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Elbeck and the Lure of Contract Brewing

They may not have an address, but Elbeck Brews officially has beer. I profiled Edmonton’s fledgling contract brewery on my CBC column on Friday. You can listen to it here. This is a follow-up of my initial introduction on this site a few months ago (find here). Basically I save my CBC profiles until there is actually beer available for thirsty listeners, radio being so ephemeral and all.

The column talks about owner Bruce Sample’s long roots in Edmonton, both as a resident and as a brewer (home and commercial). It talks about how the name Elbeck Brews came to be and, importantly, tells the story of KGB Imperial Stout (which I reviewed here). I won’t recount the whole column here – that is what you have ears for. However, as a spoiler I will say that because the  host was Rod Kurtz rather than Portia Clark we eschewed the on-air tasting (always a favourite part of the column) and suffering listeners had to listen to my ad-libbed description of the beer.

Here I want to briefly highlight the double-edged sword that is contract brewing. As a quick reminder, contract brewing is when a brewery – in this case Elbeck – contracts with an existing operation (Two Sergeants in this story) to brew their beer using their equipment and space. All sales and other issues are the responsibility of the client.

Alberta now has six contract breweries, four of whom utilize other Alberta breweries. The growing number suggests this model has some attraction. You can certainly see the advantages. You get product on the shelf with a much lower upfront cost. It gives you opportunity to build brand awareness and create cash flow. I suspect there is also a hope that success builds a stronger argument for potential investors because you can point to actual sales, rather than projections.

But it seems to me there are a few downsides as well. The first is lack of control and certainty. Even if the brewer brews their own beer (such as Sample does), you require the assistance of the contractor’s brewers since they know the system best. You can’t tweak things in the system to suit your style because it is not your system. Also, your are at the mercy of their brewing schedule. If the contractor gets busy you get bumped. This happened recently to Brauerei Fahr, who had to switch breweries. Outcast Brewing has achieved a bit more security by purchasing their own fermenters but they still have to work around Cold Garden’s brewing needs.

Also, I think contract brewing can slow down development of the desired brewery. You have split attention and only so much time in the week. Building a brewery takes a lot of work and time, fussing over details and chasing suppliers while at the same time watching cash. To do all that while also needing to make and sell beer can be daunting. My observation is that for many of the contract brewers plans for their actual brewery are moving slower than anticipated.

I am also not convinced having product on shelves helps attract investment that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. The type of people who invest in breweries know it is a longer term commitment – it takes years to make a brewery profitable. Deciding on contract brewing because you are under-capitalized worries me a touch, because I think that two years later you will still be under-capitalized.

I predict we will see more contract breweries pop up in Alberta, especially as we see more brick and mortar breweries open up, many of whom which will have excess capacity. Ontario, for example, has dozens of contract breweries, many of whom have no desire to open an actual brewery.

However, I believe it will continue to be a challenging road to travel. Elbeck Brews has put out some mighty fine beer so far. It remains to be seen whether that can be parlayed into a full brewery operation.


Taking Beer to a New Level

What happens when two guys with a bunch of degrees between them and a couple Olds Brewmaster certificates decide to start a brewery? I think it would look something like New Level Brewing. New Level will soon be the latest entrant into Calgary’s exploding beer scene.

New Level is the creature of brothers Drew and James Ross. Both are recent Olds College graduates. Drew has a PhD in Philosophy and James also has extensive university education. “We are basically both unemployed philosophers”, says Drew.

Both were restless in their careers and started looking around for a new direction. Drew describes stumbling across the Olds program. “I applied for different programs including law school and the beer program. When I got my acceptance to Olds , I knew immediately what I wanted to do”. When James heard the news, he jumped on board too. “When I heard Drew got in I thought I should go too and, surprise, I got in”.

