Good beer, good memories not a gimmick at Calgary craft brewery Revival Brewcade

As the number of craft breweries in town pushes past 30, and approaches 40, something has to differentiate them from one another. Something, possibly, beyond beer. There will always be the breweries that make the “best” beer — those that become destinations for the ubergeeks. For the non-beer geeks, those who just like to drink local and enjoy the burgeoning scene, it is other important characteristics. There are those breweries that serve in a happening room. There are those that are on top of their marketing game making the product a little more enticing. But, the strike zone of differentiation, is on the small side and it doesn’t seem to be expanding.

Revival Brewcade has entered the fray relatively recently. On paper, it certainly looks like a winner. Cool neighborhood? Check. Fresh beer? Check. Vintage arcade games? Wait, what? A new gimmick? But, is it really a gimmick?

As President, James Dobbin explains, “People come in and say, ‘Oh, that’s your gimmick.’ Well, it’s not a gimmick to us. We both (James and partner, Jamie Archibald, the brewer) love what we are doing. We are bringing back something that is part of the culture. We wanted to bring an authentic experience to people seeking full-flavoured craft beer and retro arcades.”

The idea came to the pair as they reconnected (both grew up in Nova Scotia and met in the ’90s Halifax DJ scene) and discussed future plans. “We sat down one day, I think at the Hose and Hound. Jamie wanted to brew commercially, and I wanted to do the arcade, ‘So why don’t we do this together? That makes sense. Let’s do that!’ ”

James had a background in retail and entrepreneurship including the Gummi Boutique candy stores. “You mature as a person. And, retail is on its way out. I’m now doing candy for adults. I saw retail suffering because of Amazon, property taxes, and payroll.”

Jamie was looking for a career change from engineering. “I got into homebrewing in 2008/2009. If you look at the craft beer scene, there are a lot of engineers. It’s process. It’s science. It’s creating something and, at the end, you get to drink beer!”

And, how did these ideas become the building blocks of the company? James explains, “For me it was the arcade bar when I was traveling. It was cool. You could play pinball and drink a beer at the same time. There is one in Chicago that I really loved. It just felt authentic. The people that worked there really loved it. These guys were like, ‘We love these machines. We collect them. We know how to fix them.’ Me and Jamie have worked on a lot of the machines upstairs to keep them up and running. (Jamie) taught me how to solder.”

Adds Jamie, “We want to create an experience, not just beer. I go to a lot of different breweries and the ones I remember are the ones that are the most unique experiences. Like Storm Brewing in Vancouver. It’s purpose-built, DIY. It’s one of the top-rated breweries in Vancouver and it’s a crazy spot to go to. When you go to a taproom, it’s neat to see something different.”

James and Jamie have created a unique space encompassing a four BBL, nano-brewery system in the basement of their historic building on Inglewood’s main street with their impressive collection of games on the main level. But it doesn’t end there. “We’ve created this menu of grilled cheese sandwiches which brings you back to your childhood. We have five grilled cheeses now and Jane Bond meats.” 

They also have regularly scheduled events which have included pop-up food and tap takeovers. “We did a pop-up restaurant with Cruz Tacos. We did one with Jane Bond. The thing I love about this community is we are supporting local businesses and they are supporting us. The sour tap takeover was crazy. We did beer bingo, also crazy busy. Pinball tournaments. They’ve been awesome. If you do something that is relatively unique, people are interested,” says James. 

“If you want a beer, we can brew it tomorrow. With others, they have production schedules and maybe could brew it in six months,” adds Jamie.

“We wanted to keep it small,” James says. “We didn’t want to get into the distribution game. For me, I’m not a big fan of polish. We are a locally owned small business. It doesn’t need to be polished. We did the majority of this place ourselves and it speaks to our personalities.” 

He continues. “Calgary is a great city. We have a lot of cool people in the city. The difference between when I moved here 15 years ago and today is insane. We have amazing people that have contributed to the arts and culture. But there is a polished element that people really like. We’re not as polished because we’ve done this ourselves. Working two jobs. We really grinded to get this going ourselves. This is maybe a little bit of Halifax that we still have in us.” 

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.