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.
People email me. They ask if they can post something to the beer blog. I generally say "Sure!" and then I never hear from them again. I was really looking forward to that Italian writer who knew all the Czech beers. If he is reading this - WHAT'S TAKING YOU?!?
Anyway, kind correspondent Gary in New Hampshire wrote this and sent a photo...
The Woodstock Inn is about 80 miles north of my home is southern New Hampshire, and I had not heard of it. I havn't heard of many things, it is true, but I am glad my store had Woodstock Brewery Pig's Ear Brown Ale. What luck! What a treat! They have been brewing for awhile apparently and, as you can see from their website, there is quite a lot going on up there. Anyway, I have never seen these offerings at the grocery store before, and I am glad they are apparently breaking into the mainstream. Harpoon and Shipyard are larger microbrews, and average about 6 bucks a six-pack, this was 7 bucks for a six-pack.
My problem as a reviewer is that I like many many beers, except for the type that rhymes with 'Sudsweiser' or 'Swiller'. That said, this brown ale is reminds me of one of my favorite beers, Newcastle Brown Ale, and I like it much better than Portsmouth Brewery's Smuttynose Brown Dog. I love it when flavors are strong in beers, hotsauces, etc, and this is not a strong tasting beer like, if memory serves, Samuel Smith's. It is a perfect, mellow brown ale. Looking at the website, the company has stronger offerings, like stout, so mellow brown is perfect considering the other possibilities.Interesting observations, Gary, especially about the Newcastle and other browns. There are three general sorts of English-speaking world brown ales which make something of a range into which you get to consider dropping any new brown you meet someplace or another:
The brewery is located at a restaurant and Inn, which suggests a remarkable opportunity for a week of staying, eating, tasting! Beer lover's paradise, perhaps.
- hoppy US style which echoes old-style hoppy porter in lighter form,
- the singular tangy legacy of the blended old stale or stock and old-school mild we find in northern English browns like Newkie Broon and Sammy Smith's and
- the richer, lucious sometimes uncious southern English style like Thunder Hole from Baaa Haaa Baaa and perhaps, at the light end, that Smuttynose Old Dog Brown, sitting one notch below modern rounder porter and another notch above modern mild.
The New York State Legislature is currently considering legislation that would create a New York State Beer Trail.
"Such a rich history of the brewing industry is here and we ought to be exploiting that if we can," said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, whose district was the home of original Schaeffer brewery and currently hosts the Brooklyn Brewery, a regionally well-known outfit. "I can't think of any other state except Wisconsin that has as much brewing tradition as New York. It's part of our heritage."When the Finger Lakes Wine Region finally sought out professional advice and started using that advice to market the area, that area experienced tremendous growth in tourism. If the state and participating microbreweries market the trail correctly, a Beer Trail would not only make many of us beer aficionados very happy, it could help draw more people to the state. Something cash-strapped New York could definitely use.
Right now I'm envisioning pretzel and mustard weekends at microbreweries as the answer to winery's wine and cheese events. Or to go along with the wine region's other big themed weekend: a "Hoppy" Holiday weekends where you collect microbrew beer labels enclosed in glass as ornaments.
I have never been to one of these things, the CAMRA-esque bung-poppers but if you are in the Vancouver Area in early August it might be worth a visit:
British Columbia is bursting at the seams with great locally-made beer, and we would like to invite beer fans to explore the newest & best of B.C. beer at Caskival, Western Canada's festival dedicated entirely to Real Ale! CAMRA Vancouver and DIX Barbecue & Brewery are proud to present our second annual celebration of brewing at DIX, Vancouver's headquarters for the art & science of great brewing. From noon until 5:00 on Saturday, August 6th, Caskival brings together some of B.C.'s best small breweries to showcase this traditional technique of beer service at 871 Beatty Street in Vancouver, 604-682-2739. Almost two dozen cask ales will be featured, with a wide range of styles and flavors sure to meet the tastes of even the most demanding beer fans...For more information, contact Brewmaster Tony Dewald by phone at 604-682-2739 or e-mail at dix at markjamesgroup.com. Attendance is limited to 250 guests, so call soon for tickets!Twenty bucks for a ticket, one buck per taste once you are in.
I am constantly amazed at the number of small craft beer operations that keep popping up in Quebec, many of them far from the urban centres of Montreal and Quebec City. This is encouraging, as one often associates a taste for craft beer with a more urban sensibility; assuming that country folk are too busy haying and hoeing to look beyond the big domestics.
That assumption, like many others about rural people, would be wrong. The town of Saint-Paulin, Quebec, for example is home to a lovely looking Auberge called Le Baluchon. It boasts its own little brewery, which has recently grown into a separate operation; Les bières de la Nouvelle-France, where – according to a note on the bottles – they are “brewed on the fief of the seigneurie de la Nouvelle-France, on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence river."
I tried three of them this weekend. All bear the same nostalgic habitantesque label, with only the brew's name differentiating one from the next.
The first I tried was “Ambrée de Sarrasin” (buckwheat amber). The description on the bottle reads, “Its refreshing flavour and foam density makes this unmalted grain beer distinctive.” Indeed it was. It had a nice yeasty aroma, like bread dough, and a good thick mouse of head with a decent lace. It had nice frontal hop flavours, with a hint of something smoky, a rich texture, and a good clear and distinct character.
