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Craft Beer Market Edmonton Opens Today

craftbeermarketlogoToday (December 19) marks the much-delayed and much-anticipated opening of the Edmonton location of Craft Beer Market. Craft claims to have “Canada’s largest selection of draft [sic] beer”. (Of course, good Canadians know we spell it “draught” around here, but we can forgive them this slip-up.)

I got a sneak peak the other day, and the look is impessive. Grey wood, brick and cement bricks, along with soft lighting create a elegant, professional, yet relaxed atmosphere. A large, high ceiling first story, a smaller second floor designed for group parties and the like will fit 350, while a planned rooftop patio will add another 100 in the summer. Interestingly the bar is set back in the room a fair bit, which is an nice touch – as it both accents the bar but gives the room a more restaurant feel. Craft’s signature steel pipes carrying the tap lines are also present.

And, oh yeah, 104 taps!

Of course, not all taps are created equal, so after admiring the decor, I decided to peruse the menu to get a sense of what they are offering up. Here are some breakdowns:

  • 66 ales, 27 lagers, 1 cider and 10 rotating taps (which are currently all ales)
  • 16 regular taps devoted to Alberta breweries (all breweries but one represented), with another 3 in the rotating list
  • 22 Canadian craft beer
  • 41 Craft imports, loosely defined (excluding any owned by the big three)
  • 14 Macro beer
  • 5 Craft-esque beer owned by corporate brewers (Creemore, Granville Island, Unibroue, Hoegaarden, Leffe)

Not a bad mix. Almost all beer styles are represented as well. At first blush it is a well-rounded list with a wide range of breweries, style interpretations and so forth. I find it a nice mixture of stuff that are seen as mandatory in good beer bars as well as some interesting surprises. I won’t try to list off any but can say in general there were some classics, some style-defining beer and a handful of duds. They also have 2 house beer – a red ale (Rice Howard Ale) and a pale lager (Capital City Lager). The lager is brewed by Drummond (thus completing the Alberta contingent) and the ale by Alley Kat.

Some other interesting stats:

  • They have 6 gluten-free beer – 1 on tap and 5 in the bottle (the only bottled product they have).
  • 9 real IPAs, in addition to 7 pale ales and a couple of bitters.
  • 13 pale lagers, plus 3 light lagers – more than half of their lager list
  • 3 legitimate witbier (alongside two pretenders)
  • 9 fruit beer, including TWO Stiegl Radlers
A small sampling of the tap lines at Craft Beer Market

Calgary’s Craft Beer Market tap system.

Their categorization is a bit odd in places. They have three parent categories – ale, lager and anomalies. I find the latter a bit confusing. They have two Belgian-style beer listed as their only “blonde ales”, while offering a whole category to “pub cream ales”. Sometimes their divisions are clunky – black/brown ales and then a separate section for stouts/porters is an example.The “Unique Ales” category is also strange, as the beer listed there could easily fit into other existing categories. I would also quibble with some of their decisions around which categories to place some beer, but that is nitpicking.

My biggest beef with the menu is that they list Alexander Keith’s as an IPA. Huh?!? To make is worse here is the description of the beer: “Keith’s IPA is a smooth golden ale with a slight sweetness and hoppy, bitter finish.” Not like any Keith’s I have ever tasted. And it is NOT an ale!

I spoke with Craft’s Managing Partner, Rob Swiderski, and he defends the decision. He says that, for better or for worse, Keith’s has come to be what people expect from IPA, and he feels placing it among real IPAs “is an opportunity for education”. He argues the staff are trained to probe customer’s tastes before serving and will be generous with samples. He thinks the placement will help encourage Keith’s drinkers to explore other beer avenues.

I am not sure I buy it. I think it gives credibility to Keith’s marketing half-truths (quarter-truths? zero-truths?) and perpetuates the myth that Keith’s is an IPA.

For those who think there are not enough Alberta beer on the menu, Swiderski points out that part of the problem is Alberta’s lagging brewing industry. “In Vancouver we have 55 B.C. beer out of 140 taps”. That is simply because there are many more breweries in B.C. from which to choose. Swiderski is hopeful that as Alberta’s brewing scene grows they will be able to expand the number of Alberta beer on offer.

