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Alberta’s First Terroir Beer?

Tool Shed’s Graham Sherman pours samples of his new terroir beer.

In the wine world terroir refers to the impact that local environments have on the flavour and characteristics of wine. The nature of the soil, water and air where the grapes are grown affect the final shape of the wine. Terrior is less of a thing in beer, in part due to the global nature of the industry (we can get quality products from around the world) and in part that local influence generally expresses itself in terms of styles rather than the soil, etc.

If you think about it, lambics are a legitimate terroir beer, as they are profoundly shaped by the local micro-fauna. Some US breweries have been experimenting with terroir beer, using local ingredients and wild yeast to create unique product, but that particular approach has eluded Alberta. Until now.

In a random, unexpected and rather pleasant coincidence yesterday, I got to try a sample of Alberta’s first terroir beer. I was on my way home after a quick beer trip to hit some of the new Calgary breweries (more on that in a future post) and stopped by Red Shed Malting for a visit. When I arrived who was there but Graham Sherman of Tool Shed! With him was Wade McAllister, one of the owners of Antler Valley Farm, a nearby barley farm operation.

They told me that over at the farm that afternoon they were hosting tours (as part of a larger agriculturee event) and pouring the first offerings of a brand new, all-Alberta beer and invited me over. The beer is Prairie Pride and it is a beer three years in the making. It is made exclusively Alberta ingredients, right down to the  yeast. The barley was grown at Antler Valley and malted at Red Shed. The hops were grown by Northern Girls Hops. There is some wheat from Rahr that Sherman indicates was sourced in Alberta. And the yeast – that is the real story.

About three years ago I remember Sherman telling me about a project he attempted to harvest some Alberta wild yeast. He fashioned a portable coolship and mounted it on his pick-up truck. He drove with the coolship filled with wort around a variety of farm fields and orchards, even leaving the truck for a few hours inside an old barn. The goal was to collect some yeast indigenous to Alberta for a beer experiment. I didn’t hear anything further about it so assumed the project didn’t work. I was wrong.

Instead he worked with the staff at the Olds College Brewmaster program. They isolated the various yeast and bacteria strains in the resulting beer, finding 13 different organisms. They then brewed a beer with each of the isolated organisms and evaluate the results. Sherman reports most ranged between unpalatable to undrinkable, but they found three that had potential. After further analysis they selected one that turned out to be an un-identified wild Saccromyces yeast – beer yeast!

With the yeast in hand, the beer came together rather quickly. A simple recipe of 50% Antler Valley malt, 50% wheat and a low IBU dosing of Northern Girls goldings hops with an aim at a 4% to 4.5% alcohol beer. The yeast attenuated more than expected with the resulting beer ending up a bit over 5%.

What was the beer like? It poured quite hazy with a light blond hue with orange highlights. Not much head to speak of. The aroma had a distinct and assertive orange character to it, along with some soft wheat graininess and an earthy, musty note. The sip had a noted orange-lemon citrus character, a soft sweet body and a slightly earthy accent. The finish was light and refreshing. It was recognizable as a farmhouse ale, with the expected musty, peppery yeast flavours.

What caught my attention the most was the orange-citrus character. That had to have come from the yeast, as no citrus or citrusy hop were used. That is fascinating. It gives the beer a unique flavour that makes it stand out.

Yesterday’s sampling was just a preview. The beer will be released to the general public within the next couple weeks and will be available on tap and in cans. It is worth picking up simply for the experience of sampling a true 100% Alberta beer.

Beer Bragging Begins Soon for Bragg Creek

One of the cool things about how Alberta’s craft beer scene is expanding is that the growth isn’t just in the big cities. New operations in small centres are popping up across the province. And for some strange reason, many of those breweries appear to have “creek” in their name.

Take for example Bragg Creek Brewing, which plans to open in the next 12 to 18 months in, you guessed it, Bragg Creek, a small hamlet of about 600 residents southwest of Calgary. Bragg Creek (the brewery) is the brainchild of Kirk Bodnar, Baruch Laskin, Adam McLane and John Jackson. All four have some connection to the area.

