Bent Stick Brewing prides itself in its wizard design and being a true handmade nano-brewery
In the summer, nothing is better than a few cold craft brews to counteract that sweltering, dry heat. Often, what will influence my personal decision to try something new is the labeling. Locals Alley Kat Brewing may boast their iconic cat eye near the beer’s name in neat printing, but nothing really compares to Bent Stick Brewing’s ‘beer wizard,’ Jeff.
Jeff, a Merlin-looking master of malt magic and their mascot—who enjoys levitating a pint glass while wielding a beer mash paddle—sits at the forefront of every Bent Stick beer.
“The wizard branding is huge for us,” says co-founder of Bent Stick Brewing Scott Kendall. “Our graphic image is strong and we want to reinforce that this is the wizard beer from Edmonton. You see like three of them on the shelf and it’s like the army of wizards, and you know it’s good beer.”
Local graphic designer Jenna Clarahan constructed Jeff’s design after Kendall and other co-founders Ben Rix, and Patrick Gaudet had a drunken brainstorming session about Bent Stick’s mascot.
It’s apparent that the co-founders really kept with the wizard theme once you walk into the brewery location—on the side next to the cash register there’s a stack of makeshift books labeled spells, potions, and brews.
Kendall, Rix, and Gaudet met as coworkers at Alley Kat, learned the tools of the beer-making trade, and realized they had the same love for making beer as well as the same aspirations to start their own brewery. This was before the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) changed the legislation to allow smaller breweries the opportunity to exist.
“Before there were difficult regulations to show that you had to reach a minimum capacity [in litres of beer] that was way bigger than any brewery would need to make or be able to sell,” Kendall says. “So you had to prove that to the AGLC to be a ‘legit’ brewery. Little guys couldn’t really get involved, but, finally, the province realized ‘Oh shit why are we in the stone age when it comes to local breweries compared to B.C. or some of the states?’”
After the province changed legislation in 2013 to influence the development of new microbreweries, the trio left Alley Kat at various times to begin preparations for Bent Stick. But it was a long journey, and Bent Stick didn’t hit the market until Canada Day 2016. Since then, they’ve been carving out a name for themselves in the craft beer market.
“It feels like we just got out of the start-up phase—and that’s talking like two years—but it is a milestone,” Kendall says. “We’re undercapitalized, but we do it for the passion and the love. We funded this brewery ourselves with a bit of family help, but we’re very much on the shoestring-low, DIY budget. We can’t just grow explosively like some other breweries with a bankroll or a war chest. We’ve been mitigating our losses, but the support for local craft beer has been beneficial for us.”
In the last nine or 10 years, the popularity of craft beer has skyrocketed, especially in Alberta, which is now home to more than 70 breweries. So how does Bent Stick keep a handle on the competition? For one, it helps that they make really tasty beer (check out their Electric Bugaloo) and they truly are a handmade brewery.
“Most breweries you push a button and there are rakes that do the stirring for you, but we’re so small that we stir it by hand with a mash paddle,” Rix says. “You have to stir it to make sure the beer is the right temperature. You don’t want spots that are hot and cold. It goes through the pump then the boil kettle and you add hops at different times.”
“All craft breweries will say they’re handcrafted, but we actually do everything by hand,” Kendall adds. “It’s one of those limited budget factors, but I think it makes us unique and sets us apart. The mash is done by hand, every bottled is capped by hand, the label is put on by hand.”
Currently, Bent Stick is developing a beer for local indie-rock outfit The Wet Secrets. The beer will be a “lighter, hoppier red ale,” and will join the Bent Stick family of more than 20 beers—a hefty feat for a nano-brewery. But being resident beer geeks, the co-founders love experimenting with different recipes.
“We like to make a lot of different beers because we’re so small,” Kendall says. “We want to be bringing pride to the YEG craft beer scene. We always have viewed it as trying to be different and unique as we can. It’s kind of a gold rush with all the breweries popping up so you can’t all be making the same IPA or tall cans. We’re gonna zag when everybody zigs.”