Edmonton

'The Beast' no match for yeast: Fort McMurray brew pub thrives through month-long displacement

Spike Baker was making a batch of India Pale Ale at Wood Buffalo Brewing in downtown Fort McMurray when the wildfire forced an evacuation of the city. But now the brewery and the pub are back in business.

”If it had taken any longer to get us up and running we would have been completely out.“

Spike Baker checks on a batch of beer of Wood Buffalo Brewing Company in Fort McMurray. (Wood Buffalo Brewing Co.)

Spike Baker was making a batch of India Pale Ale at Wood Buffalo Brewing in downtown Fort McMurray on May 3 when a wildfire forced an evacuation of the city.

Baker, the head brewer, didn't know what would be left of the beer or the business, especially after the month-long mandatory evacuation kept him away. Extra kegs stored south of Fort McMurray kept the company in business while they couldn't brew any beer.

"Luckily we had a surplus in the Edmonton warehouse. To be able to supply some accounts to get them through the month," said Baker. "If it had taken any longer to get us up and running we would have been completely out. So it kind of worked out in the end."

The beer is flowing again at Wood Buffalo Brewing but for now Alberta brewers are helping fill the taps for free. (Wood Buffalo Brewing Co.)

The brew pub received plenty of support from their micro-brewing competitors. Fernie, a brewery out of British Columbia, offered to send beer to their hotel after the evacuation. Edmonton bars asked for more Wood Buffalo kegs.

When the pub re-opened last weekend, two weeks after the return of residents, Wood Buffalo Brewing didn't have any of its own beer to put through the taps.

So their fellow Alberta craft brewers and competitors stepped up to help. Brewsters, Village, Big Rock, Alley Kat, Tool Shed, Yellowhead, and Wild Rose Brewery donated beer to help out. 

"We're turning the proceeds to the Fort McMurray fire fighter relief fund," said Baker. 

Before the fire, Wood Buffalo was brewing less beer because the low price of oil sent fewer customers through the door. But now business has picked up. 

Fort McMurray business owners have struggled to get enough employees back to work but Wood Buffalo Brewing might be the exception. Right now beer and food are in demand and the brew pub is going to ride the wave of success.

A commemorative beer and whisky are in the works. The beer will be a collaboration with the Fort McMurray Fire Department to raise money for charity.

After a month-long displacement from brewing beer in Fort McMurray, Spike Baker is at it again. (Wood Buffalo Brewing Co.)

Their locally made beer is expected to be ready by next week, giving residents another way to support a local business through the rebuild. For Baker, it's an exciting time. 

"I'm just happy to be back brewing beer for the community and making people happy," he said. 

Travis.Mcewan@cbc.ca

@Travismcewancbc