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Get Ready for the Goat (Locker)

goatlockerlogo2I will admit when I first heard the name, I was perplexed. Goat Locker Brewing is not what I would consider a traditional brewery name. The name initially invokes thoughts of less-than-appealing aromas in confined spaces. Then I read about the origins of the term and it all started to make sense to me. And it appears I am not alone on that front.

Goat Locker is one of the soon-to-be new Calgary breweries. They recently launched their inaugural beer, currently contract brewed at Dead Frog in B.C. while they work on building their own brewery. I had a chance last week to sit down with one of the founders for a chat about what a Goat Locker is, why it makes a good brand and what they want to do for beer consumers in Alberta.

Goat Locker is currently the work of Brett Lovas, Will Tanner and Ryan Kaye. The trio brings an interesting mixture of experience to the project. Goat Locker is the brainchild of Lovas, who has been dreaming of opening a brewery for years and has been quietly planning for the past two years. Lovas is the Academic Chair of Electrical Engineering Technology at SAIT, a job he continues to hold, working on the brewery project on weekends and evenings. He is also a homebrewer and is applying that knowledge to the design of their beer.

Why now? “He watched the market grow in Alberta and realized it was finally receptive enough. He took his nickels and some friends nickels and started scraping together a brewery concept”, says Ryan Kaye.

As for Kaye he was Wild Rose Brewing’s first sales manager. “When I started it was just me. I learned how to build an Alberta craft beer business”, says Kaye.”When ready for a change a few years ago there was nowhere else to go”. He moved to the oil and gas industry for a while, but never lost his desire to be in beer. With the recent explosion in craft brewing in the province, he saw his chance to jump back and hooked up with Lovas. The third Goatman, Tanner, was a sales rep for Granville Island for a couple of years, and so also brings beer industry knowledge to the table.

For the record, a goat locker is a navy term. Historically, seamen would bring a goat on ocean voyages because, as Kaye tells it “basically it could survive on food scraps and took up no space. They could use it for milk, make cheese and, if needed, eat it”. Where they kept the goat became known as the goat locker. They also stored the ship’s supply of beer in the same space (as it was cool). Over time the seamen would take to hanging out in the goat locker, sharing beer and stories for a much needed rest. It became a “no officers” zone and thus a safe space for the crew. The term is still in use today, long after goat’s were banished from ships. In the lexicon, a goat locker is basically “a drinking space” says Kaye.

Okay, the name starts to make more sense. But why is an Alberta brewery adopting a sea-oriented term? “Brett’s grandfather was in the navy and used to tell him stories about it. His grandpa would talk about the goat locker”. Plus, Kaye says, Lovas always had a fascination with the sea, despite being a Saskatchewan boy”. The name just made sense.

Kaye says as branding the name has worked way better than he ever thought it would. “At first people go ‘What?’, but when you tie it Continue reading Get Ready for the Goat (Locker)

Wild Rose’s Wild, Unexplained Beer

Photo courtesy of thebeerdiaries.tv

Photo courtesy of thebeerdiaries.tv

I will say right up front I picked up this beer because I was curious as to what they were up to with this beer. The beer is one of Wild Rose’s Rare Series (I can’t say the latest since this week they just released a new one – a Berliner Weisse). The called it “Farmhouse White” and admitted to using a lager yeast, red wine barrel-aging and brettanomyces. Not your usual combination. In fact it is rather ambitious and so the risk of overdoing it becomes real.

Just what is this beer supposed to be? I didn’t know. Normally a light-coloured farmhouse ale might be called a Saison or a Biere de Garde. But this beer doesn’t fit those bills. So maybe the name is appropriate. It was just kind of frustratingly vague. Before I opened the bottle I simply wasn’t sure what to expect.

And then I opened the bottle. This is what I found.

It is pale yellow with a slight haze to it. It forms a thin white head, but nothing notable. In general it looks like a bit of a lifeless Witbier. The aroma starts with a light lactic sourness and a grainy pilsner malt. I also pick up an edge of peppery spiciness and some undefined earthy funkiness.

The flavour starts with an earthy mustiness, some light grainy sweetness and a lemon tart character. The middle sharpens even more and becomes noticeably sour. It mostly has a kettle sour character, meaning it lacks rich complexity, but then adds a fresh citrus and peach fruit accent. In the undertones I pick up some earthy, vaguely musty character. The linger is cleanly sour mixed with musty earth and a sprig of lemony citrus and fresh grass.

