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COMMUNITY FOCUS - Interview with Tailgunner Brewing
One of our core values at ABX is COMMUNITY. When we endeavoured to build this business, we chose Sunalta for a reason. The people here are community heros. There is so much camaraderie and passion for the neighbourhood and we love being a part of it. One of our own, Eric Wigston, is a resident of Sunalta and one of those community heros. Join him on a little journey below as he takes you through an interview with one of the co-founders of Tailgunner, a brewery coming to Sunalta very soon!
Tailgunner Brewing Interview with Cael Tucker - by Eric Wigston
As we journey into the colder months, I always have this urge to bundle up and hunker down inside. Especially in these tough times, shutting out the outside world is very tempting. But living in Sunalta, I am so grateful to have amazing neighbours who always check in, come over for a socially distant outdoor firepits, and occasionally save the day with a cup of sugar. Having a strong sense of community within your neighbourhood is something that I value highly.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with one of ABX’s newest neighbours, Cael Tucker. He is one of the co-founders of Sunalta’s newest brewery Tailgunner Brewing Company. He gave me a tour of their facility and then we sat down with one of their newest beers “Ajax Bomb Girls- A Hero’s Dark Lager” and chatted about how Tailgunner came to be. (The beer was delicious by the way)
EW: So Cael, who started Tailgunner with you? And how did you meet?
CT: My partner and co-founder Mike McLeod approached me with the idea. Mike and I have been friends since we were five years old and we grew up together in Midnapore and Sundance in Calgary. He is like my brother and we have had a strong friendship our whole lives. Out of high school, Mike had worked as a framer and I teamed up with him framing some houses. We worked together for a few years and then I ventured into cabinet making. As we got older I had moved out east for a time, and then moved back to Calgary about ten years ago. That’s when Mike and I started working on a couple projects and we then decided to team up on his home building company, Stonebridge Crafted Homes.
EW: When did you decide you wanted to start a brewery?
CT: Well, we have always been big beer enthusiasts and we loved the Calgary craft beer scene and how it has grown over the last 5 to 6 years. It really appealed to us. And it was in October 2018, when Mike approached me one day and said “I want to start a brewery, and I’m wondering if you’d like to be my partner?” it took me about four seconds to think about it and I said “yeah, I’m in!”
For the greater portion of 2019, we were modelling out the business, and we were lucky enough to find this location in Sunalta, where Mike secured the building. Finding the building early on gave us a leg up on not ever having the rug pulled out from under us. And since Mike and I run a couple construction companies, we were able to do a large majority of the interior work ourselves.
We also brought our beautiful, intelligent, and supportive wives on board. Mike’s wife Shannon runs the community engagement and is part of our sales team, and my wife Tanya is the keystone for business development, operations, and finance. She’s our finance manager.
It really has become a bit of a family business, and we are now in a position where we can lean on them, ask for their help in getting this brewery off the ground. We are so lucky to have them by our sides.
EW: How did you two come up with the name? And who is Linton Stephenson?
CT: Linton Stephenson is actually Mike’s grandfather, and he was a Tailgunner in the Second World War, and in 1943 his plane was shot down over Holland. The entire crew was lost in the crash except for Lint, his parachute didn’t even deploy. When he was found at the crash site he became a prisoner of war for two and a half years. He was then freed when they were liberated and the Nazi forces were defeated. He was a remarkable man with a remarkable story.
Red Magil was the pilot of Lint’s Lancaster, and we named our Double IPA after him, and we will be naming a couple other of our beers after Lint’s crew. But truly the name came from honouring that whole generation who sacrificed everything.
EW: I look forward to meeting the rest of the crew. Speaking of beer, how did you manage to lock down Blake Enemark to be your head brewer? He has created some of my favourite beers in the city from Tokyo Drift to the original 5 Hundie Hazy IPA. I was pumped as soon as I heard he was on board with you.
CT: Oh we are the luckiest guys in the world! First of all, Blake is just a fantastic human being and we are so happy to have him on board. From working construction, Mike and I have always made sure we aligned ourselves with people with the same values, morals, work ethic, sensibilities, sense of humour; and if you don’t share those similarities it is going to be a difficult working relationship. And we share all of those things with Blake.
