Malty stays! Brewery enjoys first month as building owners
Local business makes good
September marks the first month of mortgage payments for new building owners Malty National who have been in their spot (shared with 33 1/3 Coffee Roasters) on 15th Ave. in the Heritage neighbourhood since spring of 2016. The brewery’s lease was coming up and other options were explored, but location for this company is huge. Six out of eight of their employees live within three blocks of the brewery, contributing to Malty’s communal atmosphere.
I met with Adam Smith, one of the brewery’s founders, and we chatted about the company’s three-year-long history, normalizing beer-drinking, Inspector Gadget, and Dolly Parton.
It’s a Friday afternoon at Malty National with the after-work-rush installed at their tables with friends, or at least friendly co-workers. The screen porch doors slam as visitors leave the warmth of the patio to grab another beer.
I expect Adam, one half of Malty’s owners (the other half is Adam’s other half, Kelsey Beach), to be back in the brewery, but instead he’s helping out behind the bar, like a sailor manning the ship with an even-keel cool.
I introduce myself and ask about his day, the usual stuff. Nice weather is mentioned briefly. He offers me a beer, to which I oblige (I opt for the Manitobudz, a not-at-all-bitter IPA which I had tested out at Swamp Fest the weekend prior) and tells me he’ll join me shortly at a table near the entrance.
The place is actually pretty busy. Pieces of conversations melt together to help create the atmospheric buzz, layered with mid-2000s pop-rock that I can’t quite make out. Adam wraps up his bar duties and has a seat across from me. He’s wearing a flannel shirt that sort of mirrors my own and his eyes are relaxed behind his easily-recognizable round tortoiseshell frames.
It’s clear that the whole “formal sit-down interview” concept is a bit foreign to him and I feel myself in an odd place of power as “the journalist.” That’s new. However, that all quickly evaporates as I begin my “I want this to be casual and more conversational” spiel.
I start from what seems a logical place and ask Adam about Malty’s origin story, stating that by now, the brewery feels like a Regina staple.
“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” admits Adam. “The origin is just, you know, we thought we’d make a go of this and give it a try. You look back at those early days and what it looked like in here, it was pretty sparse. We had one beer on tap when we opened and we were just hoping people didn’t hate the beer when we served it to them.”
“What year was that?”
“It was three years ago in April. It’s been a very organic growth which is what we always wanted. We’re very safe in the business, we don’t take a ton of crazy risks. We experiment everything, down to [the] beer, like, ‘let’s try this beer, does it sell, do we like it?’ Like going to cans – we started canning beer a couple years ago and we did it on a very small scale to see ‘will people want this?’ We had no idea. So we just take everything really slow. Let the consumers drive what we do/we just do what we want.”
I switch topics to the – at risk of sounding like an influencer – brand of Malty National and admit to Adam that I only pieced the brewery’s punny namesake together a few months ago.
I know, not my finest hour.
Adam says it was Kelsey’s idea, and the irony of a small-scale brewery being compared to the magnitude of a multi-national corporation was too good to not capitalize on.
“When we had Malty National as a name, we kind of had the idea of running it like a full evil corporation, essentially. Making mention to the company’s logo designed by artist Dakota McFadzean who hails from Regina, Adam says, “We always thought the tentacle, kind of factory look is a good representation of the evilness – but it’s also hilarious and cute.
“Are you too young for Inspect Gadget?” Adam asks me.
I am. It ran from ’83-’86.
“Um, you know what, I’ve never watched it, but I can.”
“You understand the concept? There were the bad guys on Inspector Gadget, I think they were called M.A.D., and they had, like, a funny logo that they would put on the side of their vans and stuff and I always kind of thought, like, that kind of vibe of – or like a James Bond villain that always had ‘the logo,’ you know?”
I do know.
Then I ask, what is actually an important question, but sounds like an absolute cliché: “What makes [Malty National] unique on the Regina brewery scene?”
“I’ve travelled around and drank in a lot of places like this and I think the thing that sets us apart is the interaction at the bar, that’s huge. I think all our staff are amazing. The fact that you have to come up and get your beer from the bar and interact with us, try the beer, talk about the beer, and then go back to the conversation you were having. I really like our model that way.
“I always say that we give the best worst service. When we really get to know someone, we give them a hard time, you know? And then vice versa, all of our customers are great and the rapport that our staff have with the customers . . . I mean just today, Aaron for instance, was cleaning the kegs and not working the bar, but then a regular wanted to say hi so she’s banging on the window, trying to catch his eye and give him a wave.
“I think our beers are good, I’m hoping that’s why people are coming here as well, but I think it’s more than that. It feels super homey, I think. It feels a little punk rock, and slapped together, and DIY and that shows, but I love that. I don’t want it to be any more polished than it is. It feels small town, everything from the screen doors slamming behind us to seeing your neighbours and seeing your community.
“For me it even boils down to the music. We’ll just put on a whole album and it’s like if we’re playing Dolly Parton, we’re not playing Dolly Parton’s greatest hits. It might just be a Dolly Parton album from 1986, front to back, and, like, there’s going to be some songs that nobody knows on there. That experience? You just don’t get that.”
Adam says that from the start, a driving force for him and Kelsey has been to normalize beer-drinking, emphasizing the importance of doing so in Saskatchewan, specifically.
“You can go have a beer with someone, have a conversation – hell, have a beer by yourself, read a book, chill out, take time for yourself and just enjoy it. Have a beer and have your kids playing a board-game, because that’s normal. I have children and so, children seeing adults drinking beer in a responsible way, I think, is extremely important. When I grew up, if you’d go to a restaurant, there’d be a whole room that you’re not even allowed into.” Adam’s voice becomes comically ghostly as he continues. “The lounge is, like, this mythical place where adults are doing something that you can’t even see.
“But no, this is what responsible alcohol consumption looks like. And it’s normal, it’s not getting plastered. It’s just drinking a beer and enjoying the company of everybody. People will be in here with their grandma, people will be in here with their two-year-old, and it’s all the same vibe.”
By now, I’ve thanked him for meeting with me and the formal handshake has been completed, but we end up chatting a while longer. We talk about the 15th Ave. block party which took place a few weeks ago in August, Swamp Fest and the hidden gem that is Willow Island (turns out a lot of Regina B&Rs have never made the journey!), and he even asks me more about what I do and expresses genuine interest in what I share with him.
A second, more conclusive, handshake is performed and he tells me to grab four cans on my way out. After he gets up, he’s back behind the bar with his coworkers and then circling and chatting with those having beers.
After a bit of work, I pack up my things, wave to the staff and leave, carrying four Manitobudz.
It was the last keg. . . . Stick with what you know, you know?