Next up was the “Blonde d’Epeautre” (spelt blonde). Its description reads “An unmalted grain beer that has a fruit flavour, a smooth foam, and a slight bitterness.” Label descriptions like that threaten to put us beer bloggers out of business, as that pretty much sums it up. I will add, however, that this one didn’t have much foam, despite the description, and the fruit flavor was there but not clearly identifiable. I don’t much like fruit beers, so perhaps that undefined fruitiness is what put me off this one a bit.
The hint of bitterness was, in my opinion, tasty but almost distracting – it didn’t seem to fit with the hint of fruit. I wanted the beer to be one thing or the other, not try to be both.
While this brew will not be listed among my favorites, I must acknowledge that this is simply a matter of personal preference. The brew is crisp and distinctive, with a somewhat cloudy but robust body.
Finally, there was the “Claire Fontaine.” Its description says, “Claire Fontaine is a light, thirst-quenching malted barley beer.” Anyone familiar with beer marketing-speak will recognize “light” and “thirst-quenching” as generally meaning “devoid of character.”
In this case that would be going too far. It is, indeed, light and thirst-quenching, and it does lack the kind of malty richness and hoppy bite that real beer lovers look for in a brew, but on the other hand it is very clear and crisp, and is the cleanest-tasting beer I’ve sampled in quite some time.
This is a nice beer to serve ice-cold at a barbecue – a good “hot dog beer." I don’t mean that as a slight against it – there are times when that is exactly what you want. It’s also a good beer to serve around people who don't like the meatier tastes of full-flavoured beers. In other words, Claire Fontaine is not unlike the standard yellow beers produced by the big domestic brewers – except that it is cleaner and tastes much better!
Interesting to see reports on a back to the basics trend in beer buying by young-uns in the US:
Among the recent bright spots was the quirky story of Pabst, which caught on early this decade with young hipsters in Portland, Ore., and its popularity spread out. Without initial prompting, "PBR" became a symbol of authenticity and cool. It has been enjoying double-digit growth every year since 2003, said Pabst brand manager Neal Stewart. Consumers like these beers in part because they cost less than fancy imports or craft brews. They also can play on happy memories of simpler days - maybe of Granddad swigging a beer while barbecuing, said Darrell Jursa, managing partner with Liquid Intelligence, a Chicago marketing agency that has Pabst as a client.Utica Club and Rheingold from New York as well as Yuengling from Pennsylvania (the last of which I have reviewed) as also taking advantage of this trend, according to the article I link to above. Keith's beer, the IPA that isn't an IPA, with its heavy use of advertising and humour would be the Canadian version, I suppose, but it is also sold as a bit of a premium beer - another form of humour to anyone who grew up in Halifax.
Jursa also mentions that you are what you drink. Just like a club hopper ordering Grey Goose vodka could be signaling she's like the urban sophisticates of "Sex in the City," a Pabst drinker could be showing he is beyond the mainstream. The challenge for brewers is to tap into that anti-establishment streak without seeming too establishment. Pabst managed by tailoring marketing to its young drinkers. It sponsored skateboarding film premieres, Vespa scooter rallies and art gallery openings.
I say from time to that I do not like lagers but what I am really saying is that I do not like the mass marketed insipid pilsners generally passed off as beer by BulkCo's A, B and C. Lager or rather lagering is really just a reference to a period of cold storage, a central European technique from hundreds of years ago which created a rounder softer drink and also one which was available in the spring or summer months, depending on the style, when the short-brewed ales of the day would quickly go off. There is a lot of detail that could be filled in but for now it is enough to know that the choice of cold storage facility for lagering was either caves or monestary cellars having the temperature stabilizing combination of depth into the ground and stone walls.
Michael Jackson in his Great Beer Guide says of Paulaner:
This brewery was founded in 1634 by monks in the order of St. Francis of Paula. They brewed an especially malty beer as "liquid bread" to sustain them during Lent. They called it "Salvator," Latin for Savior."Now called a dopplebock or double bock, this beer generated a style marked by the suffix "-ator" so if you ever see a beer with that in its name, as in this list, you can expect a drink like this as described by the Beer Advocate:
Double Bocks or Doppelbocks are huge beers with enough malt packed in them to consider them a meal in its self. Generally having a very full-bodied flavor and darker than other bocks with a higher level of alcohol also. The range in color from dark amber to nearly black. Dark versions may have slight chocolate or roasted characters.My liquid unit poured a deep toffee brown with a tan head. Like another old lager style, marzen the first sniff is full of rich burlappy butterscotchy malt sweetness. This is confirmed by the sip - supported as well by a healthy dollop of treacle. In the mouth, however, there is a strong zag of greenish metallic german hops, which challenge me greatly in the poorer versions of bland light pilsner of which the world is awash but which in this beer cuts the cloy and balances. What is really singular about this sip is the yeast which makes something of a marzipan creamy nuttiness combining with the hops to make that burlap quality. It is not the biggest ale, especially for 7.5%, but it is lovery reminding me of an over-hopped scotch heavy ale in a way. Hey - I like a lager! The BAers do, too.
I found this at the LCBO in Ottawa for $1.95 CND a 330 ml bottle.