Julie Van Rosendaal visits Dandy Brewing Company in northeast Calgary
Home brewers dream up business — over beers, of course
Calgary teacher Ben Leon and local chef Dylan Nosal were skilled hobby home brewers.
But that all changed in December 2013, when the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) allowed Alberta breweries of any size to enter the market.
After looping in a few more pals — liquor retailer Matt Gaetz and chemist Derek Waghray — the group of friends decided to go pro.
- FOOD AND THE CITY | Rouge executive chef Jamie Harling on sourdough perfection
- FOOD AND THE CITY | Food trends to watch for in 2016
"We all went to the bar one night, and Ben said, 'I have this crazy idea: the AGLC just changed its laws, why don't we start a brewery?' " Gaetz said.
"So, we had more beers .. and by the end of the night, everyone thought it was a great idea."
In less than a year, that idea became reality. Between January and September 2014, the friends incorporated the Dandy name, signed a property lease, built their brewhouse, and had their first batch of beer on store shelves.
The company opened a small taproom in its brewery just 10 weeks ago.
Its eight taps offer a taste of the company's brews, including Dandy's Oyster Stout — a beer that pairs well with the saltwater clam, but isn't made with oysters.
The Dandy taproom also features its English Pale Ale, along with seasonal and special one-off beers.
Past limited edition brews include last summer's Bizarre Love Triangle, made from sour hibiscus. And The Julia was last fall's peach cobbler kettle sour, made with 90 pounds of Okanagan peaches seasoned with vanilla and cinnamon.
And let's not forget the snacks: Walker's Crisps, a ploughman's lunch supplied by the Peasant Cheese Company, Japanese bar-style grab bags, plus brittles and toffees from Canada Sweet Shop.
A true nano brewery, Dandy's small size is a bonus, allowing for more creativity and experimentation.
"Breweries are 90 per cent cleaning, 10 per cent paperwork, and somewhere, brewing falls in there," Leon joked on a recent tour.
The friends designed the Dandy brewhouse themselves, equipping it with tanks first used at other breweries, like Yukon Brewing in Whitehorse, and Calgary's Wild Rose Brewery.
"We make more exciting smaller batches when we don't have to commit to two thousand or four thousand litres — we can do four hundred litres and play with that," Leon said.
"If it tastes like garbage, it isn't that big a deal."
Dandy is also a 'direct fire' brewery. The kettles are heated from underneath, rather than using steam. It's a brewing technique more common in England and Scotland, Leon says.
"Sometimes it's tricky. But with things like our Scotch Ale, we can do things other breweries can't, like kettle caramelize. It gives it these rich caramel notes you can't get out of grain itself. It's really true to the style."
All of Dandy's ales are naturally carbonated in the bottle, keg or cask, making the carbonation unique to each brew.
"Part of the process of real ale is having naturally conditioned beer," Leon says.
"It really adds to the experience, the flavour and the quality. Since our batches aren't huge, it allows us to store the beer here and allow it to carbonate. Not everyone can do that."
This past year, Dandy grew from four to 12 tanks.
Last month, the company acquired a new bottling machine, so they no longer have to fill, cap and label each bottle by hand.
In stores, on menus, in-house
Dandy beers are now sold in 130 stores across the province, and can also be found on the menus of Calgary restaurants like Anju, CHARCUT, charbar, Workshop and Proof.
They can also be purchased by the bottle or growler (airtight jugs used for transporting beer) from the Dandy brewery in the northeast Calgary neighbourhood of Vista Heights.
This past week, the four friends finally hung their sign, launched a snazzy website, and are inviting Calgarians in for a taste.