I would die to have the view Grizzly Paw’s brewers have when they mix up the brewery’s magic elixir. Most brewers have to put up with concrete walls and a back door opening up to a light industrial parking lot (or worse a garbage heap). Not the Grizzly Paw staff. They get floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on some of the best mountain scenery Alberta has to offer. Talk about an inspiration to brew!
When longtime brewpub Grizzly Paw embarked on an ambitious expansion a few years back, they constructed a brand new production facility on the edge of downtown, visible from the highway. And when doing so decided, given their location in Canmore, that they couldn’t just do a standard brewery building; they needed a space reflective of their surroundings. So they built a stunning building with a mountain chalet design with peaks reflecting the surrounding scenery, tons of windows and a generally appealing look.
I know writing about a brewery that has been open for three or four years is hardly headline news (I never promised to be Peter Mansbridge), but as it works out (you will catch this theme in my recent posts) I had yet to visit the space. I finally got a chance last week on my Canmore/Banff tour (read previous posts here and here).
But let me back up a bit. Grizzly Paw first opened as a brewpub in downtown Canmore in 2003, which makes them the 5th oldest (and, as it turns out today 5th largest) brewery in Alberta. I have visited the brewpub many times over the years whenever in town, but for most of their existence it was hard to find their beer in other places in the province. At times you might see a six-pack, but it would disappear again before you could buy a second offering. The production brewery was about trying to create a more consistent (and extensive) presence across the province.
The original 10HL brewpub system is still in use, which they mostly use these days for their lagers (because there is time for lagering) and one-off experimental batches, which they release as their #622 Main Street Series (the address of the brewpub). The new 30HL system cranks out their mainstays but has also allowed them to launch a variety of new releases and series. The Founder’s Series is their original four mainstays while their Summit Series offers a number of new brews created in the new brewery. There are also a range of one-offs. When I was there they had a barrel-aged barley wine, their Alpenglow Porter and a collaboration beer with Dandy called Cliffhanger.
But back to the brewery. It is a well-designed brewing space with a state-of-the art brewhouse. It is a three-story operation (which is interesting) with, I am certain, the only brewery elevator in Alberta. The aforementioned windows both open up the space and create a constant reminder that you are in a wonderous location. The brewhouse is sweet, with a number of bells and whistles that make a brewer’s day easier. And did I mention the moutain view?
At the moment I find their people experience to be under-developed. The signage points to the highway, meaning you don’t see a clear sign when approaching the brewery from town. The tasting room is cramped and seems strangely like an after-thought. However, they are currently working on a plan to transform a storage space on the brewhouse floor into a special event space. Given the view, that is a truly excellent idea and will fulfill some of the potential of the building.
As for the beer (and isn’t that what it is always about), I have noticed a noted evolution. Their original core beer have always been well-made but lean toward the accessible side. With the new brewery they can experiment more and as a result there is a broader range of beer flavours to offer. They are developing a barrel program which, in its early results, is producing quality results. And don’t forget their sodas – which is not my thing but appear very popular.
In a way they have the best of both worlds. They have a production facility that can move a decent amount of beer. But they also have a smaller brewhouse over at the pub that gives them opportunity to experiment and take time to do beer right in small batches.
I appreciate seeing a longtime Alberta brewery trying to take the next step. It is another sign that the province’s beer scene is evolving. And did I mention the amazing mountain view?