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It’s Alberta Beer Week!

Today marks the launch of Alberta Beer Week 2017. For the next 9 days (yes, I know that is more than a week, relax) breweries and beer-oriented pubs and stores will be offering a range of events, discounts and profiles to mark the 3rd annual celebration of Alberta beer.

The full schedule for the week can be found here.  By my count there are no fewer than 85 different events scheduled across the week. If your town has an Alberta brewery in it, there is no doubt you have a Beer Week event in your area.

Most of the events involve tap takeovers, tastings of Alberta beer or free brewery tours. But there are a few beer dinners/food pairings tossed in for good measure as well. I also see a handful of beer education events, an airing of the well-regarded Aleberta beer history documentary (more info here), and a couple of beer launch parties. I am pretty confident you can find something that interest you.

Plus, I am even involved this year! I have not one, but two beer week events on the go. First, I have partnered with Sherbrooke Liquor to host a tasting at their event space next door to the store. It is Wednesday (October 25) at 7:00 pm. I will be leading a tasting of some unusual and creative Alberta craft beer that profile the adventurous side of Alberta’s brewers. To find out WHICH beer you will have to come. Tickets are a nominal $5 (mostly just to create a commitment to show up) and available here or in store.

Second – and this event is not on the official list for reasons I can’t explain, I am doing an all-Alberta beer tasting at Underground Tap and Grill on October 24 (Tuesday). Tix are $10 (again, mostly to encourage actual attendance). It is one hour of entertaining discussion about Alberta beer, including four tastings.

Beyond my contribution, there are many events that seem intriguing to me. Here is a short list of some events that caught my attention while scrolling through the list:

  • Today Craft Beer Market Calgary is holding Ultimate Canadian Beer Style: “The Pitch”, where a range of Alberta breweries are being asked to propose a beer that would be the epitome of Canadian beer. The style curmudgeon in me is suspicious, but let’s see where this goes…
  • Also tonight, aspiring homebrewers can get a lesson in how to get started over at Village Brewing.
  • The aforementioned free viewing of the Aleberta documentary will be next Friday at Tool Shed Brewing in Calgary.
  • Edmonton Brewery Tours is doing a special, one-off hop-on-hop-off tour on Sunday featuring three Edmonton breweries.
  • Another Sherbrooke event has Untapped Imports hosting a series of paired blind tastings. Two beer of the same style, one brewed in Alberta, one imported from around the world. Find out which you like better! I would have done that if they hadn’t already grabbed it!
  • And yet another Sherbrooke event has Dandy Brewing pairing their beer up with … CANDY! Just in time for Halloween.

As I say there are a wide range of events out there to fit everyone’s budget, schedule and interest. So get out there and celebrate Alberta beer.

Even if you can’t attend an event, buy some Alberta beer this week and give a nod to the hard working people building this industry up at a rapid pace.

Citizen Pale Ale: A Full Moon Doppelganger?

A couple weeks ago I picked up a couple packs from a new Calgary brewery, Citizen Brewing.

(Yes, I know I haven’t done a profile on them yet. I apologize. Life is hard. I promise to get to it very soon.)

Anyway, I opened their North West Pale Ale, and immediately recognized it. I knew these flavours. Not in a general way, but in a specific “I know this beer” way. Within milliseconds my brain was saying “this is like Full Moon”. And I had to agree. The beer seemed amazingly like Alley Kat’s longtime mainstay Full Moon Pale Ale.

Full Moon is a beer I have had countless times. Its taste is burned into my body memory. It is my regular go-to/fall back/reliable standby, as I made clear when they tried to change it (read here, but don’t worry they fixed the mistake).

So imagine my surprise to try a new brewery’s pale ale and come up with Full Moon. It was something I had to follow up. I decided to try them side-by-side. To go with my recently purchased Citizen beer I picked up a fresh case of Full Moon.

I decided a blind tasting was pointless since I know Full Moon so well. Instead I just poured them in identical glasses (both with Alley Kat logos but I am sure that doesn’t affect the flavour) and tried them one after the other.

The results were interesting.

The Citizen appeared as a medium orange beer with a slight haze. It forms a dense, fluffy white head with a bit of lacing. The head hangs around. In the aroma I pick up piney hop with a touch of citrus, some toffee and biscuit backing. I also get a bit of woodiness along with some generic fruit.