When the started the program together they talked about “one day” opening their own brewery. But as they watched things develop in the provinces, “things just accelerated”, says James. “We said, maybe one day is now. Maybe we better get in while the timing was right”. The brothers point to all the changes happening in Alberta, including the new mark-up policy, Calgary’s new zoning bylaw and the apparent openness to local among consumers. The Ross’ point out their location – in southeast Calgary a few minutes from the Chinook Mall – would have been off-limits before the bylaw change. “We are close to a variety of small businesses and near the C-Train”, says Drew. They are also near the future location of Prairie Dog brewpub (see my profile here), and hope together to create a beer district in that part of Calgary.

They have been working full-time on the brewery since September and have been moving fast, having applied for their production license last month. “The equipment arrives in June, the build should be done by August and we will have beer hopefully by September”, says James.

They plan on approaching the beer in a unique way. “We have a different business model”, says Drew. “We will have two permanent beer and as many rotationals as we can do. We are looking at the customer who always wants something different but want to position ourselves that they can buy always buy one of ours and get a variety”. The flagship will be a blonde ale which they are “hoping will be a beer craft beer nerds say, wow, that is a great blonde”, says James. They will also have an IPA series where each batch will change in some fashion.

They are also looking at playing a lot with styles. “We are not strict with style guidelines”, says James. “We are more about is this an interesting beer”? You can see that when they list off some of their ideas, including Continue reading Taking Beer to a New Level

More Thoughts on Corporate Buy-outs

Daddy Warbucks. A fitting role model for ABInbev?

Since my post the other day on the significance of ABInbev’s purchase of Wicked Weed I have had a few people (including Steve in the comments section – thanks Steve!) send me links to a recent story on the Good Beer Hunting website from Chris Herron, a former corporate brewer employee and current owner of Creature Comforts Brewing in Atlanta. Here is the link to the story.

To be frank, the story has given me pause.

I, like many, have been trying to understand the meaning and significance of corporate buy-outs. What does it mean for craft beer? Should we be concerned or just keep moving? How are we to treat the new corporate subsidiary, who was until recently “one of us”? For my part I have tried to avoid the shouts of “sell out!” and calls for boycotts and instead try to offer some thoughtful observations on how craft and corporate beer differ. And I think I, like many, instinctively come at it from the dual perspective of the consumer and of concern for quality, authentic beer.

This story makes me think I have been looking in the wrong places for answers.

It is a long piece (fully worth your time) so allow me to briefly summarize the argument. In short, Herron argues the underlying goal in ABInbev’s actions (and Molson-Coors, etc.) is protecting the value of their brands. Craft beer has undermined the “goodwill” (a term defined in the article) of their core brands. Buyouts are a way to shore up the value by, in short, creating downward pressure on craft prices. Newly purchased craft breweries both take up more craft “space” and do so at lower prices, thus forcing other breweries to consider price drops or risk losing market share. Price reductions shrink the differential between craft and the corporate core brands and thus maintain the value of those brands. You should read the article for the full logic of this process.

The crux of Herron’s argument can be seen in this quote:

I submit that maybe buying craft breweries is more of a tool to devalue the craft category and increase the brand equity of their core legacy beers. The impairment charges AB InBev could face are worth billions more than any craft brand they have purchased, and those purchases would be a small price to pay to save a legacy brand. These craft brands, whether they realize it or not, may just be pawns in the AB InBev game of chess. … If one of these craft brands they buy is a successful long-term brand, great, but more important to AB InBev, is the vital role they play in the short-term of ensuring that their premium brands retain long-term value. 

This is a VERY different way of understanding how the minds at ABInbev and other corporate breweries work, and it has my mind racing trying to consider the ramifications. Some initial thoughts:

First, buy-outs really are not about the brewery being bought out, for good or bad. The corporate brewer doesn’t actually care if the new acquisition works out because they are there to serve a different purpose. But it also means we shouldn’t be getting so lathered up over so-and-so being a “sell-out”; it is wasted energy. The purchased brewery is, as Herron states, a “pawn” in a bigger game.

Second, it should put to rest any defence of buy-outs as evidence of a growing interest by the corporates in craft as a sub-category, or of their ability to “improve” the craft category by bringing their money, expertise, technology, efficiencies, etc. They may very well do that (which was the point of the article spawning my first post on this topic), but it is ENTIRELY beside the point. The people working Continue reading More Thoughts on Corporate Buy-outs

Making Sense of Corporate Buy-Outs

This is not an anti-corporate beer rant. Really.