Calgary beer aficionados will know Bodnar’s name well. He is the CAMRA Alberta Education Director, beer writer, Cicerone, BJCP judge among other things. Oh yeah, he is also a full-time teacher in the Calgary area. Laskin runs an entertainment company and is a professional magician (I can guarantee he is the only magician-brewery owner in Canada!) and has lived in Bragg Creek for a number of years.

“I met Baruch a few years ago at school,” says Bodnar in a recent phone interview with me. “We turned into beer buddies and he kept talking about getting involved in a concept in Bragg Creek.” About 18 months ago they started to get serious about opening a brewpub and restaurant in town.

Third partner McLean also brings regional connections, coming from nearby Turner Valley. Jackson, the fourth partner, is co-owner of Charcut and Charbar, two popular and highly respected Calgary restaurants, bringing some serious food chops (no pun intended) to the project.

The vision behind Bragg Creek is simple. “Being a destination is a big part of our plan,” says Bodnar. “Bragg Creek is a small, destination community. It draws people who are big into hiking, mountain biking, the outdoor experience. Right now it is under-serviced. The town was hit hard by the flood and lots of restaurants left town.”

So the timing was right to create a brewpub for the hamlet. “We want to bring people to Bragg Creek, support community and be community-oriented”. The phrase brewpub is mine; Bodnar prefers the term “brewery-restaurant” and for good reason. Due to Jackson’s partnership, Bodnar says “the food will be ridiculous!” The food vision remains a work in progress, but Bodnar says it needs to fit the community and the space. “It won’t be a big city concept, the needs here are different.” They see a couple of aspects to the food, including a quality grab-and-go focus in the mornings to serve outdoor enthusiasts. “Meat will also be a component as well,” says Bodnar, referring to Charcut’s meat-y reputation.

Right now they have purchased property by the river and will be building the brewery from scratch. They are currently in the middle of the zoning application process,  hoping for approval in the next month or two. “As soon as that goes through, we start building.” Bodnar is estimated up to 18 months before they are brewing beer.

And what about that beer? This far out they have not yet finalized their plan, but they do expect to have eight to 12 beer on tap at any one time. In terms of their interest Bodnar says they are “interested in a bit of everything.” Bodnar speaks of living in Germany for four years where he developed “a big affection for quality German lagers”, but also a big love for Farmhouse Ales from the time he spent in Belgium.

Their approach is to “target action sports enthusiasts coming to Bragg Creek, so we want to keep it sessionable,” he says. “But if doesn’t have flavour don’t want to sell it. I don’t want any beer that we have to make excuses for.” At the end of the day Bodnar wants to brew beer that “excites me”.

One thing Bodnar is clear about is that a coffee beer will be one of their flagships. “We are also roasting coffee as a separate operation.” Their coffee business is Continue reading Beer Bragging Begins Soon for Bragg Creek

An Enthusiastic Blind First Tasting

Most Alberta beer fans already know that Biera by Blind Enthusiasm started its soft launch this past weekend – Thursday to be specific. Biera is Blind Enthusiasm’s brewpub located at the Market at Ritchie. The spontaneous fermentation brewery is still quite a distance away (the building is still under construction a couple blocks over from the brewpub).

Given that this has been the single most anticipated opening in the Alberta beer scene in quite some time I knew I had to find a way to get over there. Thursday was out as other plans took precedent. But Friday – right after my CBC column (post coming on the soon, I hope) – I dropped by for a quick visit and a sample of the beer (they offer 250ml and 500 ml pours). As it works out, I also ended up there on Saturday night, too, for dinner with a couple friends (their suggestion, not mine!). Two out of the first three nights, not so bad!

Both nights the space was hopping. I was told there were 90 minute wait lists on Thursday! It is a very open space with the gorgeous copper brewhouse anchoring the room. Lots of windows and sunlight contrasts the dark wood and metal. A small patio offers a bit of fresh air. The whole market space is quite remarkable. I really appreciate the fluid boundaries between the four spaces (the pub, the butcher, the coffee shop and the bike shop – I think there is a children’s nursery rhyme in there somewhere), as much as AGLC rules allow. It feels like a community hub, which I think was the plan.