The flavour gives me toffee, light caramel and a noted fruitiness upfront. The middle brings out a noted C-hop flavour of citrus, pine and wood. I also get a sharpening of the malt, offering a bit of almost rye-like graininess. Finish is bright and floral, moderately dry with a classic pale ale finish and linger.

There is no question in my mind this beer can stand out as a quality pale ale.

But for my brain the real test was how did it compare to Full Moon.

It is slightly darker, offering a bright medium orange verging on copper. It has a bright clarity and a moonscape white head with only a touch of lacing. The aroma is  full pine along with some wood. I also get some clear citrus notes. It has a solid background of toffee, honey and some clover. There is also a touch of fruitiness at the end.

The front taste is well-rounded, presenting toffee, rich biscuit and a noted fruitiness. I also get some clover honey and meadow flower. The middle keeps its smoothness but adds in light dusting of citrus and woody pine. the finish is classic C-hop citrus and pine but balanced with a biscuity malt linger.

Side-by-side I can totally tell they are not the same beer. The Citizen is more hop forward and drier in its overall impression. The Full Moon is more rounded, cleaner and overall more balanced. It keeps its malt character longer to give it a fuller character. The hop flavours are very similar – which may be why I originally conflated the two. Both have  a classic Northwest Pale Ale  (a la Sierra Nevada) hop flavour.

I won’t be so foolhardy as to suggest they use the same varieties, but I will say they have selected hops in the same family of flavours.

They are clearly sister beer. Made with the same vision but with differing approaches. You have to decide for yourself which is better. Regardless which you pick, we should all be happy we  have both on offer.


Peanut Butter. Milk. Stout. Whaa?!?

I love peanut butter. And, of course, I love me some milk stout. But when I saw a beer that puts them together, I will admit I was skeptical. I simply am not sure those flavours belong together, despite how many times I have spread peanut butter on a piece of dark chocolate.

That said, there was no other option for me than to pick up a can and try it. Right?

The beer I am talking about is Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout. A weird beer in anyone’s book. Plus, I have heard, a stunningly well respected weird beer. This California brewery seems to have – they say – figured out the combination.

I was happy to see for myself.

It pours a midnight black with a dark tan head that rises fast but then drops to nothing quite quickly. I suspect that is the effect of the peanut oil.

The aroma begins with  an assertive peanut aroma and a backing of chocolate and hints of roast. I also get sweet milk and a bit of dark fruit. Call me crazy but it smells like crunchy peanut butter cup to me. Seriously. The smell is out of this world.

When I sip it I find the peanut character doesn’t follow in the taste as much. The front has a lactose sweetness, some dark chocolate, and a syrup character. The middle draws out a  light roast note and some plum. I find the finish is relatively sweet with a backing of roast malt to balance. Lightly riding on top of the whole impression is a generic nuttiness to the beer. The mouthfeel has a starchy character to it as well as being full bodied. The linger leaves a scratchy coating on the roof of my mouth that I don’t find particularly pleasant.

As I say I do love my peanut butter so was excited to get my hands on this. The aroma is mind blowing. It goes straight to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. But the flavour doesn’t follow up in the same way. The peanut butter character disappears and only offers up a vague background nuttiness. I was hoping for more peanut flavour. As it goes it is a rather decent milk stout and the nuts add an intriguing (although not wholly successful) angular note to the beer.

But is it peanut butter? Not to my palate.

Trans Canada Creating Cross-Drinker Appeal

When you name your brewery after Canada’s national highway, you have some pretty big shoes to fill. The Trans Canada Highway is an iconic symbol of our vast country. It ties the country together, creating memories for thousands of Canadians that have trekked across all or even parts of it on epic road trips.

But that is what Winnipeg’s Trans Canada Brewing has done. Actually, according to owner Matt Talman, the brewery isn’t named after the highway; it is named after what the highway represents. “We wanted to have a bit of a nostalgic brand,” he says. “The brand centres around Canadiana and the Canadian experience. We have the look and feel of a throwback to bring people back to some of their memories of past. That is exemplified in the era of when Trans Canada was used for all kinds of developments, airlines, the highway. It is something everybody can associate with.”

