Share This Blog

I’m Going on Hiatus, Here’s Why

So I have an unexpected admission. Starting in January I will be taking a step back from my beer work for a year or so. I am choosing to take a rare and temporary job opportunity of which one of the consequences is that I have to give up my paid beer gigs, partly because of rules and partly because of available time.

I don’t do this lightly, as I love my beer work and am very sad to lose my various outlets, in particular my CBC gig. I am allowed to continue my posting on, and will, but as a reality I will be doing that less often. But one of the things about having less time means likely my posts will be more significant and meaningful when I do write one – or at least I hope they will.

You are well in your rights to think I am nuts to cede up my space (even if temporarily) in the prairies’ beer world. I have been covering it for longer than anyone and I am aware that I carry a certain degree of cred when I speak of beer in this region.

I am well aware of what I am giving up, at least temporarily. But sometimes in life you have to reach for things even at the cost of other things you care about. I know in 20 years I would regret saying no to this opportunity.

Plus there is a piece of me that thinks that my combination of brewing knowledge, beer judge chops, beer industry insights and general passion for beer is hard to replicate. Which might mean maybe, just maybe, some of the outlets and places will take me back upon my return in a year or so. Obviously no promises on either end. Just a vague hope.

I know that the first thing that is going to happen is that my website hits are going to drop and my Twitter followers may drop away. Let me say, please don’t. I know I won’t be the most exciting online presence in the next little while, but I suggest you will want to know when I return to the scene. And, besides, I still might say a few interesting things from time to time. Seems easy to hang on to me in the meantime. But the social media world will do what the social media world needs to do. I will live with the consequences.

I have enjoyed writing for all of you, interacting with many of you and generally sharing my passion for prairie craft beer in the various places and outlets that have let me take up space and time. I still hope to offer insights and tidbits here on Plus I hope to use the time to finally arrange to get a make-over done for the site. So you have that to look forward to upon my return, at the very least!

In the meantime I hope you all have a happy, peaceful and satisfying year or so. And keep drinking good beer. I will be really pissed if I learn that in my absence you all went back to drinking Bud!

Cheers, friends!

Sorry, Mickey, I’m Here for the Beer

It’s funny, when you tell people you are going to Anaheim their first question is always “are you going to Disneyland?”

That question makes sense to me if I said we were taking the kids to Anaheim. But in my case my spouse had a conference there and I decided to make the trek with her and hang out. And, so, no I did not visit Disneyland (although I did get to Downtown Disney to catch the new Star Wars film, but that is a story for another day).

Instead I did what any reasonable adult left on their own in the city all day for multiple days would do. I visited breweries of course!  Oh yeah, and caught some sights and hit a couple beaches but,  you know, I visited some breweries!

The beer scene in Anaheim (more accurately broader Orange County) gets lost a bit, I think, in the buzz about L.A. proper to the north and San Diego to the south. But you would be as mistaken as thinking Mickey and Minnie are actually the same mouse if you thought there was no interesting beer going on there.

Less than five years ago, there actually was very little going, beerwise, on in Orange County, which was odd. San Diego and, to a lesser extent L.A., where hot beds of the California craft beer scene. Anaheim had a couple of breweries (including the crazy-respected The Bruery), but there was a surprising lack of breweries in the area. But the last couple years have seen an explosion of new breweries. Today it is a vibrant, exciting area for craft beer.

Any visit to the Orange County area must start with The Bruery. Craft beer fans require no introduction to this brewery, but allow me to say they have for more than a decade been consistently producing boundary-pushing, high quality beer, mostly in the barrel-aged or Belgian ilk. The fun part of being at Bruery these days is that they are now three different breweries. They have opened up a second location, Bruery Terreux, which only does sours and lambics (you can understand why they wanted a separate facility for that). They also recently set up a third company (located in the original brewery) called Offshoot, which does stuff they promised to never do, including juicy IPAs and the like. I love that they held true, in a way, to their original commitment to not do hoppy beer, but have figured out a way to do it through a new arm. I had too many amazing beer there to even try to relay my tasting notes.

I think the brewery that most intrigued me is one that, for beer geeks, might fly Continue reading Sorry, Mickey, I’m Here for the Beer

Are We Reaching Peak Craft?

Is a day of reckoning coming for craft brewers? (photo courtesy

A CBC news article posted yesterday (read it here) looking at Alberta’s booming craft beer industry offers the take that Canada might be reaching the limits to its market reach. It quotes a business professor, Dr. Larry Plummer, who hints that a slowdown in growth for the craft segment is occurring but the rate of new brewery openings is not. Their suggestion is that harder times are coming and that breweries will find it increasingly difficult to grow their market share.

