Three Hills craft brew­ery launches

The Drumheller Mail - - SPORTS - Kyle Smylie The Drumheller Mail Mark Fer­gu­son sub­mit­ted

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.

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