Thursday, July 25, 2013

Prairie Sun Brewery, Saskatoon

“I’m from Colorado, the craft beer capital,” says Heather Williams. “In the United States, everyone knows what craft beer is, and three new breweries are opening every day of the week. Every block has its own brewery – small neighbourhood pubs, just like it was before the Prohibition.”

Heather’s partner, Cameron Ewen, can attest to Canadians’ lack of knowledge about craft beer. “When I started working at Paddock Wood Brewing four years ago, I thought that all beers tasted the same,” Cameron says. “I tasted Paddock Wood’s beer and thought, ‘Wow! This is so good!’ I got hit by the beer bug: I was making beer all day long and reading about it on my lunch hour.”

Cameron worked his way up from washing floors to head brewer at Paddock Wood. Heather was working there as well. “We saw how much fun it was to make beer,” says Heather. “It became our thing, and we believe there’s a huge market for it, so we decided to open our own craft brewery.”

Cameron will be the brewmaster, while Heather will look after administration.

The Location
Prairie Sun Brewery, Heather and Cameron’s micro brewery, is being set up at 2020 Quebec Avenue, where Saskatoon Bakery used to be located. The facility still contained the old baking equipment, so they asked around and ended up partnering with Carmen and Keith of Three Sisters/Nestor’s Bakery.

“It’s a good partnership,” Cameron says. “They have been in business a bit longer than us, and it gives us an opportunity to pair food and drink.”

The Beer
Prairie Sun will have four tanks – three tanks for their standard beers and one for a seasonal beer that will change every month.

Cameron has chosen beers that are suited to Saskatoon’s water. “Saskatoon’s water has a high Ph,” he says. “It wreaks havoc with really hoppy beers.” Instead, Cameron and Heather have chosen to make wheat beers. “Nobody was doing that around here,” Heather explains, “and we love them. They’re very refreshing.”

Saskatoon water is similar to the water in northern France and southern Belgium. Crazy Farm beer will be a Saison beer, a Belgian farmhouse ale. “It will have a bit of spice and have some body and complexity,” Cameron says.

They’ll also be making a banana and clove-style German wheat beer and a European-style lager called Prairie Lily that will be a little more hoppy and complex than the typical lager.

The seasonal beers may not have a long run. “We want it to be exciting,” Heather says. “We may just let people know that we have one keg only for sampling at the brewery on a Friday.”

The Local Connection 
Cameron and Heather recognize that they cannot compete with the big breweries in terms of scale or finances. Their advantage is that they are local and can tailor their product to their home community.

They will be using local products and local companies as much as possible. The wheat and barley will be grown locally, and they’ll be obtaining spices from the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Even the glassware has been sourced locally, and they’ve had fun working with the local artists who have created their beer labels.

The Experience
For Heather and Cameron, craft beer is all about the experience. They aren’t interested in bulk production as they want to interact with their customers. They plan to focus on the Saskatoon market as they believe that beer should be fresh and local. “They used to say that beer shouldn’t be drunk further than a day’s horse wagon trip from the brewery,” Cameron says. “Beer is perishable. It must be kept cold, and you shouldn’t shake it.”

Prairie Sun hopes that their beer will never be more than a week old and, if there are any problems, they’ll be able to replace it immediately.

Growlers and bottles of beer will be available at the brewery, and their beer will be on tap at various local pubs and bistros that emphasize the quality of their food.

The Party 
Prairie Sun and Three Sisters Bakery plan to create an artisanal marketplace with fresh bread and local meat to accompany the beer. They hope that people will eventually be able to drop by and taste the beer, fill up their growler and have a bite to eat.

Heather and Cameron also hope to establish an annual Oktoberfest on the large lot behind the brewery/bakery. There will be bands, beer, food, and maybe a Brewer’s Olympics (How fast can you put your equipment together or roll a keg of beer? How many perogies can you eat?).

Heather and Cameron are clearly in love with craft beer and want to share their passion with all of us in Saskatoon. Be sure to take advantage of one of their tastings or events to find out more about craft beer. It’s guaranteed to be fun.

Prairie Sun hopes to have beer available for the September long weekend. You can follow their progress on Facebook.

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