The story then profiles a few Alberta breweries and bar owners as an example of the speed at which the industry is growing, with a sub-plot that ominous times are coming.

Will we soon reach peak craft beer?

The proponents, including Dr. Plummer, essentially argue that new brewery openings in a context of a stagnant market is not sustainable. Overall beer sales in Canada are slowly shrinking, even though craft is taking a larger portion of the existing market. Until now most growth in craft has come at the expense of the corporate brewers as consumers shift to smaller craft producers. Peak craft proponents argue this may be shifting and that new brewers will basically cannibalize customers from existing breweries – kind of a zero sum game.

On the surface it is a compelling argument, one certainly bolstered by evidence from bars and stores – there is only so much shelf space and so many taps to go around. The number of available sales locations are not growing at the same pace as the number of new breweries, meaning something has to give.

But, with respect to Dr. Plummer and his colleagues (note, I tried to access his case study, but refused to fork over $9 to get it, so have not read it), I disagree. We are not reaching peak craft. Not yet, anyway.

I believe the proponents make three key errors. First, is that they make too much of the overall beer industry trends. Yes beer is a stagnant market. But craft continues to be not much more than a niche player in that market. Small gains of the total market share equate to huge jumps in the presence of the industry. For example, say craft has 5% of a particular market with 50 breweries. If in a couple years it climbs to Continue reading Are We Reaching Peak Craft?

Blinded by the Barrel Aging

Barrel-aging can no longer be called the sexy new thing in beer. Almost every new brewery is trying their hands at it at least once in a while. But that doesn’t mean all are making the kind of quality consumers have come to expect from barrel-aged beer.

The key is balance (like in so many things). You want the original beer to still present itself in some fashion, but countered by a wood character. The original use of the barrel (e.g., bourbon, red wine, etc.) should also come through. The beer shouldn’t be too boozy, but if you can’t tell the barrel has deposited some extra alcohol something is wrong too.

In short not an easy task.

I had the notion of balance in my head a couple weeks ago when I opened Blindman Brewing’s 2017 version of their Barrel-Aged Porter, this year in bourbon barrels. I suspect I am late to the party once again with this, as they released it back in mid-October and it is very likely it is already gone. If not, be sure to not dally if you want to find some.

It pours opaque black, more like a stout. It presents a thin dark tan head with some moderate lacing. The aroma offers bourbon upfront, some vanilla, hints of dark roast, dark brown sugar and molasses. Some subtle woodiness lingers in the background.

I take a sip and light treacle and chocolate notes topped by light roast start in right away. The middle picks up a light bourbon character, some sweet woodiness and a slick vanilla note.  I also pick up a touch of earthiness as well as a coffee background mixed with a light sweetness that makes the beer seem like a spiked coffee of some kind. The linger is slightly boozy with a sweet bourbon edge, some roast and bit of dark bitter chocolate. The body comes across as a bit thinner than I would like – the barrel seems to have stripped away some of the fullness.

The beer has some nice barrel character to it, along with a rounded flavour. I find the roast a bit too assertive, especially since I don’t find it quite so upfront in the original version of the beer (Triphammer Porter). I also would have liked to see a bit more of the original porter come through – a beer I quite enjoy – as it comes across a bit thinner than a porter should. However, that is the risk with barrel-aging. A price is always to be paid for gaining the loveliness of the barrel and its former contents. Some variables you simply can’t control.

Still, overall it is a nice sipper and an enjoyable experience. Also a good lesson that making a world-class barrel-aged beer is hard, but that you don’t have to ace it to produce an enjoyable, worthy offering.

The King of Bellwoods, No Doubt

Every Ahab has a Moby Dick. That extends to the beer world.

My recent elusive target likely does not rate the tragedy of Captain Ahab, in particular because I was fine waiting, but this is a nice way to start a column about a hard-to-find beer. (Also Moby Dick is actually a Sperm Whale, but that is an odder way to start a post.)

There are some breweries in Canada that those of us who pay attention start to yearn for, especially when  we can’t get them in our home province. In this case I am talking about Bellwoods Brewing.

Over the past few years Bellwoods has developed a remarkable reputation for its edgy, creative, flavourful beer. The problem was that you had to be in Toronto – and in particular the more out-of-the-way Little Portugal part of Toronto – to find their beer. I got to sample a couple offerings on my most recent trip to Toronto, but that only made me want to sample more. I made a last second effort to visit the brewery but, understandably, they couldn’t accommodate.

