July 21, 2015

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Central City Brewing Takes over the Taps at Earls Restaurants

This Canadian based, family owned restaurant group has been supporting local craft breweries for over 30 years

Earls Kitchen + Bar, a Canadian-based, family owned restaurant group has been supporting local craft breweries for over 30 years. This July we are pleased to announce BC's Central City Brewing (best known for Red Racer) as the  newest brewery to take over brewing the restaurants historic “Rhino” house beer in BC, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, while Muskoka Brewery continues to brew the Rhino beers for Ontario.

Long before anyone had ever heard of craft beer, Earls made it a priority to offer the more food-friendly forward craft beers and support small local breweries by offering them the house beer taps in their restaurants. It’s a relationship that has spanned over 30 years and included nine different breweries across BC, Alberta and Ontario.

When the family-owned restaurant group opened their first location in Edmonton in 1982 only “beer parlours” and bars carried draft beer, and only the big breweries offered it. Back then Earls was breaking ground with made to order gourmet burgers (unheard of in 1982!) and fresh, made from scratch menu items. They wanted their beer to reflect that fresh taste. – And you might not know it now, but with just one restaurant, Earls was the little guy in 1982, and they wanted to support the little guy - family owned like they were.

So started the 30 year relationship with small craft brewers

Many of the breweries grew in size, often, in part, thanks to Earls own expansion. In some cases their success meant larger breweries bought them out. Each time this happened Earls went back to looking for a family owned brewery, their mandate always to support the craft brewers and ensure their flavour profile wasn’t compromised by big brewing techniques.

1984 Earls becomes the first restaurant in Canada to serve beer on tap

When Earls opened in 1982, George Piper, Earls long time wine & beer purchaser; Stan Fuller, Earls owner, and manager Andrew Wilton, who would eventfully become Earls CFO, were on a quest to find a great tasting beer to serve in the restaurant. They wanted the casualness of draft, something at the time only bars had and big breweries controlled. They wanted a small, family owned brewery, much like themselves, and they wanted a beer suitable for the fresh menu style.  Experiments with homemade beer in George’s garage had led to the flavour profile they wanted, now they just needed a small brewery to make it for them.

Earls first partnership was a propriety recipe Ale with the then small, Pacific Western - Canterbury brewing in Prince George, BC.  As it was to be a house beer  they needed to choose a name and “Albino Rhino” (a name not used these days in respect for the people with Albinism)  was coined, reflecting what they felt was something both rare and unique, yet whimsical - just like the beer.

This first partnership was not that successful and the unsold beer was bottled and stored in Stan’s office (only to be secretly drank and refilled with water by Piper and Wilton, who eventually got busted when Stan hosted a party supplied with bottles of extremely watery beer).

The next partnership proved to be much more successful with a brand new brewery that had just opened in Whistler, BC. In 1989, as the demand grew for more flavourful beers, the Rhino Pale Ale recipe was resurrected with Whistler Brewing Co. brewing enough volume for Earls BC restaurants, which by then had grown to seven locations.

In 1990 Gary Lohin joined Whistler Brewing (he is now a partner and the head brewer of Central City Brewing) – he likes to tell us that  Rhino was his favourite brew, so much so that he would  take home kegs of it unfiltered.

 In 1991 Big Rock, another small family owned brewery, started up in Alberta and took on brewing the house “Rhino” beer for the seven Alberta Earls locations.

In 1994 Earls moved their (BC) house beer production to Bowen Island Brewing, a tiny local brewery off Vancouver’s West Coast, but when Bowen Brewing sold a year later to a big brewery Earls turned to Bear Brewing in Kamloops and brewer/ owner Dave Beardsell.  It was a relationship that proved not only successful, but somewhat eventful as this is where the Rhino beer production was able to increase and the selection was expanded, with new varieties added in 1996. With the expanded selection of beers, Earls moved their Alberta production of Rhino to Bear Brewing as well.

Here is where we get to throw in a fun anecdote (and one “clean” enough to repeat) ….

In 1996 Dave Beardsell traveled, without any appointments or arrangements, to the Czech Republic to research pilsners.  The breweries were not at all  impressed with this and doors weren't just closed, they were slammed in his face.  By chance however, while attending a tasting tour at Budvar, the brewery found themselves with a problem – a large tour group had come in without a translator.  Dave was recruited, befriending the master brewer while he was at it,  who sent him home with a yeast sample that would become the foundation for Earls “George’s Spring Pilsner”.