It’s a bit of a funny story: Blake was brewing at another brewery at the time and he was an expecting father. And Mike and I approached him and asked him softly if he would consider coming over and joining the team. Initially it was a “thanks, but no thanks” sort of response, but we managed to get him to come check out the building. And after hearing a bit more about the story of Tailgunner and getting to know Mike and myself a little bit more, I think it was the next day we had him under contract. And with the beers that he has put out with us so far: he has an amazing attention to detail, and a mastery at a very young age. We are really excited to be working with him and to see what he has up his sleeve for our future and future brews.
EW: I’m looking forward to trying what Blake comes up with next! A lot of the customers at ABX are Sunalta community members as well and every time I mention that Tailgunner is opening up down the street from us, people are so excited to have another brewery on tenth avenue. I hope with you opening up, we can bring more people over to the west side 14th. Other than locking down this amazing building, is there a specific reason you chose Sunalta as your location?
CT: Originally, we wanted to look at places in Kensington and Hillhurst, but some of the leasing options over there weren’t really attractive, on top of a lot of the buildings not being suited to carry a brewery. But we knew we wanted to be close to the downtown core. And Sunalta has a heart and soul to it and we felt like it is a neighbourhood on the cusp of a transition. The proximity to everything was also a huge draw for us. The C-train is close, it’s an easy walk to our friends down at National and Craft, close to 17th Ave. And having the building suit all of our needs, we have the opportunity to become a pillar in a renewal period for the community with different businesses popping up such as ABX and Two House. And we are very excited to see some of the new developments coming up with some more restaurants and we would love to see some more breweries.
EW: We could be like the second Barley Belt!
CT: Exactly, not just for the culture but so much for the plain economics of it. Having Two House and us and hopefully more, we can be a destination where you can hit up two or three breweries. That certainly is becoming a more popular thing to do.
EW: Something that I’d really love to know is what has been the biggest struggle for you and Mike? And was there anything that was unexpected?
CT: The biggest struggle for us right now, like most local businesses, is being hit with the pandemic. Having to make a shift to our financial plan and change our original roll out plan was really tough. We wanted to be open for Stampede of this year . And that got flipped right on its head. It’s been tough and there have definitely been some sleepless nights. That being said, Mike and I chatted early on about getting our beer out there before our taproom opened to gain some brand awareness, and that has been something that has gone our way with all of this.
Something we weren’t expecting has been the amount of people in the Alberta craft beer industry who have been so good to us and so supportive. Everyone is wanting to see us succeed and truly mean it when they say they want to help us along the way. It is the complete opposite within the construction industry, so it has been a lot easier weaving into that fabric that is the craft beer industry in Alberta. We are building relationships and making friends very quickly which has been refreshing and surprising and we are so grateful to be entering into such a wonderful culture.
EW: Where are you currently brewing all of your beer?
CT: We are contract brewing with our friends Field and Forge out of Innisfail. Big shout out to those guys. They are awesome. They have a first class facility and they really adhere to Blake’s direction. Blake’s been up there brewing, while they have been brewing their own beer as well. They have been very gracious and supportive.
EW: So, a question that I think a lot of people want to know. But selfishly I’d like to know because I live in Sunalta. When is the projected date for Tailgunner to be open to the public?
CT: Does April 2029 sound a bit too far out?
EW: A little bit, I can’t wait that long!
CT: Well yeah, we wanted summer time 2020, but obviously that didn’t happen. But right now we are targeting spring 2021 to be fully open to the public. Taproom open, brewing beer out of the building. We will continue to brew out of Field and Forge until then. We are definitely a couple months away as we are still getting all of our equipment set up. It is all in the building now, we just have some piping, electrical work, chillers, and water systems to hook up. So that is the plan right now and we are working on some different financing models and we will play it by ear if there is another shut down. We are about 50% roughed in, and have some rough carpentry complete for the taproom. It’s just into the pretty stuff when we want to flip the switch.
EW: It’s also looking like you’re going to have a pretty awesome patio out there as well.
CT: Yeah, we really want to have a patio that tracks the sun like our friends Two House. I think that’s really important for Calgary, so we can all enjoy the 21 days of summer that we get.
EW: I have no doubt with yourself, Mike, and Blake at the helm, you will bring some more attention to our awesome little community of Sunalta.
CT: I think if you have a vision and an execution plan in place, you will be successful. Passion is the most important thing for what you want to do. I mean, I love beer but my true passion is growing: Growing people and growing businesses and seeing people achieve potential. For me, with Tailgunner, I’m really wanting to work to have it reach its potential.
EW: I’m pretty confident that it will and I cannot wait to have another brewery in the neighbourhood. Thanks so much for the beer and taking the time to chat Cael.