They are doing a very conservative opening. Limited days (just the weekend for now), limited hours (4-11) and only three beer to start (they hope to have 8-10 when fully up and running). They are trying to feel out how much beer they will sell on a given day so that they can ensure a reliable supply. God forbid a brewpub run out of beer!

The first thing I noted is that they are embracing the realities of offering up first incarnations of their beer. They have refused to release the names of the beer, offer a three letter code followed by 1.0 (signifying the first version). I am told their plan is to tweak the recipes until they are happy, releasing each as subsequent versions (2.0, 3.0, etc.) until they hit where they want to be. At that point they will release the official name of the beer.

So, let’s get to the beer. They are not formally identifying the styles of the beer, but to be honest it isn’t too hard to work out what they are going for. ZES 1.0 is a soft, light-bodied hefeweizen. DEB 1.0 is an English-style bitter, likely strong enough to be an ESB. ESM 1.0 is the hardest one to pin down, offering  a fruity, west-coast IPA-ish beer, but without the assertive bitterness that can be associated with that style. It is a curious beer.

I won’t offer a full-length review of each of the beer, as I have a longstanding policy of providing some space for new breweries to tweak their recipes. I can easily say a couple of things, however. The beer are well made, professional and offer flavours that keep the drinker interested through the glass. I can see where they are going with each beer and each has a lovely accent feature. The ZES is soft with the banana and clove in a nice balance. The DEB has a classic ESB malt character that I always appreciate. The ESM is flirty and elusive – the hops are there but try to play mind games with you. Kind of fun.

Plus can I say that they have a 500ml marker on their pint glasses? I love that. More breweries need to be that open.

As for the food (remember, I am not a food reviewer), some of the menu offerings were a bit odd for my non-hipster palate, but everything I tried was beautifully presented and quite delicious. Of note for beer fans, they have what they call Malt Crunch, which is a kind of barley popcorn. They take barley malt (from the taste my guess is Maris Otter) and pop it (sorta) and add some spices for a flavour accent. They are crunchy but quite yummy, at least for me as someone who is used to chewing on malted barley. Not sure how non-beer people will react to the texture.

Biera will be open again next couple Thursdays to Saturdays and after that they will establish more regular hours. No official word on the grand opening.

And for those of you itching to pop by, be patient. There will be enough beer for all of us. They aren’t going anywhere after all.

 

 

 

Are Contract Brewers Craft?

Does having a real brewhouse matter?

Yesterday in the Globe and Mail, Ontario-based beer writer Ben Johnson wrote a piece exploring whether contract brewing helped or hindered the growth of craft beer. You can read the original article here.

Johnson offers a very balanced and fair piece, asking questions and letting different people in the industry answer. However, his article hit a question that I have been contemplating for a long time. What is the role of contract brewing in the craft beer scene?

Let’s take a step back and quickly explain contract brewing. A contract brewery is an operation that rather than build its own bricks-and-mortars brewery arranges to brew their beer at an existing facility. The degree of control and autonomy over the beer varies depending on the contract. Sometimes the contractee takes responsibility for all aspects short of selling the beer. Other times the contractor handles most aspects under the supervision of the contractee staff.

Sometimes contract brewing is a stop-gap while the owners build their own brewery – a chance to create some name and cash flow. Other times it is the core business model, avoid the costly upfront capital costs at the expense of smaller margins.

The source of the controversy is whether you can legitimately call yourself “craft” if you don’t actually make your own beer.

It is a big question and I know it is controversial, as evidenced by my decision in my brewery stats posts to offer up both contract-inclusive and contract-exclusive numbers (for example here).

Those opposed to contract brewing argue, in short, that having your own brewery provides skin in the game, giving you a solid motivation to create the best beer you can. It also, from their perspective, provides more credibility. You are crafting your own beer with your own hands (and equipment), which is the essence of craft.

On the other side, contract supporters argue that a commitment to creating quality beer is not linked to owning a bunch of expensive equipment. You can create and produce amazing craft beer using someone else’s equipment.

Johnson’s article seems to suggest that there is a difference between using a brewery but employing your own recipe, skill and staff and simply paying them to brew a beer for you that you have little connection with. He may have a point. But I think it may also be beside the point. I know of a couple brewery owners who know little about beer. They hire staff to make beer for them. As it happens they also own the equipment, but how different is that from using someone else’s equipment?

