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Prairie Breweries Score Modestly at CBAs

cba2016_logoThe results of the 2016 Canadian Brewing Awards were announced Saturday night in Vancouver (see the full results here). As usual, B.C. breweries won an disproportionate number of medals, with Ontario falling second. However, perusing the list I was pleasantly surprised at the prairie brewery results.

[Note: Post edited shortly after publishing to include Black Bridge and Brewsters, who were inadvertently left off the original list.]

The total number of medals was up slightly from last year (13), but I was pleased to see which breweries won medals. There was in increase in the number of breweries who won – up to ten – and I appreciated how it was a combination of established breweries and newcomers.

To prove my point, regular winner Great Western Brewing tied with newcomer Blindman Brewing for the best results in the competition. Both won two silvers. Two breweries, Half Pints and Grizzly Paw won a gold. So, not bad.

Here is the list of prairie winners (plus NWT, for the record):

  • Blindman Brewing picked up silvers for both its flagship River Session Ale in session ales, and in American-style sours for Kettle Sour #1.
  • Great Western also picked up two silvers, for Original 16 in cream ale, and Prairie Wheat in North American Wheat Ale.
  • The other multiple award winner was Wildrose, with two bronze medals. Velvet Fog scored in North American wheat and Cowbell scooped up a medal in American-style sour.
  • Gold went to Half Pints Brewing in kolsch for its St. Jame’s Pale Ale. Long their best-selling beer I have considered it an excellent kolsch since I first tasted it, despite its misnomer as a pale ale.
  • The other gold went to Grizzly Paw in North American blonde/golden ale for their Powder Hound Blonde Ale. I am not sure if this was a one-off, or if they re-categorized their Powder Hound Pilsner for the competition.
  • Ribstone Creek picked up a medal for the second year running for its Old Man Winter Porter, scooping up a silver in the porter category.
  • Big Rock picked up a silver for its Hollow Tree Red Ale in the North American amber/red ale category. I never actually tried this beer. Now I am sad.
  • Swift Current brewery Black Bridge picked up a second straight medal for their Milk Stout, this year a silver.
  • Brewster’s won a bronze in wood and barrel-aged strong beer with their Blue Monk Bourbon Barley Wine.
  • And, finally, rounding out the list is north of 60 upstart NWT Brewing gathering in a bronze for its Kick Sled Cream in the cream ale category. Not a bad start for the young Yellowknife brewery.

I haven’t done any math yet, but if I were to contemplate medals vs. total number of breweries, the prairies may have done not so badly. Of course we can never know who all entered and what beer they tossed in, so working out an exact proportion of entries to medals is impossible to calculate. That said, I am not surprised B.C. won the lion’s share – they both have a huge number of breweries and likely the most competitive craft beer market in the country. It also likely helped the competition was in Vancouver this year, allowing their beer to be a bit fresher.

I was pleased to note this year that a number of categories did not award three medals. They have a minimum score required for attaining a gold, silver or bronze. That they were prepared to enforce that rule helps strengthen the value of the actual medal winners. It means they all scored above the minimum (I don’t know what the minimum score was), meaning they are unquestioningly good examples of their style – at least according to this year’s batch of judges.

Over the years the CBA has done a good job of tweaking the competition format and improving on the judging quality. Personally I feel much better about the competition than I did a few years ago. As in any competition, there are always head scratchers – four medals for Molson, really? – and some complete surprises, but I have come to trust the results are valid, if always imperfect.

So, the eight prairie breweries who won, take a bow. For the rest of you, there is always next year.


13 comments to Prairie Breweries Score Modestly at CBAs

  • Derek

    Black Bridge Brewery won a silver for the Milk Stout:)

    • beerguy

      My apologies, I accidentally missed that listing when perusing the list last night. I have corrected the post to include Black Bridge’s medal. Thanks for pointing out the omission.

  • I hate to be this guy… but does Big Rock really count as a Prairie IF the beer that you are talking about Hollow Tree Red Ale is from their Big Rock URBAN brewery.. in Vancouver BC? I’m also confused… I thought Big Rock Urban had their own beer line.. now I cant find it.

    • beerguy

      That may be possible. I am not sure at which brewery the winning beer was made. I included it as default since the majority of Big Rock’s production is in Alberta. However, I am willing to be corrected on the matter.

      • Usually yes most of the beers are made from the Calgary one.

        This one however is a Vancouver beer, as it was their inaugural beer for the Urban Brewery:

        Which also won gold in the 2015 BC Beer awards πŸ™‚

        From the looks of things they are going to be putting both breweries together and the beers into one website so it may get a bit more difficult to tell which one is which soon too.

        Cheers and great article too πŸ™‚

      • As confirmed by Big rock Urban and CGY:

        @boozereviewsca @BigRockUrbanYVR It’s a BC Beer in origin but will hopefully be making it’s national debut in the Fall!

        Big Rock Urban
        @boozereviewsca it was born of the YVR facility

        So it is a BC beer.. even though Calgary will be getting it in the Fall πŸ™‚

        Hope that helps.


        • beerguy

          Okay. Fair enough. I will leave them in the list but readers can see your comment about the fuzzy origins of this beer and whether it rates as a “prairie” beer. Thanks for your detective work!

          • No worries, I know I only saw it in Vancouver last summer and did a review on it as well. I also talked to Jody about his beer too πŸ™‚

            BUT at least you can say you wont be sad anymore as they are bringing it out in the Fall too.. so you CAN try it πŸ™‚


  • Don

    Hi Jason, We also won a bronze for Blue Monk Bourbon Barley Wine!!

    • beerguy

      Yes. Indeed you did. You were on my original list, but got lost in translation to formal post. Sorry about that! I have corrected the post.

  • The beers were not tasted in Vancouver. All judging was done in Toronto.

    And our brewmaster, Viv Jones, was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. He is retiring on September 9 this year, which marks 50 years in the industry. He worked for several years in the UK (Allied, Tetley’s, Jennings) before moving on to be a troubleshooter for Heineken. He spent many years in Holland, with stints in Nigeria (and several central African countries), and Vietnam (and other areas in Southeast Asia). He came to Canada in the 1980s and was a major player in starting the craft brewing industry in this country working with Upper Canada and Algonquin. He came to Great Western 9 years ago.

    I was in attendance for the entire ‘convention’. There were some interesting seminars that were well worth the time, including ‘Yeast Management’ and ‘Do We Need a National Craft Brewers Association’. Definitions of ‘Craft’ are all over the place. Some brewers aren’t invited in some provinces because they aren’t ‘crafty’ enough, or the organizing committee doesn’t like their beer! I liked Manitoba’s definition the best. If your are majority owned by Manitobans, and have a mash tun in the province, you are a Manitoba brewer. Alberta chose to use the word ‘small’ rather than ‘craft’. Although I didn’t catch their definition of ‘small’. BC’s is 200,000 hL. Nova Scotia’s is 15,000 hL. The federal definition is 400,000 hL of course.

    Finally, a couple of words about the categories. TOO MANY. I know that there are a lot of boundary pushing beers out there, creating hybrid categories, but come on. “Bavarian IPA”??? When did the South Germans ever ship beer to India? πŸ™‚

  • Derek

    Bushwakker Brewpub in Regina won a silver medal in the Imperial Stout category.

    • beerguy

      Yup. I noticed that a while after posting. Clearly I need remedial classes in scanning award lists. My apologies to Bushwakker.

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