Some of you may already be aware that Brew Brothers Brewery will be leaving the Alberta craft beer scene shortly. Many of us are saddened to see them go after 19 years of brewing great craft beer. I thought that it would only be appropriate to dedicate a post to honour their legacy.
In the Beginning
The Brew Brothers story originates on the Eastern most province of our country, The Rock (that’s Newfoundland for you landlubbers) where five homebrew buddies started to dream big about taking their beer to a wider audience. After they moved out west for employment this dream was turned into reality.
A few years later one of the partners raised some capital and bought out his fellow ‘brothers’ with plans to take the brewery further on down the trail.
The brewery is headquartered in Calgary but they contract brewed out of different locations. The most common location was Bear Brewing out of Kamloops but they also had stints with Alley Kat Brewing Company & The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company among others.
Opening 11th Ave. SW
In 2002 Bear Brewing was bought out by Big Rock Brewery. This led to Brew Brothers opening up their own brewery, tap room and restaurant on 11th Ave. SW in downtown Calgary.
Opening up a brewery is quite an undertaking so you can imagine how overwhelming it would be to open a restaurant at the same time. Since no one had any experience in running a restaurant it only lasted a few years before landing the whole operation in serious financial straits.
Basically Brew Brothers needed a new plan and someone who could “make it right!”
Enter Al Yule
I had the pleasure of meeting Al recently to talk about his time at Brew Brothers Brewery. He is somebody who could talk about craft beer all day given the opportunity; a very passionate brewer.
Al started homebrewing in the early 80’s and found that he really enjoyed creating his own beer. He went on to apprentice at a brewpub in Sydney for 6 months where he learned the professional side of brewing. The Aussies take their beer pretty seriously down there, so it was a great place to work & learn.
Al, who is is a geologist by trade, was laid off in the 90’s and used his severance pay to co-found Wild Rose Brewery in 1996.
He later got involved in various brewing contracts and helped to start the Big Rock Heritage Park Brewing Course (he is still involved with this program).
It was around 2006 when Brew Brothers Brewery was looking for someone to take the reins at the microbrewery in order to steer them out of the red. Al turned out to be the man for the job.
When Al started at the brewery it was not a pretty sight. The first thing that needed to be done was to clean the place up and get it back into working condition. Once this was out of the way he worked with his team to modify the brewing system so that it could brew the kind of craft beer that he wanted to make more efficiently.
With Al as head brewer some of the beer recipes were tweeked to improve them and a few new ones were added to the list.
These changes were well-received by the local craft beer community. It became a common sight to see someone enjoying a pint at one of the pubs that poured their beer on tap (the Amsterdam Rhino & The District were their best customers) or to come across a growler at a friend’s house.
In fact their beer was received so well that at last year’s Calgary International Beerfest they took home 3 medals (the most for a single brewery) in the blind BJCP judging. Gold for their Prairie Pilsner, a true Czech-style pilsner with the saaz hops really coming through; Silver for their most popular beer, Black Pilsner; and a Bronze for their Raspberry Cream Ale.
I find it interesting that both their best selling beer (Black Pilsner) and the one held in highest regard (Prairie Pilsner) are both lagers. Lagers are not as commonly seen in the craft beer industry. One reason for this is that they use bottom fermenting-yeast which takes more time and is therefore more expensive.
Impact on the Alberta Craft Beer Industry
There is no doubt that Brew Brothers have left their mark on the local craft beer scene. I asked Graham & Jeff (aka the Tool Shed Guys) about this and they summed it up better than I ever could have.
“We have a very personal and deep respect for Brew Brothers as they represent a similar struggle to bring great craft beer to Calgary as we’ve faced this past year. For nearly 20 years Brew Bro’s blazed a familiar path as they fought through the contract brewing route in their early days just as we have.
For me, looking at the landscape today and seeing the breweries of Alberta all reaching to stand out among their peers, one thing I’ve noticed from taking part in events for the short period of time I’ve been on the scene….. EVERYONE has mad respect for Brew Brothers and Al Yule. They represent the good fight as craft brewers know it. It hasn’t been easy in Alberta and Brew Brothers have taken the challenge head on for 19 years, blazed a path and inspired guys like us.”
Looking at the Future of Craft Beer in Alberta
When I asked Al about where he sees the Alberta craft beer scene going he seemed quite optimistic. There has been growth since he got involved in the industry to the present. But he has faith that things are getting ready to accelerate in 2014. With the recent changes to the laws by the AGLC and the interest in good beer (i.e. craft beer specific pubs) Alberta is primed for something big.
As for advice for up-and-coming craft brewers, Al is quick to mention that “the coolest thing is that there is no one way to do it” meaning that you can do it your own way. Just look at how different the operations at Big Rock, Village and Brewsters are. But it is important to not only brew quality craft beer; you need to spread the word on why it is a great craft beer. It won’t just sell itself.
The End of a Chapter
Recently the crew at Brew Bros figured that they had done as much as they could with what they had. Al is very proud of his team and the craft beer that they brewed in the space that they had and with the budget that was available.
It just so happens that at the same time Bear Hill Brewing Company was looking to open a location in Calgary. So the stars were aligned for a deal to take place between the two.
I asked Al if he would ever consider getting involved in craft brewing again. He assured me that it is possible that some of the old team will resurface in a small operation if the opportunity arises (there’s hope!).
In parting I would like to invite everyone to raise their glass and drink to all of the good times that were shared over a pint of Brew Brothers’ finest.
Until we meet again bros, cheers to local craft beer!