There are lots of points on both sides. In the interest of efficiency I will briefly outline some of them without comment:

  • Craft is linked to artisanal production, meaning you need to get your hands dirty.
  • Contract brewing has existed for decades. Longstanding breweries like Boston Brewing used conracting to make their name and became respected breweries.
  • Contract brewers undermine craft by pretending to be a real brewery when they are not.
  • Many respected breweries had their start by contracting.
  • Contract breweries lie to consumers by saying they are one thing, or come from one place, and really are produced in a different location.
  • Contract brewers have less control over the process and so can’t provide the same degree of quality control a real brewer can.

I exclude from that list some specious arguments, such as contract brewers produce non-craft beer for the mass market (a claim implied by the Johnson article). The relative accessibility/mass market nature of the beer generally has nothing to do with whether you have a brewery or are a contractor.

I think I also reject that location doesn’t matter and that the only thing that counts is the quality of the beer. In my mind, the craft beer ethos demands honesty with your customers. You can’t say you are from Edmonton if your beer is brewed in Kelowna (to pick a random example not linked to any current arrangement). There needs to be accountability.

There is no question this is a complex question, and there are no easy answers. Personally, I continue to be torn about how to handle contract breweries. For me, I think much of it depends on context and intention. There are a couple breweries in Alberta currently making their beer at other breweries. Their short or long term plan is to open their own brewery. That feels different than a company that never plans to open a brewery.

But my distinction on that front only takes us so far. It is easy to say Continue reading Are Contract Brewers Craft?

Vue Weekly’s Beer Issue is Out!

Vue Weekly’s annual Beer Issue is out, available at racks around town and online. The venerable alt-weekly in Edmonton has offered a corner of its magazine to my beer column for over a decade now, but I always get excited when they devote the cover and additional space for beer.

This year I contribute three pieces to the issue. Vue’s food writer Scott Lingley also offers up a review of Situation Brewing (read here).

Given the timing of the issue I lead with a story about some of the beer being released in honour of the Canada’s sesquicentennial which just passed on July 1 (read the story here). I highlight the interesting, the strange and the plain lame ideas breweries have had around the country to celebrate Canada 150. Yukon’s year-long series of Canada 150 beer make my most-interesting list, as does Central City’s Collaboration Across the Nation mixed pack, which includes a beer from every province and territory (except Nunavut). I was particularly pleased to get to try my first beer from Yellowknife’s NWT Brewing (albeit brewed at Central City). As for the plain crazy, check out Village Brewing’s box of 150 cans! I realize Canada Day is over, but I am pretty sure most of the beer I discuss will be available for a while.

My second piece shifts to education (read here), explaining the burgeoning popularity of the New England-style pale ales and IPAs. I don’t have to say much about New England IPAs to people who read this site, but feel free to check out some reviews here and here to learn more.

The last piece was supposed to be a report on my initial visit(s) to the newly opened Biera by Blind Enthusiasm. Alas, some last minute delays forced me to switch to a profile (read it here). However, fear not, Blind Enthusiasts, I am told it will be finally opening its doors within days (how many I can’t tell you). I know it remains the most anticipated opening of the 2017 beer year.

So there you have it, the 2017 Vue Weekly Beer Issue. Enjoy it online or analogue.

Nova Scotia Has Most Breweries and Other Fun Facts

The last couple years I I have run a bunch of stats on the number of breweries in each of Canada’s provinces and published a kind of informal state of the beer union in Canada. You can find the previous renditions here and here.

I thought it was time to update those numbers. I have also refined my methodology somewhat.

The job is harder than it looks, as there is no central repository for the number of breweries in Canada (we don’t have the equivalent of the Brewers Association here). I keep a database of breweries compiled from a variety of sources and do my best to keep it up to date. I am reasonably confident it captures breweries operating as of June 2017 (I may miss a few, but I am close enough that the numbers are accurate).

What’s the lead story? Nova Scotia retains its title as the province with the highest number of breweries per capita. Manitoba continues to have the lowest, but has gained ground in the last year. Ontario has the most breweries in total. Every province (except the Territories) increased their per capita score, which suggests the craft beer industry in Canada is still in growth mode.

