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A Vision of Good Beer from Blindman Brewing

blindmanlogoOne of the great advantages of small craft brewers is that they can anchor themselves in community. They can sink deep roots into the life of the town/city where they reside. When it comes to roots, few can likely lay claim to deeper ones than Hans Doef. You see, Doef is part of the longstanding family-run Doef’s Greenhouse in Lacombe, just north of Red Deer. You need to know about roots to grow tomatoes, cucumbers and, oh, so gorgeous eggplants year-round in this climate.

Why am I praising Mr. Doef’s family eggplants on a beer blog? Doef, along with an impressive and eclectic array of partners, will soon be opening a new brewery in his hometown of Lacombe. Blindman Brewing is in the final stages of planning and will soon be in possession of their brewhouse, with a slated September opening.

Doef and his longtime friend Dave Vander Plaat dreamed up the idea of a local Lacombe brewery more than a year ago. Both are avid homebrewers and with Doef’s experience running a business and Vander Plaat’s background in mechanical engineering (always helpful in a brewery), they saw no real reason not to start up a brewery. “Local food is a passion of mine, anything local. People gather around craft beer, you can create more than a business,” says Doef. “We have a pretty good thread of connections in Lacombe and we thought the time was right.”

They started plotting on their own, but then through some good fortune came across a trio of Edmonton beer guys also looking for a start-up opportunity. Adam Campbell (a former brewer at Alley Kat, Grizzly Paw, and Propeller Brewing), Matt Willerton (current Alley Kat employee) and Kirk Zembal (beer aficionado and savvy business guy) joined the two original partners six months ago. The trio brought some professional brewing experience as well as a raft of Edmonton connections.

Then three months ago, Shane Groendahl, he of Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous fame (and electrical engineer who was also contemplating a dive into craft brewing), signed up, completing what is unquestionably a powerhouse ownership group. In fact, I wonder if they are the first Supergroup of Alberta craft brewing?

Blindman has procured a 4,000 sq. ft. space in the industrial part of Lacombe and a new 15-barrel brewhouse is on order and should arrive next month. They plant to start with two 15-bbl and one 30-bbl fermenters and a single conditioning tank. I wondered aloud if that might create a bottleneck, but Doef and Groendahl weren’t worried. “We will be fine for a while and get our mains styles in production,” Groendahl replied, adding that adding more brights as needed is part of the plan.

Blindman’s vision is simple. “We just want to make really good beer for people who like really good beer,” says Doef. Groendahl adds that they want to push the market as well. “We want to step up the game of the styles being produced locally and the quality of the beer being produced, to pose a challenge to others to get better as well”.

“We want to make the best beer in Alberta,” says Groendahl.

As for the beer, they have not finalized on names but are planning on launching with three beer initially with hopes of adding more down the road. The first beer is tentatively being called River Session Ale. “It is a 4.5% session ale. Big hopping with mosaic, it will be very aromatic and drinkable. We are calling it an ‘light pale ale’,” says Doef. Then there will be a stronger IPA using “a combo of simcoe and citra”.

The third beer will be a saison, which they plan to split the batch. “We will pull off some for souring, flavour additions, barrel-aging,” notes Groendahl. If all goes well they are considering adding a pilsner to the line up next year.

“The beer will be a balance between what we love and what will sell” observes Doef. “The session ale and IPA are good entrances for this kind of market for us”.

Doef says they will try to take advantage of their greenhouse connection as well.  “We have good access to year-round flavouring – we grow herbs in greenhouse, peppers, tomatoes. Lots of opportunity for funky beer for our seasonals”.

