So you want so open a family business. How about a brewery! Well in 2016 after a few years of planning that's what Chris Heier did and Half Hitch Brewing Company became a reality. Now as brewery operations manager he is doing a bit of everything around the brewery and finding time to show us around too.
The Business of brewing
We caught Chris in the middle of his hop additions when we got to Half Hitch. Which shows he is for sure a hands on guy ' the business, admin, sale, marketing that's the hardest part' he explains about running a brewery. I love the brewing part after you understand the process its actually fairly relaxing. They most rewarding thing for Heier is being able to share his craft beer passion with the local community by taking part in local events and meeting people who come to eat and drink at the brewery.
All In Brewing
Looking around the brewery there is something missing, so I ask ' where is your pilot system?'. 'We don't have one, go big or go home' Chris says as he switches valves and turns handle to send the wort into the fermenters. Now, I know with the advent of beer software you can be pretty close to the beer you want to make first time but still this seems a pretty ballsy way to make beer, and I kind of like it, that all in brewing attitude.
To the beers, as usual I went for a flight and here's what I came up with.
Pony Up Session Ale: Great session beer, light, crisp with medium citrusy flavor and hoppiness. Good lingering balance of citrus and hops.
Mama's Apple Pie: Does exactly what is say on the label, malty green apples, light cinnamon almost like a sour cider. Very Interesting.
Fire and Fury Red Ale: A medium caramel flavor beer with a fruity malty smell and a sweet crisp finish .
Shotgun Wedding: Smells like coffee and tastes like chocolate with a full mouth nutty flavor and a slight linger of hops.
Trying New Things
Now with the release of their Outlaw Cascadian Dark Ale as their first hop oil infused beer, Half Hitch is making the transition to using hop oil in their beer to replace dry hopping. Chris says they are always on the look out for new things to make their beer more interesting and inspire them to develop new products. They are already talking about adding another brewing facility and additional restaurant location plus Chris has hinted at his dream to open a Half Hitch Brew pub in Japan. Whatever is next for Half Hitch it seems like they are heading in the right direction with good beer and great food. Their first year is looking like a success and they are on track for many more.
In 2010 the door to Banff Avenue Brewing Company swung open. Now 7 years later, pulling up a chair with space cowboy playing in the background the relaxed mountain town vibe is definitely part of this brewpubs DNA.
Brewing Like A Chess Game
You may think that having a craft brewery in the heart of a town like Banff would make it easy to keep on top of the beer curve but Head brewer Miranda Batterink says its the hardest thing about managing the Banff Ave'sbrewery. Having such a fluctuation of people with different season. Trying to anticipate what is going to be needed three or four weeks down stream and brewing accordingly. However at the same time this turnover brings a little down time to be able to come up with new and interesting recipes and put them into practice which Batterink says is on of the more exciting things around the brew house.
Tuns Out, Guns Out
Stepping into the brewery you could be mistaken in thinking that with the amount of beer and choice Banff Ave Brewing offer they must have an off site facility for extra volume. This couldn't be further from the truth. A Malting room built in a corridor, tightly squeezed tanks and a Manual 2 at a time bottler this is a compact brewery. Also looking into the mash tun I realize there's no stirring mechanism, at which point Miranda pumps up her guns and shows me the canoe paddle she uses to stir her mash on their three brew days a week. When I say lots of time, love and sweat goes into making the beer here it's no joke.
Now to the beer, my six taster flight includes Banff Ave Blonde Ale, Lower Bankhead Black Pilsner, Head Samashed IPA, Pond Hockey Pale Ale, Plaid Goat Red Ale and Brewers Oar ESB. My top four in no particular order came out like this:
Lower Bankhead Black Pilsner - Malty sweet smell, easy drinking full mouth flavor of light caramel and malt.
Head Smashed IPA - Crisp with a balance of citrus and bitterness. Great flavor with lingering hoppy goodness
Plaid Goat Red Ale - Nice balance of sweetness and hoppy bitterness with some good maltness thrown in for good measure
Brewers Oar ESB - Cream and lightly malty this is a perfect bridge between light summer ales and a winter stout. Definitely pretty much my favorite one so far and a perfect fall beer.
Winter Is Coming
With winter on its way, Banff Ave Brewing are in full gear for their winter selection and even experimenting with a few things yet to come, including a new collaboration with local ski hill Mount Norquay . Miranda says she has her fridge stocked with heavy winter ales from Canmore Brewing, Persephone Brewing and Oast House to get in the winter spirit but I think i'm going to be taking away to Reverand Rundle Stout from right here at Banff Ave to add to my winter warmers. With Smooth and creamy lip licking mouth feels and the hint of smoke combined with coffee and chocolate its going definitely to be a good start to a snowy winter.