This past weekend featured the eighth annual Calgary BeerFest. Naturally, your intrepid liquor columnist was all over that like a… well… like a liquor columnist on a beer, I guess.
Your humble narrator remembers this festival back in its simple and unpretentious beginnings. For the first two years, the festival was held in an aircraft repair hangar on the SAIT campus, then spent a few years in the the dank and windowless basement of the Big 4 building on the Stampede Grounds. When the Stampede Casino moved out of the Big 4 into new digs back in 2008, Beerfest moved upstairs to a slightly less dank but equally windowless room, before finally moving over to the classier BMO Centre on the Stampede Grounds.
Perhaps it’s the nostalgia speaking, or maybe even the several beers your intrepid liquor reporter has socked away while penning this column, but my favourite venue was back on the SAIT campus back in 2004.
Why do I yearn for the simple days of yesteryear? Because the current venue is a dreary and windowless concrete box, made way too loud by the live bands at opposite ends of the room.
The old aircraft hangar on the SAIT campus had an adjacent outdoor beer garden which let the rock & roll bands play outside in the sunshine, rather than being cooped up in the windowless dungeon with the rest of us beer-swillers.
But enough of my endless complaining – let’s get on with the beer-related parts of the story! Finding a willing DD, we piled into the minivan of vice and debauchery, destined for the big city. We arrived at the event ready and willing to sample the first of many of the fine beers the perky vendors had to offer.
Surprisingly, the first thing I noticed was not the beer. For the first time, there was a sizable contingent of lady beer drinkers present. This was a delightful improvement, as Beerfest in previous years was quite the sausagefest. Maybe the ladies finally figured out where all the suave and sexy beer-swilling dudes were at.
Looking past the lovely ladies in attendance, there was a significant international contingent at this festival, many with beers that were flown in from foreign climes especially for this event. I’m always up for trying a new beer, but it’s kind of a tease to find one I enjoy, only to hear that it’s not available. It’s kind of like dating a hot Swedish exchange student; just when you’ve had a chance to sample the goodies, back to Sweden they go, leaving you with an unsatisfied urge for more.
Always keeping you, the faithful reader in mind, your humble narrator has compiled a list of my favourite brews of the festival. No matter what your preference, I’m sure you’ll find a brew here to wet your whistle.
Best Light Beer: Finally, a Mexican alternative to Corona! Cerveceria Minerva (That’s Minerva Brewery to you anglos) is a shining light of craft beer in a sea of mediocre Mexican beers. Their Malverde Clara is made in the general style of typical Mexican light lagers, but the Euro-styled yeasts give this light summertime beer way more flavour than a Corona. It’s only been in Alberta for a few weeks now, so look for it at your local booze merchant.
Best India Pale Ale: Calgary’s own Wild Rose Brewery has a seasonal release called Hop Smashed In, made in the style of a Belgian IPA. The Belgian yeast provides a rich fruit and spicy clove finish, making it much less sharp and bitter than their standard IPA. This is a good intro to the IPA style for the timid novice.
Best Dark Beer: Village Blacksmith from Calgary’s newest microbrewery, the eponymously named Village Brewery, was started up by veterans from the Alberta beer industry. Their dark offering is made in the uncommon India Black Ale style, with the crisp finish of a pale ale being complemented by the full flavour from the dark malts.
Best Girlie Drink: There were a lot of girlie drinks this year, but Uptown Girl, a rebrand of an existing beer from Calgary’s youngest beer baron at Mountain Crest made the ladies happy. This beer comes in a has this market sewn up. With a wine for every occasion, and even fruity wine coolers for casual affairs.
These beers may be found at your favorite drinking establishment or well-stocked liquor store. Take the time to enjoy them all, but always in moderation