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Doing the Math at National Beer Hall

nationalbeerhall2As I have mentioned a couple of times, I was in Calgary recently and did a bit of beer work while there (shocker!). One thing I did is pop into National Beer Hall downtown to check out their offerings.

National is, of course, another of the burgeoning mega-craft pubs, with multiple dozen taps and a clear marketing strategy around craft beer. They have three locations in Calgary (two only a few blocks apart, which is odd to this Edmontonian). I went to the one on 10th Avenue [edited to correct location as per reader’s comment].

National is big and spacious, much like Craft. The decision to have two bars, one in the middle of the room and one at the back, does break up the space well. Lots of wood and a distinct “western” decor give a more relaxed feel to the space. I like the smaller mezzanine spaces, which have a more intimate feel. A small, retro Bourbon Room upstairs provides a more private and speakeasy-like atmosphere (possibly due, in part, to the artistic photos of nude women adorning the wall). There is also a bowling alley, also with a retro ’50s feel, in the basement, which is a curious addition. Despite the allure of bowling and/or pictures of naked ladies, I chose to spend my time at the main bar, which is actually rather imposing as it sits in the middle of the room. The rows of wood barrels above the bar are quaint but to my homebrewer brain seem a bit wasted up there.

National also opts for the airport-style tap-list screens, but I admit to much reduced effect than Beer Revolution. The draw of Revolution’s boards are the dates of first tapping and estimated emptying. National’s screens seem forced and I found the traditional paper menu far easier to peruse. It didn’t help that on the day I was there some of the screens were on the fritz.

But I am a beer guy, not an interior decorator, so what of the beer? They have 71 taps (72 actually, but one has non-alcoholic soda so I removed it from my analysis). Officially there are no rotating taps, but the whole menu is updated frequently, so some of the taps are changing regularly. The bartender couldn’t really tell me which beer are essentially “permanent” and which flit in and out.

To evaluate the tap list, I applied the same analysis that I conducted recently on the four Edmonton craft beer bars (read the post and the analysis results here). I am confident the results in that initial study will offer a decent proxy for the Craft and Beer Revolution locations in Calgary.

Anyway, here are the results (for definitions check the original post)

Lagers: 14
Ales: 57

House Beer: 1 (could not determine brewery, so excluded from below)

Macro Beer: 0
Macro-owned Craft: 8
Macro-owned Import: 0
Independent Import: 0

Alberta Brewers: 17
Other Canadian Craft: 32
U.S. Craft: 13

Pale Lagers: 10
IPAs: 13 (they list 15, but I removed Deschutes Chainbreaker and Village Blacksmith for stylistic reasons)
Porters/Stouts: 7
Wits/Weizens: 4
Belgian: 2

The lack of  macro beer and even the scarcity of imports is the most interesting finding here. National has more IPAs than anyone else in the province, but they also have a moderate number of pale lagers. As a percentage they have the highest proportion of Canadian craft (if you include Alberta breweries) and their Alberta contingent is also noticeable.

I have now analyzed 5 craft beer bars in Alberta and have found 5 distinct approaches to extensive tap lists. Very interesting, indeed.  I am toying with a more comprehensive Calgary analysis, and am heading there again next week, so if anyone thinks there is a mega-craft beer bar I should check out, let me know and I will try to pop by.

3 comments to Doing the Math at National Beer Hall

  • Chris vdP

    Just picking nits, but the Bowling location is the second one, not the original.

  • Their house lager is made by Dead Frog I believe.

  • mark

    I personally love both downtown locations of National Beer Hall, haven’t been to the new 3rd location. Beer and food are top notch. They are a touch “big” in terms of size for my tastes, I always prefer more intimate confines. And there is a bit of “glitz and glamour,” which is pretty much required for the pretentious downtown Calgary crowd, but they still manage to provide a quality/honest/personal experience.

    Guess I’m saying they have done a tasteful job of elevating the pub experience, while still providing excellent beer and keeping it fun. I also never walk out feeling like I got ripped off, which I can’t say of some other big/fancy pubs I have been to.

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