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Airdrie-area breweries credit community for helping them survive during pandemic

"The most important part is making sure our staff and customers are safe," said Cody Fitzsimmons .

Community support has helped keep the beer flowing at Airdrie's three craft breweries during COVID-19.

While the owners of Balzac Craft Brewing, 948 Brewing and Fitzsimmons Brewing have faced challenges over the past four months, all three outlets say area residents have played a key role since the pandemic hit.

"Our last four months can be summed up in one word... community," said Balzac company spokesman Michael Ward.

"We really appreciate how our community has supported us," said  948 Brewing co-owner/operator Kyle Wudrich. While Cody Fitzsimmons echoed a similar sentiment for his brewery (fitzsimmonsbrewing.com), saying, "The residents of Airdrie are our biggest supporters."

Balzac Craft Brewing, owned by long-time area residents Stew and Nola Ward, had only been open eight months when the pandemic hit in mid-March, forcing the closure of their 125-seat taproom.

 "For a day it felt like our world had stopped completely," said Michael Ward, adding, “We decided to not panic... focus on the community... and carry the course.

"We began planning smart, expanding our offerings. We hosted online bingo nights, we offered home delivery, started a growler exchange program. We communicated frequently with our community through social media and verbal conversations at our taproom."

The brewery's tap room and patio reopened in mid-May to reduced capacity to adhere to COVID-19 protocols.  Nola Ward said all five staffers at Balzac have remained employed, adding business has been "very good" the past four months.

 Her son credits social media with assisting in the success.

"We are very active on social media... it's an extension of our experience really,” he said. “We take time to reply to every comment, every message, every rating, every share, and post. We post dog photos that people tag us in. We share stories of people that come in."

For 948 Brewing Company Ltd., the timing was even worse when COVID-19 landed in Alberta.

Wudrich and David Schroter opened their brewery on March 14 and were forced to close the taproom just three days later.

The two men — high school pals who named the company after the original three-digit prefix phone number for Airdrie — decided to focus on expanding their product line.

"We made the decision to brew as many styles as we could and begin canning our product,” said Wudrich,  adding the beers range from “our easy-drinking Patio Krusher Kolsch and Windy Wheat Ale to our California Sunburn Jalapeno Pale Ale.”

From mid-March until mid-May, they focused on curbside pickup and deliveries until they were able to reopen their taproom after provincial regulations were eased.

Both men — the only employees at 948 -— also each have full-time jobs outside of the brewery.

Wudrich said business has been good, saying "Beer is selling ....and we'll continue to provide (customers) with ever changing styles and flavours."

Cody Fitzsimmons, who has a culinary training background, decided to open a microbrewery on Airdrie's east side three years ago” because of the amazing community and development this city has."

Fitzsimmons said his brewery remained open for off sales during the early months of COVID-19. "Now we are open for pints again. We say it’s business as (un)usual as we don’t have the games, and couches, but we still offer a cold pint on a hot day."

All five employees at the brewery have been retained at Fitzsimmons throughout the pandemic.

He said the COVID-19 protocols are easy to adhere to, adding "the most important part is making sure our staff and customers are safe."

Fitzsimmons said social media has been important  as "we get to share with our customers the things that are happening at the brewery."

But, he added, 'We can’t wait to get back to doing fun events like movie night, comedy night, trivia, and concerts."

As of July 27, there were 15 active COVID-19 cases in Airdrie, a city of 68,091 located 37 km north of Calgary.

Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to AlbertaPrimeTimes.com. This story was funded by the Facebook Journalism Project Supporting Local News Coverage of COVID-19 Program via the Local Media Foundation.





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