Thus my White Whale remained (mostly) elusive.

So you can imagine my surprise a few weeks ago to walk into my favourite liquor store and find a couple of offerings from Bellwoods on the shelf. It is, I will admit, a listing I don’t trust will be here for long as they are a small brewery mostly trying to meet more local demand. But somehow a shipment made it west.

It was a great moment to think I had just landed my white whale – and without going insane and perishing like the original Captain Ahab. I scooped up a couple of bottles and trotted home.

Jelly King was one I had been hearing much about in recent months, so started my journey there. Jelly King is a dry-hopped sour beer. It pours light gold, is deeply hazy, and offers only a thin white wisp of a head. Oh, and hazy. Very hazy. They do have some fruited versions of Jelly King, but I chose the original.

The aroma starts with a big fruity character. I get pineapple, some tangerine and other sweeter more generic citrus. I also pick up a light grainy malt underneath and a delicate, soft tartness – which I find accents the pineapple character.

That big fruitiness also marks the initial upfront tast. Again, pineapple is most noted for me but I also get papaya, tangerine, lime and orange. It is lightly sweet, but balanced by a soft tartness, giving a sweet-sour taste you might get in pineapple juice. The malt is slightly grainy in a pilsner malt fashion. The tartness is clean and nicely balanced with the sweetness. It doesn’t come across as a sour beer, per se, but more a fruity beer with a tart accent. The linger is a dry grain and light clean tartness.

Wow, this is a really balanced and delicious beer. Like pineapple juice for me. Less overtly sour than most kettle sours, but also not a fruit beer. Feels like what would happen if you let a New England IPA go sideways. It has a classic balance and flavour, making it perfect for summer sipping.

Sometimes finally capturing your white whale can be disappointing – all the expectation is let down by the actual experience. Not here. While I would have loved to drink this beer sooner, I can confidently say it was well worth the wait. It lives up to its expectations.

Note: Edited to correct photo image.

The Great Gruit Comeback

My CBC column last Friday deviated from the usual and looked at the odd beverage that is Gruit. You can listen to the column here.

Today we generally know Gruit as a beer made with a mixture of herbs and spices and (mostly) without hops. And that is strictly accurate. But seeing it just as a beer with alternative ingredients misses the fascinating history that comes with it. It was one of the more fun research jobs I have engaged in.

The reality is that gruit is an integral part of beer history. It was the first beer quite frankly. Brewers in the early part of the millennium used whatever ingredients they had locally. Universally there is a need to balance the sweetness of the barley malt with some kind of bitter or earthiness. A wide range of herbs were called into service, including rosemary, sage, mugwort, sweet gale, yarrow, rosemary and horehound. Some might also add heather, juniper, caraway, ginger, aniseed.

You can immediately appreciate how those additions would transform the flavour of the beer compared to what we understand today.

Hops mostly likely took over by the 1700s because they proved to be a superior product for beer given their potency, noted bitterness and complementary flavours. However, many other more conspiratorial theories abound, most of which none of us can confirm nor deny.

First the supposed narcotic and alleged aphrodisiac-like qualities of some of gruit’s ingredients drew the ire of both the Catholic and Protestant churches. We can’t really confirm whether consuming mugwort and horehound turns you into a sex maniac, but the middle ages religious types certainly thought so.

Then there were the landed gentry who resented the church’s control over gruit production and offered hops as a secular alternative. However, the most likely explanation is that hops proved to be more effective additions for brewers and thus, over time, gained the advantage both with brewers and consumers.

Still, the orgy story is far more entertaining.

Today, gruit remains a niche product, but a growing one. More and more consumers are appreciating the different flavours you can create when you eschew your traditional hops with other more creative alternatives.

On air, the host, Portia Clark, and I tried a Beau’s St. Luke’s Verse gruit, which is made with rosemary, thyme and lavender. It has a unique earthy and soapy character that makes it unique.

Be prepared to see more gruit in the near future. Maybe not as a mainstay, but I think more and more breweries will turn to alternative herbs to create a one-off beer that stands out.

Welcome back gruit!

Reflections on the Evolution of Homebrewing

My homebrew system (at its old home)

I made my first kit beer in years this past weekend. And it got me thinking.

