Alberta Brewed

by Peter Bailey

A farmer wins the lottery and is asked, “What are you going to do with your winnings?” He responds, “I’m going to keep farming until the money’s all gone.”

That old joke came to mind when I met Greg Zeschuk, executive director of the newly minted Alberta Small Brewers Association (ASBA). While Zeschuk hasn’t won the lottery, he did retire recently from BioWare, the very successful Edmonton-based video gaming company he co-founded. He shocked the gaming community with his retirement, but even more so with his post-BioWare career plans: talking and writing about craft beer. In addition to his ASBA duties, Zeschuk has created a web show featuring craft brewers called, and writes a beer column for

Sharp career turns are nothing new for Zeschuk. He graduated from the University of Alberta with a medical degree in 1992 and practised as a physician while he and his BioWare co-founder, Ray Muzyka, got the company rolling.

Zeschuk is the real-life embodiment of the graduation speech cliché “do what you love.” We tell our kids this but don’t really believe it; Zeschuk lives it. And now he’s bringing this passion to being the pro-bono advocate for Alberta beer.

BioWare’s first office was next door to the Sugarbowl, Edmonton’s pioneer beer shrine, so perhaps craft beer was destiny for Zeschuk. But like many beer drinkers of a certain age, Zeschuk’s tastes have changed as craft beer has grown. Big Rock Traditional was his gateway beer back in U of A days. It wasn’t until BioWare opened an office in Austin, Texas in 2008 that Zeschuk really got into craft beer, seeing the growth of craft first-hand and getting to know local Austin brewers. He saw the same passion among craft brewers for what they were doing as he had possessed for gaming.

Austin is a city about the same size as Edmonton, yet it has at least 20 breweries. The key is the love of local: “if it’s from Austin they love it. They’ll take it over anything else.” With the ASBA, Zeschuk wants to encourage that love of local beer in Alberta: “We have to excite Albertans about supporting local craft beer. People don’t know if it’s good or not. The beer is here, and it is good beer.”

Zeschuk explains that BioWare had to compete globally from its base in Edmonton; the competition wasn’t down the street, it was across the globe. The same is true for Alberta craft beer. Alberta beer drinkers have more choice than anywhere else in Canada, with 2,500 beers available. On the plus side, this choice is building an exploratory culture of enthusiastic, knowledgeable beer drinkers. Zeschuk and the ASBA hope to convince these folks that there’s great beer right here at home. And there’s no place like home: I asked Zeschuk if after all his travels to amazing places he was tempted to live somewhere else. “This winter?” he said with a smile, before responding, “I’m from here. I love it here.” Alberta-born, Alberta-brewed.

Alberta beers brewed in Alberta by Alberta breweries owned by Albertans. Alberta Small Brewers Association Director Greg Zeschuk picks six new beers from ASBA members.

Alley Kat Scona Gold, Edmonton
Alley Kat Scona Gold,
Alley Kat Scona Gold,

Alley Kat owner Neil Herbst is a great choice as the first chair of ASBA. Recently Alley Kat retired their Charlie Flint Lager in favour of a delicious golden Kölsch. Zeschuk calls it ‘a fabulous beer’ that compares well with those he tried in Köln, Germany. Bonus: Scona Gold is gluten-reduced!

Ribstone Lone Bison IPA
Ribstone Lone Bison IPA
Ribstone Lone Bison IPA, Edgerton

On a recent episode of The Beer Diaries, a Texas brewer claimed that craft breweries are judged by the quality of their IPA. If so, Ribstone is the real deal, producing a big, hoppy, west coast-style American IPA in the middle of the dry Alberta prairie. Even better: Lone Bison will be available in cans this summer.

Hog’s Head A Clockwort Orange Wheat Ale,
Hog’s Head A Clockwort Orange Wheat
Hog’s Head A Clockwort Orange Wheat Ale, St. Albert

“Our Beer. Our Province. Drink Local.” With that statement on every beer carton, there’s little doubt where Hog’s Head stands. Known for their hop-forward beer, here Hog’s Head steps outside the hop zone with a friendly, quaffable witbier flavoured with orange zest and blood oranges, perfect company on a summer patio.

Big Rock Purple Gas
Big Rock Purple Gas
Big Rock Purple Gas, Calgary

At first, Big Rock doesn’t seem to fit in an association for small brewers. But, big as Big Rock is, it still shares much with its Alberta siblings, including a renewed devotion to seasonal and limited production beers. “Big Rock has taken a hard left turn back to craft,” says Zeschuk. Purple Gas is a clever nod to Alberta’s farming heritage, a light summer wheat ale flavoured with Saskatoon berries and agave.

Wild Rose Natural Born Keller
Wild Rose Natural Born Keller
Wild Rose Natural Born Keller, Calgary

A hybrid of styles, Natural Born Keller is part California common, part kellerbier and part bock – and all good. It combines the crisp crackle of a lager with the fullness and depth of an ale. A unique beer destined for a summer deck near you.

Grizzly Paw Rundlestone Session Ale
Grizzly Paw Rundlestone Session Ale
Grizzly Paw Rundlestone Session Ale, Canmore

Zeschuk raves about Grizzly Paw’s new 20,000 square foot production brewery, calling it ‘spectacular.’ The facility not only allows Grizzly Paw to keep up with demand, but to experiment with seasonals and one-offs. Rundlestone hops on the hot session ale trend with this very drinkable English pale ale with an American hop edge.

Peter Bailey will keep librarianing until the money is all gone. He tweets as @Libarbarian.