Craft also is planning monthly beer dinners, usually with a brewmaster or brewery staff member leading the evening, to be held in the upper group event area. The first will have Central City’s brewmaster on January 22. Tickets are $60.

Craft tends to draw some controversy. The Vancouver launch was met with some grumbling from segments of the beer community for the presence of macro-beer at a place called “Craft”, for the Keith’s menu placement and its general openness to non-craft drinkers. I suspect we will see some similar concerns expressed here. While those are completely fair criticisms, I also think they might miss the big picture. There can be no question this is a sizeable step in terms of market access for craft beer. The slowest selling beer in Calgary moves a keg every 2 weeks. That is a lot of craft beer being order – even if Bud Light and Stella sell more. For me the concern is not whether Bud Light is available or not, but how the staff will handle the person coming to order it. Will they offer up a couple of samples of more craft-y options? Will they recommend something else before stepping over the the Bud tap? Or do they see a beer sale as a beer sale as a beer sale. It is impossible to know at this time. But that is how I will judge them.

I think this is a good step forward for Edmonton’s beer scene. In particular I like how Craft builds the potential of what could be a burgeoning beer district for Edmonton, with the quaint and atmospheric Sherlock Holmes across the street, the seriously craft-oriented Underground Tap and Grill down the block, Yellowhead Brewing a few blocks away and Beer Revolution and Brewster’s a medium jaunt westward. In particular the competition between Craft and Underground has the potential to force both players to up their game – to the advantage of us beer consumers. Immediately I can tell the two have very different atmospheres and different approaches to their tap line-up. That means more choice for us.

Those are just my initial thoughts. Occasional visits over the next few months will be important to see how it evolves. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts on the Craft Beer Market Edmonton experience.

9 comments to Craft Beer Market Edmonton Opens Today

  • Judging by the picture and descriptions, this chain looks and feels very similar to the Yard House chain in the US.

    Any idea what they use for a bar gas at the Craft Beer Market? I was given a tour of the beer coolers at the Yard House in Denver and came away impressed with the dual system they used. A high nitrogen/low CO2 line for European styles, and a low nitrogen/high CO2 line for North American styles. The nitrogen comes from an in-house nitrogen generator.

    • beerguy

      Greg, I think you are spot on. I was at the Boston Yard House location a couple years back – exact same feel and approach. The Yard House has a bigger beer list, however. That is clearly the segment Craft is aiming for.

  • Shane

    Care to share which Alberta brewer has been excluded? Does the name start with an M?

  • Just like gateway beer is a good thing for Craft Beer, I think this represents a “Gateway” beer bar. If one person in ten who goes there on a company function becomes a convert to good beer, it is a good thing for craft beer in Edmonton. I don’t think Beer Rev or Underground have too terribly much to fear in terms of lost business, definitely a different concept and different feel.

  • squared

    That area of town now has more beer than a boy or girl could ever want!

    I went to both Craft and Underground on the same night and they were both full establishments with patrons everywhere. I see good things coming from this enthusiasm!

  • Vancouver’s Craft Market recently opened as well offering the best selection in the city. Stoked to see a company embrace craft beer across the country!!!

  • Graham

    I get a chuckle at the categorization attempts I see in some of these beer bars. MKT is especially bad and I believe was created by a professional consultant. Instead of trying to lump beers into a category like ‘refreshing’, maybe a more thorough menu with a description for each beer and some general style info would be more helpful for the average patron.

    • beerguy

      I think it is about not trusting your patrons. They feel some weird need to describe the beer rather than offer understood divisions. I get things like “pale lager”, “dark ale”, etc. as they at least offer a cluster of related styles. The attempt to pigeon hole a beer through a pre-determined categorization is always going to go wrong. I am hopeful that as the market evolves these kind of silly categorizations will fall by the wayside.

  • Chad

    The next time someone designs a beer menu it should have two sides: Side one could be for the unfamiliar/inexperienced beer drinker (with categories like “refreshing” and “unique”), while the second side could be for experienced beer drinkers (straight up BJCP categories maybe?, with technical notes like OG, FG, and IBUs).

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