(First published in the Rocky View Weekly on May 3, 2016)
Cochrane’s Half Hitch Brewing Company is one month away from spinning the wheels on a first batch of beer after five long years of dedication building the microbrewery from the ground up.
Though the lengthy family venture is close to fruition, Half Hitch president Chris Heier, 33, said that feeling of relief hasn’t really registered with him yet as his nose is still buried in the mounds of work to finish before operations can start running.
“When we get our first beer to market, that will be our pinnacle moment,” he said. “But it will really set in once we actually mash in our first batch.”
The idea to start a business transpired from back and forth discussions around the table at family dinners, Heier said.
Heier’s mother and sister wanted a bakery while his dad showed interest in a cheese factory. He said it is still lost on him who introduced the idea of a microbrewery but the idea quickly gained unanimous consent and the long process began.
“It literally did start with someone throwing the idea out,” Heier said. “We just started running with it and doing the research.”
At the time, Heier admitted he had absolutely no idea how beer was made.
When his family remained serious on building Half Hitch, he immersed himself in the home brewing community.
He read as much as he could about crafting beer and visited home brew supply shops to get information on how to break into the industry.
“Like anybody, I started making beer from kits,” he said.
Throughout the process, he said he learned the basic brewing principles of fermentation and sanitation that apply whether a person is brewing a batch in their closet or in a world-class brewhouse.
Home brewing quickly became a passion for Heier as he started upgrading his equipment and tinkering with recipes to create his own signature brews.
Soon, he was kicking out five gallons a week, he said.
“Some brews didn’t turn out that great while others turned out absolutely phenomenal,” Heier said. “It was in that process that you discover what makes good beer.”
Farmers Daughter Pale Ale will be Half Hitch’s signature session beer while a malt and hop combination will come together to craft the smooth caramel flavouring of the Fire and Fury Red Ale.
Shotgun Wedding Brown Ale, the third and final first run brew, is unlike traditional brown ales, he said, harking closer to a brown porter style but hopped up like an entry-level India pale ale.
“It’s something different and, to be honest, I think it’s probably one of my favourite recipes,” he said.
Though the original concept plans for Half Hitch only entailed the brewery, Heier said having a second phase 140-seat family restaurant soon became a driving force in the design.
“Microbreweries tend to be a catalyst for community development,” Heier said. “It’s very difficult to try and be that catalyst if you don’t have a place for people to go.”
The building was designed to incorporate the brewing experience into the restaurant, he said, with large windows on the main floor showing off the fermenters that were built intentionally taller to stand out.
“We want to make sure that when they walk into this place they actually feel like they’re walking into a brewery that happens to be a restaurant, and not the other way around,” he said.
The family has a passion for Cochrane and Heier said that is reflected in every aspect of Half Hitch Brewing Company, right down to the name.
When sifting through ideas of what to call their microbrewery, Heier said the family wanted something that not only rolled off the tongue but also tied into the western culture of the community.
The half hitch knot was a method used to tie a horse to a hitching post and Heier said the brewhouse has revived that tradition with a sanded area to tie horses. However, the building also looks to the future with electric car chargers on the north end.
“In a lot of ways (Half Hitch) is a euphemism for being the knot that ties family together and ties us to the community,” Heier said.