Drum Brewing serves Fort McMurray a craft beer comeback by sticking to basics

“We’re just a bunch of working people who like beers,” said Trevor Wakeling of Drum Brewing.

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On a Wednesday morning, Trevor Wakeling and his friend, Albert Forsey, inspect a giant vat of malty, yeasty goop and stir it with a canoe paddle. After passing through a network of tubes and vats, the grainy soup will spend weeks fermenting into different styles of beers.

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For years, Wakeling and Forsey made their own beers with homemade setups. But as breweries opened across Alberta, a group of six friends became frustrated there was no local beer scene in Fort McMurray. That’s when Drum Brewing was born in a space with its own history of tapping into a local thirst for craft beers.

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“We’re just a bunch of working people who like beers,” said Wakeling. “What bonded all of us together is we like to drink beer together.”

Drum Brewing’s location on Franklin Avenue is the latest attempt to create a craft beer culture in Fort McMurray.

The brewery equipment was left by the Wood Buffalo Brewing Co., which ran from 2013 to 2019. He was comfortable with the equipment because he brewed beers at 57 North, the restaurant that opened after the original brewery closed.

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The equipment may be a larger scale than a homebrewing kit, but it’s the same steps of mash, boil, ferment, carbonate and serve.

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Trevor Wakeling stirs a mash that will ferment into beer at Drum Brewing on April 11, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

After 57 North closed in May 2022, Wakeling bought the space in July 2023 with partners Matt Nash, Ryan Reid, Jeff Mahood, Kayla Wakeling and Paige Pakarowski. None of them have run breweries and they all have full-time jobs outside of Drum Brewing; Wakeling and Forsey are mechanics. Doors opened last October.

The original owners of Wood Buffalo Brewing Co. chose the location because of a planned downtown arena. They had a strong launch, but never recovered from global oil prices plummeting in late 2014 and council killing the arena in 2015. 57 North struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic and after the April 2020 flood.

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Before anyone says the space is cursed for brewers, Wakeling says the owners are running a business different from the previous tenants.

The layout is about one-fifth of the space used by previous tenants. Wakeling says this let’s the brewery focus on a taproom culture and making beer locally. The previous tenants were “restaurants with breweries attached,” said Forsey.

“The other places were never busy enough to fill 200 seats. And we go to a lot of breweries and taprooms, and they generally seat about 40 people max,” said Wakeling. “If the arena went through than having a restaurant would have worked great.”

Drum Brewing hopes to debut their beers at different Alberta craft beer festivals next year. Travel Alberta estimates more than 170 breweries have opened across the province in recent years. Most are in Calgary, but everywhere from Waterton and Fort MacLeod to Cold Lake and Peace River has a local brewery.

Locally, the brewery is forming partnerships with community groups, sporting events and other businesses. They’ve hosted trivia, painting nights and even beer yoga. The owners are talking about the atmosphere of the brewery, but they’re in agreement that locally-made beer will always be the focus.

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