Following what is clearly a trend these days, their plan is to package their beer Continue reading A Vision of Good Beer from Blindman Brewing

More Beer News in Time for Canada Day

TM golden gaetzCanada Day is just around the corner and while it is strangely in the very middle of the week, there will likely be a few beer consumed. So, just in time for the grand day I offer the latest prairie craft beer news round-up with all the news that has come across my path in the past couple weeks. As usual, no particular order, blah blah…

  • Troubled Monk Brewing in Red Deer quietly opened the doors to its brewery and tasting room a couple weeks ago and is now serving its first batches at the room with some cans for off-sale. The first two beer are Golden Gaetz Golden Ale and Pesky Pig Pale Ale. I will be writing more about the launch of Troubled Monk shortly as there is more to tell.
  • Paddock Wood, who have been so busy they are having difficulty keeping their website and social media updates, have a couple of interesting beer floating around these days. West Beast is a wheat strong ale and Altered Beast is – as they are doing a lot these days – a barrel-aged version. Both are in limited quantities.
  • Calgary’s Tool Shed is out with beer brewed in collaboration with a Calgary homebrewer. Chris Nowlan’s ESB (Go Big or Go Homebrew) is, as the name applies an Extra Special Bitter. I am not sure if the “Go Big or Go Homebrew” is part of the name or the name of a burgeoning series with Tool Shed. Time will tell. Nowlan is a longtime homebrewer with so many medals around his neck I imagine he has back problems. The recipe tweaked for this colloboration is one of Nowlan’s first homebrew recipes. Available for a limited time.
  • Also participating in the homebrewer collaboration theme is Regina’s Rebellion Brewing, who offer up Hanna’s Saison created with Dave Hanna, who won brewer of the year at ALES Open homebrew competition last year. For every pint sold, $1 will be donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Association.
  • Sticking around Saskatchewan a bit longer, Prairie Sun Brewing in Saskatoon released two new seasonals a couple weeks ago. The first, Mad Hopper IPA, is the return of their IPA which highlights Centennial and Citra hops. The other, Forbidden Fruit, a Belgian ale with a mixture of fruits in it. The beer may be most notable for its label, in honour of Pride Month in Saskatchewan, which playfully turns the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve tale around a little bit.
  • Wild Rose Brewing is out with a new summer seasonal. Hef-Nelson is a hopfenweizen, otherwise known as a hoppy hefeweizen. Brewed with New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops (hence the name), it clocks in at 45 IBUs, which is significantly higher than you would find in a regular hefeweizen.
  • PS forbidden fruitIn is quickly becoming the worst-kept secret in town, ASBA Executive Director Greg Zeschuk has been quietly and slowing moving forward on a significant project to build a new multi-business complex in the Ritchie Mills area of town (you can read the most recent story on the project here). The building will house a butcher, a Transcend coffee location, a bike store and a new brewpub operated by Zeschuk. More details will be forthcoming in the months ahead (they haven’t even broken ground yet), but I figured everyone already knows about it, so when does it stop becoming news?

Finally, a couple of beer-related events of note this coming week:

  • Craft Beer Market is hosting a Canada Day Beer Festival. From 2-6 on July 1, they will be pouring samples from a wide range of Canadian craft breweries. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door and include 20 sample tokens. $5 from every ticket goes to the Kids Cancer Care Foundation, so it is for a good cause, too boot (order tickets here).
  • In what is equally a good cause on Friday Sherbrooke Liquor Store is hosting itse 3rd annual Urban Craft Beer & Food Festival in support of the Urban Spirits Rotary Club. It runs on July 3 from 6-10pm at the Alberta Aviation Museum (11410 Kingsway Avenue). Tickets are $25 and all proceeds go to the community activities of the Urban Spirits Rotary Cub. There will be a selection of craft beer from Canada and around the world as well as food trucks and a spotlight on craft bourbon.

That should keep you all busy for the next few weeks. I will post another round up when the mass of info is sufficient to warrant the time and space. Until then, enjoy responsibly.

 

Ribstone Creek Goes National (Sort of)

ribstone creekYesterday evening, imagine my surprise to turn on the radio as I prepared dinner to hear the last bit of a piece on CBC Radio One’s The World at Six, their national early evening news program, discussing the challenges of brewing beer in Edgerton. That could be nobody less than Alberta’s Ribstone Creek Brewery. Later I found the audio of the story online (you can listen to it here) as well as an online written version (here).

The story isn’t particularly heavy-hitting, mostly talking about the growth in craft beer in Canada and the particular challenges of trying to make a small brewery profitable. Still, it was an interesting piece. And a nice bit of profile for the eastern Alberta brewery.

