Polar Park Brewing Co: A sip of Edmonton history

Polar Park Brewing Co.

By Alexander Sorochan

It’s been a few years since the name Polar Park Brewing Co. first began circulating around Edmonton. Originally slated to open in 2016, co-founders Robert Oeming and Phillip Burgess ran into some issues trying to convert the old Bee Bell Bakery off of Whyte Avenue into a brewery.

“We wanted to make sure we did things right,” Burgess says. “The Bee Bell Bakery is a beautiful building, but it’s definitely posed its challenges for us to get it up to code.”

Despite the complications, Polar Park is working to become a venue for live music around the city. Though they aren’t officially open to the public and they haven’t begun brewing in their own facility yet, Polar Park has already hosted just shy of 40 artists since opening their upstairs event room in November. They plan to open the brewery doors to the public this May.

All that waiting hasn’t been in vain, however. The brewery boasts a vintage 1938 German brew house. The main influence for choosing the brewing equipment was head brewmaster Scott Harris. Harris was originally a ballet dancer but while touring in Germany, he fell in love with the art of brewing and decided to pursue it officially. After graduating at the top of his class, he spent a year brewing for the Bavarian royal family before returning to Canada.

“[Harris] always wanted to have something that was traditional to the brewing process that Germany is so well known for,” Burgess says.

As another nod to the history of brewing, Polar Park’s main floor bar top is made from the original flooring of the Pabst brewery in Milwaukee.  

The history of Polar Park stretches further back than just the brewery, however. Oeming’s grandfather Al owned and ran the Alberta Game Farm—which changed its name to Polar Park after switching its focus to cold-weather species—between 1958 and 1999. When Oeming’s grandfather passed away on St Patrick’s Day 2014, it seemed fitting to honour him by opening a brewery.

The founders’ original plan was to stick close to their roots and open Polar Park Brewing Co. at the site of the old Alberta Game Farm by Sherwood Park. They were planning to build a roof over the polar bear compound and use that, but eventually Oeming and Burgess decided that they wanted to be closer to the action in Edmonton, and ended up moving into the old Bee Bell Bakery building just south of Whyte Avenue.

Polar Park already has one beer available so far—the 1938 Pale Ale—that they brewed in collaboration with Situation Brewing. They also plan to have another two beers available when they open—one darker and one lighter.

“We are going to be trying to make it so that that beer is something that is well received in the city before we go ahead and start producing more,” Burgess says. “It might take us a little bit longer to get to six or seven types of beer because we want to make sure every beer we release is of quality.”

If people are looking for a beer made specifically for them, Polar Park is also hoping to start offering small batches of custom-brewed beer for events like weddings.

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