As many readers know, I have been a homebrewer for 26 years, 23 of those as an all-grain brewer. Like most homebrewers of my time, I started with the appalling concentrate in a tin where you are asked to add 20 litres of water and toss in 5 cups of corn sugar. The end result was barely drinkable, but it was cheap. It didn’t take me long to graduate to extract brewing (adding dried or liquid extract and boiling with hops), and after that to the full-meal deal. Over the decades I have upgraded my system and honed my skills where today I can honestly say I make pretty darned good beer most of the time.

Why did I make a kit beer? (Actually I made two.) I blame our new house and the early onset of winter. In our old place, I brewed on the patio in the backyard. I could usually brew into early December and start up again sometime in March. As long as the temperature wasn’t too low, I could brew regardless of snow. Since we moved to our new house a few years ago I brew in the entrance to our unheated garage. A key feature is that my waste water flows down the driveway, into the alley and down the drain. As a result, I am hostage to the thermometer. If the weather is below zero, I can’t responsibly brew. I am not interested in turning my driveway and my neighbours’ alley into a skating rink (maybe I need to be more of an Ayn Rand follower and not care about my neighbours, but it is not in my DNA).

Which means my brew season has been compressed to April to early November. This year I had my final brew session scheduled for late October, but had to scrub the planned day due to work commitments. I re-scheduled for early November, but mother nature intervened in the interim and smacked Edmonton with a cold spell (recent days of just over zero haven’t been quite good enough). Thus I was left with two yeast smack packs (I always brew two batches per brew day) and no prospect of firing up the system until spring.

The only solution was to buy a kit to both utilize the yeast and at least give me some beer over the winter. I visited the Southside Winning Wines Plus and picked up a couple of Paddock Wood ready-to-brew kits, which are full wort volume just needing yeast (although I did mess with one of them to give it a bit of a flavour boost). They are now happily bubbling away in my latest brewery addition, my SS Brewtech stainless steel fermenters.

This very long-winded introduction finally gets me to my main point. Wow, has the homebrew world changed!

When I started, kits were awful train-wrecks of beer. But they were a necessary first step to learn about fermentation and sanitization. I also remember finding all-grain ingredients was a challenge. Local supplies were spotty. My first few years relied on a friend, Soren Jensen, who had access to malt and yeast. Then I was saved by Stephen Cavan at Paddock Wood – then a homebrew supply store rather than a brewery – who did mail order. Even then, choices were relatively thin.

Plus I cannot talk about my homebrewing history without acknowledging the Edmonton Homebrewers’ Guild, who provided a supportive community, offered experienced beer advice and generally made me a better brewer.

Today, quality homebrew stores like Winning Wines Plus carry a wide range of ingredients and supplies, meaning you don’t have drive more than 20 minutes to get world-class product. Homebrewers today can Continue reading Reflections on the Evolution of Homebrewing

Beer Policy Matters, It Really Does

It is well-known that the Alberta beer industry is in the midst of a huge explosion. We now have over 60 breweries (almost 70 licenses, but I count independent operations, not AGLC licenses). Of which 46 have opened their doors in the last 2-and-a-bit years. Eighteen have opened so far in 2017 alone (as of early November). Something is up.

And that something is beer policy. Quite frankly beer policy makes a difference. The last six years have seen a sea-change in Alberta’s approach to beer. The effects are being felt.

In my most recent Vue Weekly column I offer a quick overview of the changes at the provincial and municipal level and what their impact has been (which you can read here). To regular readers, little of that column will be new, but I wanted to use this post to expand a bit on the notion that beer policy matters.

To briefly summarize, there have been what I say are three waves of policy changes. The first, and unquestioningly important, was in 2011 when the Redford Tory government eliminated minimum production capacities. Suddenly opening a brewery could happen with smaller amounts of money. The second wave has been under the Notley NDP government. Its highest profile move was to change the mark-up and create a grant for Alberta breweries. But we shouldn’t forget a series of other reforms, including easing rules around tasting rooms, allowing breweries into farmers’ markets and being more active in publicly promoting Alberta beer. The third wave has been municipally in Edmonton and Calgary who have both eased zoning restrictions on where a brewery can open. These changes have opened up popular areas, such as Whyte or 17 Avenue S, which were previously off-limits for a brewery.

The rapid growth in Alberta breweries is due to a complex combination of factors. I am not here to over-simplify the situation. I am well aware many things non-policy-related matter a great deal. Neither will I dismiss the concerns of importers who argue the mark-up policy in particular is unfair to non-Alberta breweries and may be unconstitutional, as a lawsuit and a trade challenge argue (I am pretty sure no one objects to the other changes that have occurred).