I present the data in the table below, providing both the number of breweries and the per capita statistics. As in previous years I have broken out contract breweries so that readers can decide for themselves which number is most reflective of the state of craft beer.

New for this year is a change to the population base I work from. In previous years I have just used the most recent total population figures. To that, this year I add calculations based upon the population aged 15 years and over (the closest I can easily get to the adult population from StatsCan). I do this in part to make the Canadian data somewhat more comparable to the Brewers’ Association numbers, which are based upon 21+ population. I present both, at least this year, because I HATE in my day job when studies shift methodology and don’t show the old calculations meaning comparisons become impossible. The use of 15+ does mean I add about 3-4% of the population who are not legally permitted to drink (but many likely do anyway), a relatively small distortion.

Craft Breweries Contract Breweries Per 100,000 Population Per 100,000 Pop. (w. contract) Per 100,000 pop, 15 yrs+ Per 100,000 pop, 15 yrs+ (w. contract)
B.C. 125 15 2.63 2.95 3.89 4.36
Alberta 50 6 1.18 1.32 1.69 1.89
Saskatchewan 17 0 1.48 1.48 2.24 2.24
Manitoba 9 1 0.68 0.76 1.03 1.15
Ontario 239 48 1.71 2.05 2.52 3.03
Quebec 154 22 1.85 2.11 2.79 3.18
Nova Scotia 41 0 4.32 4.32 6.49 6.49
New Brunswick 29 1 3.83 3.96 5.82 6.02
P.E.I. 4 0 3.37 3.37 4.12 4.12
Newfoundland 5 0 0.94 0.94 1.41 1.41
Territories 3 0 2.52 2.52 3.63 3.63

Nova Scotia’s growth in craft breweries appears to not be abating anytime soon. It really is something of a remarkable story, when you think about it. Canadian beer drinkers (rightly) extol the virtues of Vancouver, Victoria or Montreal. But sleepy Nova Scotia quietly tops them all. Plus it is not all Halifax – 23 different Nova Scotia communities are home to a brewery. Most of these breweries are small but when it comes to craft beer size (especially small size) doesn’t matter. Hats off to Nova Scotia.

It is noteworthy that Alberta made a huge jump, tripling its per capita score, in the last year. Other big jumps come from Manitoba and PEI (based upon one new brewery opening). Saskatchewan was fairly quiet. Manitoba more than Continue reading Nova Scotia Has Most Breweries and Other Fun Facts

Nine Years Later, Burly Gets Mellow

I have a fairly extensive beer cellar. I am pretty good at stocking beer good for aging, keeping an eclectic selection of beer I enjoy or think I will appreciate once it sits for a couple years.

My track record of drinking those cellared beer? Not so good.

However, the other night I did talk myself into opening a bottle of Half Pints Burly Wine. It dated back to 2008, meaning it goes back to their original branding. Quaint.

My memory is that when younger it is an assertive, bold barley wine with some noted hop character. I have a recollection of appreciating how complex and full it was. I put a couple bottles of each vintage away, drinking some at various intervals. I didn’t intend to keep this one nine years; it just worked out that way. But I am glad I did.

They dipped the neck in wax, which likely helped its longevity by slowing down the oxygen ingress. I was very curious to see how the beer stood up over time.

It has a rich, deep amber appearance, more like a light brown than amber. It has bright clarity and only a thin wisp for head. The aroma immediately hits as  raisin, plum, treacle, light scotch caramel and a complex fruitiness. I find the aroma to be quite soft and inviting overall. No negative characteristics of oxidation present at all.

The front of the sip is gentle brown sugar as well as dark fruit of plum and blackberry accented by treacle. The middle is surprisingly quiet, just adding some toffee and caramel notes with just a hint of rounded graininess. The finish is fruity and moderately sweet. Only in the finish do I pick up a tiny hint of alcohol warming giving away its potency (10.5%).

My sense is that the beer has lost some of its more assertive edges, in particular the hops (not surprisingly) but it has matured into a quiet, complex sipper. Actually I feel it is a bit dangerous as the alcohol is SO smooth as to be almost not noticeable.