“Plus,” he adds, “it also leaves us with opportunities for collaborations and things we can do, such as different styles from the regions of Canada.”

Trans Canada is having its grand opening this coming weekend, so if you are in Winnipeg make a point of stopping by. It is Winnipeg’s ninth brewery, which is quite the change from a couple years ago.

Talman comes by both business and beer honestly. “I come from entrepreneurial family. It has always been goal to open own my own business at some point.” The Winnipeg boy got a business degree from University of Western Ontario, after having travelled extensively around the world. His beer passion came about the traditional way, through taking up homebrewing. “I started homebrewing in college. I  started with kits and then moved to all-grain, a 1-gallon stove top. I enjoyed learning  about the brewing process, creating something on my own. Simply I fell in love with the brewing process, craft beer.” Talman talks about cutting his craft beer teeth on Half Pints and Fort Garry, at the time the only independent brewers in town.

He started seriously working on Trans Canada in late 2014, at a time when the beer scene looked very different in Manitoba. “At that time in Manitoba, there was basically Half Pints and Fort Garry, although I think Farmery had just started. There were all kinds of rumours of legislation changes, more people exploring craft beer, and places were expanding options. I felt it was time for another brewery so we could have more well-made local craft beer.”

Many things have changed since Talman’s early planning, but rather than be worried, he is excited. “There are big things happening in the Winnipeg market. Consumers are rapidly becoming more aware of craft beer. I am excited for the opportunity to add to the momentum of craft beer in Manitoba and offer even more choices.”

A central aspect of Trans Canada’s plans include their on-site, 120 seat tap room, located “three doors down from Fort Garry. We wanted to build in a showcase tap room on site, that would offer brand introduction, and provide a welcoming experience for our beer.” They originally planned a full-scale restaurant but scaled that back. Now they will be offering pizzas through Timmy Tom’s Pizzeria, what Talman describes as a “store within a store” concept. He wants to keep the Trans Canada name associated with beer.

The brewery itself is rather ambitious. They have installed Continue reading Trans Canada Creating Cross-Drinker Appeal

Oilers and the Art of Exclusive Contracts

The offending Arcadia poster. Photo courtesy CBC News.

Late last week the social media world exploded with news that the Edmonton Oilers had ordered the owner of a small, craft oriented bar in town to stop promoting in-house beer specials during Oiler games (you can read the CBC story here). The bar, Arcadia on 124 Street, is committed to serving only Alberta-made craft beer and has developed a reputation in town as a quality craft beer stop. They seem to regularly have something rare on tap (often due to the owners’ willingness to drive to the brewery to pick up a keg) and their cask nights are legendary. They seem an odd place to single out for legal sabre-rattling.

As we have since learned, Arcadia is not alone in feeling the wrath of the Oilers’ legal team. Other bars have also been warned against promoting the Oilers in their establishments.

The threats come with a carrot – at least in the minds of the Oilers management – in the form of an offer that if the establishment carries Molson products, they would be happy to support them in promoting Oilers games. Hmm. Interesting.

There has been lots of consumer outrage over the weekend about this, so I see no need to pile on. The move is understandably frustrating for fans of craft beer and the Oilers are clearly demonstrating a stunning tone-deafness in this PR fiasco.

Instead I want to look at the bigger picture and bring in some analysis to bear.

The problem here isn’t the Oilers, it is the practice of exclusivity contracts. In Regina their fancy new Mosaic stadium has not yet lost its new car smell yet the odour of crass pandering to Molson reeks. Despite their best efforts, Saskatchewan craft brewers were unable to persuade the Roughriders and the City of Regina to serve local beer at the new facility (read here for background). Across the continent stadiums and arenas are seas of monoculture beer, either of the Molson or the AB-Inbev variety. That beer fans point to Boston, Atlanta or Denver where local craft beer is served onsite proves how rare such diversity occurs. I remember once being thrilled at the Brier that Great Western Brewing, rather than Molson, had exclusivity rights (read here), it is that barren.

And it is not just sports. Most music festivals, including my beloved Edmonton Folk Music Festival, offer exclusive pouring rights, in this case often to Big Rock. It is common practice for festivals and events to arrange for exclusivity.