I finish the glass as intrigued as I began it. I still not sure I understand what they were going for, but the beer is fascinating. It is part sour ale, part witbier, part saison, part lambic.I don’t get a lot of wood character in it. The Brett only plays a supporting role offering a vague earthiness. That may shift over time.

I may be getting caught in an effort to pigeon-hole the beer, which isn’t fair. If I ask myself whether it is an enjoyable beer, I think my answer is “yes”. It is light, refreshing and original. So on that score it succeeds.

I just wish I had a better sense of what they wanted to do with the beer so I could better work out whether the various desired flavour components came through. I appreciate the beer, but feel a bit at a loss around whether it does what it is supposed to do.

Or maybe I should just relax, let go and appreciate it for what I experience it to be. Seems like a good strategy.

Alberta in Midst of Brewery Boom

albertamapThings are changing in Alberta. For the last few years, the province was a laggard in terms of craft beer. It had among the fewest breweries per capita in the country (see here), existing breweries faced significant hurdles (e.g., privatized retail, open border, unfriendly government policy) and local craft beer simply didn’t have much presence in most pubs and liquor stores.

I have pontificated often about why that was/is. I am not going to repeat that here. Instead, I want to report that things seem to be shifting – and with dizzying speed. I take pride in keeping up on new developments in the industry, and over the past few months I have observed a noted increase in the number of rumours, tips and talk I was hearing about new breweries in some stage of development. To be frank it has started to become a bit overwhelming.

A couple weeks ago I decided I need to get on top of it – or at least closer to it. I contacted the AGLC and a number of industry-connected people I know and coordinated a list of existing and planned breweries in the province.

This is what I learned. The number of breweries with active production licenses in Alberta now sits at 32 (the AGLC officially lists it at 39, but we have slightly different methodologies – they count brewing locations while I count coherent operations – e.g., Brewsters has two licenses, I count that as one). That number is up by 11 since the beginning of 2016 – less than six months!

Some of the newbies I have written about here, including (links are to my profiles) Bent Stick, Boiling Oar, Cold Garden, Coulee Creek (formerly Wild Craft – that profile needs an update), GP Brewing, Grain Bin, Half Hitch, Situation and Theoretically Brewing. (Note, not all are yet selling their product, but all have permission to brew beer). Two others are on the list and I hope to have profiles of them in the coming weeks – King of Springs Brewery in Didsbury and Lakeland Brewing in St. Paul.

Okay, that is pretty impressive and suggests things are finally looking up. But when I add to that list the not-yet-licensed breweries currently actively working toward that goal, things get downright dizzy. At this point I have compiled a list of 25 planned breweries at various stages and doubt I have captured them all. We will see some opening this calendar year, while others may still be a couple years away.

albertaflagI will not list all of their names yet, as some are not yet ready to go public. However, you know of many of them already (either due to me or other sources). Some are contract brewing while building their brewery, including Six Corners, Braurei Fahr and Goat Locker (profile of them coming soon). Others are previously announced, but not yet ready, such as Polar Park, Trolley 5 and The Well. Other publicly known projects include the high profile Mill Street Brewpub in Calgary and the recently announced Medicine Hat Brewing (profile coming later this summer).

I have business cards for a handful of others and the names of the rest, but as the owners have not yet indicated (to me, at any rate) that they are ready to go public, I will refrain from listing them.

I will still endeavour to Continue reading Alberta in Midst of Brewery Boom

Calgary Changes Bylaw, Edmonton Thinking About It

cityofcalgaryWannabe craft breweries in Edmonton and Calgary have gotten some really positive news recently from their municipal governments. Both cities are making bylaw changes that will make it easier to open a small craft brewery. It is a solid indication that Alberta policy-makers are starting to get the advantages of local craft beer.

First, a few weeks ago, Calgary City Council approved a new bylaw basically permitting breweries (and wineries and distilleries) to open in commercial areas. Without getting too policy wonkish, they added a new category of development in their Land Use Bylaw called “brewery, winery, distillery”. It allows the creation of smaller-sized production facilities in areas previously banned – most importantly key commercial strips that have lots of traffic. Commercial zoning allows restaurants, bars and stores but prohibits industrial-like manufacturing. In the past small breweries were classified as manufacturing and thus shut out from those areas. Brewpubs, who have a different classification, were allowed.

