for one of the world’s largest foodservice distribution companies, he is ready to bring his newfound expertise back into the kitchen.

As soon as we knew we were adding a full restaurant component to Prairie Dog, we reached out to Jay for advice. In return, Jay pitched more than just advice, he offered to come on board to the project in full capacity. Jay has been an important part of our team since the beginning, building preliminary beer-based menus, working on kitchen design and offering invaluable advice and suggestions every step of the way.

Jay will be moving West in the beginning of April to join our team full time. We couldn’t be more confident in his ability to be the foundation of our kitchen operations and are ready to get this brewpub open for you all to come visit!

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).

 

 

Off-Flavour Tasting Event December ’16

In early December, we were excited to hold the second round of off-flavour tastings. For details on the first event, see our post here.

For the second round, we used eight more flavours from the same kit as the first. These flavours were less common than the ones used in the first round, though still important. They were: caprylic acid, “earthy”, indole, isovaleric acid, lactic acid, mercaptan, “metallic”, and “papery”.

Like the first event, we used a triangle test method for tasting. Each participant received three samples, one of which contained an off-flavour, and the participants had to guess which one that was. We did make some modifications to our overall procedure based on what we learned last time, but the most significant change was that we used a batch of our homebrew as the base beer rather than a commercial beer. Gerad and Tyler designed a beer specifically for this event, a pleasant, 3% ABV, Kolsch-style ale. In order to avoid competition with the off-flavour taints, the recipe was low in hops and fermented cool for clean flavour.

The other important change we made was to provide each person with a control sample, one that was known to be untainted with an off-flavour. This made it easier for the attendees to try to pick out which cup was tainted in each round.

For our first event, we used standard red Solo cups to hold the samples. This time, we used small, shot-sized cups, which saved us the trouble of measuring every pour, as well as time. We also labeled all the cups in advance, including the participants’ names; this way, the marker had plenty of time to dry before the tasting, avoiding interference with beer aroma.

Interestingly, it seemed like the tainted beers were easier to identify than in the first event. This could be due to the strength of the flavours themselves, or the lighter, cleaner quality of the base beer compared with the pale, American lager used in the first tasting event (or both). This meant that most people were quick to identify the tainted beer, and there was more discussion around how to describe the off-flavour in question. We got some very interesting descriptors; I think “old man’s breath” was my favourite.

By now, our attendees are getting very good at picking out which beers contain off-flavours. We’ll see how they do in round three, which may prove to be trickier…

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.

Status update mid October 2016

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

Late August: Tyler and Sarah Arrive

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

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

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

Late August: Found a Promising Leasehold

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

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

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

Late August: Visited Revelstoke

View of a cloudy meadow on Mt. Revelstoke

View of a cloudy meadow on Mt. Revelstoke

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

Early September: Attended First Yeast Wranglers Meeting

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

Early September: Visited Half Hitch Brewing

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

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

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

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

Mid September: First Off-Flavour Tasting Event

Off-flavor tasting night

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

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

Late September: Alberta Beer Week and Calgary Oktoberfest

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

Late September: Toured Toolshed Brewing

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

Late September: Completed First Draft of Business Plan

Businessing… #prairiedogbrewing #yycstartup #brewpubcomingsoon

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

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

Late September: Annex Ales Root Beer Launch

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

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

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

Early October: OnBeer.Org Article about Prairie Dog Brewing

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

Early October: Went to Denver and Attended GABF

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

Mid October: Set up Calgary BABES

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

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

Quality Management is Our Responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prairie Dog Off-Flavour Tasting Event, September 2016

This past Friday, we held our first Prairie Dog event: Off-Flavour Tasting. As you may or may not know, it is possible for beer to have “off-flavours”, due to some incorrect process in the production, or due to contamination. Many of these flavours are known, and it is possible to tell what went wrong based on the off-flavour present.

We bought a kit that includes several off-flavours as well as typical “on-flavours”. For this event, we focused on off-flavours, and chose eight common off-flavours to use this first time. The idea was to add these flavours to beer, and to ask people to guess which were tainted.

We decided to have eight rounds of tasting. In each round, each participant would get three cups of beer. One cup would be tainted. Everyone would have to guess which of the three cups had the off-flavour. At the end of the round, the answer, including what the off-flavour was, would be revealed, and we’d talk about what that flavour smells and tastes like to different people, and what in production can cause that flavour.

img_20160915_185542Logistically, we had to figure out how to do this so that only one person knew which beers were tainted, and how to do it so that the evening flowed without everyone having to wait too long between rounds. We also only had one vial of each off-flavour, so we had to design this procedure carefully.

First of all, we chose to add our off-flavours to a commercial light lager, one which did not have a strong aroma or flavour of its own to mask the flavours we were going to add. According to our flavour kit, each vial contained enough liquid to be detected in one litre of beer. In order to keep this a blind test, we decided that for each round of tasting, we would have three one-litre bottles of beer, where one was tainted. Each participant would receive a shot from each bottle for their tasting. We used plastic, amber bottles: amber to protect the beer from UV, and plastic for its ability to be reused by us. Using bottles for the ‘pristine’ beer as well and the tainted beer would enable us to:20160915_165906

1- Hide the identity of the tainted beer from everyone, including the pourer;

2- Keep track more easily of what to pour in each round;

3- Allow all the beer to have the same amount of carbonation.

