Beer Guy: Think global, drink local

by Peter Bailey

“Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?” Paul Newman was talking about infidelity, but it might be applicable to eating—and drinking—locally.

The locavores have won. Local food is now a full-fledged “thing”. Sometime in the past few years local food clicked for people. We realized that local food—the pork from Irvings Farm, the spuds from The Little Potato Company, the gouda from Sylvan Star Cheese—was just as good, or better,
than the stuff from far away. And with local sourcing noted proudly on some chain restaurant menus, it seems the battle to have people pay attention to their food is won,

if not the war. But what about local beer? Alas, the battle for the hearts and minds—and palates—of Edmonton beer drinkers rages on. Recently I dined at 12 Acres, a great new farm-to-table restaurant in St. Albert. The waiter’s enthusiastic description of how the restaurant sources its beef from its own cattle from a farm nearby had me thinking of Portlandia: “Is the chicken local? Yes, and his name was Colin.” 12 Acres has a lovely, large craft beer menu, including four on tap—but none of the four were local beer.

The local food aha moment has yet to arrive for local beer. But we’re getting there. Indeed, until recently 12 Acres could have found some local beer right in St. Albert, but 2015 saw the closure of Hog’s Head Brewing (and with it the Amber’s brand as well). In 12 Acres’ defence, only Yellowhead and Alley Kat remain as viable local craft brewers. Happily, Alley Kat continues to go from strength to strength, celebrating 20 years of brewing great craft beer in 2015.

Alley Kat’s excellence was recognized in 2015 when its Scona Gold Kölsch was awarded the overall Beer of the Year award at the Canadian Brewing Awards. And yet many Edmontonians don’t realize that in Alley Kat they have steak at home.

Down the QE2 in Calgary, Big Rock Brewery turned 30 years old, and yet was acting like a teenager, experimenting and trying new things. Brewmaster
Paul Gautreau kept a dizzying pace, producing new beers like the Wai-Iti Wheat Ale made from exotic New Zealand hops or the Smoked Roggenbier, made from smoked rye malt. And in a fun nod to its 30th birthday, Big Rock brewed its three original beers, Traditional, Porter and Bitter from the old 1985 recipes and released them at 1985 prices.

In addition to new beers, Albertans tried on a new government in 2015. The previous government gave us private liquor retailing and the open borders that give local beer drinkers the best selection in Canada. But the system also makes it more difficult for small Alberta- based brewers, competing against hundreds of competitors. On the other hand, in 2013 the government lowered the minimum brewing capacity required for a new brewery start-up. This decision began bearing fruit in 2015 with new breweries starting up: Two Sergeants in Fort Saskatchewan, Troubled Monk in Red Deer, Six Corners in Okotoks, Dandy in Calgary and Coulee Brew in Lethbridge. And 2016 holds the promise of a bevy of new breweries, including the Ritchie Market project and Situation Brewing in Edmonton, Brauerei Fahr in Turner Valley and Bench Creek Brewing in Edson, and rumours of many more to come. Local beer is on the march.

2015 faves six-pack
Drink local, sure, but sometimes it is good to drink someone else’s local! I enjoyed trying local beer in my travels in 2015 and it is great to enjoy them again back home in Edmonton. Some favourites:

Maui CoCoNut Porter, Maui

Maui CoCoNut Porter, Maui

Maui CoCoNut Porter, Maui
On my first trip to Maui years ago I had a beer epiphany at the Hali’maile General Store restaurant. The gorgeous, velvety porter with a touch of real toasted coconut was simply amazing. This year I toured Maui Brewing’s expanded brewery in Kehei and was pleased to see bags of malt marked Gambrinus Malting, Armstrong, BC. Alberta barley I bet.

Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA

Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA

Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA, San Diego
More iconic U.S. craft beers made their way to Alberta this year, including this stunner from Ballast Point. Even among San Diego’s many excellent west coast American IPAs (Green Flash, Stone, AleSmith) Sculpin stands out. Here they add grapefruit and bump the citrus up a big notch. One sip takes me back to the surf of Mission Beach.

Driftwood Fat Tug IPA, Victoria

Driftwood Fat Tug IPA, Victoria

Driftwood Fat Tug IPA, Victoria
Trips to B.C. used to mean hauling back bottles of Driftwood Brewery’s outstanding beers, including their award-winning American IPA. Happily, Driftwood is now available in Alberta, which means full access to this intensely hoppy (80 IBU), citrusy Pacific Northwest IPA.

Ribstone Great White Combine White IPA, Edgerton

Ribstone Great White Combine White IPA, Edgerton

Ribstone Great White Combine White IPA, Edgerton
Way out on the Alberta prairie, in the middle of not much, there’s a craft brewery showing the way forward. Quality, interesting beer. Good people. Great branding. Here they combine a witbier with an IPA for the au courant white IPA style. Hoppy yet soft and fruity and all delicious.

Village Gardener, Calgary

Village Gardener, Calgary

Village Gardener, Calgary
It takes a village to raise a beer says Village Brewery. And with their “Community Involved Ale” they really mean it, brewing an intensely local beer with hops, rhubarb strawberries and Nanking cherries grown by seven communities throughout Calgary. Plus honey from local apiaries and local barley.

Alley Kat Alberta Dragon Double IPA, Edmonton

Alley Kat Alberta Dragon Double IPA, Edmonton

Alley Kat Alberta Dragon Double IPA, Edmonton
For Alberta Beer Week and their 20th anniversary, Alley Kat brewed a truly local, all-Alberta beer, with Alberta barley, Edmonton water and for the first time commercially, Alberta hops grown west of Edmonton by Northern Girls Hopyard. A dream come true for Alley Kat owner Neil Herbst.

Peter Bailey knows “the skyline of Toronto is somethin’ you’ll get onto”, but he’s always glad to be Alberta Bound. He tweets as @Libarbarian.

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