However, with the 2013 AGLC policy changes, the distinction between a brewpub and brewery and the allowance of brewery tap rooms blurred the line between the two types of operations. The elimination of minimum production also opened up the possibility of a small brewing operation. Calgary finally figured that out and changed their bylaw to recognize the new realities.

Ironically, their bylaw comes after the recent spate of new breweries that are opening or soon to open in that city. However, it will facilitate a broader range of brewery business plans in the future. The bylaw puts a square-foot restriction on any brewery development, meaning a big brewery like Big Rock couldn’t move onto to electric avenue or anything¬† like that (I am not saying Big Rock wants to do that…).

For the record, I did my CBC column on the bylaw change a few weeks back and had held off reporting it here because I was hoping to link to the audio file. Unfortunately, my friends at the CBC have unexpectedly fallen back into their pattern of not posting the file, meaning I waited a bit too long to post the news in the hopes of giving you some value-added. My apologies.

cityofedmontonThe second bit of news – which is much fresher – is that this week Edmonton City Council voted to move ahead with drafting a similar bylaw. We don’t yet know what exactly the bylaw will say, but sources tell me that it will be based on the Calgary amendment with some possible tweaks to meet Edmonton’s needs. One possibility is to limit size by brewhouse size rather than square footage – which makes more sense to me as an upper limit.

They will debate the principles of the bylaw in two weeks (or so I am told), and pass the final version likely in the spring.

Edmonton has been lagging in the Alberta craft beer boom. One of the reasons has been their restrictive development policies. I am very hopeful that if Edmonton makes it easier to open a brewery in the city, this will remove yet another barrier to small-scale, quality local beer being produced in my home city.

If you live in Edmonton, try to make a point of contacting your City Councillor and let them know you think changing the bylaw is a good idea. In my mind it is one of those easy cases – no one gets hurt but lots of people will benefit.

I will try to keep you posted on developments.

Bent Stick to Offer Good Beer, Straight Up

bentsticklogoA couple of years ago, Bent Stick Brewing (no website yet – here is their Twitter Account) would not have been possible as the laws prohibited their model. As it works out, Bent Stick is on the verge of becoming Edmonton’s newest brewery. Which, for Edmonton beer fans, is a very, very good thing.

You see, Bent Stick – at least for now – is small. Very small. That was something forbidden just three years ago. They are hoping to have beer on shelves in the next few days, once they clear last minute AGLC permitting issues. I had the good fortunate of visiting Bent Stick last weekend and have a chat with the founders.

Bent Stick is the creation of four former Alley Kat employees: Scott Kendall, Kurtis Jensen, Patrick Gaudet and Ben Rix. They actually met while working at Alley Kat, Edmonton’s longtime craft brewery. While they appreciated working at Alley Kat, they all had bigger – or in this case, smaller – aspirations. All four were avid homebrewers and individually thought a small brewing operation would be exciting. However, due to the restrictive minimum capacity rules at the time, such a venture was impossible and so each kept their dream to themselves.

Then came December 6, 2013, the day the minimum capacity requirement was scrapped. “The morning after the law changed, everyone at the brewery was buzzing. We just kind of looked at each other”, says Rix. It was the time to come out and share their to-that-point secret visions. “It was not feasible before. The changes made the dream a reality”.

They got talking informally and that let to more official discussions. “The first meeting was Canada Day 2014”, says Kendall. From there the plan moved swiftly.¬† The idea was a small, flexible, locally-oriented brewery with constantly changing offerings. “We are not going to have a mainstay”, he notes. Instead they will regularly put out new beer, only circling around again once in a while.

When most breweries try to build a couple core brands, it might seem odd they are eschewing that approach. Rix explains it best. “We hear from other breweries that they brew X beer to keep the lights on”, and create the space for other creations, he says. “When you only have six lights you can brew whatever you want”.