Since we were preparing the beer the day before, it was important to us that the loss of carbonation occurred to the same degree for every pour. Ideally, we wanted to buy a keg of beer and fill our one-litre bottles from there. However, we needed 24 litres of beer (8 rounds x 3 litres), and the kegs available were either too small or too large – and we didn’t want to have a lot of wasted beer. So, what did we do? Laura went out and bought 72 cans (two 36-packs) of beer.

20160915_165730The one-litre bottles were not marked for volume, so we filled a one-litre measuring cup with water, and poured it into one of the bottles. One litre was approximately halfway up the neck of the bottle – close enough for our purposes, since this is not a quantitative experiment. So we knew how much to fill each bottle. But how to fill them from 355-millilitre cans? First we tried just pouring the cans straight into the bottles, with and without a funnel. Either way, we got a lot of foam in the bottle, and so we decided it would take way too long to fill all the bottles, having to wait for the foam to die down each time we poured. Plus, we would lose a lot of carbonation. In the end, we decided to use a keg.

While everyone else was busy doing other Prairie Dog-related things, I had the fun task of filling two of our kegs with 72 cans of beer (I got help opening the cans near the end img_20160916_185628because my fingers hurt!). Luckily, the kegs had already been cleaned and sanitized. I tried as much as possible to reduce the foam by pouring down the inner sides of the kegs, but still, there was a lot of foam. Technically we only needed 68 cans (24 L/355 mL = 67.6), but we used them all to compensate for the foam. Once all the cans were emptied into the kegs, Gerad and Tyler filled the kegs with carbon dioxide. We probably lost less carbonation doing this than if we had filled the bottles directly from the cans.

Every bottle was labeled with a number and a letter, in the form of #-A, #-B, and #-C, where # is the round, and A, B and C correspond to the participants’ cups. For every round, I chose either A, B or C to contain the off-flavour. I used the Tracking Sheet to randomly assign each off-flavour to a round, and within that round, which bottle would contain that off-flavour.

img_20160915_185502 img_20160915_190034 img_20160915_185600

We filled the bottles as an assembly line: Gerad filled a bottle from the keg, I took it behind a wall of boxes (so that the Tracking Sheet was hidden from the others) and either did or did not add an off-flavour, according to the Tracking Sheet, and Tyler screwed on the cap then inverted the bottle a few times to mix the beer with the off-flavour. The off-flavours came in liquid form in glass vials. The type of vials they were in are called ‘ampoules’. Ampoules are fully sealed, and to open them you actually break the top off, with it breaking along a line etched in the glass.

20160915_192815
img_20160916_185645The final materials preparation we did was to label cups. We were planning on up to 15 participants, so each participant was to receive two-ounce pours per tasting using a standard shot glass (1 L/15 = 67 mL = 2.3 oz). We sorted the cups into two sets of three cups per person, and labeled each set A, B, C. The idea was to be pouring the next round into the participants’ spare sets of cups while they were still tasting in the current round.

The bottles of beer were refrigerated overnight and until the event the following day!img_20160916_185736

Before we started the tasting, we asked everyone to label their cups with their names, using a Sharpie. Unfortunately, Sharpie has a strong smell and for some people it overwhelmed the smell from the beer in the first couple of rounds. Next time, we will either ask people to write near the bottom of the cups rather than the mouth, or to write with pen on a label that can be stuck to the cups.

We poured the first round and the tasting began! Gerad explained techniques for smelling and tasting the beer. We kept each tasting round to five minutes. At the end of each round, there was discussion among everyone about which cup they thought was off, and what flavour they smelled. I then revealed which of their cups had been tainted, and with what compound. Gerad further explained what types of aromas the compound can cause, and what in the beer production process could cause this compound to be present. During his explanation, Tyler and I filled the spare sets of cups for the next round.20160916_195101

20160916_195316Off it went like that for the eight rounds. It was fun to learn about these off-flavours with a group of homebrewers and craft beer fans. We’ve heard about these flavours before, but being able to be exposed to them in a controlled way enabled us to be more confident about detecting these in the future, which will be particularly helpful for tasting our own beer – a good start for quality control!

It was also interesting that for the most part, flavours were detected much more strongly by smell than by taste. Also, not everyone could detect each flavour, and further, some people detected off-flavours that were not offensive to them at all.

We did receive suggestions for how to improve the event in the future. Firstly, we can start by giving everyone a cup of the beer that we used for this event in a separate cup for participants to use as a reference either before, or throughout the tasting, because not everyone is familiar with the beer we chose. We could also start with a strong flavour that everyone should be able to detect, again so that they have a chance to get used to what the beer smells and tastes like without the off-flavour present and are able to learn what to look for to make the comparison. For this event, we only had one vial of each flavour, but eventually, we might be able to have enough of these on hand to add them to water, or just have them in their pure form, for people to smell without interference from the beer. We would let them smell the flavour for interest’s sake, after they’ve tried to smell it in beer.

20160916_192047Overall, it was a successful event. We met some great people, both homebrewers and craft beer drinkers. We had fun tasting tainted beer, had fun drinking good beer afterwards, and it was generally a great time. We look forward to doing more of these types of events!

For the step-wise procedure, click here: Sensory Off-Flavour Tasting Event General Procedure

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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