Sask. craft brewer makes beer from durum

Next time you’re enjoying a tasty pasta dish made with Canadian durum, why not wash it down with a durum beer?

Last month, Saskatchewan-based craft brewer 9 Mile Legacy Brewing introduced its newest beer — No. 1 Durum Wheat Ale — made with durum grown in southwestern Saskatchewan.

9 Mile co-founder Garrett Pederson said it might be the first beer ever made from durum wheat.

“As a kid that grew up in southwestern Saskatchewan, we hauled a lot of durum, so I really wanted to make this work as a beer,” said Pederson, who has been managing brewing operations at 9 Mile Legacy Brewing since the company started in 2015.

“My mind immediately went to, ‘what are the challenges of this project,’ because it really hasn’t been used in brewing in North America and seldomly in the world. It’s an unmalted product, which adds a level of difficulty in the brewhouse.”

Durum, a staple crop in Saskatchewan’s southwest, is typically ground into semolina and used to make pasta.

Most Saskatchewan durum is shipped out of the country and made into pasta.

Shawn Moen, 9 Mile’s chief executive officer, said the durum wheat beer project demonstrates that durum is more than a one-trick pony.

He described No. 1 Durum Wheat Ale as a German-style wheat beer.

It has a slightly hazy appearance and a pillowy white head.

The use of durum and malted wheat contribute to a uniquely smooth mouthfeel with hints of banana and vanilla.

The recipe also requires some malt barley to ensure proper enzymatic activity.

“In my view, the beauty of a project like this is in its broader potential,” Moen said.

“I hope that No. 1 Durum Wheat Ale will inspire Saskatchewanians to think creatively about the many different things we can do with our excellent agricultural products.”

Monty Reich, general manager of SWT, an independent grain-handling and marketing company based at Gull Lake, Sask., said it’s refreshing to see a company like 9 Mile Legacy Brewing turning what is usually a bulk agricultural export commodity into locally produced value-added product.

SWT is a partner in the brewing project and supplied the durum used in the brewing process.

An early release of the beer was made available to stakeholders of SWT, to coincide with the 2021 durum planting season in southwestern Saskatchewan.

“It’s long been an issue on the Prairies where we typically export our products around the world — it’s very globalized and very competitive,” said Reich.

“As the world keeps changing, we need to be proactive in finding ways to locally manufacture the end use.”

A wider commercial release of the beer is now underway.

Retail partners include Pioneer Co-op outlets and other selected retailers throughout the southwest.

In a recent interview, Moen said 9 Mile will start with a 2,000 litre batch of No. 1 Durum Wheat Ale and will expand production as demand grows.

He acknowledged the amount of durum initially used was relatively small, but the project illustrates broader possibilities.

“From an actual economic impact perspective or farmgate revenue perspective … it’s not going to move the needle,” Moen said.

“But I think where it does move the needle is getting people to think creatively about what ag value really is.”

He said creators of new Canadian products too often focus on scale and export potential rather than nearby value-added possibilities.

The No. 1 Durum Wheat Ale project had unique significance for the 9 Mile Legacy Brewing team.

Pederson and Moen both grew up on farms in the Cabri and Abbey areas of southwestern Saskatchewan and several other members of the 9 Mile team also have family roots in the province’s southwest.