It never grows old … hearing stories of how travel inspires. Whether it be newfound happiness, fresh perspectives on places or people, new or renewed passions, an influence in artsy or creative pursuits or even a career change; travel often has a knack for adding more than dimension to one’s life.
The most recent example of travel inspiring life change was evidenced when I visited the District Brewing Company (in Regina, Saskatchewan) during the day of their first open house.
The mood was relaxed as I entered the very familiar building where as a youth, I spent many hours mastering the discipline of gymnastics. What once was known as the big blue building on 8th avenue familiar to many, still carried the musty scent that I remembered.
The crowd inside all seemed to be having a great time, chit-chatting and taste-testing the brew. Folks came and went and several left with the bottles under their arms. I passed the time watching Jay Cooke, production manager and head brew master – flitting between giant steel containers, tinkering, spraying and doing ‘brew master type stuff.’
I sensed there was a good story behind what seemed to be an obvious passion so I chatted with Jay to learn how brewing beer became his calling. So when he shared that his motivation to open up Regina’s only production brewery (microbrewery) originated during time spent travelling abroad, I wasn’t really surprised. But as someone who could easily relate, I was very delighted.
Jay’s background in beer has been a long time in the making. After taking a brewing course during his time in University pursuing an Degree in Agriculture, he took off travelling for three years.
“I became enamored with the beer, wine and lifestyles found in European cities,” Jay shared. He noted that he loved the difference between the cultures (and drinks) of each place, even if they were only an hour apart.
“Belgium is unbelievable,” he stated, making referencing to the 150+ beers on tap. Upon reflection Jay compared his European beer experience with that of his home – remembering a time when having four or so beer choices on tap was a once reality.
His love affair with brewing also coincided with the craft beer movement that was happening in the U.S. (circa 2001). Once he made his decision to pursue his path, it was onto Chicago and Munich for more schooling – this time focused solely on beer production.
A self-proclaimed “nomadic brewer” Jay has been all over North America the past 10 years honing his brew master skills. He spent a couple of years at Paddock Wood in Saskatoon, one of Canada’s smallest breweries, only to move onto Labatts, Canada’s largest brewery, where he spent three years. Jay also spent just over five years gaining invaluable experience at breweries in South Carolina and Oregon.
Then it was time to come home.
It’s been a month and a half since Jay and his partner Byron Wiebe (who oversees marketing and business operations) opened the doors and business has been good. In fact, they started out with operations brewing at full capacity – 400 hecta liters a month! That’s a lot of beer. But as we know in this city/province there can always be more!
Rumor has it that last time Regina hosted the Grey Cup in 2003, the city actually ran out of beer? Wow.
The brewery’s sole product, Müs Knuckle seems to be well received by the Saskatchewan marketplace. A 5% version of a German style lager, Müs Knuckle is being offered throughout a number of Regina restaurants including: Beer Brothers, Lancaster Tap House, Birminghams Vodka & Ale House, Wild Sage Kitchen and Bar and Houston Pizza to name a few. On top of that the brew is available across the province and 90% of it is placed in Saskatchewan Liquor stores in 6 and 12 packs.
Plans for expansion and addition of a second brand are already top of mind for co-owners Jay and Byron. At the moment, the brewery is governed by three fermenters – the plan is to expand to nine!
Seeing home grown talent succeed is always heartwarming. Byron and Jay spent the last two years planning to get to the point where they could finally open their own production brewery. I have no doubts that under the helm of this passionate brewer, success will surely follow. Congrats you two!