Plus, it also quoted yours truly. So in a way I shouldn’t have been that surprised to hear the story. However, they interviewed me weeks ago and told me it was for The National on CBC-TV. I don’t know if it did/will run on the program (I couldn’t find anything online). I didn’t know when the story was going to air and wasn’t expecting it to be a radio story, so I guess my surprise is legitimate.

The story mostly speaks for itself. I just thought I would draw readers’ attention to a rare moment – a prairie-based brewery getting national media coverage – something usually reserved for Ontario or B.C. breweries.

 

 

Hog’s Head Brewing Closing?

hogsheadwhiteFor the last few months I have been hearing rumours from multiple sources that St. Albert’s Hog’s Head Brewing was in trouble. The fact that I heard it from various locations had me taking the matter seriously. However, I don’t trade in rumours (at least not of this kind – feel free to tell me that you heard Scarlett Johansson is coming to town and wants to meet me), so I haven’t said anything, because I hadn’t had it confirmed.

However, there comes a point where the talk becomes inescapable. Too many different people have told me about it, and their stories seem too credible. I believe that Hog’s Head in its current incarnation is done. Whether it rises from the ashes is another question.

For the record, before deciding to write this post I felt I had an obligation to ask the owners of Hog’s Head directly what is going on. They could confirm or deny. Their reply to me offered neither. It was a vague “hold tight” message that didn’t say anything about what is happening.

To be honest, it wasn’t enough.

So, I am reporting today that to the best of my knowledge Hog’s Head Brewing is no longer. I am saddened by this conclusion. I wanted them to succeed, as I wish all prairie craft brewers well. It just seems like they couldn’t get the traction they needed to keep afloat.

In addition to people’s talk, there are a few key facts that lead me to this conclusion, although I will spare you too many details. The brewing staff appear to have all been let go. The head brewer is working elsewhere and no one can tell me if a new brewer has been hired. Recently the Hog’s Head brewhouse was on sale at probrewer.com, as was a bunch of other equipment and supplies, including kegs and their famous beer trailer. The website has become an unrecognizable mess.

Beer is still available, but people have told me it is of questionable age. The tasting room appears to still be operational as well, but I hear it is under new ownership. Neither of those claims have been confirmed.

The silence from Hog’s Head combined with incessant talk from other places convinces me that Hog’s Head is no longer a viable operation. Which, I repeat, makes me sad. It is possible it resurrects itself from the ashes to something new – under the same or different name – for beer is a funny industry that way. But at this point I am prepared to offer a conditional assessment that Hog’s Head has closed. It may open again. It may not. I have no idea.

For now, that is the reality. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Alley Kat: 20 Years of Scratching out Good Beer

Mayor Don Iveson toasts Alley Kat's 20th Anniversary, with a beer in hand appropriately. (Photo courtesy Greg Zeschuk as I stupidly forgot my camera)

Mayor Don Iveson toasts Alley Kat’s 20th Anniversary, with a beer in hand appropriately. (Photo courtesy Greg Zeschuk as I stupidly forgot my camera)

Under mostly sunny skies (plus a short hailstorm) on Saturday afternoon, 350 of Alley Kat Brewing’s closest friends celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Edmonton’s longest standing craft brewer. The Alley Kat folks turned their light industrial area parking lot into a party site, complete with food trucks, festival tents, a band and a series of carnival games (including a test your strength hammer station, whose bangs constantly unnerved me…). The crowd was wonderfully eclectic. Some old-timers who have been drinking Alley Kat since near the beginning. Lots of young families for whom local is an important consumer choice. Plus a veritable who’s who of the Edmonton Homebrewers’ Guild (I counted four past presidents of the club in attendance). Fun and beer was had by all.

I report on the event, in part because I was there, and in part because it is an historic moment worth marking. Twenty years of brewing craft beer in Alberta is no small feat. It might be hard to imagine for those younger/newer to the scene, but in 1995 there simply wasn’t much to offer for beer. Other than Big Rock, who had made a dent by that time, there simply were no local beer options. Even the imports Edmonton received were the standard multi-national fare – Boddington’s, Bass, Warsteiner, Grolsch, etc.

