It all started with a bunch of beer-loving friends, who happened to be talented homebrewers, and the home that they brewed in. After a decade of brewing in their house, deemed “The Establishment,” Mike, Dave, and Brandon always joked that their homebrewed beers were better than anything they could ever buy.
Eventually, they stopped joking, turned their hobby into a business plan, and “The Establishment Brewing Company” was born; opening their taproom in the Manchester Brewing District in Jan. 2019.
Fast Forward to 2021, this Calgary brewery has won both ‘Alberta Brewery of the Year’ AND ‘Canadian Brewery of the Year’ for 2021 and they couldn’t be more thrilled to grow and share their accomplishments with the city that helped start it all.
We sat down with this group of friends just days after their big wins to learn how they turned their love of brewing beers in their basement into one of the best breweries in the country.
What is the story behind The Establishment Brewing Company?
“The name ‘The Establishment’ is a nod to Mike’s old house in Erlton where we often gathered to try the latest homebrews. We referred to the place as The Establishment after a sign that was propped up in the window. It was Brandon who found The Establishment sign on a snowboarding road trip and propped it up in the window. Everyone agreed it suited the place and the name stuck.
It was also the place where, after the devastating flood in 2013, a gutted basement led to a new expanded home-brew system, complete with a yeast lab, and tipped a homebrewing hobby into obsession territory.
So, we’d all hang out and drink these amazing homebrewed beers that tasted better than anything we could buy, and half-joke about how we should just start our own brewery. And then it got real when Mike decided that he actually wanted to make a go of it. So we teamed up, got a business plan together, and made it happen.
The original Establishment has long since been demolished, but its memory lives on in our taproom where friends (old and new) are always welcome and great beer is always on tap.”
What makes The Establishment Brewing Co unique from other breweries in the city?
“We brew flavourful and highly drinkable beers, from barrel-aged sours to hop-forward ales, European lagers, and everything in between.
Our true love is barrel-aged wild beers, and we wanted to bring attention to this style and introduce people to the wide array of new flavours that this style can bring since it’s not a commonly brewed beer style in Alberta.
You’ll see when you walk into our space that we have almost 100 barrels surrounding the taproom and brewery. These barrels are full of wild and sour beer creations that can take anywhere from three months to three years to mature.
Our barrel-aged wild beer program is inspired by old-world techniques and new-world styles, using traditional methods of ageing beer that are great for developing sour beers in particular. Part of the uniqueness of the program is that we use our own wild yeast and bacterial cultures which have been developed and maintained over the years. The barrels provide a place for these microorganisms to thrive, while developing acidity and flavours unique to mixed fermentation beer. When mature, the beers are hand bottled and further conditioned for about 6 weeks in the bottle. We then work with an Alberta artist to develop an illustration for the label inspired by the beer concept.”
Why did you choose the Manchester Brewing District to open up your taproom?
“After many months of planning, building, and brewing, we opened our taproom in the Manchester Brewing District to the public on January 26, 2019. We chose this area because there was already a growing community of breweries creating a destination for beer in Calgary, and we were excited to get involved. The area is in close proximity to Calgary’s pathway network, a major traffic thoroughfare, and public transportation.”
How did your business fair during the pandemic?
“We feel pretty lucky that breweries were deemed an essential service early on, but we had to make some changes so that we could continue to operate and do our part to slow the spread. We have seen exceptional support for our products and business through all the ups and downs of the pandemic thus far.
We’ve always said we want to be part of the solution, not the problem. So our taproom is open for off-sales and dine-in service, and we are requiring all of our indoor and outdoor taproom guests to provide proof of at least one COVID-19 vaccination, or present negative COVID-19 test results when entering The Establishment. And we are asking all guests to continue to wear masks when moving around inside the taproom.
We were lucky enough to keep all of our staff employed; we really have a great team that pulled together to make the best out of the past 19 months. We’ve also seen a lot of support for buying local during this time and we’re grateful for that support.
The biggest learning for us was how to adapt in such a short time, and constantly trying to make decisions while not being able to see far into the future. How to throw all your plans out the window and be flexible and adjust to make the business work in a new reality.”
What makes your community special and how have they supported you?
“We like to think that beer is only as good as the friends you enjoy it with, and it’s been incredible to think that in less than 3 years, we’ve made some pretty great friends in our community. Our brewery would not have been possible without the support and passion of our community and craft beer enthusiasts. From our team that’s become more like a family at this point, to our fermented beverage neighbours, and our partners at locally-owned craft beer stores, restaurants, and bars to craft beer drinkers across the province.”
How would you describe Calgary’s small-business community?
“Creative, innovative, enthusiastic, hard-working, co-operative. Indomitable.”
How do you define the word “community”?
“Community is the people and businesses that we interact with on a daily basis. From customers to vendors to service providers, other businesses within our beverage industry, and those physically nearby in other industries.”
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