Ben Rix is a brewer and the co-owner of Bent Stick Brewing, an Edmonton based postage-stamp-sized nano-brewery, located off Fort Road in the Kennedale industrial community – and he is the newest partner of the Anew upcycling program. Through collaboration with the Leftovers Foundation, Bent Stick has received several cases of white bread rolls, which Ben will use to brew a not-quite-beer kvass he has called “Roll Together”.
A kvass is a traditional Eastern European (Baltic and Russian) fermentation that uses stale “black bread” (colloquially referred to as rye bread) to create a low-alcohol, sessional beverage that can range anywhere from .5 to one percent by alcohol volume. For Ben’s take on the traditional style, Bent Stick’s “Roll Together” will hover around four to five percent by alcohol volume.
“It’s an idea we’ve had for a while,” Ben said, “traditionally, the brewery was next to a bakery, and it was a fun, cooperative effort.”
Bent Stick is a 1,700 sq. ft. room that smells like grainy, fresh porridge – which becomes especially inviting during the frigid winter months. Dry hops are added late into the brewing process for many of the beers, which can make the tanks hard to clean, but is one of Ben’s favourite things about his brewery. “It can be a real pain to clean the tank,” Ben said, “but when you get all those hops to drain out over the floor, you get big fruity, tropical aromas all over the brewery…it’s a peak.”
Ben crossed paths with the Leftovers Foundation when Garnet Borch, our City Coordinator here in Edmonton, pitched an idea to upcycle ingredients at Bent Stick as an Anew product. “Bread rolls are a fun idea that we can use to work together, for a good cause,” Ben said, “It makes a lot of sense.”
As white bread rolls don’t fulfil the traditional need for black bread, Ben will be brewing “Roll Together” with rye malt and barley; two ingredients that he feels will pay homage to the conventional kvass.
Bent Stick, as is customary for artisanal nano-breweries, brews beer in small, hand-crafted batches. Typically, Ben brews 400-litre batches, but will be doing an 800-litre, double-batch of “Roll Together.” The entire process uses a small amount of bread – Anew has donated just four cases of white bread rolls to Bent Stick. Utilizing smaller donations to create a marketable, successful product helps Anew contribute to our communities in a significant and profitable way.
“We’re not exactly saving money on ingredients,” Ben said, “but we do a lot of work with local businesses and charities, and this is a fun excuse to brew kvass and get the word out about Leftovers [and Anew] in Edmonton.”
Edmonton’s neighbourhoods represent an essential aspect of Ben’s, and Bent Stick’s, philosophy. “We’ve been out here for four years now and we’ve made a lot of friends,” Ben said, “meeting people and building a little community around our taproom…we’re the only [brewery] on Fort Road and people are excited that we’re here.” This philosophy is at the heart of how Bent Stick commits to helping local charities. “We’re working on a beer right now that, hopefully, stays around forever and will continue to donate money to CKUA,” Ben said.
CKUA is a donor-funded radio station in Alberta that is heavily invested in supporting our local music and art scenes.
It’s about “the local feel-goods,” Ben said, “people like supporting businesses that support our local community…we’re just four people from Edmonton and we see the positive effects from charities.
“Working with charities when you’re a business and you’re doing alright – it’s a no-brainer to give back to the community that’s supporting you.”
Bent Stick has also collaborated with the Edmonton chapter of the Pink Boots Society, an organization that brews, packages, designs and writes about their own beer – while being entirely operated by women in a male-dominated industry. The Society also promotes education through scholarships for women.
The Pink Boots Society, along with Bent Stick, brewed a black wit beer, titled “Black Widow”, with Belgian yeast and spices that would generally be used with dark malt. Ben described the beer as a dark, wheat beer that tastes like liquorice. Although the beer was a strange, unconventional project “it turned out surprisingly well,” Ben said.
Bent Stick has also worked with other local groups, including donating beer to a volleyball tournament that raised money for Boyle Street Community Services.
Ben and his three partners got their start at Alley Kat brewing – one of the original craft breweries here in Edmonton. After leaving Alley Kat, Ben and his partners went their separate ways to work in similar nano-breweries. Eventually, in 2015, the group got back together to invest in Bent Stick.
“We have beers that are named after song lyrics”, Ben said, “the great music scene – that’s one of my favourite things about living in Edmonton…we can weasel ourselves in, we can be adjacent when people are performing in bars, and we get to be a small part of that.
“It’s fun to work our way into the community.”