Graham Sherman and Jeff Orr

Avenue Calgary’s 2016 Top 40 Under 40.

Photograph by Jared Sych. photographed at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre

Ages: 39 (Sherman), 35 (Orr)

Job titles: Co-owners and Co-founders, Tool Shed Brewing

Why they’re 2016 Top 40s:

The duo has grown their cult beer into an in-demand brew, changing laws in the process to allow for more craft breweries in the province and starting a bursary at Olds College for female brewers.

Tool Shed Brewing exists today because its founders, Jeff Orr and Graham Sherman, share a love of nerdy hobbies. First they tried to out-geek each other about the particulars of roasting coffee beans. Next came the secrets of perfect barbecue. The third hobby – brewing beer – has become the charm.

“Beer was just the next logical step,” says Sherman, who met Orr in Afghanistan in 2007, where they were both working on government and military IT and communications. “Beer is part art, part science, but mostly alchemy. It’s like this crazy magic that takes art and science and melds them together to make gold.”

If you’ve tasted Tool Shed beer – the craft brewery makes a cream ale, dark red ale, IPA and stout – you’ll agree it tastes like liquid gold. All styles of the beer are so wildly popular around the city, they’re sold out before they’ve even been brewed, an unusual situation that means Sherman and Orr must buy their own beer back from local retailers to be able to stock the tasting room with Tool Shed.

The duo aren’t surprised by this accomplishment – even as they sat around inside Sherman’s eight foot-by-10 foot backyard tool shed, where they brewed their first batches in 2012, they planned for nothing less than total success. What has shocked them is how quickly it happened.

In four years, the brewery has grown from a cramped shed into a 15,000-square-foot facility that produces 10,000 hectolitres (1 million litres) of beer a year. At the same time, sales have grown from $11,000 the first year to $2 million in 2016.

But the road to brewery success wasn’t without obstacles. Sherman and Orr initially weren’t allowed to even apply for Tool Shed to be a brewery because the law required new brewers to meet a minimum output capacity of 500,000 litres annually. So the industrious friends and business partners began brewing Tool Shed in Vancouver and then importing it into Alberta, a ridiculous business model that demonstrated the antiquatedness of the law. Their story helped convince the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) that it was time to change the regulation. The number of breweries in the province has now quadrupled.

“What we are doing is trying to create as much diversity as we can away from oil and gas,” says Sherman. “It’s incredible the economic development of what craft beer does for the province.”

Adds Orr: “It gives us a way to tell that story.” – Lisa Kadane

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