Regular readers know that I am no fan of the big corporate breweries. I don’t like their dishonest marketing. I don’t like their predatory sales practices. I don’t like that they are huge multinational behemoths profiting off the desire of beer drinkers to have a refreshing pint at home or their local pub.

But I have been watching the reactions to the latest AB-Inbev buy-out of a respected craft brewer – in this case Wicked Weed, the wild ale specialist out of North Carolina. Most of the reaction has been high volume negative. But there was also this interesting piece from an industry insider that defended the effects of a corporate buy-out. I can only assume the timing was intentional.

The reason this post is not a rant is that I take what the anonymous source says seriously.

My main response, and what is driving me to write this post, is that Mr. Anonymous misses the point. He makes a good case for how the new corporate overlord actually wants their new property to keep making good beer. I believe they invest capital into improving the brewery. I also believe that they instill a decent corporate culture. I am less convinced that they, over the longer term, continue to be hands off on the beer itself, but that thought is unproven.

But here is the thing. None of that is the point. Mr. Anonymous is chasing the wrong rabbit.

I truly believe the big boys are capable of allowing good craft beer to come out 0f one of their breweries. They do like good beer and know one when they see it. And they might even like the margins craft beer gives them in comparison to Lucky or Wildcat.

But, ultimately, they miss what is the core of craft beer. Yes, it is about interesting flavours, and the big boys, at least theoretically, can do that. But it is more than that. It is about integrity. It is about being honest about where your beer comes from and what it is about.

And that is where they fall short. For two reasons. First, they can’t help themselves but to mislead consumers – it is in their DNA. I mean, these are the people who try to tell you if you drink their brand you will be surrounded by buxom-y bikini-clad women! They hide their ownership of craft breweries, hoping consumers don’t notice. They over-hype their regular brands to a degree that is almost ridiculous. They create pseudo-craft brands (such as Shock Top, Blue Moon, Rickards and so on) to try to lure beer drinkers away from real craft. Misleading is a central aspect of their existence, and that cannot be ignored.

Second, they try to pretend that ownership doesn’t matter. And maybe most beer drinkers, well acclimatized to drinking corporate beer, don’t care. But, like it or not, ownership matters in craft beer. I am not saying a brewery has to be owned by three broke bearded hipsters just trying to survive. Capital is a good thing when operating a brewery. But there is a big difference between Continue reading Making Sense of Corporate Buy-Outs

Railway Takes a Turn Down Rye Avenue

I had a couple conversations recently with Canmore-area residents on matters not related to beer. Both times they volunteered their early opinions on recently opened Canmore Brewing. BOTH of them highlighted that their favourite beer from them is their Railway Avenue Rye IPA. The fact two people whom I don’t believe know each other and completely independently offered up this endorsement was interesting to me.

As it turns out I still had a can of the Railway left over from my recent trip to that part of the world (read here and here). I remember enjoying the beer in the context of a small sample while chatting with co-owner Brian Dunn. The praise from unexpected quarters seemed a good excuse to give it a closer examination.

Before I jump into the tasting notes, I want to first pause and note the growing trend on the prairies of breweries trying to do something “different” with their IPAs. Different kind of ingredients, experiments with different hopping regimes and the adoption of regional styles not seen here before are all efforts being made by a range of brewers. I argue this is a sign of the market’s maturation. A few years back if you put out a decent IPA, you were edging into rarefied air in terms of the prairie beer scene. Today, lots of breweries have solid IPAs. To stand out you need to start offering some flavour and character that is a bit unusual. The need to stand out can have its excessive and outrageous elements, but on the whole I think local breweries are approaching their IPAs with creativity but not too much out-of-the-box thinking.

Canmore’s Railway Avenue is such a case. Rye IPAs are in no way new, but you would be hard pressed to find more than a couple examples around these parts. So, it is noteworthy Canmore went with a rye-d up version for their initial core listings. In theory the rye should add a sharper, earthier malt character to the beer that, depending on hop choice, creates a balance and contrast.