They chose a rough road, one requiring patience, determination and just a little bit of stubbornness. I think one of the core reasons for their success has been their business model. Alley Kat has long had, in my opinion, a “slow and steady” business approach (they may disagree with this analysis). They avoided making a big jump when demand started to climb and decided to restrict their geographic reach rather than get stretched too thin. Their beer is available all across the province these days, although their presence is much deeper in Edmonton and area, but not anywhere else (aside from a curious South Korea deal that doesn’t offer much volume).

I know they have been “near capacity” for much of the last decade, adding a fermenter or bright tank or two when needed to stretch out another couple years. They work their original 25HL brewhouse hard, brewing twice a day five or six days a week. I used to think that one day they would have to bite the bullet and engage in a more significant expansion. They have proven me wrong so many times I have stopped predicting it, although I still ponder it. Rumours tell me they are thinking of an enhanced packaging line to help alleviate their current pressure point. But who knows?

I am not saying all the new players entering our market have it easy. It is still a rough road to brew beer on the prairies. But there simply is greater consumer openness than there was 20 years ago. The path has been trampled a few times, making those first few steps, if not easy, but at least less slogging. Alley Kat was one of those first trekkers.

I think it was appropriate that the Anniversary party coincided with the Alberta Small Brewers Association AGM, meaning representatives for most of Alberta’s breweries, operating and planned, were in attendance. I will have more on the AGM and its outcomes later this week. But it was cool that breweries young and old came out to celebrate the milestone of 20 years scratching out a way to sell beer in a small-c conservative province (although not so big-c Conservative these days).

I can’t end this post with out a comment on some of the beer. In addition to pouring all of their current line-up Alley Kat did up a few one-time casks for the event. I got to sample the first two before heading off to another event. The first, an Earl Grey IPA, was quite the amazing beer. Using Full Moon as Continue reading Alley Kat: 20 Years of Scratching out Good Beer

In Praise of Pale Lager (and Other “Boring” Beer)

beer101logoIn my Beer 101 column this month, I start a two-part series looking at under-appreciated styles – beer that often get overlooked by beer aficionados (which you can read here).

In my various beer travels and beer conversations, I find that certain styles get more love than others. IPAs are always big. Imperial anythings are a hit. I think stouts also get their share of attention. And don’t get me started on all the various new hybrids, resurrected historical styles and general Frankenstein beer.

It is all perfectly reasonable. These beer are new, interesting, complex and/or offer new kinds of tastes. But there are plenty of styles that can offer a quality quaff that sit at the back of the fridge. For some reason beer people opt for other things. I am never one to judge someone’s choices, but I do find the broader pattern interesting.

So, in the column I hightlight four styles that I think get unfairly overlooked at times (even by me, so I am not pointing fingers here).

The most obvious is good old pale lagers. I know, most beer fans got into craft beer to avoid pale lager. It has the rotten reputation of being boring and flavourless. Boring may be in the eye of the beholder, but they certainly are not flavourless. Sure, maybe in comparison to a Double IPA, but when standing on their own they can be quite expressive.

First, pale lagers are notoriously hard to make well, something we would be wise to remember more often. Second, it simply is not fair to judge a pale lager by the palate standards of a Belgian Ale. We need to respect pale lagers for what they are trying to be, crisp, fresh, clean with a delicate malt taste. Plus it is all about context for me. Sure, if I am looking for something to grab my attention during a tasting, a pale lager won’t fit the bill. But after mowing the lawn on a sunny Saturday? I will take that over an American IPA anyday.

I make a similar argument for Brown Ales. When I talk to bar owners and brewers, the brown ale is always one of the slowest sellers. I think because it suffers from not being overly anything – not too light, not too dark, not hoppy but not overly malty. It just is. But again, think about when it might be appreciated. I often like to start a session with a brown ale to get my palate up and running. More than a blonde beer, but not too much to get me tired.

