Mill Street in Calgary

by Ron Scott

Mill Street is practically a household name in Canadian beer. Their iconic Organic Lager was the first Organic beer brewed in Ontario and it’s well loved across this vast country for many years now.

They’ve had success in Ontario running their Toronto and Ottawa brewpubs, but are now casting a wider net. In doing so, their new brewpubs are brewing up some beer that is only available at their new brewpubs, which give locals the opportunity to drink Mill Street beer that even Ontarians can’t get their hands on.

After being bought by Labatt in the fall of last year, Labatt –itself part of the large conglomerate AB-InBev– sunk a hefty $10 million into expanding the Mill Street line. Many feared that this acquisition would bring about changes to the team that would be detrimental to the creative process. Labatt, however, has shown no interest in changing a tried and true formula, and is keeping head brewmaster Joel Manning on board. Joel seems to cultivate serious talent among his head brewers at each of the new Mill Street brewpubs, and Calgary’s Bennie Dingemanse is certainly no exception.

Mill Street has launched their Calgary brewpub with a flagship line of beers that are exclusive to the Calgary location, and Bennie has already collaborated with local Calgary brewers to create special seasonals and one-offs.

I had the chance to sit down with Bennie and sample some of the new Mill Street beer that’s currently quenching the thirst of many a Calgarian.

First on deck was the Costigan Kölsch: a German-style Kölsch that’s easy drinking and fresh, where the main themes are quality and being made locally. It’s composed of pilsner malt with a hint of Munich malt. Bennie refers to this as an “elbow-bender” because it goes down so quickly that the drinker rarely sets it down.

Secondly, I sampled the Pursuit Pilsner, which is made with all saaz hops, a combination of pilsner, carafoam, and caramalt malts, as well as Czech lager yeast. This beer has a striking honey-like character on the palate, and Bennie says that due to the incredibly low alpha acid content in saaz hops, –which are added late in the whirlpool– that this is actually one of the most hop-heavy beers he makes.

Next up, a Belgian blond called Back Country Blond. Having grown up in Europe, Belgian styles are well known to Bennie, but he recognizes that they’re still foreign to many Calgarians. He laughs at the reactions of surprised customers when they learn that fruit isn’t actually added to the beer, but that they’re tasting the fruity esters coming from the yeast. The highlight in this beer is the subtle influence of oak from the addition of toasted french oak chips.

Finally, the second batch of Twin Tips double IPA, where Wild Turkey hops from Collingwood, Ont, take centre stage. The 8.3% ABV is really well integrated here, and Bennie remarks that servers have to double check that customers aren’t planning to drive after consumption. This is a classic Northwest IPA, where tropical fruits jump out of the glass.

Dingemanse again drives the point home that while Mill Street is now owned by a massive beer conglomerate, nothing has changed in the fundamental structure of the organization. Joel Manning still has creative control over the recipes created by Mill Street (and its brewpubs’ individual brewmasters), and the acquisition and subsequent investment by Labatt has afforded them new abilities, such as resource procurement.

Maybe most interesting of all is the fact that these new brewpubs also serve as research and development labs, where Mill Street can throw darts to see which beers will stick. Bennie even hinted that a recipe he brews on site will make its way into a mixer pack that’ll be distributed nationwide in the months to come.