So, how does Railway Avenue fare in a more focused evaluation. Overall, pretty good.

It pours medium copper and builds a big, loose white head that hangs around to the bottom of the glass. That big white head gives it an attractive appearance.  I pick up a piney hop aroma combined with a soft grainy sweetness accented with some honey and biscuit. Soft fruit lurks in the background. First impression are of a fruity, fresh beer.

The first sip reveals toffee and biscuit upfront along with some grainy sweetness. I also detect a bit of light toasted bread as well. The middle sharpens with a piney hop note. Along with the hop, I also taste a a sharp grain character that builds as the beer works its way back. The finish is moderately dry and hoppy with a piney, American hop character. The angular grain also works through the finish which I attribute to the rye.

I wouldn’t say this is a perfect IPA. If  forced I might say the bitterness impression could be higher and I might dial back just a touch on the more bready malt character. Overall it offers an interesting flavour profile. Pine hops with a toasty malt combine well and the sharp rye accent creates interest. The beer has some interesting, unique flavours that are worth a second second glass. You know, just to be sure.

The Ichorous Trinity Compared

Photo courtesy of Oak and Vine

I love side-by-side tastings. They really isolate the effects of a manipulation to a beer. Some are more challenging to operationalize than others.

Blindman Brewing recently released not one, but two barrel-aged versions of its imperial stout, Ichorous. Not long before they also released a new version of the original beer. Seems a perfect opportunity for a side-by-side. Except that all three versions are 11% alcohol or more, meaning drinking all three in one night would leave one loopy. Sure, I could have a friend over, but I find that detracts from focussed sampling and note-taking. I could also just drink some of each and dump the rest, but – really, why?!?

So, my decision this time was to make it an ALMOST side-by-side. I sampled one each night for three nights, taking care to take precise notes to prevent memory distortion.

The three beer were the regular Ichorous Imperial Stout and then one version aged in red wine oak and one in bourbon oak. The regular version will be a newer batch, I am told, so the comparison is not exact (accounting for small variations between batches). Still, it is a pretty good exploration of how barrel-aging affects beer and, in particular, how different kinds of barrels change the beer.

The original version pours inky black, deep and dark. It builds a medium tan head pockmarked with white spots and with tight bubbles. Eventually forms a consistent blanket. It has a low carbonation. The aroma has molasses, dark chocolate, light roast coffee, dark fruit, roasted almonds and a hint of milky sweetness.

The sip brings out chocolate, some nuttiness and a gentle malt sweetness at first. I have to say it starts rather modest and not too cloying. The middle dries out a bit by bringing in some coffee and darker chocolate notes as well as a clean undertone. The back end has touches of earthy hops, dry roast and milky sweetness. There is almost a mocha latte feel to the finish. The linger has a mix of sharp hops, light coffee roast and chocolate. Light fruity esters linger in background. It has a silky, creamy mouthfeel.

Overall it is a very appetizing beer. Clean, balanced and the flavours blend well for such a young age. Tons of potential for a couple years from now.

I next tried the red wine barrel. It, too, pours opaque black, but looks thinner somehow. No head forms at all, giving it something of a cola appearance. The aroma has subdued roast and chocolate character along with noted dark fruit. No wine character in the aroma. It is a fairly flat aroma.

The flavour offers some mild chocolate and coffee notes at first, overtaken by a strong wood character, vanilla, wood, hints of smoke. Middle brings out a bit of earthy red wine. If find the beer has thinned out a fair bit and has lost the creaminess of the original. A rustic finish of wood and alcohol. Linger brings some roast back out as well as an alcohol warming.

The beer seems rather flat and loses much of the fulsomeness of the original without adding much new character. Some wood is present but otherwise it is less interesting.

Finally I tried the Kentucky Bourbon, which indicates it also has Continue reading The Ichorous Trinity Compared

An Old Time-y Beer from Olds College

Photo courtesy of somebody on Untapped

I admit I am writing this post so I can type the word “Kottbusser”. It would be even better if I could say it out loud 10 times, it is such a fun word.

