Opened in April 2018, New Level Brewing Co. has quickly built a reputation for breaking the mould and creating some of the most unique and progressive beers in Calgary.
We sat down with President Drew Ross to learn more about how they got started, the surprising story behind the name New Level, and the scary bus crash which led to one of the most memorable brewery experiences they've ever encountered!
founded: 2017 (Calgary, Alberta)
opened: April 22, 2018
# of founding partners: 6
Brewing capacity: 30-40 Hecs
Welcome to the blog Drew, it's a pleasure to speak with you today, let's dive in...
What was the first ever beer you shared with your dad? Do you remember any special advice (life or otherwise) he gave you while sharing this experience?
Hmmmm. I don’t remember my first beer with my Dad, but I do remember a time when my Mom was away, so my Dad and I went out and bought a huge number of beers. This was way before craft, but he picked up some Trappist beers, and some Quebec beers (Maudite, La Fin du Monde) – awesome stuff like that.
I remember being blown away by the intense flavours. He also picked up Colt 45 having no idea what it was, just wanting to try something new. We both agreed it was terrible. Pretty funny to think of him buying that.
Great story! We certainly agree regarding Colt 45.
Do you have any kids of your own? If so, what will you share with them as their first beer?
I have a three year old son and a three month old daughter. I’m hoping they like stouts and IPAs as much as I do, but honestly I’ll be thrilled to share anything with them. Maybe it can be a beer that we brew together.
My little nephew actually has a thing for hops; he will seriously grab IPA cans when you aren’t looking and take sips. Like big, double IPAs--he loves it. Even asks for it. I have big dreams for that boy.
Sounds like he's destined to follow in your footsteps!
Jumping back a few years, before deciding to open the brewery, what line of work were you in and what made you switch careers?
I was in academia. I finished my PhD and felt pretty burnt out. I was doing a little contract work and some online teaching, but was having trouble finding permanent work. Around that time, I was trying to come up with a plan for a new career and I saw an ad for the Brewmaster program at Olds College. So, I applied, was accepted and the rest is history.
The Old College program is certainly one of the best ways to break into the craft beer industry.
How about the brewery's name, what's the story behind it?
When I was living in Kingston, I was out having coffee on a patio and I called my brother James just to catch up. We started talking about different metal albums that had come out that year; what we liked, what we thought was whack.
While we were talking, I noticed this sort of rough looking dude on a BMX bike eavesdropping. After I hung up the phone, he said “Hey man! Pantera: A New Level! Greatest metal song ever!”. Then, he actually started playing A New Level on this boombox attached to his bike as he rode away. That just always stuck in my head, I thought it was so funny.
Anyway, we ended up choosing New Level as our name, partly in honour of our love of metal music, but also because it’s indicative of our general approach to brewing.
Our mission is to push style boundaries and to always be working on stepping our game up. Obviously, the practice of brewing goes way, way back, but what’s so cool about it to me is that brewers can still do new, exciting things.
You guys are definitely known for pushing the boundaries. Speaking of which, in your opinion, what’s the next big trend in Alberta’s craft beer scene? Are there any particular beer styles you feel we are currently lacking here in Calgary & Alberta?
Hazy IPA's and Milkshake IPA's are becoming a bigger thing and I love that. When we make Wizard’s Revenge it’s gone super fast.
I’d like to see more fun pastry-dessert stouts because I love drinking them. Something over the top. We did Devoured by Donuts for our taproom which was pretty popular. We’re still seeing if we can scale it up. Would love to partner up with craft donut shop for that one.
I can't believe we missed Devoured by Donuts! We'll have to grab some on the next batch.
On that note, if someone were to visit Calgary for their first time, has never tried a craft beer, and you know they will always remember the very first craft beer they ever tasted, what would you serve them first?
Our Berserker Blonde. We designed that beer to appeal to everybody; it’s approachable enough for the newbie and has enough mouthfeel and flavour for the hardcore beer nerd. We’ve worked a few events where we inevitably get people who claim that they hate craft beer. Well, they don’t hate Berserker--they usually get two.
We're big fans of Berserker, couldn't agree more. With that said, do you remember having your first ever craft beer? Was it simply experimental or did someone introduce you to it?
Well, I’d tried the Trappist beers and stuff like that when I was younger. But probably my first North American craft beer was when I visited Seattle with my Mom and had stuff like Ninkasi’s Tricerahops. After that I was on a mission.
Interesting, I don't think we've tried the Tricerahops.
How about Alberta, what are your top 3 favourite craft beers in the province right now?
There’s a lot of impressive stuff out there, so that’s a tough one. My favorite beer is usually whatever I have in my hand at the moment. I will say though, that I love anything that Blindman and Bench Creek puts out. Very intense, yet very balanced. That’s hard to do.
Absolutely, Blindman and Bench Creek are on top of their game.
As for New Level, is there anything special or unique you’d like people to know about your beers? For example, is there something uncommon you’re doing, or a local ingredient you’re using which no one else is?
For Wizard’s Revenge, we aren’t using a syrup; instead we use a fruite puree. This makes it a more difficult product to keep consistent, but we feel it’s worth it.
Most syrups taste too artificial and throw off the balance of the beer. With the puree it tastes more like an IPA than a cooler, which is always a good thing.
You mentioned the importance of consistency. Running a brewery isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. What’s one surprising hurdle you overcame of which most visitors don’t realize when they walk through your door?
We overcame some nasty surprises during our buildout. I won’t go into details. Let’s just say we are thankful to be making beer now and very thankful to the supporters who waited for us so patiently.
Sounds like building a brewery can lead to many sleepless nights! On that note, if you could give one piece of advice for anyone aspiring to open their own brewery, what would it be?
Try to get some experience in a commercial brewery. Even if it’s just packaging or cleaning the floors--there are no unimportant jobs in a brewery. Working with steam and strong chemicals can be dangerous, so it’s important to learn from people with extensive experience.
Switching gears a bit. What’s the most memorable brewery you’ve ever visited? – it can be anywhere in the world. Who were you with and what made it so special?
Our first year in Olds College, we took a bus trip down to Yakima to visit breweries and hop farms. We ended up being in a bus crash on our way to Bale Breaker. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured, but the bus and the SUV it hit were totaled. It was horrible and totally unexpected.
Hours later, we went to Bale Breaker and I ordered a double IPA. It was the most intense beer I’ve ever had. Partly because they make really intense beers, but also because I was coming out of shock. One of the best beers I’ve ever tasted.
The brewery was awesome too because it’s right on a hop farm and just smells incredible.
That's a crazy story! We're glad to hear no one was seriously injured.
We know you guys are super busy running the brewery so just one last question...
If you could drink one beer (brand or style) for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Probably a big, high ABV stout. I could drink one a day and live off the high calories. That’s what the monks used to do; they wouldn’t eat, they would just have a big, strong beer. I think there’s something to that. It’ll probably be the new fad diet in about a year.
I think we could get onboard with that diet!
Anyways, thanks again for your time Drew, it's been great catching up. We're big fans of the delicious and unique beers you guys continue to craft. Keep up the great work and chat soon!!
ASK THE READER...
WHICH STYLE OF CRAFT BEER INTRIGUES YOU THE MOST:
MILKSHAKE IPA'S, OR;
Let us know in the comments below!
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