April 2, 2019
There's probably many a beer lover that has dreamed of having their own brewery. But what is it that drives someone from home brewing, to building a professional brewery?
"I never met a beer I didn't like!" exclaims Neil Herbst, owner of Alley Kat Brewing Company, "And I wanted to experiment with and taste more than what I could get in Alberta back in the day."
Herbst was an avid home brewer, but when an opportunity came up to build Alley Kat, the fourth oldest brewery in the province, he, a partner, and his family jumped at it.
“I think the thing I like about beer when I get right down to it, is the variety of beer. There are just so many different kinds of beer, different styles and then beyond that each brewery puts its own spin on its own beers. Everybody uses different ingredients, slightly different malts, different hop suppliers, different hop varieties, so the same styles brewed at different breweries are going to taste different. So I think that's very exciting, it just gives such a breadth to beer.
Alley Kat beer was definitely among the first 'local' beers many Albertans would have sipped if they were drinking something other than big brewery beer back before the liquor laws changed in the province, permitting an explosion of growth over the last few years. Today there are dozens of small local breweries, but Alley Kat has been around since the beginning. Alley Kat Aprikat, Main Squeeze Grapefruit Ale, Dragon Double IPA, and Old Deuteronomy Barley Wine are all available at Co-op Wine Spirits Beer, along with seasonal releases and Variety Packs.
"We produce the equivalent of 3 million bottles annually. We always try to use local ingredients where we can, so we're using Alberta malts, Edmonton has great water, so we're brewing with that. We've always made sure that our beers are consistent, and we've always been very concerned about the quality of our beers. I think we were one of the first small breweries in the province to actually have a lab and a quality control program. So I think that's what primarily sets us apart. That, and our beers are always solid, always very drinkable.”
Herbst has seen a lot of change since starting Alley Kat. The Alberta economy has expanded and contracted a couple of times, and Herbst himself has seen his own career shift from working a government desk job to now running one of the province’s most successful breweries.
“I think people are much more sophisticated in their beer tastes than they were when we started,” muses Herbst, “Back when we started, anything beyond a lager was considered pretty exotic. There wasn’t very much in the way dark beer or amber ale. Even import choices were slimmer. Since then, people are up for almost anything; we brought out a pale ale which at the time was considered kind of bitter. But if you look at how bitter some beer is now, and the sours that are on the market, it’s crazy how tastes have changed.”
If you haven’t ever tried Alley Kat’s beer, Herbst recommends starting with their popular flagship fruit beers, like Aprikat, or Main Squeeze.
Find Alley Kat beer at your local Co-op Wine Spirits Beer.
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