What is Kottbusser, you wonder? I am glad you asked. Kottbusser is an historic German ale popular in the region around Kottbuss that about 150 years ago died out, only to be re-born in recent  years as a niche beer. It is one of those old regional styles that reflected a local flavour but didn’t happen to have the cache to make the jump to the industrial age of brewing.

Information on the style is somewhat sparse but my research offers up that it was made with wheat, oats, honey and molasses and was cloudy like a hefeweizen. There is some disagreement on the yeast, but it seems it was brewed with a clean ale yeast similar to Alt and went through a lagering period (some sources suggest a weizen yeast). IBUs were likely fairly low but some sources say there should be some hop flavour presence (others disagree). In general it should be a gold beer with an earthy flavour and an ale-like character and a sweetish finish.

Why am I talking about this esoteric extinct beer style? Mostly because recently the female students at the Olds College Brewmaster Program brewed one up to celebrate International Women’s Day. They call it Klondike Kate Kottbbusser (they have two b’s which is both wrong and weird).

I tried it when I was in Olds to judge their homebrew competition (read the post here), but it wasn’t the environment to truly evaluate the beer (given there was visiting to be done). But the choice of style stuck with me. I found it creative, interesting and curious.

Then I found a bottle of the beer at my local liquor store last week and knew then and there I needed to review it properly. Hence this post.

Of course, one of the problems with reviewing a beer style you have never tried is that you don’t have a benchmark upon which to judge the beer. You are going blind, so to speak. Regardless, here I go, blind or not.

It pours a very hazy light orange, forming a thin white head with some loose bubbles. The aroma gives me toffee, green apple, grainy sweetness, some light fruit, birch syrup, and touches of sharp grain to accent. It is an intriguing aroma.

The flavour starts with light toffee, wildflower honey, and a light toasted bread note. The middle brings out a noted fruitiness of light berry and apple. It also offers up an earthy character tinged with touches of yeast. The finish is relatively dry with just a touch of hop linger. Yeast and earthiness are in the finish as well.

This is a curious beer. The malt base edges toward a Vienna/Oktoberfest character but not as full. It also has an assertive yeast character and a distinct ale fruitiness and body. I also get some musty earthiness for complexity. It is like it is a hefeweizen married with a kolsch. The yeast impression is fairly dominant, as is a honey sweetness. It comes across very much as an historical beer, but I can’t quite pin down why it seems that way.

I can’t tell you whether this is a good Kottbusser or not, having never tried one before. All I can say is that it is an interesting beer that some will like and others won’t. And it seems to reflect an old way of brewing that seems completely appropriate.

Farm to Glass is Siding 14’s Project

Every brewery in Alberta likes to brag that the province grows some of the best malting barley in the world. For good reason, because it is true. But most breweries are simply the lucky recipients of the farmers’ (and maltsters’) hard work.

Not so, Siding 14 Brewing Company. They plan on doing it all, from beginning to end.

Siding 14 is opening soon to join Alberta’s burgeoning craft beer scene. They hope to open their doors in the central Alberta town of Ponoka (about 60 minutes south of Edmonton) sometime in June. What makes them unique is their commitment to grow and process everything they use in the beer. The barley, the hops and even the water (sorta – I’ll explain below). I had a chat recently with co-owner Marc Shields who explained the project.

“The vision is plow to pint”, says Shields. “Our goal is that every brew will be sourced from all our own ingredients”. This doesn’t appear to be idle marketing talk. The other partners in the brewery are Kari and Brent Tarasoff (Shields’ sister and brother-in-law), who operate Square One Hop Growers in Penticton, and Josh and Femke Lubach, who operate Pridelands Grain barley farm north of Ponoka. Their role is to provide the raw ingredients that go into the beer.

Shields, who has been a homebrewer for six years, will handle the brewing side of the business. He currently lives in Airdrie and works as a manager in the retail sector.

“My sister and I have been talking for years about getting into this business,” says Shields. “Brent works in farming consulting and through his connections we got hooked up with Josh. We talked up the concept with him a few times. Last time we talked he said let’s go”.

