Beer Guy for September-October 2019

Be true to your brew

by Peter Bailey

Worcester College, University of Oxford. Detail from Conversation Piece: Worcester College, Oxford, by Edward Irvine Halliday, (1902–1984), ©the artist’s estate
Worcester College, University of Oxford. Detail from Conversation Piece: Worcester College, Oxford,
by Edward Irvine Halliday, (1902–1984), ©the artist’s estate

“These are the golden years, the best years of your life. Enjoy them.”

My uncle Pete gave me this advice back in 1984, when I was a student at the University of Alberta. At the time I had no money, no girlfriend, no car and no job prospects. I was sweating away at an overdue essay on a crappy typewriter with keys that stuck. I lived in a back room of a decaying old house next to a tiny bathroom in which the toilet was rotting through the floor. Golden years? Ha!

Uncle Pete was wrong. Life got better—richer and more full over the years. But he wasn’t entirely wrong. A happy marriage, wonderful kids, great friends and a fulfilling career all have their roots in those golden undergrad years. And it all started with beer. No, really.

I was starting second year at UofA, after a lonely first year living at home with my parents and commuting to school. Walking down 87th Avenue, I heard Bob Marley pulsing from on high, coming from the roof of a big brick house across from Garneau School. I stopped on the sidewalk out front and looked up to where guys were drinking beer in the sun on a rooftop balcony. I thought to myself, “Why am I down here and not up there?” Soon enough I had joined Phi Delta Theta fraternity, had moved into that back room and my life changed for the better.

They say male friendships are made shoulder to shoulder—doing things together. Back then what we did together was drink beer. We bonded while standing shoulder to shoulder at the bar in the basement, talking long into the night. Or sitting all night on the roof, watching the sun come up. These friendships born of beer became enduring, lifelong friendships.

Beer has sustained these friendships in the decades since undergrad. My good friend Dale and I have worked to maintain our friendship, despite not living in the same city since UofA days. I’ve visited him in Nebraska, North Carolina and Windsor, met up with him at other places, and beer always plays a key role. Our wider crowd of friends from UofA scattered across the globe, so Dale had the brilliant idea of everyone meeting annually for a Boys’ Weekend at an agreed-to spot in North America. The important thing with these trips is who you’re with, not where you go. It’s about the bonding, not the beer. Well sure, but picking a destination involves a months-long debate.

Starting with Montreal in 2006, we’ve been all over the place, from New York City to New Orleans, from Denver to Detroit. We spend our time walking about, searching out classic dive bars, craft beer bars and breweries, perhaps squeezing in a little culture here or there. In 2019, we met up in Austin, Texas, where my favourite was Easy Tiger, a beer garden beside a creek, just off busy 6th Street.

When I talk about our Boys’ Weekend, other men say they wish they had a trip like this. You can, I say. Men, certainly men of my age, are reluctant to expose themselves emotionally by reaching out. You haven’t talked to your old friend in years? So what. Reach out. Get off Facebook and go for a beer. I bet your old pal feels exactly the same way.

Scholastic six

In my undergrad years it was slim pickings for good beer, with the only choice between lagers from the big three: Molson, Labatt and Carling O’Keefe. What beery riches today’s students have to choose from! Here’s six academically-themed Alberta beers to start with.

Click images to zoom

Study Buddy Hefeweizen
Study Buddy Hefeweizen

Theoretically Brewing Study Buddy Hefeweizen, Lethbridge
Like The Big Bang Theory? Theoretically Brewing is for you, founded by two self-declared science nerds from the University of Lethbridge. Here Brew Master (and UofL chemistry prof) Kris Fischer serves up a sunny, light wheat beer to support your after-class patio needs.

Big Rock Traditional
Big Rock Traditional

Big Rock Traditional, Calgary
UofA students quaffing Trad at RATT or the Black Dog may not know how radical a beer Traditional was back in 1985. Big Rock founder Ed McNally entered the lager-centric Alberta market with an English-style brown ale that showcased the nutty, malty goodness of Alberta barley. Rest in Power Ed!

Cabin Sunshine Rain IPA
Cabin Sunshine Rain IPA

Cabin Sunshine Rain IPA, Calgary
If I had a time machine, I’d bring an IPA like Sunshine Rain back to mid-80s UofA. This beer would have blown our minds. Here Cabin combines the attributes of a Northeast and a Northwest IPA—assertively flavourful, hoppy, yet balanced rather than bitter, with a solid tropical punch.

Aggie Ale
Olds College Aggie Ale

Olds College Brewery Aggie Ale, Olds
This September marks the 7th cohort in the Olds College Brewmaster & Brewery Operations Management program. Program graduates can be found throughout the Alberta brewing industry and beyond. Brewed at the College, Aggie Ale is an amber ale that focuses on Alberta malts.

Varsity Hall Red Ale
Varsity Hall Red Ale

Snake Lake Varsity Hall Red Ale, Sylvan Lake
Red Deer College is to become Red Deer University. I hope this doesn’t slow the flow of Red Deerians coming to Edmonton. Some of my favourite people at UofA were from Red Deer. This biscuity red ale is Snake Lake’s tribute to Varsity Hall, a legendary local live jazz and dancing spot in the 50s and 60s.

Sea Change Prairie Fairy
Sea Change Prairie Fairy

Sea Change Prairie Fairy, Edmonton
In the 80’s Whyte Ave wasn’t much, with a long, beerless section between the Strathcona Hotel and UofA. In recent years there’s been a sea change, with breweries like Situation, Polar Park, Blind Enthusiasm and Omen opening nearby. Sea Change brews this delicious, pink-hued, fruity wheat ale, sales of which support Fruit Loop, a LGBTQ2+ organization.

Peter Bailey can’t show you the secret handshake. Even still. He’s on Twitter and Instagram as @Libarbarian.