VIDEO: Craft brewers tap rural roots

The Moen and Pederson families have been farming in the area around Cabri, Sask., for more than 100 years.

During that time, the two families have developed a bond — people who can be counted on to work together and lend a hand when it’s needed.

Based on that, it probably didn’t come as a complete surprise when entrepreneurs Shawn Moen and Garrett Pederson decided to take their family connection in another direction.

Moen and Pederson are co-founders and executives at Nine Mile Legacy Brewing Company, a craft brewery located in downtown Saskatoon.

The two chose the company name to pay tribute to their families’ mutual history in the Cabri area.

The Moen and Pederson families homesteaded nine miles apart and have always maintained close ties, even back in the early 1900s when nine miles was a long way to travel by horse and wagon.

“Everybody’s got neighbours in this province … and you choose to work with your best neighbours — the people you can rely on if you’ve got a sick dog or if you need an extra set of hands to move a bin into place or what have you,” said Moen.

“That’s really the backbone of Nine Mile Legacy Brewing,” he added. “We’re continuing a 100-year partnership and we’re trying to perpetuate those kind of small town values in the Saskatchewan brewing industry.”

Nine Mile Legacy is one of a handful of craft brewers that have set up shop in Saskatchewan over the past few years.

Moen, formerly a lawyer, and Pederson, formerly a lab manager, traded in stable careers with guaranteed incomes to join a fledgling industry with largely unknown potential.

It was a huge leap of faith, Moen acknowledged.

But it was also an appealing venture whose allure eventually proved too strong to ignore.

“We started home brewing together … over a decade ago and we just really fell in love with making beer,” said Moen during a recent interview in Nine Mile’s 20th Street tap room.

“The first batch we made was drinkable — we had a few that weren’t, as well — but it was enough to hook us and make us think we could do something with this.”

In 2013, the two business partners decided to take the plunge.

They quit their jobs and decided to gain some practical experience in the micro-brewing industry.

Moen travelled to New Zealand where he took a variety of positions with a pair of craft breweries in that country.

Pederson followed a similar path, taking a job with Townsite Brewing in Powell River, B.C.

“Essentially, what we were doing was pursuing a home-made MBA,” said Moen.

“We were doing everything from soup to nuts in a brewery… cleaning, delivering, working in a tap room, bottling and brewing. We came back to Saskatoon in 2014 and decided to start our brewery at that point.”

According to Moen, the learning curve for a start-up brewery can be steep.

But with three years behind them, Nine Mile Legacy is gaining momentum, thanks largely to its reputation for brewing high-quality, small-batch beers with local ingredients.

“Because we started small, I think we became known for a really well-made variety of beers,” Moen said.

“I think we brewed about 550 batches in that first year and a half, which is an obscene number compared to the rest of the industry … .

“Because we were so small, we had to keep brewing constantly, so that resulted in us brewing about 55 different styles of beers in our first 18 months or so.”

Since then, Nine Mile has expanded its capacity with the addition of new brewing equipment.

In its Saskatoon tap room, there are 10 different brews on offer, ranging from Belgian blondes and English mild ales to Australian-style IPAs and brown porters.

“As far as our brewing process is concerned, we have a fairly small brew house,” said Pederson, who oversees that company’s brewing operations.

“We make about 600 litres at a time, which is about half the capacity of most other micro-breweries in the province.”

“We always like to keep a variety of beers on tap,” he added.

“Our goal is to make sure we have something that appeals to everyone.”

About 90 percent of the barley used by Nine Mile is grown and malted in Saskatchewan.

Moen and Pederson agreed there are easier ways to make a living than opening a micro-brewery in Saskatchewan.

But their investments are driven by the belief that Saskatchewan consumers are eager to support home-grown companies.

“The reality with Saskatchewan is that it’s still a craft-brewing jurisdiction in the making,” said Moen.

“We’ve seen a boom in the last two to three years but we’re still pretty far behind other provinces in terms of concentration.”

“This is Pilsner country…. We just haven’t had a craft beer industry to any great extent over the years so people here just didn’t know about it.

“But I think there’s lots of potential … and there’s very few ways to add value to agricultural products that are as fun as craft brewing.”

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