And go they did. That was October 2016. Things moved fast from there. Construction on the brewery, on the south end of Ponoka, began in December. The brewhouse is expected in the coming weeks and Shields says they “would love to have beer available for the [Ponoka] Stampede on Canada Day”. The pace was helped by the fact Lubach owned the parcel of land where the brewery is located and the town did not put up any hurdles to its approval.

The brewery will be 15-barrel (BBL) in capacity and they will start with two 15-BBL and three 30-BBL fermenters, along with two conditioning tanks. “There is physical space to triple our capacity”. They will be packaging in 355-ml cans with seasonals in bombers and the usual growler fills. They are building a 50-seat tap room with a 15-seat patio. “The tap room is about coming in, having a pint, having conversation, about bringing people together”.

Shields acknowledges that due to timing, they won’t be launching with their own barley (which will still be in the ground). But that is a stop-gap until the harvest. As for malting, Siding 14 plans to contract to nearby Red Shed Malting and the other emerging craft malt houses in the province to “custom malt” for them. In fact, Shields sees that as an opportunity. Working with Continue reading Farm to Glass is Siding 14’s Project

The Value of Blind Tasting and Other Lessons

This past weekend I served as the Head Judge for the Northern Lands Festival beer competition. For those who don’t know Northern Lands, it is a premiere beverage and food event profiled, exclusively, Canadian wine, craft beer and craft spirits along with some of Edmonton’s best restaurants. The second iteration of the event runs May 2 – 6. While wine is the major component of the event, the beer section is growing.

The beer competition wasn’t huge (not all of the beer exhibitors elected to enter the competition), but there is no question it offered some of the best craft beer in western Canada, going by the quality of the entries we tried.

Judging was performed by myself, Owen Kirkaldy (one of Canada’s only Master-ranked BJCP judges) and Kurt Stenberg, a long-time National-ranked BJCP judge. (For the record, I also am National-ranked). We evaluated some excellent beer and at times the decisions were quite tough.

Quickly, here were the big winners of the event, and then I want to go on to discuss lessons taken from the competition. Beer were entered according to BJCP style and then we collapsed to make larger flights for judging.

Category 1: Lagers and Light Ales
Winner: Alley Kat Scona Gold Kolsch
Runner-Up: Yellowhead Premium Lager

Category 2: Strong Beer, Sour and Specialty
Winner: Brewsters Blue Monk Barley Wine
Runner-Up: Wildrose Cowbell Kettle Sour

Category 3: Pale, Amber and Dark Beer
Winner: Alley Kat Full Moon Pale Ale
Runner-Up: Alley Kat Amber

Category 4: IPAs
Winner: Bench Creek White Raven IPA
Runner-Up: Bench Creek Apex Predator Double IPA

Best of Show: Alley Kat Scona Gold Kolsch

Judging Best of Show. Photo courtesy Owen Kirkaldy

Informally I can say that best of show came down to a VERY tight decision between Scona Gold and White Raven. Bench Creek also finished third in IPA (with their Red Rye IPA), so clearly they are onto something.

I think I speak for all three of us that we were mildly surprised at the final results. We all admit to not having recognized many of the beer we selected as winning – including Full Moon, a beer we all have been drinking on a semi-regular to regular basis for years.

That is the first take-away for me coming out of the competition. It is a reminder that blind tasting matters. You think you know a beer, but when forced to sample it without knowing who made it, you come at it from a different direction. Blind tasting strips away preconceived notions and forces you to meet the beer on its merit alone. I also think that with beer with which we are more familiar, maybe we stop drinking it so consciously. Take Full Moon for example. I know its flavour profile very well. But it may be that familiarity that leads me to be less mindful when I drink it. I take a sip and go “aahh, that’s a nice Full Moon”, and then take the rest for granted. I don’t appreciate it any less, but I think about it less. Evaluating it blind requires me to put my judge hat back on and REALLY consider the flavour profile.

