Homebrewers give in to Cabin fever, get set to launch new brewing company and taproom

(This is the third of a four-part series on award-winning homebrewers going pro. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

To an outsider, a brewing competition is profoundly boring. Banquet tables and folding chairs are inhabited by 10 or 12 certified judges who pummel their taste buds for hours attempting to discern subtle nuances across a wide variety of beer styles.

In essence, competitions serve one main purpose: to assist homebrewers in the quest to improve, including confirmation that the beer is great, or so-so, or terrible and useful notes on potential areas of improvement. A side benefit, for judges, is deep experience in identifying the good from the bad. If you wish to go pro, this extends to determining if your beer is truly exceptional on a commercial scale once you have begun brewing in that arena.

Each of the partners of Cabin Brewing have years of experience running competitions, judging beers (all are BJCP certified), and competing while members of the Cowtown Yeast Wranglers club. In the year the Yeast Wranglers dominated the national competitions, 2016, Darrin Sayers finished fourth in Canada in the “Best of Show” rankings and Jonas Hurtig finished 11th overall in total points.

They also bring other important experiences to the partnership: Jonas has commercial brewing experience from nearly four years at Wild Rose; Darrin is the resident operations guru derived from years of figuring things out as a car mechanic; and Haydon Dewes, the third partner, adds communications and marketing savvy. You may recognize his name from appearances on the CBC Eyeopener as their beer expert and running The Daily Beer online blog.

Together, they have created Cabin Brewing, a new brewery that will open soon in Calgary’s expanding Barley Belt in the Manchester industrial area.

“I guess it was a mid-life crisis,” says Dewes. “I got to 40. I realized I would have to work for another 25 years. It was like, ‘What am I going to do?’ I was a newspaper journalist and I loved that job. But, there is no future in it. I didn’t think my soul could sustain another 25 years. I was doing my studies to become a Cicerone. I was a certified beer judge. And, I thought, ‘Maybe I can make this happen.’ Having two young kids changed my perspective. It’s like building a legacy for our kids as well.”

Each of the partners admits to seeking out a new career, which, fuelled by their passion for beer, made the list of options rather short.

Great, but everyone is starting a brewery, or so it seems. What is different about Cabin?

“We’ve made a concerted effort from months ago to get our brand out there. We’ve had people approach us saying, ‘How do we get your beer on tap?’ Well, we aren’t even open! The next step will be to make sure the product is good. We’ve got work to do to get it out there. Calgarians are getting better at knowing what they want and asking for the beer they like,” explains Dewes.

The “Cabin” extends to their 45-seat taproom which will have a distinctive, rustic, woodsy vibe. With a vaguely Scandinavian look, the whitewashed woods will blend industrial and cozy, bright and airy, with creative touches such as stumps repurposed as seating. “Taprooms have developed. It needs to feel like you a going to a proper place,” notes Dewes.

“For me, I prefer going to taprooms instead of going to a liquor store to buy beer. You can get the beer at the place it’s made, so you know it’s going to be fresh. And, to bring people back, you need to have a place that is cozy, that people want to come back to a second time,” adds Hurtig.

And, what will be on tap?

Hurtig says, “We all love our hops, so we are going to be fairly hop-focused. The core beers, out of the gate will be a pale ale and an IPA, both west coast-style. The pale ale is a recipe I’ve brewed probably 50 times and entered in competition. The IPA will be dry, aromatic, but not over-the-top bitter, 6.5-7 per cent. Then, we will do a model similar to Annex Ales with a lot of one-offs.”

Breweries the three partners look up to include hop-centric producers like Modern Times (San Diego, CA), Bale Breaker (Yakima, WA), and Annex Ale Project (Calgary). However, Cabin isn’t the first new brewery to emphasize on hops. Hoppy beer demands not just freshness, but a solid business plan to succeed.

“The taproom is focus number one,” explains Dewes. “And, then we will focus on Calgary for at least the first couple of years. We want to be close to the beer. We are hop-centric. We want it to be fresh. So, we are already talking to the liquor stores, growler bars. We will be canning straight away. The first batches will come to the taproom. We set it up so that, if this taproom is busy, not even crazy busy, it can sustain us and pay the bills. We want to get people in here and drink. Quality. That’s a key thing. That is why we have someone who can actually brew the beer. As you get more beer on the market, and as people become more savvy, they start to figure out what is good and what isn’t.”

But, is the career change working out so far?

Hurtig points out, “Mostly it all comes down to passion. Beer making is a great combination of art and science. There are always new things to learn, so it never gets boring. It’s like a chef, you can always be creating. I think it would be hard to get bored doing this.”

Cabin Brewing Company expect to open their taproom in mid-December. Find them at 505 36 Ave. S.E. Watch their Social Media feeds for more details when they are close to opening.

(Photo courtesy Katherine Hurtig at

Jay Nelson is a beer geek, not snob, who has written for a small number of mostly forgotten publications, in a wildly erratic manner, since being named the editorial editor of his high school newspaper. He is a non-award winning homebrewer and a non-BJCP certified judge, although he aspires to both.