Kyle and Meleah Geeraert have a unique origin story.
The married couple are both born-and-raised Albertans and come from a long line of barley farmers – with Meleah’s family (Hilton) supplying husk to a variety of breweries across Alberta, the rest of Canada and the U.S. for several years. When it came time for Kyle and Meleah to begin helping with the Hiltons’ family business, Kyle suggested they start using the sought-after barley from Origin Farms to begin brewing their own unique suds.
“The Origin farm itself – a fifth-generation farm – is now harvesting solely to supply to breweries. We supply barley to 80 breweries across Alberta and B.C. and the U.S., as well as our own,” says Kyle, adding that Alberta has some of the best malt barley in the world.
The Geeraerts opened the doors to Origin Malting and Brewing Co. in 2017. The craft brewery was set up in Strathmore, a town of about 13,000 people that sits along the Trans-Canada Highway just 40 kilometres east of Calgary. Origin Malting and Brewing also opened a tap house in the town and has a wide selection of brews, including lagers, kettle sours, fruit beers, wheat ales and IPAs.
While the selection of beer recipes in stores and local pubs has grown significantly in recent years, so has the number of independent craft breweries in Alberta. In 2016, there were only about 50 small brewery licences issued by the province, and today there are more than 125 existing and pending licences, according to the Alberta Small Brewers Association (ASBA).
Several factors contributed to opening the spigot on the amount of beer being brewed in Alberta. In 2013, the province removed the minimum production requirement of 500,000 litres per year, while Alberta Culture and Tourism provided the ASBA with a $60,000 grant to develop the province’s local beer brand – and there’s also the high-quality malt barley that Origin’s Kyle emphasized.
Kimberley Worthington, executive director of Central Alberta Economic Partnership Ltd., says there’s a direct correlation between increased tourism in her region – one of the province’s regional economic development alliances that encompasses 35 communities in central Alberta – and an increased number of craft breweries.
“Economically, the influx of breweries across central Alberta ties right into tourism,” Worthington says. “Local and international tourists love to come experience what we have to offer. I think there’s a lot of room for a craft brewery route tour and I don’t see our market getting oversaturated anytime soon.”
“Look at what they’re doing in B.C. and places such as Kelowna with the wineries,” she adds. “There are so many wonderful options to choose from, which helps create a lot of traffic to the area.”
Sometimes international travellers end up doing more than sampling a few Alberta brews. German-born Jochen Fahr moved to Calgary to complete a PhD in biomedical engineering, but turned a home brewing hobby into a legitimate business when he established Brauerei Fahr in 2017. He set up the craft brewery in Turner Valley, a town of about 2,500 people just 60 kilometres southwest of Calgary.
As well as focusing on award-winning German-based brews, Fahr has also made it the company’s mission to be environmentally friendly and a community supporter. He is working with a local company to use the brewery’s wastewater, which is high in salt content, on special grass seed that is biochemically designed to thrive on saltwater. Leftover husk goes to local ranchers as cattle feed, and Fahr plans on lining the ceiling of the brewery in solar panels as soon as possible.
“I want to create a sustainable community project. I try to think of how I can help Turner Valley thrive and grow economically,” says Fahr. “You have to support people so that they can remain in their hometowns, so that there are industry and jobs.”