The last two suggestions – hefeweizen and porter – may surprise many. I won’t rehash my whole rationale for them here, you can read the column for that. But I do think they suffer from lack of attention. I think hefeweizens are caught in the “wheat trap”. Wheats are seen by many as lightweight beer. As for porters, craft brewers may have saved the style from death but it is perceived too often as stout’s little sister, rather than for a stand alone dark ale with different flavour characteristics. More chocolate than coffee, more nutty than roasted.

There are others, and I will talk about some of them next month. In the meantime don’t feel like you have to change your ordering habits. But I do want to encourage to pause and become more conscious of why you make the choices you do. Are you unintentionally overlooking what could be a fantastic beer simply because it is not new, bold or complex?

 

The Art of Zundert

zundertSometimes it is useful to have a friend living in Belgium (okay, it is almost always useful when you are a beer guy!). In my most recent care package I discovered a bottle of Zundert Trappist, from  Trappistenbrouwerij De Kievit. As the title implies, the beer is brewed by the monks of Abbey Maria Toevlucht in Zundert, Netherlands.

Zundert is the 10th beer brand to receive official Trappist designation, receiving the nod in 2014. It is the second Dutch Abbey to join the rarefied club of brewing monks.

As an aside, there are now 11 Abbeys that can use the Trappist label (and 12 Abbeys in total that are part of the Association), with the most recent being the Italian brewery Tre Fontane, which was approved late last year. Quite the change from a few years ago when there were only the original seven.

Being quite small, Zundert is only selectively distributed, which is where my friend comes in. She found the beer in her local bottle shop in Brussels and knew I would be ecstatic to get a bottle. She was right.

Zundert is officially a Tripel, but as many will know, sometimes the boundaries of Trappist styles can be fuzzy. It pours deep orange, darker than most tripels, and forms a dense blanket of white head. There is a moderate lacing down the side of the glass. The aroma is soft caramel, honey, toffee, meadow flower and a subtle yeast spiciness. I find it very inviting.

The first sip gives soft fruit, light caramel and a pleasant toastiness upfront. The middle brings out a quiet yeast spicing of clove and white pepper. The soft caramel holds its own through the sip, met by a rounded earthiness and gentle spiciness. The linger is softly Belgian but restrained. The malt character doesn’t get overpowered and allows the beer to finish slightly sweet. I also find a touch of alcohol warmth as the beer evaporates.

I am struck by how subtle the beer is. It is scarily drinkable (at 8%) and quite clean. The yeast spicing is restrained, giving the beer a muted impression. Those looking for a big, bold Belgian-style Trappist might be disappointed, but personally I am intrigued by its teasing qualities. The beer draws you in with quiet whispers and soft promises.

There is goodness in this bottle. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to try such a rare beer. Thank you, dear Brussels friend!

 

Torpedo Offers a Hop Explosion

twosergeantsbangaloreMy latest Vue Weekly column is part profile, part beer review. I look at the first release from Two Sergeants Brewing, the soon-to-be Fort Saskatchewan brewery (read the article here). For the moment they are contract brewing with Tool Shed in Calgary.

I have profiled Two Sergeants on this website before (here) so will dispense with that part of the article. However, it is worth posting here because it was my first opportunity (aside from my CBC column profiling the brewery where we tasted on air. But my CBC columns are never posted online these days – damn that Stephen Harper!) to review their flagship Bangalore Torpedo IPA.

I can sum the beer up in two words: San Diego.

What I mean is that the beer reminds me of some of the IPAs I tried when in San Diego last August. Dry and quite light in body.

Bangalore appears like most IPAs, a light orange colour with a huge, rocky white head. The aroma is pine and grapefruit with a touch of grassiness. I like the delicate malt character upfront, bringing out soft honey and a bit of grainy toasted biscuit. But the beer goes a different direction after that. It dries out quickly and introduces an assertive citrus and pine hop bitterness with some rustic, woody edges. The finish is notably bitter and the linger provides strong, resinous pine and grapefruit, which builds through repeated sipping.

Lots of breweries talk about making West Coast IPAs. By that they generally mean a big citrusy hop presence and generally more hop-forward. However, as I learned last summer, what sets San Diego IPAs apart is how much they tone down the malt and dry the beer out.

