Although Calgary is home to the world's largest malting company, Canada Malting, makers of masses of the main ingredient in ales and lagers, it has taken a long time for beer to get some respect in Alberta. Like other areas of Canada 15 to 20 years ago, a very limited selection of beer existed, dominated mostly by the Big Three and local high volume producers, such as the Labatt's brewery in Edmonton, which is still operational. Thankfully, that is the only macro-brewery left in Alberta.
Going back, we find that the local markets were dominated by mammoth breweries such as The Calgary Brewing and Malting Company, above, which was founded in 1892. Then...after a lot of steadily poorer and poorer product...maybe about a century later...the revolution of beer hit the world and Alberta started to sprout up microbreweries and brew pubs. First on the Alberta scene was Calgary's Big Rock Brewery founded in 1984, a now 450,000 hectolitre capacity brewery that some say is no longer a micro, though Big Rock still produces craft beers and seasonals. The success of the brewery was pivotal however in allowing other beer-lovers and brewers in Alberta to see that indeed a small brewery specialising in craft beer could succeed. Thankfully, others followed, and Alberta is now home to a good number of microbreweries and brewpubs. Some include:
- Alley Kat in Edmonton
- Wild Rose in Calgary
- Grizzly Paw Brewpub in Canmore
- Brew Brothers in Calgary
- Wildwood Brewpub also in Calgary
Some others noted just five years ago have come and gone, notably Peak Brewing which was in Canmore, but closed years back. Though some of these micros have been around for 10 or 15 years, it seems only now that Albertans are starting to appreciate craft beer on a larger basis, and the market is reflecting this, as looking at some of the better stocked liquor stores will evidence. Niche craft beers and rare imports are now making an appearance, and people are drinking locally though, of course, on a larger scale swill beer is still flying high with sales. The niche market of good beer drinkers is expanding, however, and this year heralded two beers events worthy of notice in Calgary. One was the Calgary Beerfest 2005, the other being the CAMRA Calgary Real Ale Festival, held at Brew Brothers Brewpub, but more on that in another posting.
Well, I did not sit down to write a small history of brewing in Calgary, but that is kind of what it became. Of course, for every step forward for beer in Alberta, it seems we take a half step back, such as local chains of liquor stores that expand and eat up privately owned ones, and stocking very little selection. I give you as exhibit A Willow Park Liquor Stores. Though the main Calgary-based company store has probably Alberta's biggest and best selection of beers, their linked stores across Alberta unfortunately seem to cater to mass-market brews.
However, and to sum it all up for now, Alberta is getting better, and a beer lover can now find a large selection of local and imported artisanal beers here. Though not as rich as British Columbia brewery-wise, which can boast 50 or more breweries and brewpubs, Alberta, as of 2005, has never had so much beer choice. I only hope it keeps getting better.