This beer has aged quite gracefully. Like many of us  it has lost some of its youthful exuberance (which we all appreciate but know can be exhausting) and has mellowed into a smooth, gentle, easy-to-like but substantial beer. A beer that has proven it can stand the test of time – always a key quality in a barley wine.

I was quite pleased with this particular selection. Maybe it is a good thing I suck at pulling beer out of my cellar. At least this time it was.

Heavenly Beer the Goal of Stone Angel

Manitoba’s rapidly expanding beer scene is about to be one more brewery richer. Stone Angel Brewing aims to officially open its doors in August. But as of this month you can get an advance taste of their first flagship beer thanks to their friends at Brazen Hall. More on the beer in a moment.

Stone Angel is the creation of two Pauls – McMullan and Clerkin – and a James. I had a chance a couple weeks back to talk to the two Pauls about their plans for the brewery.

McMullan is a recovering lawyer and business person. “I have had five or six careers. Lawyer. Strategic planning consultant. I worked for the federal government. I have always liked idea of a brewery, but laws were such that it was not a one man venture”.

Then he met Paul Clerkin, a dislocated Irishman who worked in graphic design and web development.  “We met 2009” says Clerkin. “I was always bemoaning how bad bars were in Winnipeg. Our original plan was to open a kick ass pub. Then we got into homebrewing and it moved on from there. Who wants to own a  pub when can own your own brewery?”

Stone Angel is the first brewery to be licensed to open under Winnipeg’s new bylaw which permits breweries to open in commercial districts. Which is exactly what they have done, located a stone’s throw from the new Winnipeg football stadium and the University of Manitoba.

The brewery is currently under construction with a scheduled opening for August. They are installing a three-vessel 15-BBL brewhouse with three 15-BBL and one 30-BBL fermenters. They system is built to allow them to also do 2-BBL batches, which will allow them to do small-scale one-off special releases.

At the beginning they plan to do kegs only, but “in short order” are looking at canning as well as small bottle runs in 650-l bottles.

As for the beer they plan on four permanent offerings supplemented by a round of seasonals that return every year and an ongoing list of one-offs. They have just launched, thanks to Brazen Hall, their first release, Luther’s Folly, which they describe as “a mixed style, half way between a Kolsch and a Belgian Blonde”. The other anchors will be a straight up Kolsch (to which they haven’t decided whether to add fruit) and an Irish Red Ale. the fourth year-round is still to be decided.

In addition they plan a long list of seasonals and one-offs including, this summer, a blonde stout and then some more traditional porters and stouts in the winter. They also plan Belgian Dubbels and Tripels, but probably on a small-scale for the bombers.

“In general we like Northern European styles. Irish, Belgian, Dutch with some nod to the British Isles”, says Clerkin.

The name of the brewery comes straight from Margaret Laurence’s famous novel The Stone Angel. Laurence was born in nearby Neepawa and is one of Canada’s most honoured and respected authors (I hope I don’t have to tell you that). The book is not particularly uplifting, but the Pauls are taking a more positive interpretation of the name. “She is a Manitoba author”, says McMullan. He says the name represents a solid connection to Manitoba and its history and culture. Plus they worked hard to make the idea work.

“We were bouncing off ideas for a name, but none seemed to fit,” says McMullan. “We decided to take a break. then my daughter wanted to dress up as a stone cemetery angel for Halloween”. the outrageous idea sparked a new line of thinking and within weeks they had settled on the name Stone Angel.

But then came the task of crafting a logo, which fell to Continue reading Heavenly Beer the Goal of Stone Angel

Lemons and Limes and Sours, Oh My!

For all of you who are searching for a new kind of patio beer (but with flavour), I think I may have found your solution. What would say to a beer that tastes something like lemonade, something like iced tea but still has a beer character?

If you say yes, let me introduce you to Blindman Brewing’s Lemons & Limes Fruited Kettle Sour (although I am certain they are using “fruited” in an entirely inappropriate way grammatically). As most readers know Blindman has been running an ongoing series of kettle sour beer – beer inoculated with lactobacillus pre-boil to create a fast-acting sour beer. Most of the time they just swap out the hops to see what happens. However, this time for the upcoming summer season, they brewed up their kettle sour with a healthy dose of both lemons and limes to the fermented beer.