Bangalore Torpedo is the most San Diego-like IPA have I tasted from a western Canadian brewery. Which means it will stand out in the crowd, I suspect.

Looking forward to see what else the two army guys have up their sleeve when their brewery opens.

 

Catchin’ Up on the News

Brewsters BA Dubbel 3I have been quite the busy puppy the last few weeks, as my more sporadic than usual posting may attest. One thing that has fallen behind is reporting the latest beer news and releases. As it turns out the past month or so has been relatively quiet on the new beer front. This makes sense as the summer seasonals have been announced and the breweries are busy keeping up with climbing post-Victoria Day demand.

Some of the big news, including the Canadian Brewing Awards and Manitoba’s legalization of U-Brews, I have already reported on in previous posts (here and here). So let me get to what I have missed, or at least think I have missed. Most of the activity seems to be in Calgary this month, with Saskatchewan appearing rather quiet. Usual caveats apply and feel free to add omissions in the comments section:

  • Brewsters is wasting no time taking advantage of its newly found retail access, releasing its latest seasonal on the market a couple weeks ago. Brooding Soldier Barrel-Aged Dubbel is the second of what may or may not be a burgeoning series from the brewpub chain. The second Brooding Soldier (the first was a tripel) is an 8% Dubbel (meaning it is edging into Dark Strong territory) was aged for eight months in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels – which I find a fascinating choice. They are available in limited quantities for a limited time.
  • Tool Shed may have the most intriguing and “out-there” news this month. On May 28 the crazy guys at Tool Shed drove a hand-built coolship (a shallow fermenting pan used in Lambic brewing) fill with freshly boiled wort around a local barley and fruit farm (Scott Keller Farms). The purpose was to attract the local yeast fauna to innoculate the wort. In partnership with the Olds College Teaching Brewery lab, they plan to isolate strains that might hold promise in making an Alberta Terroir beer. No specific plans on the beer as yet, but hold tight for further announcements.
  • The dandy folks at Dandy Brewing have another new seasonal, going a different direction with this one. Smoke Boss Rauchbier adopts a more German tradition for this English-inspired brewery. Beechwood smoked malt serves as the base for this amber ale.
  • Village Brewing also charts some new territory with its latest one-off release. Grand Father West Coast IPA was originally intended to celebrate the 1000th batch of beer to be produced in their brewhouse. However, they shifted gears to make it a Fathers’ Day present for beer lovers in the province (which of course is coming up fast all you sons, daughters and spouses). It also marks the first – to my knowledge – time Village has packaged a seasonal in 650-ml bomber bottles. The beer also comes with a handy sew on patch in case your dad wants to wear “the colours”.
  • bigrock_wai-itiBig Rock is hardly going to be left out of this Calgary stampede, releasing the latest in their Brewmasters’ Edition a couple weeks back. Wai-Ti Wheat Ale is described as a “India Wheat Ale” brewed with rare New Zealand Wai-Ti hops noted for a bright, sweet citrus character
  • Not one, but two new breweries are planning December openings in Winnipeg. Peg Beer Co., owned by former Half Pints co-owner Nicole Barry, will be a middle sized brewpub on the north edge of downtown. A little farther west soon will be Barn Hammer Brewing, a venture of a local Winnipeg businessman. Notably Barn Hammer’s inaugural brewer will be former Alley Kat brewer Brian Westcott. I am reaching out to both breweries and will offer more details once I have chatted with them.
  • In a little bit of non-brewery related news, Manitoba Liquor Marts (the government liquor stores) has announced a new Canadian craft beer promotion called Coast to Coaster. Over the summer they will profile Canadian craft beer from 30 breweries in eight provinces, many of which have not sold in Manitoba before. Adding to the fun is that both Half Pints Brewing and Fort Garry brewing have created special one-off beer for the promotion. The details of the two beer are yet to be announced.
  • Finally, as briefly mentioned before, Alley Kat in Edmonton is reaching an important milestone. On June 20 they are celebrating their 20th anniversary of brewing craft beer in Alberta. They plan a big, yet informal event at the brewery. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased from Alley Kat directly.

