Four hours after I first arrive to chronicle the busy morning of Mark Kerrigan, brewer at the Wild Rose Brewery Taproom, he suggests one final photo to me.
“How about this?” Kerrigan asks. With that, he steps behind the counter, pulls down one of the taps, pours himself a glass of craft brew, and stares intently into the pint.
“The industry standard,” he calls it.
Kerrigan has been brewing at the taproom for 12 years, but he did not always see himself in such a role, getting into the business “accidentally”.
“My education is in English and History,” he says. “I got into brewing as a summer job working for Labatt in Ontario. I was doing that while I was doing my undergrad.”
Alvinston, Ont. born Kerrigan had at first wanted to become a teacher, but was “sick of classrooms” by the time his undergrad was complete. He returned to brewing after moving to Calgary, and never looked back.
“There wasn’t much back then,” he says of the brewery scene in the city at the time.
“There was Big Rock, there was Wildwood, and Wild Rose ... Big Rock hung up on me, and Wild Rose hired me over the phone.”
It is difficult to pin down exactly what a day in the life for Kerrigan looks like, as there is a different answer depending on when you visit the taproom.
“I don’t really have a typical day,” says Kerrigan. “At this facility, it’s just me most of the time ... it’s kind of all over the place.”
For Kerrigan, his various duties include all brewing, fermenting, filtration and packaging, as well as maintenance, administration and aspects of promotion. The taproom location accounts for only five per cent of Wild Rose’s production, which is why Kerrigan appears to be on his own.
“The bigger you get, the less nimble you are,” he explains. “Our facility over in the southeast now, our big production brewery, it’s good for making a lot of beer, but sometimes you don’t really want to make a lot of beer at a time.”
Kerrigan is referring to Wild Rose’s main location in Foothills Industrial Park, where the bulk of the brewing takes place. After moving, Wild Rose continued to operate the Currie Barracks microbrewery, which is run out of a WWII-era hangar called AF23.
“Sometimes you only want to make two thousand litres of a really special batch, so we do stuff like that here ... it usually involves using some microorganisms that are very aggressive ... so it’s good to keep that out of your big facility.”
Despite the expansion, Wild Rose remains, by the standards of the market, a relatively small organization.
“One of the biggest misconceptions people have about us is they think we’re a lot bigger than we are,” says Kerrigan.
“We are one of the biggest of the small breweries, but we’re still not that big. We have a very good marketing department that’s really good at getting our brand out there, but we’re still only about one per cent of the Alberta market. We are not this giant monolith that people think we are.”
Since its founding in 1996, Kerrigan says the brewery has aged to a point where it can be more perfectionist.
“We’ve made all of our mistakes. We’ve had 20 years to make all our mistakes and learn from them. We’ve sunk a lot of money into quality control and quality assurance, money that smaller breweries probably can’t afford when they’re just starting up.”
All in all, according to Kerrigan, the future seems bright while confined to Alberta, at least for now.
“The sky’s the limit ...There’s so much growth potential here that we’re not even concerned with trying to get into other provinces or the States,” Kerrigan proclaims.
“We’re happy to stay local.”
- By Noel Harper