The past several months as a startup brewpub have been incredibly busy, exciting and scary all at once. We began major construction in early November, and have been working at a rapid pace ever since, with new developments and milestones occurring daily. So far our construction is running pretty much on schedule, but we Prairie Dog’ers are taking on pretty much all of the finishing/detail work, so we are anticipating an opening around April or May, assuming inspections, licensing and permitting go smoothly. Each founder has written a few thoughts below about the progress of the past few months and where we are headed.
Whew! It is difficult to decide where to begin because there has been so much going on, so I’m just going to start by summarizing where we are at in construction right now.
As of earlier this week, all of our walls are framed and partially drywalled, and a substantial portion of our plumbing and electrical have been roughed in. HVAC and ducting is practically finished, and we framed in our bar over the past week, too. We’ve finished a lot of painting of the interior walls and beams with the help of several volunteers (wonderful people, they are), and contractors painted out our ceilings some time ago. Concrete floors are currently being ground and polished throughout the pub and look spectacular in the completed areas. We look forward to our brewery floor coatings being installed later this week, which will allow us to finally place our brewhouse and tanks, unblocking a large amount of work and giving us a chance to get familiarized with new equipment.
To make all that happen, we have more than a dozen trades working in the space at all times, and at the somewhat frenetic pace we’ve been working, it is easy to forget all our construction contributions as founders, which are a big part of what makes the brewpub uniquely us, not to mention saving a huge amount of cash (the only way we could afford to open at all). For example, right now I’m working on building cabinetry and a tap tower of our own design on a centre bar island that I also built, which stands over a pair of 10″ pipes that Tyler and I ran 3-feet down and over 100 feet to our beer cooler — a room that is 38 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 14′ tall, which we also designed and built from scratch together with the rest of our team and several volunteers. It feels really great to know that we are such a huge part of the project and get to leave our mark on a bit of everything. Last night I worked at the pub until 11pm wiring up pot lights in our vestibule, bathrooms and hallway, and earlier in the day I helped our structural welder add beams to the roof to help support our makeup air and glycol chilling units. Who knows what I’ll be up to tomorrow, that’s the fun of this wild ride.
Because we’ve been so deep in construction these past weeks, I haven’t had a ton of time to work on beer, but we were able to play with a lot of fun new recipes in the late fall and early winter, such as a pumpkin-spice beer, several different goses, an oat-based pale English mild, and a Mexico-inspired beer reminiscent of tacos. I look forward to playing with several more recipe variations over the coming weeks in preparation for our opening and the upcoming Calgary International Beerfest, where we plan to have a booth with real Prairie Dog beer and barbecue!
Here are some of my favourite pics from the last while:
Now, more than ever, I try to get into the construction site early and stay late so that I can marvel at what we have been able to accomplish unencumbered by multiple trades workers. Day by day we inch closer to our opening date. Walls have been built, waiting for drywall. The bar has been framed, waiting to be finished and my kitchen is almost recognizable as a comfortable work space.
Back in mid-December, we at Prairie Dog received an early Christmas present from Texas. It had finally arrived! Our kitchen showpiece, a large red BBQ pit whom we have affectionately named Clifford. I suggest you do a cursory Google search for “Clifford the Big Red Dog” if you are unfamiliar with the classic children’s book series. Clifford stands 9 feet high, almost 10 feet long and 6 feet wide. he weighs 6,700lbs empty and has a capacity of 1,800lbs. Needless to say, I am extremely excited to get him all plugged in and in working order. Because Clifford weighs so much, we needed a way to move him around the construction site until we were ready to sit him in his final resting place. We built what we like to call Clifford’s Bachelor Pad. It is essentially a 2×6 frame with several layers of fire-rated concrete board on top for heat protection.
I was fortunate enough to be able to go home to Ontario for 10 days around Christmas to spend time with my wonderful girlfriend, her family and even see my parents off before they traveled to Texas for the winter months. While bumming around Toronto, I was able to set up a meeting with Pitmaster Terrance Hill at the about-to-open Texas-style BBQ restaurant, Beach Hill Smokehouse. Terrance also has a similar model of the Oyler BBQ pit that we have here at Prairie Dog. He was kind enough to show me around his new restaurant and answer any questions I had about day to day operations of the smoker. He also provided valuable insight into the processes he had to endure having the smoker inspected and eventually approved for use.
Last Tuesday, Gerad, Tyler and I spent about 4 hours at the Sysco Calgary office and warehouse. We had a tour of the facility with the Food Safety Co-Ordinator and Business Development Manager. While there, we were shown the policies and procedures in place to ensure the highest food quality. Chef Chris had 5 or 6 menu ideas for us and made several great dishes for us in his test kitchen. We also spoke with the Protein Category Merchandiser to nail down our local options for beef, pork and chicken supplies. Having worked for Sysco for 3 years in Toronto, I am very familiar with the company, so this was a great opportunity for me to really add value to our company, and it is of utmost importance to me to structure this business relationship in a way that is honest and transparent.