We will have to see what other things summer brings us as the temperature climbs and our thirst for beer grows. I promise to do my best to stay on top of it.

 

 

Surprises at the Canadian Brewing Awards

AK scona goldThe 2015 Canadian Brewing Awards were announced this weekend and made public this morning. You can find the full list of winners here. From my lens of Prairie-related craft beer, I can honestly say there were a few surprises in the list of results.

The biggest news is that Alley Kat’s Scona Gold Kolsch not only won gold in the German-Style Kolsch category, but scooped up Beer of the Year honours. I find myself mildly surprised. Not because the beer isn’t excellent (it is) and not that we shouldn’t expect such success from the folks at Alley Kat (we should), but we need to keep in mind Scona Gold is their gluten-reduced beer. Besides Kolschs are light, delicate beer and it is interesting the beer held up against the bigger category winners. Although I am reminded that a few years back I sat on a best-of-show round that awarded best in show to a kolsch.

It may be an acknowledgement of the judges’ skills that they selected such a light-bodied beer as the winner. Plus clearly the beer itself is deserving. In all six prairie breweries scooped up 12 medals in the competition. In addition to Alley Kat’s double winner, here is a quick rundown [Edited to correct a missed beer from Wild Rose – which I blame on CBA, who incorrectly identified the beer as coming from BC]:

  • Great Western Brewing won FIVE medals, including golds for Great Western Pilsner (North American Premium Lager) and Original 16 Krystall (North American Wheat Ale), a silver for Great Western Light (Calorie-Reduced Lager), and bronzes for Brewhouse Light (Calorie-Reduced) and Original 16 (Cream Ale).
  • Ribstone Creek won a silver for their Old Man Winter in the Porter category.
  • Wildrose Brewing picked up two bronzes, one for their Electric Avenue in the North American Premium Lager category and another for Natural Born Keller in the Kellerbier category.
  • Newcomer Black Bridge scooped an inaugural medal, a bronze in Stouts for their Milk Stout.
  • Minhas Brewing also picked up a bronze in North American Wheat for its Lazy Mutt Alberta Wheat.

greatwesternlogoGreat Western success is noteworthy. They actually won more medals than any other brewery. Which does raise the question of why they didn’t win Brewery of the Year? That award was taken by Four Winds Brewing out of B.C., who won 4 medals, including 2 gold. Four Winds clearly deserves the recognition, as they are making fabulous boundary-pushing beer, winning for sour ales, brett ales and saisons for example. But straight up in a points-based system, GWB should have won. I wonder if they were discounted to a degree because their victories were in “less craft-y” styles. I am neither criticizing nor justifying here – just observing. [Another edit: I missed the Four Winds bronze in American IPA, meaning they might have won on points alone. However Alley Kat Neil’s comments clarify the rules – thanks for that!]

I am also pleasantly surprised to see both Ribstone Creek and Black Bridge get some love from the CBA judges. Both are younger, somewhat un-heralded breweries who won in what are very competitive categories.

I will also admit I raised an eyebrow when I saw Minhas on the list for their Lazy Mutt. Regular readers will know that Minhas is something of a controversial brewery in Alberta, both politically and within the industry. I imagine their bronze medal will only spur further debate and disagreement.

Blind judging can certainly create surprises.

cba2015One change this year that I appreciated is that the CBA released the entire list of entries (just under 1300 beer from 200 breweries), which was a nice nod to transparency. It is interesting to see who entered and who did not. In all 15 breweries from the prairies (and Yukon) entered beer this year. The CBA had 41 beer categories this year, which is a defensible number in my opinion.

I haven’t done any calculations yet to determine how the 12 medals stacks up compared to other regions. But from perusing the list of winners B.C. seems to come out in front, with Ontario second. That is not all that surprising, really.

I think the CBAs have come a long way in the last few years and even though I am yet to attend one, from a distance it seems like they do a pretty good job at managing a big competition. I still would like to see them spread the competition around the country a bit more, but I can appreciate the financial and logistical issues that can raise.

So, now go out and buy an award-winning prairie craft beer. Or an award-winning Canadian craft beer. There are lots to choose from.