Words & Pictures by Shawn Young
The Alberta beer landscape has been in a state of flux since the end of 2015. We started seeing a few more breweries popping up, and thanks to some interesting provincial budget changes (welcomed with a mixed reception), a HUGE influx of BC beers has started as well. I designed this tasting not to celebrate a weird tax change (which resulted in 3 noteworthy breweries pulling out of the province) but to explore some of the positives it introduced.
The budget changes allow lower taxes on beers produced in Alberta, BC and Saskatchewan, or the so-called “new west partnership”. With this in mind, I hand selected some styles and examples I think would show what our locals are capable of along with some of the recent additions from our BC and Saskatchewan neighbors. To accompany them we snacked on cheese and charcuterie provided by the Peasant Cheese Shop along with the equally savory wit of yours truly. Here’s a glimpse of what was poured!
Pilsner by Bomber Brewing: Starting off the evening with a nice crisp pilsner is always A-OK in my books. Alberta’s newest version comes from Vancouver BC, and it fairly true to style, sitting somewhere between a Czech and a German style. Crisp and clean with a spicy profile. I could drink this as an appetizer like we did tonight, or I could happily drink them all night! ($14.29 for a 6-pack of cans)
River Session Ale by Blindman Brewing: One of the newest Alberta brewers joins the lineup tonight with a light, dry-hopped session ale. Great grainy character with big tropical hops and light enough to finish the 4-pack WAY too easily. This is a welcome sight on our shelves, that’s for sure! ($14.59 for a 4-pack of tall cans)
Belgian Pale Ale by Wild Rose Brewing: Calgary’s veteran brewers cooked up this medium-light pale ale with big fruity Belgian yeast and a mild hop profile. The malt and yeast really shine on this one, with it’s Belgian influence first and foremost. ($9.49 for a 650mL bottle)
IPA! By Black Bridge Brewing: One of the very few Saskatchewan brewers in the province is Black Bridge. IPA! Is their ode to the west coast IPAs we’ve all grown to adore. The Centennial, Simcoe and El Dorado hops give this the sappy and fruity floral notes it needs, while generous crystal malts give a very pronounced aroma and body. Definitely not one to miss! ($14.39 for a 4-pack of cans)
Woolly Bugger by Howe Sound Brewing: We started thickening up the beers at this point (maybe too much?) with this heafty, hoppy barley wine. Howe Sound releases this weighty every year, and it’s definitely worth putting one or two in the cellar. Although it has high IBUs, it will likely change in some beautiful ways over the years. While fresh, it has crazy dried fruits (plumb, raisins) and generous bitterness to compliment the massive malt base. ($7.49 for a 350mL bottle)
Tailor Retailored Scotch Ale by Dandy Brewing: Moving back to Alberta, we come to the smallest brewers in our fair city The Dandy Brewing Company. This nano-sized operation specializes in English style beers, but ventures out into other styles quite often. The Tailor Retailored is their take on a classic Scottish ale, brewed with rye and smoked malts. It’s malty and full-bodied with wisps of smoky aromas and a good, sweet malty base. This is a very good example of the style. ($8.69 for a 650mL bottle)
Hawaiian Coconut Porter by Brewsters: To finish off, we went to something full and bold, but not necessarily strong. Brewsters uses real fresh coconut to enhance this slightly lighter style (almost sessionable) of stout. The roasted barley compliments the coconut to give a toasted coconut flavor and aroma, but not strong enough to stick to the palate for too long. ($6.99 for a 650mL bottle)
I observed reactions from all across the spectrum tonight as the tasters came from all levels of experience and preference. The winners, however, were quite clean cut. The Tailor Retailored scotch ale came in an emphatic first place, followed by IPA! From Black Bridge brewing in second place, and the Belgian Pale Ale from Wild Rose coming in third.
For those of you who would like to try these beers there is one thing I must mention, the Tailor Retailored will be disappearing as a seasonal (for now?) in about a month or so and the Wild Rose Belgian Pale is also a limited release. So don’t wait too long on them!
Well, that about wraps this up, until next time, make sure not to drink your beer too cold!