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Take an Alberta Beer Trip This Weekend

Image courtesy of Little Guy Liquor in Sherwood Park.

My last Vue Weekly column offered up a theoretical beer trip down Highway 2 (which you can read here). In an afternoon you could hit a half a dozen or so breweries without really venturing off Alberta’s busiest highway – and without setting foot in Edmonton or Calgary.

the QEII tour consisted of (north to south – but you could reverse): Siding 14 in Ponoka, Blindman in Lacombe, both Troubled Monk and Something Brewing in Red Deer, Olds College Brewing in Olds and the new Fitzsimmons Brewing in Airdrie. For brevity and practicality I left off the ever-elusive King of Springs in Didsbury (good luck ever finding someone home there), and a couple of others just slightly farther off the highway. In the coming months that tour list will grow with two new operations in Sylvan Lake, one more in Red Deer and who knows what else.

But that column got me thinking about other outside-the-city brewery tours that are now possible given Alberta’s explosion of new breweries. None are quite as convenient as the QEII tour, but all do have potential. Of course, there are also plenty of in-city brewery tours in the two big cities (especially Calgary) but that is a topic for another day.

But first a word of warning: advance planning is required. Not every brewery has a tap or tasting room, their hours differ and they possess differing capacities to accommodate tours of the brewery, big groups or unusual requests. So plan ahead and be respectful that these are small breweries working as hard as they can.

So, here are a few other road trip ideas for the beer fan with wanderlust:

  • Bow Valley Tour: Start west of Calgary at Cochrane and pay a visit to Half Hitch Brewing and their brand new brewery and restaurant. Another 30 minutes down the road in Canmore you can hit two breweries in two minutes – the venerable Grizzly Paw and upstart Canmore Brewing. Head into the park and finish off at Banff Avenue Brewing in downtown Banff. Take up the optional Park Distillery while you are there. Four breweries in 90 minutes of driving time along the TransCanada.
  • Yellowhead Tour: The Yellowhead highway (hwy 16) demands more driving for fewer destinations, but it is getting there. At the moment your first stop would be at Bench Creek outside Edson ( 2 hours from Edmonton) in an idyllic little spot in the woods. Another hour up the road, just past Hinton, you will find Folding Mountain who just opened their doors this past summer. Your final stop is in Jasper townsite, another hour up the road, at Jasper Brewing, Canada’s first brewpub in a national park (it predates Banff Avenue by a few years). Three breweries in four hours driving time – not great but doable, and you end up in Jasper!
  • Small Town Eastern Alberta Sojourn: This tour is a bit more ambitious, and likely might require a couple of days, but it will take you to some of Alberta’s least visited breweries, most of which you can only try the beer on-site. Start in Lloydminster with 4th Meridian, whose small batch brews are only available in town. An hour’s drive south (and a bit west) finds you in one of the smallest brewing towns in Alberta – Edgerton. Ribstone Creek has been brewing up beer there for the past few years, but few drop by for a visit. Then head west for about 100 minutes to Camrose and visit the folks at Norsemen Brewing. Another 100 minutes or so south will find you in Three Hills, home of the quiet Prairie Brewing. Their small scale means most Albertans have yet to try their beer (admittedly, including me). And then if you are really ambitious, go another hour south to Strathmore and visit the folks at Origin Malting and Brewing. Five breweries in 51/2 hours. A bit of a commitment but not the realm of possibility.
  • Southeast City Jaunt. A quicker tour would be to hit Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. Start in either city, which are less than two hours apart but give you no less than four breweries to hit. The Medicine Hat end has Medicine Hat Brewing and Hell’s Basement Brewing. The Lethbridge leg has Coulee Brewing and Theoretically Brewing. An afternoon at those four breweries and you will see a fascinating range of business models and approaches to beer.

On the “not quite there but almost” list might include these trips:

  • South Highway 22: If we mix in a second tour for Half Hitch, therefore starting in Cochrane, within a couple of hours you can hit three breweries at the moment with a couple more on the horizon. After Half Hitch, head south one hour to Turner Valley and hit up one of Alberta’s newest breweries, Brauerei Fahr, specializing in German styles. While there hit up Eau Claire Distillery, just down the road from Fahr. Another 90 minutes south on the highway you will end up in Lundbreck, currently the record holder for smallest Alberta town with a brewery (pop. 244) and home of Oldman River Brewing. We hope soon there will be one or two breweries in Okotoks, which will promote this trip to full tour status. Three breweries in 21/2 hours.
  • Northern Alberta Epic: This one is not for the faint of heart. Start in St. Paul with the tiny Lakeland Brewing to sample some of their on-site only offerings. An hour-and-a-half north you will find Plamondon, also a candidate for smallest town with a brewery, and their Fat Unicorn Brewing (whose logo is a rhinoceros – get it?). After that head west 2 hours to Slave Lake to find Dog Island Brewing, who are just on the cusp of christening their 15-bbl brewhouse and taproom. If you are really crazy you could then drive another 3 1/2 hours to Grande Prairie to try GP Brewing and Grain Bin Brewing, but that is an insane length of time just to try beer – but knock yourself out. Three breweries in 3 1/2 hours (not including Grande Prairie).

So, when you leave Edmonton and Calgary we find that Alberta is not yet at the “swing a stick and hit a brewery” stage. However, there are a growing number of options for manageable beer tours for the beer curious traveler in the province. And within a couple of years I am confident we will have even more handy brewery tour options.



2 comments to Take an Alberta Beer Trip This Weekend

  • DM

    I love the concept and I have already taken a couple of Alberta beer excursions. It’s a nice way to get out of the city. To take the concept further, it would be great if the Alberta Small Brewers Association could sponsor an Alberta brewery passport. You could get it stamped at different breweries and you could even have pages for what you tried at different breweries so you could purchase it in future. If you got so many stamps, maybe you could be eligible for a prize. Anyway, just an idea to get more people out to visit breweries and see the hard work that goes into making good beer.

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