Rix is not lying when he says they have only six lights. Bent Stick is located in a very small light industrial bay in northeast Edmonton. The exact location isn’t particularly relevant because at the moment they don’t have the space (or staff) for a tasting room, retail sales and even growler fills. It is strictly production only. They plan to only release their beer in 650-ml bombers, although they are contemplating keg sales down the road.

“We are so small we can’t meet demand for everybody”, says Kendall. “We want people to be exciting about our product and to have a personal touch with who we sell beer to”. At first they plan to offer their beer at a select number of locations, places that have some kind of personal, community or beer connection. “We will sell to people with whom we have relationships, with whom we know understand local beer”.

“We don’t want our beer to be readily available”, says Kendall. “We want it to be Continue reading Bent Stick to Offer Good Beer, Straight Up

Cask-Aid Raised Glasses & Dollars for Fort Mac

yellwheadcaskaidYesterday afternoon at Yellowhead Brewing in Edmonton dozens of thirsty patrons sipped on one-of-a-kind cask ales and raised money for the Red Cross Fort McMurray Relief fund at the same time. Dubbed Cask-Aid (Cascasde – get it?), it was the brainchild of Yellowhead brewer Bruce Sample. Twelve Alberta breweries each brought a cask and a person to lend a hand pouring.

As of writing, I am unsure how much was raised (maybe Bruce will comment on the post giving us an update), but between ticket sales, raffle prizes and additional sample tickets (the $10 entry gave you four 100 ml samples), I am sure a decent sum was collected. The Yellowhead tasting room served as a cozy and welcoming site for the event – it really is a space that should be used more as I quite like its ambience.

As cask events are supposed to, each brewery brought something unique and special. I didn’t get to all twelve but did sample most of them. As expected some worked better than others, but it is always fun to see what comes out. There were a couple standard hoppy ales with special dry-hopping, and some fruit-added beer. Norsemen Brewing out of Camrose came with a blonde ale infused with a complex herbal tea that brought out lots of berry and a touch of tea tannin.

Fort McMurray’s Wood Buffalo was there in name with a cask actually brewed at Last Best Brewing in Calgary, another location of the Bear Hill brewpub chain. It was a fascinating

Bruce Sample with his mango-everything lager. Yes, there was a lot of mango in that beer!

Bruce Sample with his mango-everything lager. Yes, there was a lot of mango in that beer!

smoky porter NOT made with smoked malt, which was interesting. Alley Kat brought a hopped up Kolsch which reminded me a little bit of a English Golden Ale, but the decision to use Saaz to dry hop may not have been the best choice.

An oops-turned-experiment beer was provided by Blindman Brewing’s Mistakenly Dark Ale. The beer is a blend of three beer: their IPA, River Session Ale and what was supposed to be an amber ale but due to a grain milling error, where 20kg of Midnight Wheat was used instead of 2kg, became a rather dark and roasty ale. Turning on their creativity, the brewers decided to blend to tone down the roastiness and increase the hop character. The resulting beer is not unlike a Cascadian Dark Ale, although the cask version still had too much roast on the palate. They tell me the packaged version has less of the mistaken beer and so is not quite so roasted.

I tried a few others but wasn’t taking notes that afternoon, so can’t remember them all. Anyone who attended is welcome to add comments about beer they appreciated at the event.

Kudos to Bruce at Yellowhead for organizing and thanks to all those who helped raise money for Fort Mac by tipping their elbows with some interesting cask ales.

 

Signs of Fort Mac Rebuild: Wood Buffalo Returns

wood buffalo brewingAmidst the dramatic and tragic events in Fort McMurray this past month, I have been wondering about the fate of the city’s only brewpub, Wood Buffalo Brewing. Obviously in the grand scheme of things, the effects on a brewery/restaurant are fairly unimportant – although of grave importance to the staff and owners of the pub.

With residents moving back in and the residents beginning to rebuild their lives, it seemed a good time to check-in and see what happened to the brewery and where it goes from here. I had a chat with Brett Ireland, one of the co-owners of Bear Hill Brewing Company, the chain of which Wood Buffalo is part.

Located downtown, the brewery was spared by the fire, but many questions remained about the condition of the restaurant, the beer they had in tanks and, of course, when they can open their doors again.

The headline news is that they are back brewing as of today. They are officially up and running again, which is great news. The restaurant remains closed for now as they deal with smoke and water damage and restock supplies, but they hope to re-open by the end of next week. Staffing issues also are top of mind as employees slowly work their way back home and those who have decided not to return need to be replaced.

