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Just For Fun

Wind Down the Year With Beer

Take one down, pass it around, how many local breweries in all?

By Scott Messenger, ’98 BSc(Spec)

October 15, 2020 •

Since I published a book recently about what caused Alberta’s craft beer industry to explode like a well-shaken can of locally made pilsner, I’ve been asked one question more than any other.

“So, how many different beers did you try?”

My guess, a hazy exercise in beer math, is well over 100 (over many, many months). I tell people this with pride, though not in a false belief about the resilience of my liver. The pride is in the province. With Tapping the West: How Alberta’s Craft Beer Industry Bubbled Out of an Economy Gone Flat, I wanted to understand how Alberta went from roughly a dozen breweries less than a decade ago to about 10 times that many today. It’s a success story that speaks to the talent, ingenuity and determination of Albertans.

And, of course, to the quality of the product.

There are more than 120 craft breweries in Alberta now, with more than a quarter of them owned by U of A alumni — and that’s just the ones we know about. They brew hundreds of beers, available in liquor stores, restaurants, bars and taprooms, which can be daunting if you are keen to learn about the local beer boom. To help, I’ve assembled a modest but varied beer calendar featuring Alberta lagers and ales to liven up the final months of a hard year. 

Research! It’s a tough job, right? Believe me, though, you won’t mind doing it.

Oct. 31: Halloween Pumpkin Pie Spiced Ale, Alley Kat Brewing, owned by Zane Christensen, ’10 BCom, and Cameron French, ’11 BCom

The beverage may not seem normal. It’s beer but smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and even pastry. But let’s face it: this Halloween, distributing candy through a two-metre length of PVC pipe doesn’t seem normal, either. Nor does turning off the lights and hiding for safety’s sake. Either way, after the ghouls go home, you get to sit and relax. A few sips into that unusual beer on an unusual Halloween — you get it. It’s different, but it works.

October/November: First snowfallOld Man Winter Porter, Ribstone Creek Brewery, co-owned by Kathy Mills, ’81 BEd

With that first visit from Old Man Winter comes the sisyphean task of driveway clearing, worsened by chill winds and 5 p.m. darkness. Old Man in a can, however, is more welcome. This robust, strong porter is a fortifying blend of chocolate, coffee and mild caramel flavours, a well-deserved reward for snow wrangling. Forget hot cocoa; this is the winter warmer for the job.

Nov. 27: Black FridayKettle Sour, Blindman Brewing, co-founded by Dave Vander Plaat, ’13 MBA, and Shane Groendahl, ’09 BSc(ElecEng)

Some deals cannot be missed. So you mask up and do your darndest to keep your distance at big-box stores, or you sit and fill online carts until your vision blurs. Either Black Friday scenario may leave a bad taste in your mouth. The antidote is a sour ale, the palate cleanser of the beer world. Lacombe’s Blindman Brewing, an Alberta pioneer of the style (and of many others), has been perfecting this brew through more than four years of iterations. The outcome is tart yet mellow, citrusy yet smooth — a bright spot in what, for some, might indeed be a dark day.

Dec. 21: First day of winterMexcellent Cerveza, Brewsters Brewing, co-owned by Deirdre Lanigan, ’09 LLB

Few this year are likely to book a mid-winter siesta in Mexico, where “corona” on the beach used to be a good thing. But we can all raise a glass to the fact that, as of this day, the sun sets later and later. This light lager, crisp as a morning dive into the shimmering ocean, will spark dreams of the day you’ll once again be mangling Spanish with patient locals. Until then, know that the summer approaches, no matter how tough the winter.

Dec. 25: Christmas Day – Belgian lambic-style beers, Blind Enthusiasm, owned by Greg Zeschuk, ’90 BMedSc, ’92 MD

Ex-medical doctor, ex-video game mogul Greg Zeschuk is now a maker and purveyor of very fancy craft beer. At Edmonton’s Monolith, a portion of the brewing involves old-world European techniques to painstakingly craft these beers. These one-off releases (no batches are alike) ferment in oak barrels for months to years, then are carefully blended and aged in bottles. The result is the gift you always wanted, from you, to you. Expect bright, funky, tart and wildly complex flavours intended for savouring, and expect to be amazed that they originated right here in Alberta.

Dec. 31: New Year’s Eve – Resolutions 2020, Bent Stick Brewing, co-owned by Cole Boyd, ’11 BMgt, Patrick Gaudet, ’11 BSc, and Ben Rix, ’11 BA

A barley wine such as this annual release might seem like a beer designed for forgetting a hard year. Its alcohol content is akin to that of a typical bottle of grape wine, after all. So savour it! It’s big on flavour, too. Rich, with notes of toffee and dark fruit, this style invites slow sipping and contemplation. As it warms, flavours deepen. So might thoughts. What would the world be like had it not taken such a turn? Is that raisin you taste? What have we learned? Chocolate — there might be a hint. Has the year changed you? Maybe so. Maybe that’s not raisin; plum, perhaps? Knowing what you know now, would you resolve to do anything differently in the future? Probably. What? Another glass and you’ll have it all figured out.

Other alumni-owned breweries:

Ale Architect – Edmonton

Alley Kat Brewing Company – Edmonton

Analog Brewing – Edmonton

Banff Ave Brewing Co – Banff     

Bent Stick Brewing – Edmonton

Blind Enthusiasm Brewing – Edmonton

Blindman Brewing – Lacombe

Brewsters Brewing – Calgary

Campio Brewing  – Edmonton

Endeavour Brewing – St. Albert

Evil Corporation Brewing – Calgary           

Federation of Beer – Airdrie

Foxtail Brewing  – Edmonton

Goat Locker Brewing – Calgary

The Grizzly Paw Brewing – Canmore

Hell's Basement Brewery – Medicine Hat

Jasper Brewing Company – Jasper

Lakeland Brewing – St. Paul

Last Best Brewing – Calgary

Odd Company Brewing – Edmonton

Omen Brewing – Edmonton

Prairie Brewing Company – Three Hills

Rocky View Brewing Company – Cochrane           

S.Y.C Brewing Co. – Edmonton

Situation Brewing– Edmonton

Township 24 Brewing – Chestermere       

Travois Ale Works – Medicine Hat

Troubled Monk – Red Deer

Undercurrent Brewing – Sylvan Lake

Village Brewery – Calgary

Did we miss any? Let us know!

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