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Red Hart Brewing keeps it fun

Red Hart Brewing opened in 2019 in McKenzie Business Industrial Park
Red Hart Brewing owners (left to right) Jarod Griesbach, Curtis Ross, Kristy Lawrence (top), Rachel Griesbach and Andrew Wiebe always aim to keep it fun. (Contributed photo)

Red Hart Brewing’s irreverent company origin story tells you all you need to know about its fun-loving founders.

It involves beer, canoes, an ill-conceived mooning attempt and Red Deer River dunking. Later, around the campfire, the four friends dried out and the idea for their dream business began fermenting.

“It was conversations around the campfire that weekend that started us down this path to building this business, Red Hart Brewing,” say the brewery founders on their website.

The brewery opened its doors, appropriately enough, on St. Patrick’s Day in 2019 in Red Deer County’s McKenzie Industrial Business Park just south of the city.

Co-owner Kristy Lawrence provides a little pre-canoe trip background on the company origins. She and her husband Curtis Ross were on the infamous canoe trip with Jarod Griesbach and his wife Rachel Griesbach. A fifth partner, Andrew Wiebe, came on board shortly after and has been a key player.

They actually all knew each other from church, where they were involved in its musical group.

“That’s where we all got connected and became friends and decided, ‘You know, why don’t we make alcohol for a living? That would be cool,” says Lawrence with a laugh.

Lawrence says the story really began about 10 years ago when she bought her husband a home brew kit for Christmas.

“Oh my goodness. Did I ever create a monster. He became hyper-fixated on craft beer and from then on to this day he won’t ever stop talking about his love for craft beer.”

Curtis had been working in the oilpatch but when opportunities dried up during the downturn about six years ago the couple started to think about other options.

“There weren’t really many prospects and we thought you know if he’s basically going to be making minimum wage he might as well be working doing something he loves.”

He went to Lacombe’s year-old Blindman Brewing and they were impressed enough with his enthusiasm for beer making they took him on and taught him the ropes. That started a relationship that has endured to this day, and when Ross ventured out on his own Blindman remained hugely supportive, she says.

Red Hart and Blindman are now partners in the Craft Beer Commonwealth, a partnership at the Gasoline Alley Indoor Farmers Market that includes Red Shed Malting and Birdy Coffee Co. that started in 2021.

“It was just such a beautiful journey and it was so unexpected,” says Lawrence. “It never seemed like something that would be within our reach to be where we are today.”

At times, it was not an easy journey. For a business that focused on its tap room, the pandemic and restaurant closures hit them hard.

To help make ends meet, the friends combined their experience as church musicians and brewing in birthday grams. “They could order online and we would deliver them beer and sing them a song.”

The partners have been determined to keep the business fun.

“I think in this day and age that’s kind of refreshing. We try to not be too corporate. That’s not just our ascetic and our business model — that’s who we are.”

As the business grew they have expanded beyond local taprooms and now have their beers and a hard lemonade available in liquor stores and restaurants locally and as far as Edmonton and Calgary.

“People are starting to recognize our brand a little more and that’s been really helpful to create that brand awareness and to get our product into new people’s hands.”

And while they have six popular mainstays always on tap, Ross, who is a big fan of English-style beers, never stops experimenting. His latest creation is a toasted coconut stout he first created in his garage years ago.

“One of the reasons he wanted to open his own brewery was that he was really interested in playing around with his own recipes and doing smaller batches and just having a little bit more fun,” says Lawrence. “When he plays around with new recipes it just lights his spirit on fire.”

“We try to have at least one new beer every month.”

Recent visitors could try a peated porter, coffee stout, nepash, dipa, Berliner Weise, English mild, American pale ale, Irish red, and even a hard seltzer. The Irish Red was a silver medal winner in the 2020 Alberta Beer Awards.

The taproom itself is an attempt to bring that English-style pub feel, beloved of many beer drinkers, to central Alberta.

“Jarod actually lived in the UK for a time and loved the old, comfortable charm of an English pub, where friends and family and dogs come out to hang out for hours and get to meet strangers. It’s just a magical thing.”

Red Hart’s motto is, “Drink Good Beer, Do Good Things.”

That motto has been demonstrated in imaginative ways. On Oct. 16, they hosted Friendsgiving for those who missed out on Thanksgiving with family. Red Hart supplied the turkey and fixings and visitors were encouraged to bring their own contributions to create a potluck dinner.

They are having plenty of fun with Halloween too on their Facebook page. Not to give too much away, taproom manager Gary Strom and Jarod riff on the child-centric celebration and why those who want to escape trick or treaters should head to Red Hart.

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