Bear Hill continued paying all of its affected staff during the closure and for many found spots in their other locations temporarily. However, despite some insurance coverage, the lost revenue will take a big bite out of the brewery, at least in the short term.

The brewery lost 500 litres of a beer they were in the middle of brewing the day they evacuated, but Ireland tells me that, almost miraculously, all of the beer in the tanks are fine. Ireland speculates that the insulation protected them against the high temperatures during the height of the fire.

Ireland points out that they had some smoked malt stored on their patio (to not contaminate their other malt stores), which is now extra smoky. They are not yet sure what to do with it but are toying with an extra-rauch rauchbier.

While they rebuild their beer stocks, Ireland says seven Alberta breweries (Alley Kat, Yellowhead, Big Rock, Brewsters, Tool Shed, Village and Wildrose) are donating a couple of kegs each to serve at the re-opened bar. He says all proceeds from the sale of the donated beer will go to the Fort McMurray Firefighters Relief Fund.

Fort McMurray is slowly rebuilding. I can’t think of a better sign of its comeback than the return of locally-produced beer.

[edited to add missing seventh brewery.]

 

 

Fasten or Slow-en, This is One Great Beer

aechtfastenbierBy now most of you know I am a huge fan of Aecht Schlenkerla, the Bamberg rauchbier brewery. You can find evidence of that here, here, here and here. Well, I am here again to review yet another beer from the famed smoked brewers. You could say this is just the latest in an occasional series on the Schlenk.

As I have said before, I think it is the balanced complexity in their beer that I appreciate most. Most smoked beer are either all about the smoke or only offer a wisp of the earthy, pungent character. Not Aecht Schlenkerla. Their beer always seem to have a rich complexity without losing track of the fact it is supposed to be a beer first and foremost.

The latest acquisition on my part is their Fastenbier, a beer they make once a year for Lent. Lent may be over, but it was still worth giving a try and adding a notch to my rauchbier belt.

It pours medium copper with a thick, dense off-white head forming on top. Not unexpectedly, it offers up a strong woody smoke aroma, accented with some vanilla and touches of dark fruit, all built upon a light toffee malt.

The beer begins with a delicate, soft malt upfront of toffee and light toast. This is quickly supplanted by a rounded smokiness with some sweet beech wood and oak character. The finish is smoky and balanced between soft toffee malt and smoky esters. The linger is a rounded, pleasant and earthy with a woody sharpness of, well, smoke.

Like all Aecht products, it is unbelievably smooth and rounded, dominantly smoky but not out of balance. They leave enough base malt in the beer, however, to counter the smoky edges, which are sharp but not acrid. I continue to be marveled by this brewery and their ability to produce such smoke-forward beer yet keep them totally drinkable.

Expect another Aecht review at some point in the future when I stumble across another of their beer. Maybe I should change the name of this site to onAechtbeer.org?

 

 

Folk Fest Gripe Highlights Need for Liquor Law Modernization

folkfestbeertent

Do these beer-drinking Folkies look like they are getting out of hand?

Today in the Edmonton Journal, a story appeared where the Producer of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival is calling for more flexibility in the application of liquor laws to special events like the Folk Fest. You can read the story here.

The issue behind the request is fairly specific – the Edmonton festival is notorious for long line-ups at its beer tent, especially on sunny afternoons and early evenings. However, it highlights a growing issue around the rules regulating the sale and consumption of liquor. Most provinces (Quebec might be the exception) have restrictive and, at times, bizarre regulations around alcohol consumption. Most of these rules are vestiges of the post-prohibition period when the compromise for becoming¬† “wet” again was to strictly manage when and how alcohol was purchased (there is a reason they were called “liquor control” commissions).

The Folk Fest’s main problem is that the demand for beer on-site outstrips their capacity to supply. Volunteer staffing and security demands restrict just how big the beer tent can be and make it difficult to open a second spot. Theoretically an all-site license is possible but as the Journal article points out for the Folk Fest it would require 400-450 security staff at all times, which stretches their volunteer and financial capacity.

I will fully admit to having skin in the game on this one, being a longtime avid Folk Fest attendee. I just waited for four hours on Saturday at Telus Field to secure my weekend passes, and I am not a stranger to the beer tent.