The advantage to the organization/sports team is obvious. Money. In the Oilers’ case Molson is prepared to pay a premium to keep out its competitors. For festivals and the like, the sponsorship money is an essential revenue stream.

For the brewery, the advantage is even more obvious. You get a captured market and oodles of space to promote your brands. Plus your competitors can’t even show their face.

The downside for the consumers is also obvious – lack of choice. But for today, that is not the issue I want to focus on.

The downside for the organization, be it a hockey team or a music festival, is that it shifts their perspective. Unintentionally, the organization becomes an advocate for their brewery partner rather than an advocate for their customers. The Oilers brouhaha demonstrates this shift. The Oilers are actively encouraging bars to sell Molson products (to be eligible for the gravy train that is Oilers promotions). They have become a secondary sales force for one of the largest breweries in the world.

Festivals rarely go that far, but they regularly heap praise on their brewery partner, while offering  silence for anyone else.

Allowing exclusivity sets in motion a certain logic that prioritizes the contracted brewery over fans/consumers/attendees.The interests of the brewery become intertwined with the team/organization. Even the term “partner” is telling. Partners are equals who share in the benefits and consequences of the endeavour. That is not what this is. Molson is selling beer at a hockey game. That doesn’t make them a “partner”. That makes them a supplier. And suppliers should be exposed to the cut and thrust of competition, not shielded in perpetuity because they pulled up to the back door with a Brinks truck.

Exclusivity elevates a supplier to a partner. And thus the logic shifts and we see last week’s farce where a professional hockey club is threatening a small, independent pub run by one guy (literally).

It is not the money that is the problem; there are ways of getting similar revenues in a non-exclusive environment. It is the logic that proves so difficult to overcome. Sports teams, festivals and the like need to stop seeing breweries as partners and start seeing them as beer suppliers.

But I won’t hold my breath.


Upstreet’s Go Devil Goes Down Just Fine

A friend went to PEI this summer on a family vacation. And proving they are a rather great friend, they brought me back some beer to try. Gahan Brewing (PEI Brewing) is a longtime staple of the PEI beer scene (meaning they were the only one for many years) and have at times sold in Alberta, so they new better than to bring me back that.

The good news is in the last couple years there have been three new entrants into the PEI beer scene. My friend got me three beer from newcomer Upstreet Brewing who just opened their doors last year. It was my first opportunity to try their beer. I was offered their Ruby Social rhubarb witbier, the Eighty Bob Scottish ale and the Go Devil American IPA. Just because I sampled the Go Devil last, it became the subject of this post.

First let me offer a brief comment on the other two. The Ruby Social tasted, well, like rhubarb. Tart with an earthy sweetness. If you like rhubarb, this beer will work for you. If not, well…  It also has some strawberry to soften the effect, but still. The Eighty Bob is a decent Scottish ale with a bit of a dry finish.

As for the Go Devil it clearly presented as an American-style IPA. It pours dark gold with great clarity. It forms a thick, dense white head with noticeable lacing. I also note fairly strong carbonation. The aroma gives up sweet citrus and some floral notes. I get papaya and sweet mango. It is backed by a light biscuit malt sweetness.

The first sip is fruity and sweet with some honey, red fruit and sweet grain. The middle draws out a sharp graininess and a bit of wildflower. The finish is sweet with a clear citrus angle. I pick up papaya but also an odd grassiness that doesn’t quite fit the overall effect. The finish also has a green shoot character to it which I can’t quite reconcile with the other flavours. The linger is fruity and citrusy but not overly bitter. The beer could use a more assertive hop bitterness to draw out the American qualities and to accent the citrus hop flavours.

It is a nice tasting beer. I quite appreciated my 30 minutes exploring it. It had nteresting flavour combinations to keep me thinking. It is not necessarily to style, lacking in clean bitterness, and it has an odd combination of hop flavours which I find curious. Still, I can’t deny it is an enjoyable quaff.

Upstreet is still a young brewery in an under-developed market, so both patience and some latitude are warranted. In that context I see this beer as a very promising start.

I Am Bound to Have Another Metes and Bounds

Sometimes you just have to ignore your inner curmudgeon and just go with the beer flow.  At least I do.

