Augustana alum turns passion for brewing into booming business
Posted on July 5, 2017 by Tia Lalani
Ben Rix (’11), co-owner of Bent Stick Brewery, on how inspiration from the programs he took at Augustana and an unusual passion led him to barley, brewing, and beer.
By Pam Chamberlain
As an environmental studies student at Augustana, Ben admired his professors, many of whom became role models: “Augustana’s professors taught me to realize how big the world is off the beaten path. I took part in unique programs like dog-sledding, luge, and the Cuba program, and when I witnessed the enthusiasm the professors had for the programs they’d developed, it raised the bar for what I thought I could achieve if I’m passionate about something.”
While at Augustana, Ben began brewing beer at home because it allowed him to both save money and be creative. “After brewing some terrible garbage,” he remembers, “I researched how to do better, and brewing became an extremely rewarding hobby.”
That hobby has now turned into a passion and a business. After graduation, Ben worked for Edmonton’s Alley Kat Brewing, and then in 2014, he and three co-workers founded Bent Stick Brewery.
According to Ben, Alberta is a terrific place to brew beer because Alberta farmers grow the best malt barley in the world. “At breweries in California and Oregon, you can see sacks of barley stamped ‘Alix, Alberta.’ Craft maltsters are sprouting up on farms across the province, and it’s exciting to see what sorts of malts they’re coming up with and how we can incorporate these new flavours in our recipes.”
Ben and his partners are continually tasting, testing, and tweaking recipes, and Ben enjoys the challenge of matching the right beer to the right customer. “We try to convert people from the yellow fizzy beers they’ve been drinking their whole lives,” he explains. “Some beer drinkers are surprisingly nervous about trying the other 80 styles of beer in the world. They don’t realize how diverse beer can be.”
“Our Belgian Witbier is a good gateway beer for someone who wants to try craft beer. A wheat beer with familiar citrus flavours is different enough to be interesting, but still really accessible, whereas IPAs and Imperial Stouts are so far from the norm that people often need to work their way up to them.”
Ben particularly enjoys encountering potential customers who tell him they don’t like beer at all: “They take a sip, and surprise creeps over their face. That’s the best compliment. I like watching people realize that they don’t dislike beer, they just dislike crappy beer.”
“At Bent Stick, we’ve really hit our stride,” Ben says. “I’m proud of the Belgian beers we’re releasing this summer. I think we nailed them. The White IPA has a bold hop character combined with unique Belgian esters. It’s a fun and an interesting twist on a traditional IPA.”
“Brewers are lucky,” Ben reflects. “There is so much room for creativity in the brewing process, and sharing the end product with friends and customers—and seeing the smiles on their faces—is very rewarding.”
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