Here are some fun pics of Jay from the past several months:
Quality Director Sarah
To do any job well, you need the right tools. Now, I won’t need to use a hammer to ensure consistent, high-quality beer (let’s hope, anyway…the head brewer is my husband…). What I do need, though, are instruments, processes, industry know-how and, you guessed it, math.
And where does one keep one’s tools? In a toolbox, of course. I am very excited that the brewery lab has been built! It has walls and a doorway. It doesn’t have a door yet, but there it stands, in the middle of it all. I have a wish list of equipment to populate it, with the most important pieces at the top so they’re first in line to be purchased as we can afford them. Just as the brewery has room to grow over time, I have a growth plan for the lab. I hope that a new round of government funding programs geared towards improving quality in food and beverage production in the province will include brewpubs like our own and help equip the lab sooner. Using tools is one thing, but making them is another. Once we are open, we will need an overall quality program in place, so I have been prioritizing working on the Quality Manual, and researching Good Manufacturing Practices (an overall approach to manufacturing which is standard in several industries, including the US brewing industry) and Good Production Practices to inform how quality should be managed.
Now what’s all this about needing math in the toolbox? I recently researched statistics related to sensory studies. All breweries, from micro to macro, rely on sensory data from panelists to inform decisions about releasing beer. In small breweries, we rely on it heavily since we won’t have all the fancy testing equipment that larger breweries do. Sensory is something that on the surface can seem subjective but, with the right statistical methods applied, is in fact a science. Sensory is the most different aspect of quality control that I have learned about compared to my past life, and giving me some math to work with helps with the learning curve! This knowledge about sensory is another tool that I am eager to add to the quality program.
Head Brewer Tyler
Since we last updated you, we have been incredibly busy! First, Beer!
Over the last couple of months, we have continued to brew pilot batches in my garage, in spite of the snowy weather and frigid temperatures. The smell of boiling wort has a way of softening even the most bitter of Calgary’s cold. In anticipation of a springtime opening, we have been brewing with an increased focus on beers that are refreshing, light, crisp, and a little off the beaten path. One beer that I’m very excited for is our Gose. It is a mildly sour and salty beer with a hint of citrus. It goes great on its own, but we’ve been playing with it, adding different flavour combinations to the base beer. We recently brewed a Tequila Lime Gose that tastes like a margarita and practically flew out of the keg. Through the holidays, we were very busy with construction and had to postpone a few brew days, but we’ve hit the reset button and are back on schedule to continue developing recipes.
We also now have all of our big pieces of brewing equipment in the building: our brew house, fermentors, brite tanks and other equipment. Although we haven’t been able to move any of these to their final homes yet, it sure is nice to see all that shiny stainless coming in to work. The brewhouse is like a giant lego set, that weighs hundreds of kilos, and carries liquid, and isn’t colourful, and isn’t made of plastic, and well… There are lots of parts and an instruction manual. Maybe it’s more like Meccano… but I digress.
We are now working on making sure we have all the necessary hoses, pumps, clamps, fittings, and other ancillary equipment to efficiently make beer. Hopefully by our next update, we’ll have some of that equipment placed and put together.
Cheers from the brewery!
Marketing and PR Director, Laura
Since the last update I have been busy with social media efforts as well as other fun marketing things. We continue to average two new followers a day; we now have 926 followers on Instagram and 1,287 followers on twitter. We are also seeking out events for our founders to attend when possible to further the reach of Prairie Dog’s name, which has helped us network as well as get people excited for our opening.
In December, I ordered our first growlers and t-shirts! I am currently working with the print house on design iterations and other styles/colours of shirts and apparel for our opening. I fully expect to see people wearing Prairie Dog Brewing swag soon.
I also confirmed our first radio campaign, which is set to run from mid February until late March on X929. We have a meeting booked to work with their creative team with the overall objective of the campaign to create broader brand awareness outside the craft beer circle as well as integrate a separate marketing campaign that will kick off in February (more details to come).
I have been working on sculpting tap handles from polymer clay and experimenting with painting them; so far I am proud of how they are turning out and look forward to seeing them behind the bar. Another project I have started is designing posters and a campaign to promote our mug club. I had originally hoped to make all the steins for the Mug Club myself on the pottery wheel, but unfortunately that just isn’t going to work out. Don’t fear though, I have been researching and will procure unique mugs to be used by our mug club members. In the next couple of weeks I will complete the design and order gift cards to be used as promo items on X929 and to have available for purchase. I am also in talks with another graphic artist to help create imagery for posters, promotions, campaigns and potentially art around the brewpub.
Bye for now!