The second take-away is that I think sometimes we all get distracted by the new and exciting. A new brewery comes out we haven’t tried yet. Or someone brings out an envelope pushing seasonal that everyone is talking about. There is nothing wrong with reaching for the new. But it is good to remember once in a while that there is lots of really well-made beer out there. Just because it lacks some of the current buzz doesn’t mean it stops being a really good beer. The list of winners suggests that it is a good idea to go back to those mainstays once in a while. It may surprise you at just how much you enjoy them.

The Northern Lands competition isn’t the largest around – open only to breweries who are participating in the festival – so it is fair to say this is not indicative of all beer out there right now. Totally true. But you can’t win if you don’t enter. Like any competition, all the judges can do is rate the beer before them and pick a winner. We can’t say “well that beer that didn’t enter is better”, in part because, you know, when tasted blind side-by-side it may very well turn out that it isn’t.

That is why blind tasting matters.





Multigrain, Multi-Brewery, All Saskatchewan

Tomorrow a new collaboration beer is released upon the populace of Saskatchewan. The newly formed Saskatchewan Craft Brewers Association (SCBA), whose membership are the real all-grain breweries in the province, will be releasing their first collaborative beer. Every member of the SCBA – currently 13 strong – participated in the design and brewing of the beer at Swift Current’s Black Bridge Brewing.

The beer is being called Saskatchewan Multigrain Pale Ale. Their bumpf says it is made with a mix of Saskatchewan barley, wheat, rye and oats. They also proclaim it is unfiltered. Intriguing enough.

How did I get my hands on a beer a day before it is officially released? Good question. Let’s just say for once I got a scoop. (More accurately, the SCBA shipped me some cans to try.)

After letting the beer rest for a few days to eliminate travel shock, I gave it a try this week.

It pours dark straw and is deeply hazy. It builds a decent white head that fairly quickly drops into a thin layer with some attractive lacing along the glass. The aroma is TOTALLY a New England Pale Ale character. I get a big sweet citrus fruit, including lemon, orange, grapefruit and passion fruit. It also offers a sweet meadow honey, a light graininess and a background fruity ester.

In the taste the start shares a big fruitiness. There is both citrus and other fruit. The citrus displays orange and grapefruit and the other fruit remind me of apricot and fresh mango. A soft grainy malt kicks in in the middle. I find it is a hybrid of a soft wheat grain with a rye edge. There is also a silky note to the middle as well. In the finish, the fruit comes back, adding a Five Alive character with a moderately hoppy linger and more citrus fruit. The mouthfeel has a silky texture that is alluring.

The 2017 collaboration brewers

A fascinating beer. There is a lot going on in this beer but it still finds a way to come across as remarkably drinkable. The big fruitiness keeps it accessible, but also intrigues my beer geek side. I think my favourite aspect is the malt bill which combines the grainy smoothness of wheat with a sharp edge of rye only to be countered by a subtle silkiness from the oats. I will admit to being skeptical of all those grains in one beer, but it comes across well, likely because they also paid attention to the hop additions to create another dimension.

The fruity hop character, reminiscent of the New England style, is very attractive and will fool many unsuspecting drinkers into thinking this is more of a fruit beer than what it is. The malt, in contrast, quietly does what it promises to do, offer a mix of grainy notes to create a subtle complexity.

If I were to have a critique of this beer it is that I wouldn’t mind a touch more bitterness perception in the finish. Don’t know what the IBUs are, but I want a bit more hop in the linger to remind me this is still a pale ale. That may not be what they were going for but I think it would add an interesting third rail to really bring this beer home. Not asking for a lot, just enough to bring out another dimension.

This beer clearly shows the 13 SCBA members mean business. They could have opted for a blonde ale, porter or standard IPA. Instead they busted out the creativity and did a beer that is multiple things. It is a New England Pale, but is more than that, adding rye and wheat to the mix to shake things up.

The beer will be available at member breweries across the province as well as in SLGA stores and select pubs. Alas, no plans to ship to Alberta or Manitoba. So if you live in Alberta you either have to beg your Saskatchewan relatives or offer me a decent bribe for one of my remaining cans.

A good start for the nascent SCBA. I hope they do another collaboration next year. Can’t wait to see what they pick.