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  • You Too Can U-Brew

    Alberta has finally joined the ranks of the u-brew provinces.  A few amendments were tacked onto Bill 6 at the end of last year, one of which legalized u-brew shops, also called ferment-on-premise.  This leaves Newfoundland as the last province still forbidding the practice.

    For those who hail from other parts of Canada, you may recall a u-brew or u-vin shop that lets you make your own beer or wine in a professional setting, with the shop taking care of all the equipment sterilization and storage space.

    I first dipped my toes into home winemaking from kits many years ago, and 90% of the process is cleaning and sanitizing bottles.  As the craft beer movement gained popularity, so did the availability of kits for making beer at home, becoming more professional each year.

    My first homebrew beer was made in a plastic bucket, and was a simple recipe that just had me sprinkling in the yeast on top of the sweet wort that came out of a giant bag.  After several weeks of fermentation, the bottling took hours, most of which was spent on cleaning every surface, as well as the inside of 48 bottles.

    The state of the art has improved considerably for the budding homebrewer since then, with the plastic buckets replaced with stainless steel conical fermenters.  Bottling is also a thing of the past, since I switched to stainless steel kegs hooked up to my man-cave draught beer taps, leaving me with a single 23 litre stainless steel keg to clean, instead of 48 half-litre bottles.

    However, for the home brewer or winemaker, the investment in equipment can cost a pretty penny, as well as the storage space required, and the endless cleaning and sanitizing can turn a hobby into a chore.

    Shortly after Bill 6 passed last October, the existing homebrew shops moved into the u-brew business with gusto, with renovations and expansions announced almost immediately.

    In a nutshell, many of the shops that sell beer and wine kits for home use will now handle 99% of the process for you, with the sole exception of sprinkling in the yeast, that single magic step that turns boring old grape juice into wine, or barley soup into beer.

    No longer will a home winemaker need to spend hours washing bottles in the kitchen sink, then making a huge mess during the bottling procedure.

    Homebrewers are rejoicing as well, no longer needing to worry about the same cleaning routines, nor the tricky temperature control during the fermentation process to ensure the yeast is happily munching away on the grains without producing any off-flavours due to temperature variations.

    The ferment on premise shops will not only sell you the wine or beer kit, but they will provide all the fermentation vessels and storage space for the 4-8 week process, and will even bottle it for you.

    As an added bonus, the new regulations allow for your own private bottlings to be served at private non-sale events like weddings or birthdays.  The prior regime only permitted products from commercially licensed alcoholic beverage producers, freezing out the homebrew community.

    The lapsed homebrewer or home winemaker that had to give up their hobby due to lack of space or lack of time can now return to the fold, with what was previously a time-consuming and finicky process, by putting the gruntwork in the hands of their local u-brew or u-vin shop, who manage the whole process in a much more controlled environment.

    Grande Prairie was the first city in Alberta to open a u-brew shop, only 4 weeks after the new legislation was passed, thanks to the hard work of the local homebrew shop.

    Many more u-brew and u-vin shops have opened since then to meet demand.  Chestermere is not yet home to a ferment on premise shop yet, but there are several in neighbouring Calgary, most concentrated near the airport.

    If you have wanted to get into making your own beer or wine in the past, but hesitated due to the investment in time and equipment, now is the perfect time to try it out.  A 23 litre batch of beer or wine can be made at a local ferment on premise shop for as low as $150.  If 23 litres of wine or beer are too much for you, split them with a friend!