Three Hills craft brewery launches
Prairie Brewing Co. officially received the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission’s stamp of approval two weeks ago and have begun smallscale production of a line of craft beer, joining dozens of start-up small breweries capitalizing on Alberta’s developing beer market and its ideal brewing conditions.
The local trio at the helm, Mark Ferguson (a mechanical engineer and farmer), Ryan Ferguson (another mechanical engineer and no relation to Mark), and Darren Kester (a petroleum engineer technologist) have been running fullbore since receiving licensing earlier this month, and with their first production batch- es due in two weeks, Prairie Brewing Co. will start popping up on barroom taps around the Three Hills area soon.
They currently are running a small single keg operation and plan to provide local restaurants, golf clubs, curling rinks, with kegs of their three different varieties of beer, as well as offer individual 1 litre growlers, before ramping up and expanding production over the next year to start canning their brew for sale in stores.
“The support has been overwhelming – the frustrating thing is we can’t sell it yet,” Mark Ferguson laughs. “Everyone has been asking for it but we haven’t been able to sell anything yet so we’re really itching to get a saleable product on the market.”
Right now Prairie Brewing will be offering three different types of beer. Their India Pale Ale is higher alcohol, but less hoppy and bitter than most of the more powerful craft IPAs that are on the market. Their witbier is citrusy and a bit spicy, with hints of coriander, and their brown ale, the Orkney Brown, is smooth and “with a kind of toffee-caramel flavouring and a sweeter, maltier taste,” said brewmaster Ryan Ferguson.
“We tried to brew something that everyone would like”
It’s been awhile coming. The idea was born on a trip the trio took with their spouses to Australia in January 2015. There, they toured a brewery and one night, over a few pints, they began talking about starting their own brewery. “Looks easy enough,” “can’t be that hard,” they said. When they got home, they got serious about it and began seeking approval to start up another craft brewery in a province hopping with new brews in a market where consumers were going crazy for all drinks craft.
“It’s a weird marketplace, actually,” said Mark. “There’s tremendous support for all the micro breweries, not a competitive edge, and a deep in- terest from others involved in the industry. Right now there is plenty of demand for craft beer so the competitiveness I wouldn’t describe as cutthroat. It’s a community, and other breweries want you to succeed.”
The Alberta craft beer market is booming. Ever since the Alberta government laxed laws on small breweries in 2013, the market has expanded from just 12 small operations to more than thirty currently in operation, reported Swerve magazine in a feature on Alberta beer. Some commentators are projecting up to 57 craft breweries to open in the province in the next year.
“There are relatively few microbreweries in Alberta per capita in relation to anywhere else in western North America,” said Mark. “BC has way more and certainly the western US is very densely populated. Maybe at that point you see more competition, but not right now in Alberta.”
Together with the wide open and thirsty market, Alberta brewers are helped by the fact they live on some of the best malt barley producing lands in the world. Swerve magazine reported that Alberta produces 56 per cent of Canada’s total barley exports from the corridor of prairie between Edmonton and Lethbridge.
It’s a mix of different reasons, says Mark. “The climate is very stable, high quality grain comes out of central Alberta year after year, and that coupled with the state of the art farming practices used here is what makes Alberta barley a premium.”
Prairie Brewing currently brings in malt barley from Alix, Alberta, one of the biggest producers in the province, but the group plans to eventually use grain grown on their family farm to create locally brewed, locally sourced craft beer. They eventually plan to set up their own malting operation, too.
“It’s all from the central Alberta region, but as we move forward we will actually be using home grown ingredients.”
Three Hills has a new start-up craft brewery as Prairie Brewing, Darren Kester, Mark Ferguson, and Ryan Ferguson received their brewing license earlier this month.