Southern Alberta is a long way from his hometown in southern Germany, but to Jochen Fahr, they’re not that different.
The rolling foothills and fields of grain have a familiar feel to Fahr, who became so taken by the vistas that he decided to stay after coming to Calgary on an academic exchange in 2008.
Life in Calgary has been good to Fahr, who married his sweetheart, Heather, in 2013, and recently celebrated the birth of their son, Max.
But there has always been one thing missing.
“When I came out here, I didn’t really find any beer that reminded me of home,” he says.
For several years, Fahr satisfied his craving by doing what many beer lovers do: he made his own, focusing on traditional styles from his homeland. Over time, as Fahr honed his craft and racked up awards at homebrew competitions, the hobby grew into a dream of owning his own brewery.
Fahr’s entrepreneurial dream got a kickstart, as many do, when he lost his job in the biotech field a year ago. He incorporated Brauerei Fahr, devised a business plan and began recruiting investors for a planned craft brewery in Turner Valley, a picturesque town of 2,500 nestled in the foothills southwest of Calgary.
The plant in Turner Valley is still in the planning stage, but Brauerei Fahr is days away from releasing its first beer: Fahr Away Hefeweizen, an unfiltered wheat ale made via a contract brewing arrangement with Calgary’s Tool Shed Brewing. The beer – a home brewed version – took gold in Calgary’s Cowtown Yeast Wranglers Homebrew Roundup 2016 competition in the German Wheat and Rye Beer section.
“I’m excited, for sure, and nervous because this is the first time this recipe is being scaled up,” he says.
Fahr predicts a lot of “learnings and swear words” before that first batch arrives on tap at establishments around Calgary in mid-March, but he’s in good hands: Tool Shed’s founders, Jeff Orr and Graham Sherman, were former homebrewers who turned pro in 2013. They know a thing or two about scaling up a homebrew recipe.
While fans appreciate the creativity that goes into making a unique or flavourful beer, many don’t realize the precision that goes into it — zymurgy is an art, but it’s also a science. Fahr may be a newcomer to the craft beer industry, but with a long background in engineering and a PhD in biomedical engineering, he knows this well.
“If you have a flawed process, you get a lower quality beer,” he says.
Fahr is aiming to build his business on attention to detail and a respect for brewing tradition with the slogan “Traditional German beers strictly brewed in Alberta” — a mantra meant to play up his adherence to the Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law of 1516.
“Use a minimum of ingredients, but have a clear and defined process. No shortcuts,” Fahr says. “That’s a point of distinction.”
Growing up in the village of Ebringen, where the nearby Furtsenberg Brewery has produced pilsners and hefeweizens for centuries, it’s easy to see why Fahr is so passionate about traditional styles. But will others share his enthusiasm? One downside of craft beer’s growing popularity is an increase in snobbery that has come with it: there’s a vocal contingent that celebrates only big and edgy beers and derides breweries that make approachable styles for “playing it safe.”
Hoppy IPAs still have a dominant place in the craft beer market and sours are currently all the rage, but Fahr believes beers that are well-made, drinkable and refreshing will never fall out of fashion with craft enthusiasts.
“They’re balanced beers that aren’t outrageous and appeal to a lot of people,” he says, adding their accessibility also makes them attractive gateway beers to BMC (Bud-Miller-Coors) drinkers seeking to branch out and try something local.
And “local” is also a strong selling point. With the exception of a few styles that age well, beer is better fresh. Fahr wisely avoids comparing his hefeweizen with world-class examples of the style like Weihenstephaner, but he’s comfortable saying many German hefes aren’t at their best by the time they reach Alberta.
“Fresh beer makes a difference — especially for that style,” he says, saying many of the imports lose the banana and clove characteristics that hefeweizens are most known for.
Fahr’s plan involves building on the success of Fahr Away Hefeweizen to earn revenue and attract additional investment that will fund his Turner Valley brewery and help bring two additional beers into production: A Little Too Fahr Pilsner and Old Fahrt Altbier.
Having a brewery of his own would allow Fahr to begin bottling his beers and open a taproom to visitors. While Turner Valley’s resemblance to Ebringen makes it a sentimental choice for him, Fahr says the town’s entrepreneurial spirit and economic potential are its biggest selling points: the Eau Claire Distillery has become a popular destination since opening in 2014 and municipal officials seem keen to encourage other businesses that will lure visitors.
“The town has been awesome,” Fahr says.
Fahr’s approach to growth is incremental, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have ambitious plans. One day, he’d like to establish an apprenticeship program at his brewery. In Germany, many local breweries are closely tied to their community and Fahr would like to replicate the tradition in Turner Valley, paying to put students through the brewmaster program at Olds College and employing them at the brewery.
“That, to me, is how a company can give back to the community,” he says.
Fahr Away Hefeweizen will be available on tap at selected spots around town, including the National Beer Hall locations, LDV Pizza Bar in Bridgeland, the Point & Feather pub in Oakridge, Charcut and 1600 Bier Haus at Glenmore Landing, which will also host a launch party on Friday, March 18.
Fahr is also planning a party on April 23 — the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot. To mark the occasion, Fahr teamed up with Wild Rose Brewery to make that most traditional of German spring beers, a maibock. They’ll launch their collaboration brew with a party at Bottlescrew Bill’s Pub on the 23rd.