In addition to the Rhino Pale Ale and George’s Spring Pilsner, Dave created a seasonal beer line called Abundant, which included a Golden Summer Ale, Winter Pudding, Oatmeal Stout, Harvest Ale and a British Bitter Ale.

1996 was also the same year Michael Jackson, the author of several influential books about beer, and beer columnist for the UK’s Independent and Observer, came to Whistler to do research for his new book The Beer Companion. On catching wind of this Andrew and George charged up to Whistler to find him and get his opinion of their Rhino Pale Ale, which still followed the same recipe created in George’s garage all those years before. In 1997 Jackson’s book was released with Earls Rhino receiving rave reviews.

By 1998 Bear Brewing had taken over all beer production for Earls across BC and Alberta and needed to grow production and in 2001, in one of a series of full circle moments, they purchased both Whistler Brewing and Bowen Island Brewing. In 2003 Big Rock then acquired Bear Brewing, renaming it Kamloops Brewery Ltd, and moved all Whistler Brewing and Bear Brewing (including Earls Rhino beers) to the Kamloops Brewery.

In 2006 Big Rock sold off the Whistler Brewing and Kamloops Brewing brands to former employee Bruce Dean (who, with investors started a new company, Northam) and Earls took their beer production with them.  A small brewery was built in Whistler for small productions with Earls’ full line of beers, which now included the Pale Ale, a Honey Lager and a Winter Pudding, brewed at the Kamloops Brewery.

With the 2010 expansion into Ontario, Earls was looking for a local craft brewery to make the Rhino beers in that region and in 2011 Muskoka, considered one of the best craft breweries in Ontario, began brewing Rhino Pale Ale and Signature Lager in the Ontario region.  

By 2011 Earls had also added a regional craft beer program with each province carrying a full selection of locally brewed craft beers, in some cases craft beer were ln all the taps, and Whistler Brewing increased production enough to brew Rhino for BC, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  By now the lineup included a Pale Ale, Signature Lager and a seasonal rotation of a summer wheat and Winter Pudding.

In 2012 Earls officially rebranded their house beer to Rhino Craft Beer out of respect for their guests, and to remind everyone that the house beer was still, after 30 years, authentically craft brewed.

With the palate of their guests changing, Earls tasting panel, which by now also included beverage director Cameron Bogue, along with the now semi-retired George Piper, met with and tasted a selection of breweries and chose Central City Brewing to take on the next chapter of the iconic Rhino beer production.  Central City was announced internally as the new brewer for Earls house beer in the late spring with production starting in the early summer and Central City beer into the Earls taps by early July.

July, 2015 - Central City brewed Rhino beers are now available at all Earls restaurants in Western Canada, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

About Central City Brewing

Gary Lohin, one of the original brewers of Rhino Ale at Whistler Brewing back in 1990, started Central City Brewing, a small brewpub, in Surrey, BC in 2003. Their craft beer grew so popular that in 2005 they launched a canning line, enabling them to sell their beers directly to customers.  Brewery sales quickly grew as they achieved great success with the Red Racer beer brand and by 2009 they had reached full capacity at their BC brewery – a 3,500 sq. ft. space.

Right from the get go Cameron Bogue always knew they would be a perfect fit for Earls house beers. Lohin’s attention to detail, fresh flavours and superior ingredients won him numerous awards right out of the gate, including best brewery in Canada twice, and of course, he had a history with Rhino beer. But with over 50 restaurants in Western Canada by now, Earls needed more volume than they could produce. Eventually however, demand was so much higher than production for all of Central City’s beer they had to expand, not a bad place to be for them, and for Earls this meant Central City could now handle the needed volume.

Say's Cameron Bogue, Earls Kitchen + Bar Bevergage Director "Earls and Central City are the perfect example of a true partnership.  Earls large volume of Rhino Craft Beer helps the national growth of Central City while Central City’s award winning beer will only add to the quality of Rhino Craft Beer."

What differences can you expect from Central City Brewing Rhino Ale?

Following the trends of the craft beer movement the Rhino beer line up will be dialing back the sweet maltiness and adding a slightly higher IBU of more hop flavor with a notable Central City profile.

Pale Ale: Same full flavored beer with a touch more hops for a new school Rhino Pale Ale.

 Lager: Brewed longer and colder creating a clean, crisp, sessionable Rhino Lager

 Wheat Ale: Updated from a German style hefeweizen to a Belgian style wit beer, Rhino Wheat is brewed with citrus and spice.

 Winter Ale; In development…look for it in the late fall

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