But I will say this. The policy changes of the past few years  have made a measurable, tangible difference for Alberta’s beer industry. The sum result of the policies are threefold. First, they lower the bar for entry. It no longer requires almost a million bucks to open a brewery (heck, Beer Factory in St. Albert has a brewhouse no larger than my homebrew system). If you have the money, great, but you can open a small brewery on a shoestring if you want to. The bylaw changes are also a part of lower the threshold for entry. If you know you can open in a high traffic area, it reduces the risk in opening a new brewery.

Second, they have created more space for Alberta beer. For the most part the consumer has been minimally affected by the mark-up changes, I argue. But for the gatekeepers – the bar and liquor store owners – the price differential has made a big difference. Suddenly Alberta beer, kegs in particular, are just that much more price competitive, which makes them more attractive compared to import craft beer and lowers the resistance to trying something new.

I realize some will argue consumers are being harmed by both higher prices for imports and lesser selection. The former is somewhat valid, but I challenge any committed craft drinker to tell me that an extra 50 cents for a pint or a buck or two for a six-pack is really a hardship (it is a disposable income purchase, after all). The latter simply doesn’t hold out. Only a handful of breweries have pulled out of the market, most of whom were marginal in the first place, meaning despite press releases the reasons have to do with other factors than the mark-up.

Recent exits of Stone and Firestone Walker have more to do, in my opinion, with their market position than price, which would have been high regardless. They are coveted “trophy” beer, but once a consumer has tried them once, what is the motivation to keep buying it over other new options and old stand-bys? I believe they were caught in the logic of their own positioning as the new and hip entrant. As for Steam Whistle and Great Western (the parties in the lawsuit against the mark-up), their core problem is Continue reading Beer Policy Matters, It Really Does

Take an Alberta Beer Trip This Weekend

Image courtesy of Little Guy Liquor in Sherwood Park.

My last Vue Weekly column offered up a theoretical beer trip down Highway 2 (which you can read here). In an afternoon you could hit a half a dozen or so breweries without really venturing off Alberta’s busiest highway – and without setting foot in Edmonton or Calgary.

the QEII tour consisted of (north to south – but you could reverse): Siding 14 in Ponoka, Blindman in Lacombe, both Troubled Monk and Something Brewing in Red Deer, Olds College Brewing in Olds and the new Fitzsimmons Brewing in Airdrie. For brevity and practicality I left off the ever-elusive King of Springs in Didsbury (good luck ever finding someone home there), and a couple of others just slightly farther off the highway. In the coming months that tour list will grow with two new operations in Sylvan Lake, one more in Red Deer and who knows what else.

But that column got me thinking about other outside-the-city brewery tours that are now possible given Alberta’s explosion of new breweries. None are quite as convenient as the QEII tour, but all do have potential. Of course, there are also plenty of in-city brewery tours in the two big cities (especially Calgary) but that is a topic for another day.

But first a word of warning: advance planning is required. Not every brewery has a tap or tasting room, their hours differ and they possess differing capacities to accommodate tours of the brewery, big groups or unusual requests. So plan ahead and be respectful that these are small breweries working as hard as they can.

So, here are a few other road trip ideas for the beer fan with wanderlust:

  • Bow Valley Tour: Start west of Calgary at Cochrane and pay a visit to Half Hitch Brewing and their brand new brewery and restaurant. Another 30 minutes down the road in Canmore you can hit two breweries in two minutes – the venerable Grizzly Paw and upstart Canmore Brewing. Head into the park and finish off at Banff Avenue Brewing in downtown Banff. Take up the optional Park Distillery while you are there. Four breweries in 90 minutes of driving time along the TransCanada.
  • Yellowhead Tour: The Yellowhead highway (hwy 16) demands more driving for fewer destinations, but it is getting there. At the moment your first stop would be at Bench Creek outside Edson ( 2 hours from Edmonton) in an idyllic little spot in the woods. Another hour up the road, just past Hinton, you will find Folding Mountain who just opened their doors this past summer. Your final stop is in Jasper townsite, another hour up the road, at Jasper Brewing, Canada’s first brewpub in a national park (it predates Banff Avenue by a few years). Three breweries in four hours driving time – not great but doable, and you end up in Jasper!
  • Small Town Eastern Alberta Sojourn: This tour is a bit more ambitious, and likely might require a couple of days, but it will take you to some of Alberta’s least visited breweries, most of which you can only try the beer on-site. Start in Lloydminster with 4th Meridian, whose small batch brews are only available in town. An hour’s drive south (and a bit west) finds you in one of the smallest brewing towns in Alberta – Edgerton. Ribstone Creek has been brewing up beer there for the past few years, but few drop by for a visit. Then head west for about 100 minutes to Camrose and visit the folks at Norsemen Brewing. Another 100 minutes or so south will find you in Three Hills, home of the quiet Prairie Brewing. Their small scale means most Albertans have yet to try their beer (admittedly, including me). And then if you are really ambitious, go another hour south to Strathmore and visit the folks at Origin Malting and Brewing. Five breweries in 51/2 hours. A bit of a commitment but not the realm of possibility.
  • Southeast City Jaunt. A quicker tour would be to hit Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. Start in either city, which are less than two hours apart but give you no less than four breweries to hit. The Medicine Hat end has Medicine Hat Brewing and Hell’s Basement Brewing. The Lethbridge leg has Coulee Brewing and Theoretically Brewing. An afternoon at those four breweries and you will see a fascinating range of business models and approaches to beer.

