Tool Shed Brewing’s connection to Alberta barley
Tool Shed Brewing has taken off as one of Alberta’s premier craft brewers in the past few years. The key to its success, and the province’s worst kept secret, is using strictly high quality, Alberta grown barley.
“Most people don’t realize that Alberta barley is the best on the planet,” said Graham Sherman, Tool Shed Brewing’s co-founder. “It’s always so much about the hops. Barley is, in my opinion, way more important than just the hops.”
“Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Oskar Blues, Lagunitas, all these guys come to Calgary to meet the Alberta barley farmers and try to get contracts going,” he said.
While many brewers have to travel and cross borders to have access to premium Canadian grain, Tool Shed Brewing has the benefit of being not more than a few hours down the road.
Sherman and his business partner Jeff Orr have become friendly with the folks at Antler Valley Farm. Founded in 1890 by Ephriam McAllister, it is now a fifth-generation grain farm covering 3,000 acres in Central Alberta.
But a tasty beer is just as dependent on the malting process as it is on the farmers who grow the grain.
“Fortunately we have the best malt houses on Earth as well. Rahr Malting is one of the best at making perfectly efficient barley for our process.” Sherman said, “It’s the best barley going to the best malt house.”
Established by German immigrant William Rahr in 1847, the Rahr Malting Corporation currently has two malt production plants, one in Alix, AB, and the other in Shakopee, Minnesota. The Alberta plant was built in 1993 and has an annual capacity of 9 million bushels (140,000 MT).
“It’s night and day how plump and moist—it’s almost like multigrain toast—the flavor of the barley that comes from Rahr,” Sherman said. “It’s crazy because it’s just the base malt, but everybody likes it better than the specialty malts that are kilned differently for more flavor. When you eat the Rahr malt, it’s so bloody fresh and moist, it’s like its still juicy. It’s amazing.”
Everything Sherman does is done with conviction in hand and perfection in sight. From figuring out the roast profile curve for making the best cup of coffee at home, to backyard barbequing temperature-controlled within half a degree, he has an eye for detail.
“My buddy Jeff and I are just a couple of IT guys. We actually met in Afghanistan, working on government and military IT infrastructure. We did tactical communications for the U.S. Marine Corps and Canadian troops, so we’re just kind of nerds,” he said. “Whenever we weren’t in Afghanistan we would be in my backyard tool shed home brewing.”
Now Sherman and Orr are bringing their beer back to its roots, so to speak.
“What’s cool now, we get to close the loop. Because we have become friends with some of these farmers like the McAllister family at Antler Valley, we go out to the barley farms and we bring them the beer that their product turns into,” Sherman said.
The feeling of bringing good beer to good people is addictive, he added.
“When you drink good beer it just does something totally different. It gets people connected in a different way—people chill out, they tell stories, they bond. It’s really incredible what you can create with people when you sit down and have a good beer together. It’s an incredibly satisfying thing.”