Jeff Allport isn’t into false flattery, so when he’s asked, he tells you straight out he started his craft brewery in Nokomis, Sask., simply because it was cheap to locate there.
He didn’t move there for the small-town charm, or the clever strategy of being centrally located between Regina and Saskatoon in a province underserved by just six rural craft breweries, or even because the British Columbia native wanted to live in Saskatchewan. Rather, he got three-quarters of an acre of land in the fading prairie town – population 450 – in 2014 for a buck.
“I didn’t have much money,” he said. “This has low cost of living and cheap land. And the water is really good here.”
Allport is founder and sole-owner of Nokomis Craft Ales. It was important to him to be independent, and not to have to rely on partners who might interfere with his vision. He brews quality ales that he sends across the province, but doesn’t even have a taproom at his brewery. Instead, visitors who come from not only all over the province but also the entire country have only a collection of picnic tables outside where they can sample his beer.
“My focus is on brewing beer,” he says. “I don’t know anything about running a taproom.”
Business is slowly growing. From tiny volumes initially, he has scaled up production to a still-modest 2,500 hectolitres per year. He only started canning his beers three years ago. He has since brought on a second brewer (he eschews the loaded term “brewmaster”), and staff has grown to six. It has given him the time to focus more on managing the business, although he insists on keeping his hand in brewing.
Moving from Vancouver, he admits, was a “culture shock” not only for himself but also for his partner Kara, who is an artist. To help ease the sting of losing that big city environment, the couple bought the local school house, which Kara has turned into a studio.
Allport himself does not miss the big city one little bit. “Vancouver doesn’t offer a lot, in my opinion,” he said. “I was making an exodus to escape the ridiculous cost of living in B.C.”
A purist in brewing, Allport sticks to simple local ingredients for his beers. He says many craft breweries have become “monotonous” with trendy flavours like chocolate stout. One of Nokomis’s favourite products is a barrel-aged farmhouse ale called Evening Star, a delicious sour that Allport says he makes no money on, but produces because he wants to.
Nokomis isn’t known for much. A sign on the way into town states it is home to Kenny Shields, lead singer for the Canadian band Streetheart. It’s a fading legacy.
Now, this community has found a new and perhaps longer lasting legacy. Nokomis Craft Ales is putting this little prairie town back on the map – defying the conventional thinking that you can only carve out a good living in the big city.