Beer Guy: Alberta Ale Trail

by Peter Bailey

When the bartender asks, ‘Are you here for the crib tournament?’ you know you’ve left the big city behind.

Happy Ale Trail

No, I wasn’t there to play cribbage, unlike most of the people in the packed taproom at Detention Brewing in tiny Rosalind, Alberta. My son and I had stopped in for an après-ski beer after a day downhill skiing at Valley Ski Club, located near, well, not near much. It’s in the Battle River Valley, about two and a half hours southeast of Edmonton. My son loves shredding the steepest and narrowest of big mountain couloirs, but he also enjoys trying the underappreciated small-town hills around Alberta. Last winter we skied Medicine Lodge Ski Hill, just west of Bentley and hit the impressive Hawk Tail Brewery taproom in Rimbey for après-ski. Sure, prairie alpine skiing is a bit of an oxymoron, but what these ski hills lack in vertical feet they make up for with uncrowded slopes, friendliness and small-town charm. These places are often community-owned, kept going with love and community spirit by determined locals.

Rural communities have struggled as family farms have dwindled, with some places held together with stubbornness, baling wire and maybe a gas station and a library branch—and sometimes some new ideas. This was the situation in Rosalind, a speck on the prairie about 30 minutes southeast of Camrose. The Rosalind School closed permanently in 2013, with a local family purchasing the building in 2017. Mark (dad), Tammy (mum) and Wyatt (son) Langille all attended Rosalind School back in the day. A trip to New Zealand and the experience of craft beer culture there inspired them to transform the school into a brewery. Wyatt headed off to the Olds College brewing program and he is Detention’s brewer today.

In all my beer travels, Detention might be the best I’ve seen at carrying out a themed concept. Everything at Detention supports the schoolhouse brewery idea, with the taproom in the former science lab, flights served in retro metal lunchboxes and the taproom tables made from hardwood lifted from the gymnasium floor.

Detention is a great example of the amazing breweries in Alberta, in tiny villages to big cities, that are innovating and exploring new ideas to keep themselves viable. In doing so, build their communities. So it is was a delight to see the Alberta Small Breweries Association (ASBA) launch the Alberta Ale Trail, a website and app featuring itineraries or trails for visiting breweries around Alberta.

It makes it easier to find great breweries both on and off the beaten path. There are 150 breweries on the Alberta Ale Trail map, split into six regions (Northern, Edmonton, Central, Calgary, Southern and the Rockies). Each region has several curated trails. The Edmonton region has 29 breweries featured on four trails, including Happy Beer Street, Hop Pocket, Southeast Edmonton (including Sherwood Park) and West Edmonton (including St. Albert and Spruce Grove). “We really wanted to make it easy for everyone to discover and enjoy these breweries,” said Blair Berdusco, the ASBA executive director. The project is supported by both the provincial and federal governments, which shows once again that beer is the one thing that brings all of us together.

Happy trails everyone!

Alberta Ale Trail picks
Hit the Ale Trails this summer and find great craft beer all over Alberta. You may find some of these beers at better beer stores, but generally, you gotta go there to get them!

Click images to zoom

Peace River Brewing Foxtail Amber

Peace River Brewing Foxtail Amber, Peace River
Directly across the mighty Peace River from Misery Mountain Ski Area. At 56° north latitude, Peace River is the northernmost brewery in the Alberta Ale Trails, about five hours’ drive from Edmonton. Opened in 2018 by Tyrell Kehler and Medrey Bond. Try the malt forward, nut brown amber ale.

Next Five Brewing Dilly Dally IPA

Next Five Brewing Dilly Dally IPA, Devon
Last winter the snow was scarce in Edmonton, but the Devon Nordic trails along the North Saskatchewan River had decent snow. After a cross-country ski session one Sunday I popped into Next Five and was impressed with their colourful, well-designed and barrier-free taproom. Dilly Dally is a refreshing, balanced American IPA.

Detention Brewing Summer School Cerveza

Detention Brewing Summer School Cerveza, Rosalind
This charming, high-concept brewery in a former school about 90 minutes from Edmonton is a pleasant destination for a day trip. Brewer Wyatt Langille brews a number of accessible ‘school projects’ including No Running in the Halls Red Ale, Milk Money Milk Stout and this light-bodied, very crushable Mexican lager.

Brass Monkey Blood Orange Blonde

Ol’ Beautiful Brass Monkey Blood Orange Blonde, Calgary
Ol’ Beautiful and its partner across the patio, Cold Garden, are part of the Brewery Flats Ale Trail, centered in Calgary’s hip and happening Inglewood neighbourhood. Take a seat on the sunny patio or escape the heat inside and grab a taco from A1 Burrito. Brass Monkey is an easy drinking blonde ale made with organic blood orange puree, hopped with Mandarina.

Travois Brewing Scottish Export

Travois Brewing Scottish Export, Medicine Hat
Part of the Southern Alberta Ale Trail, Medicine Hat brews above its weight, with three great craft breweries – Hell’s Basement, Medicine Hat and Travois Brewing. Full marks to Travois for locating downtown in a heritage brick building built in 1939. Scottish Export is a traditional Scottish ale with heavy toasted malty caramel taste with subtle notes of plum and raisins.

3 Bears Happy Trails Pale Ale

3 Bears Happy Trails Pale Ale, Banff
The Rockies Ale Trail runs from Hinton’s Folding Mountain Brewing, west to Jasper Brewing, south to Banff and then west to Canmore’s trio of great breweries. Banff Hospitality Collective brought the forest indoors with their woodsy cabin-chic brewery and restaurant. Try their fruity, herbal pale ale après-ski, après-hiking or après-wandering Banff Ave!

Peter Bailey will see you on the trails. He’s on X/Twitter and Instagram as @Libarbarian