Local beer adds a little sparkle
They grew up by the creek, they farmed by the creek, and now they are making beer by the creek. The founders of Ribstone Creek Brewery in Edgerton are hoping that their local brewery will light a spark in the economy of their rural Alberta town.
It all started four years ago, when Alvin Gordon bought an old industrial building in his hometown and turned to his lifelong friends, Don Paré, Cal Hawkes and Chris Fraser, for an idea that would bring some energy and business opportunities to the rural town.
“We were really motivated to put something back in the community and give it a little spark,” said Gordon, founder and chief financial officer. The spark of inspiration was nearly snuffed out when the friends realized how little they really knew about the business of brewing.
“Our Achilles heel was we knew nothing about brewing beer, just drinking it,” said Paré, company president and local grain farmer. “We contacted some United States suppliers of brewing equipment, and they said, ‘you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, do you?’”
The suppliers put the group in contact with David Beardsall, the founder and brewmaster of Bear Brewing, a British Columbia brewery that was bought by
Big Rock Brewery in 2001. Beardsall joined the Ribstone Creek team and set them up with their brewmaster, Anthony Richardson.
Three years later, Gordon’s building was still empty and investment had stalled, so they changed the plan. They partnered with Edmonton’s Yellowhead Brewery to brew Ribstone Creek under contract. When Ribstone Creek Lager won a silver medal at the 2012 Calgary International BeerFest, it was proof they could make and market beer. Investors came back to the table and revitalized the project.
It has taken a year to gut and renovate Gordon’s old machine shed, as well as install the brewing equipment. The first Edgerton-brewed batch hit the vat Dec. 1, 2012. The new system produces 3,000 to 3,500 litres per batch, the equivalent of 69 kegs. They currently sell 80 kegs per month and expect demand to triple when they introduce canned product and two new beers later this year.
The craft brewing industry is booming across Canada as consumer preference shifts to local products. In Edgerton, where grain farming is still a central part of the community, people make a direct connection between the barley they grow and the beer they drink.
“I think we’re coming on to a new age where we’re getting a little tired of buying something that’s made somewhere else,” said Paré.
Rob McCaig at the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC) in Winnipeg, MB, agreed the trend towards local food is changing the beer industry in Canada and around the world. According to McCaig, microbreweries are currently the only growth segment in the industry.
“If you look at Labatts and Molson, they are losing market share to regional breweries and microbreweries,” said McCaig, managing director and director of brewing technology at CMBTC.
“Young and old beer drinkers alike are willing to pay the extra money to have a beer that they think is different and has some taste to it,” he said. “Craft breweries are coming up with beers that have more flavour. They are making beers in traditional styles and coming up with their own styles.”
In some parts of the world, breweries are taking the lead from wineries and developing “estate beers” that source their ingredients from a single farm of origin. Ribstone Creek Brewery isn’t taking it quite that far, but they are using Canadian-grown Pilsner-type malt that, in all likelihood, was grown close to home.
“We grow some of the best grains in the world in Canada,” said Paré. “It’s really appealing to people that we can take our own product and use that in our own beer.”