Personally I can attest to the strategic decisions one must make to procure a beer at the Fest, none of which are particularly consistent with moderate imbibing. I often intentionally hit the beer tent earlier than I might otherwise plan to beat the rush time periods. And I also have experienced that moment of decision – go see that band I really want to hear or stay for one more beer because I know I am not getting back in.

The issues at the Folk Fest are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many ways the rules unnecessarily restrict responsible consumption of alcohol, especially beer. Here are just a few examples off the top of my head: differential licensing for minors-allowed premises which dampens the potential for family-friendly events with alcohol; strict hours of sale rules (from 10am-2am); banning of alcohol for events like neighbourhood block parties; prohibition of homebrewed beer or wine at a private event (really, they still do that). There are also just plain strange rules, such as mud wrestling is a banned entertainment, but Sumo wrestling is okay. Wet t-shirt/wet boxer short (do people do that??) are okay sometimes but not others. Volleyball is prohibited when minors are present, but darts are okay at all times. There are also a myriad of rules around nude entertainment that seem to have nothing to do with alcohol consumption.

I imagine people working in the industry have a much longer list of frustations.

These rules are not just an Alberta problem. Every jurisdiction in the country has a long set of rules telling Continue reading Folk Fest Gripe Highlights Need for Liquor Law Modernization

Alley Kat Gives us a Full, Prideful Squeeze

AK full squeezeYesterday Alley Kat officially announced the release of a special, one-time beer to support the Edmonton Pride Festival, the annual GLBTQ community’s annual celebration, which officially starts today and runs through the 12th. Called Full Squeeze, the beer is a blend of mainstay Full Moon Pale Ale and their popular Main Squeeze grapefruit beer. $1 of every pint and $6(!) of every six pack sold will be donated to the Festival.

While the news just came out less than 24 hours ago, I actually picked up a bottle a few days ago (wily me!), and so I can not only tell you about its existence but also offer an on-demand-style review. I will admit to not having being sure what to expect. As regular readers of this site well know (read here) I am a fan of Full Moon (pale ale version). I respect what Alley Kat does with Main Squeeze – its aroma is astounding – but it is, on the whole, not my cup of tea (that is not a criticism – just an expression of personal preference). So how would a hybrid work out? I was curious.

The beer pours pale orange with a sharp clarity. It builds a decent bright white head. It looks like a slightly watered down Full Moon, to be honest. The aroma starts with that amazing Squeeze sweet, ruby grapefruit, which is so like cutting into a fresh grapefruit. I also get some other, more subdued citrus, which might be the Full Moon whispering in the background. But the grapefruit is still king here.

The flavour starts with a similar inclination with a moderate fruitiness upfront of a distinct grapefruit character. But then a toasty, biscuit malt emerges, as does a bit of citrus hop flavour. The middle palate sharpens the malt a bit, offering that distinct Full Moon malt character and soft C-hop citrus. The finish is big in grapefruit flavour and the linger has a moderate hop bitterness of citrus and some pine.

Throughout the sipping the Full Moon elements and Main Squeeze elements bob in and out. They don’t fight. It is more like each gets a turn at a guitar solo while the other plays rhythm. In retrospect that interplay kind of makes sense, given Full Moon’s citrusy, piney character.

I think this was a fun experiment. On the surface one might think the Squeeze comes through more, just because that grapefruit aroma and initial flavour is so intense. But when you stop for a moment you begin to realize that Full Moon is making its presence felt, just in a quieter way, mostly in the malt presence by adding a light toast, biscuit, smooth graininess. The linger also gives a bit of Full Moon bitterness.

I fully expect this will be something of a divisive beer in the beer world. Some will castigate it for being to fruity, others for having a bit too much hop character. Still others will feel it offers only a part of what makes each beer unique. Fair enough. But I disagree. If you sit with this beer for a few minutes you might start to realize how the flavours complement each other and create a beer that is quite original and very different than its constituent parts. At least that is what I did. My first impressions were that it was too Squeeze-y, but only after sitting with it for a bit did I start to see how the Full Moon changed and enhanced the beer.

Plus it is being sold to support a very good cause. Do you need another reason than that to at least give it a try?