And what a difference it made.

The beer pours a deeply murky, almost muddy dark gold. There is no head to speak of. The aroma gives off bright lemon and lime. I find it light, sweet and summery. I also detect some sugary sweetness and light tart character. I also get a little bit of zesty lemon as well. Frankly it smells disturbingly like lemonade.

The taste is similarly intriguing. There is a sugary sweetness up front along with a hint of tannin. The middle sharpens up with a light tartness but also with a fresh citrus flavour. An earthy note also emerges, keeping the beer grounded. The finish is lemony and tart and sweet. The lime is present but plays a supporting role, lifting up the beer and making it brighter and fresher than lemon alone (I have always found limes to be brighter and softer than lemons). The beer reminds me of a lemon-rich iced tea in a way. The tart is present but remains in balance with the other flavours, making for a refreshing finish.

Here is my issue. I can’t decide if this beer is more reminiscent of lemonade or iced tea. There is enough graininess to give a tannin-like character which brings out the tea. But, man, that aroma is straight up lemon/limeade. I like how the sweet, citrus and tart blend together to create a remarkably refreshing and summery beer. Hence my suggestion that this is an excellent patio beer.

My gut tells me this is one of those rare, odd beer that will be a hit both with beer aficionados and reluctant beer drinkers. It doesn’t really taste like “beer”, but it does what it aims to so well that even the most cynical beer geek will have to recognize what is going on here. A masterful effort.

Lemons and limes, indeed.

Steam Whistle/GWB Case Goes to Court

The long awaited hearing of the lawsuit launched by Steam Whistle and Great Western Brewing finally takes place tomorrow and Friday (June 22 & 23). The case, over the Alberta government’s changes to mark-up policy and implementation of a grant program for Alberta brewers (for background read here and here), has been slowly working its way through the system – affidavits, assembling of exhibits, cross-examinations, preliminary matters – you know the stuff that makes legal matters so slow.

Don’t expect a judgement this week. I suspect the judge will want to deliberate and will release their decision in the coming weeks (likely when I am on holidays, as those things usually go). But it is a key turning point at any rate as all of the arguments will be put forth by both sides.

I know the case and its outcome is much anticipated across the entire beer industry, as it will significantly shape the direction of beer policy in the country. Of course, no matter the decision, you can be sure the losing party will appeal; there is simply too much at stake for all sides.

This is likely the appropriate moment to acknowledge that earlier in the spring I was contracted by the AGLC to produce a report to be used in the case. The report, which due to legal blah blah blah became an affidavit (a clunky conversion process to be sure), was a cross-provincial review of beer policies. Specifically, I was asked to look at four policy areas: listing process and approvals; market conditions and government promotional support; mark-ups and other fees; and government financial support for breweries.

I am not at liberty to share the report at this time. Although since it has been filed with the courts, it is a public document if you had the gumption to trot down to the Calgary courthouse. I can say I learned A LOT about beer policy in Canada and likely spent more time digging into the murky details of regulating beer than any human being should be asked to do. I am hopeful that when the time becomes appropriate I can share some of the knowledge I gleaned with loyal readers.

I am also aware that my decision to research the report on behalf of the AGLC may lead some to question my objectivity on this issue and suggest I am somehow “tainted”. To those detractors I say three things. First, my mandate was a factual one. I was to research past and existing policies pertaining to beer. My opinion was not relevant. Second, I have never claimed objectivity (indeed, I question anyone’s ability to be truly objective). I am what I am – an independent observer of the beer industry. Specifically on the mark-up policy and grant program, I have openly stated my position.

Third, and this is most important for me, I believe I should be judged by my actions. On this and any beer issue I try very hard to listen to all sides, to accurately reflect their positions and to be fair to all involved. Mostly, I try to recognize these kinds of issues are complex. Whether I succeed I leave for others to judge.

For the record I will continue to comment on the court case and other developments in the beer world and I will continue to be guided by the principles of writing honestly and being transparent about my own involvements.

More as events warrant.