Scientific suds come to Lethbridge
With the Alberta craft beer business booming, it was only a matter of time before breweries began popping up in the most unlikely of places.
Lethbridge, AB, has not been home to a brewery since the closing of a Molson-owned location in 1990. Twenty-six years later, two Lethbridge beer geeks decided to turn a theoretical brewery into reality.
With beer names like Publish or Perish Porter, Frequency Hopper and Black Hole Beer, Theoretically Brewing Company’s brewmaster Kris Fischer and manager Kelti Boissonneault are not afraid to embrace their nerdy side.
Fischer is a chemist who teaches organic chemistry and scientific glass blowing at the University of Lethbridge. A home brewer for 20 years, it was when he met Boissonneault through the Lethbridge Medieval Society that the idea of selling his beer became a joke the two shared.
“We were sitting around the fire in his backyard, and he cracks a couple bottles of his home brew stout,” Boissonneault explained. “I was like ‘man, this is really delicious, you should totally sell this!’”
Boissonneault graduated from the University of Lethbridge in 2012 and found herself without a job.
“I started looking at opening my own business,” she said. “I thought, ‘Kris makes good beer, maybe we should chat.’”
Boissonneault enrolled in a business course through Athabasca University, creating business plans around a theoretical brewing company in a small town, while she and Fischer home-brewed test batch recipes for new beers.
Like many new craft breweries in Alberta, the idea came closer to reality on Dec. 5, 2013, when the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission announced minimum production requirements for breweries would be removed. Previously, breweries had to have the capacity to produce at least 500,000 litres of beer per year.
“That’s a quarter of Big Rock off the bat. Way bigger than anything we could afford, so we figured this was a pipe dream,” Boissonneault said. “When they changed the requirements, we were like ‘are we doing this? I think we’re doing this.’”
Of course, it takes time to get any business off the ground. It wasn’t until April 2015, armed with a business plan, that Fischer and Boissonneault went to the bank and secured a loan.
After opening shop in January 2016, Theoretically is now brewing 500-litre batches of beer. With no plans for expansion in the foreseeable future, Fischer and Boissonneault are happy to brew as demand dictates and experiment with new beers.
“It’s easier on the small systems because it doesn’t cost a lot,” Fischer said. “We can afford to be bold.”
Characteristic of nearly all microbreweries, Theoretically is staunchly dedicated to their roots, which means making sure the citizens of Lethbridge have unfettered access to their beer.
“We want to support the local economy as much as we can,” Boissonneault said. “That’s why we had the system built in town.”
Not only did Lethbridge custom manufacturer Charlton and Hill create the bulk of their equipment, Theoretically’s Alberta-grown barley stays local as well, with the spent barley from the brewing process going to either Fork in the Rowed Farms as chicken feed or to the Perry Farm near Chin, AB, to power their biodigester. Fischer and Boissonneault are focused on staying local every step of the way.
“Our ingredients are Canadian,” Boissonneault said. “Why would we go anywhere else?”