Take the new-ish trend of creating so-called XPA – Extra Pale Ale. It is supposed to a beer that lands somewhere between a pale ale and an IPA. Conceptually it makes sense but part of me wants to run to my BJCP guidelines in a desperate search to find it. It is not in there, of course, because it is not yet officially a style. Which drives the style curmudgeon in me crazy.

But then I got my hands on a bottle of Annex Ales Project’s Metes and Bounds, which they proudly call an XPA. And sampling it quiets my inner style curmudgeon, momentarily.

It pours medium orange copper. It is quite hazy, actually, and forms a huge, dense, bubbly head. The aroma has a bright citrus note, some leafy hop character and a background toffee and biscuit malt. It also has a noted ale fruitiness. It smells fresh and bright.

In the sip, the front front offers a big pit fruit and citrus note mixed with some wildflower honey, light caramel and slight piney earthiness. The middle draws out an earthy hop character and some lemon while staying quite smooth and  creamy in the body. The finish has a bright citrus character and an assertive bitterness, but without losing the biscuity malt base. The linger is pine, lemon and mango.

Okay. I get it. XPA is maybe a thing. Metes and Bounds wonderfully straddles the best of both an IPA and a Pale Ale. An assertive hop presence balanced by a pleasant and rounded toffee, light caramel, toasted malt base. The malt co-stars in this beer, giving it both more balance and more drinkability than a more assertive IPA, while still presenting a stage for the hops to shine. A fine balance, but one nicely struck by Annex Ales.

I must admit I think this could be a dangerous beer for me if I wasn’t careful. The style curmudgeon in me be damned.

Fitzsimmons Primed to Win Over Airdrie

A few years back Cody Fitzsimmons and his girlfriend Pamela Jarosz presented themselves with a stark choice. “Do we want to get married or start a brewery?” They felt their energies had to go into one or the other.

The fact that Fitzsimmons Brewing will be opening in Airdrie just north of Calgary in the coming weeks tells you their answer. Beer won out. Who needs a ring when you can share a brewery together?

“The day they changed the [minimum capacity] law in Alberta is the day we started working on it,” says Fitzsimmons. “It was something we always dreamed of doing, so as soon as the law changed we pursued it actively and very heavily. But we took our time opening. We didn’t want to rush it and wanted to make sure we did everything right”.

As the name attests Fitzsimmons is a family project, and not just the two of them. “At the end of the day we just wanted a name that represented what we are,” says Fitzsimmons. “We are a family brewery. Aunts and uncles and cousins – all family. The brewery is not named after me. I just wanted a name that represented who we are.” You will note the lack of a possessive apostrophe on the name.

Fitzsimmons is an Airdrie resident with a background in plumbing and working in the culinary industry. His passion for beer, like many started with homebrewing. “Like every homebrewer I built my system bigger every year, adding new things. I was an obsession that got out of control.”

But Fitzsimmons is smart enough to know the difference between brewing up 20 or 40 litres at home and trying to build a commercial brewery. “We wanted to make sure  we will be making the best product possible,” he says. “I knew as a homebrewer I  could make good beer but not necessarily great beer so I wanted to hire someone who could.”

Enter Allen Douglas. Douglas worked at Big Rock for about six years before switching back to his original trade as a welder. However after a couple years of that he decided “brewing was more fun.” Douglas says when he saw the head brewer position open up he jumped at it. “I connected with Cody a couple years ago and we kept in touch.” Douglas also lives in Airdrie so saw the opportunity as ideal.

Their brewhouse is in place and Douglas will start brewing in the next week or two. Fitzsimmons says they are hoping for end of October to have beer, with the tasting room opening a couple weeks later. They have a 10-bbl brewhouse with 4-20bbl fermenters and two bright tanks.

Douglas says that to start they will have two flagships, an Continue reading Fitzsimmons Primed to Win Over Airdrie

Ol’ Beautiful Aiming to Making Attractive Beer

Another new Calgary brewery quietly slipped onto store shelves and bar taps over the summer (they officially launched in April). Ol’ Beautiful Brewing (the website isn’t much yet, but you know) is the brainchild of Chris Carroll and Devon Sidwell. The longtime friends have been scheming for a couple of years about opening a brewery.