On the “not quite there but almost” list might include these trips Continue reading Take an Alberta Beer Trip This Weekend

A Hop Association is Born

On Saturday afternoon Alberta witnessed the creation of something that I am pretty sure almost none of us coming a few years ago. I had the privilege to attend the launch of the Alberta Hop Producers Association. The group has formed to support the growing hop farm industry in Alberta. They want to build a coherent industry brand of Alberta-grown hops as part of the growing Alberta beer industry.

The association begins with five farms either operating or in development – Northern Girls (Darwell), Anvil (outside Edmonton), Pair ‘O Dice (Vauxhall), Sydewynder (Aldersyde) and Hired Hand (Morinville). The farms span the breadth of Alberta and each is a very unique operation (I hope to do a more in-depth look at hop farms in the near future). For the moment the group is small, but they are hopeful a similar burst of growth will occur with hops as has been happening in Alberta craft malting.

The association launched with a meet-and-greet at Craft Beer Market in Edmonton, complete with 5 casks made in whole or in part with Alberta-grown hops. Alley Kat, Outcast, Situation and a collaboration with Big Rock and Common Crown were all made beer for the event. In fact the Big Rock/ Common Crown release, 3-Way IPA (the third collaborator is, of course, Nothern Girls Hopyard), is seasonal release available in cans around the province. It is a wet hop beer, meaning the hops went in fresh, not dried.

The beer was quite varied – from a gentle wheat beer to a red ale to a big IPA – and the hop characteristics were interesting. I struck up some conversations with the hop growers and conversation turned to the nature of a hop terrior . They are convinced the specific climate and soil conditions in Alberta will allow them to create some made-in-Alberta hop flavours. As a case in point, one of the owners of Northern Girls placed a small pile of hops in my hand without saying a word. I recognized a slight citrus note, but also an earthy, almost pungent character. Confused, I made a stab at what the variety was, and was dead wrong. It was Centennial, but like no other Centennial I have ever smelled (note its C-like character may come through more in the brewing). That was my introduction to the possibility of an Alberta hop terroir.

I can hear some of you muttering under your breath as I write this.  “But you can’t grow hops in Alberta!’. That has long been a sentiment around these parts. I can see why. If we look at the regions that excel at growing hops, like the U.S. northwest, Germany, southern England, Czech Republic, we find climates with longer growing seasons, ample rainfall and temperate winters. Not how one would describe Alberta.

But as I learned on Saturday, those are not the important features that affect hop production. Much of the science went over my head, but it many ways we have a good climate for hops with long growing days, a good amount of rainfall (except in the southeast) and fertile soil. Plus the key metric is the number of days between flowering and first frost. At times it can be a bit nip and tuck, but I am assured it can work. And clearly it does.

The creation of a hop producers’ association is an encouraging development in Alberta’s beer scene. We have long known our province produces world-class malting barley. Our water is, generally, clean and good for brewing. Yeast is a factor of good laboratory technique and strain choice (and so not really geography dependent). The missing piece has been hops.

The prospect of having a supply of Alberta-grown hops means the possibilities of an all-Alberta beer (as more than a quirky one-off) are getting closer.

Alberta’s hop farms are small and, for the moment, can only supply small bundles of hops for specialty batches and one-offs. Plus the economics of scale have not yet kicked in, meaning they remain a bit pricey compared to the large suppliers.

These are hurdles the hop growers will need to overcome. But with their brand new association, they seem on their way to doing it.