As Carroll says in my recent visit with him, the two just felt like it was the right thing to do. “We have similar backgrounds and interests in traveling, music and the outdoors, we get along really well”. They not only shared pastimes but an entrepreneurial spirit and craft beer. “I spend a few years in Colorado going to school, which is where my spark for the craft brewing industry started. I studied marketing and came back to Canada to become an architectural technologist, but I new lost the passion for craft beer”. As for Sidwell, he studied philosophy in university, “did the wandering nomad life” and after ran a couple of businesses in the safety auditing sector. “Over much biking and beer drinking Devon and I schemed on this thing”.

They watched what was happening in Calgary in recent years and took notice. They realized they needed to get going on their dream sooner rather than later. “We chatted a lot with Dan [Allard] at Cold Garden when he was starting up, getting the lay of the land. He is a key mentor for us. He took a bit of that intimidation factor out of it. Plus we got first hand experience helping him out”, says Carroll.

That relationship went so well Ol’ Beautiful is currently contract brewing out of Cold Garden. They installed their own 30-hl tank and brew during Cold Garden’s down time. “We brew the night shift, We go in after and Zoei will brew 11 hours through the night. It is a quad batch to fill the fermenter up”. The Zoei he mentions is Zoei Thibault, a recent Olds College graduate and someone who totally fits into Carroll and Sidwell’s vibe. Carroll says Thibault grew up in Kaslo and so shares their outdoor passions. “Zoei is technical and well-trained”.

The plan is to have their own space. “Our main ideal is to have a space to share the craft beer experience, share in the culture”, says Carroll. “The focus is on having an approachable, pedestrian-oriented space. That is why we haven’t rushed on space. We are waiting for the best spot”. Carroll is flexible on the timeline but hopes it will be in the next year or so. Their plan is to install a 15 Hl brewhouse and aim to do Alberta distribution, although Calgary will be their main focus.

For the time being they are happy contracting with Cold Garden, who are becoming something of a new brewery incubator as they also host Outcast Brewing. “The contract phase is great”, says Carroll. “We have gained Continue reading Ol’ Beautiful Aiming to Making Attractive Beer

Labatt to Bring Back the Stubby, Maybe

Will the stubby be making a comeback?

Labatt Breweries of Canada, wholly owned by AB-Inbev, has announced it is bringing back the stubby (read news article here). It has invested significant money to upgrade its Edmonton plant. Among the upgrades is to allow their bottling line to handle the iconic squat bottle.

For beer fans of a particular age and/or sentimental disposition this is quite exciting news. Maybe.

I’ll explain the maybe part in a second. But first some background. For all you young’uns out there, the stubby (pictured) was the industry standard bottle across Canada between 1961 and 1982. It was phased out during the 1980s as the big corporate brewers, under pressure from American beer, switched to today’s longer neck bottle. To this day some beer drinkers have never forgiven them.

Regular readers here know full well that I am a big fan of the stubby (read here). I own many cases of them in my home brewery, and have long argued they are the perfectly designed beer bottle, especially for naturally carbonated homebrew. If find the shape of the neck ideal for pouring while leaving sediment behind. Its stout design also makes it quite durable and break-proof. Over the years I have had a number of long neck bottles break during capping, but never once I have lost a stubby that way.

Besides there is something distinctly Canadian about the stubby. It is a piece of Canadian heritage. So that is why it is good news if the stubby is coming back. Though the irony is not lost on me of a Canadian icon being re-introduced by the Belgium-based AB-Inbev, the largest beer corporation in the world.

Now to the maybe. Here is my fear: they will not be bringing back the traditional stubby but a cheaper knock-off. In particular I fear the new version will have a twist-off top, much like the ones used by Brick Brewing, Red Stripe and others. That particular bottle has thinner glass and feels less sturdy – plus the dreaded twist top.

Call me a purist but a twist off stubby is not a true stubby.

There is also the issue that the product going into the new stubbies, if they end up being true stubbies, is equally not deserving of such a respected container. Labatt hasn’t announced which products will be packaged in stubbies, or when. But to be honest, the 1960s and 1970s were hardly the halcyon days for quality Canadian beer, so I can’t get all that worked up about that part.

Still, I am  hoping this will prove to be the real thing and not just another marketing gimmick. (Yes, I know it IS a marketing gimmick, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be authentic.)

I guess I, and you, will have to wait and see.