In an odd twist of fate, one of the best-stocked beer merchants in Southern Alberta is the Calgary Co-Op liquor stores. These are usually a freestanding building in the same parking lot as the Co-Op grocery store.
When your unrepentant beer snob of a liquor reporter is searching for a hard-to-find specialty beer, the Co-Op is on my short list of vendors, as they have a huge selection.
To drum up further business, the Co-Op runs a fancy shindig twice a year at the BMO Centre on the Stampede Grounds called the Grape Escape.
Held every March and November, it is a night of tasting all the fine tipples under the sun, along with finger foods and snacks that all just happen to be sold at Co-Op.
The event is held in the same hall on the Stampede Grounds as the other big booze festivals of the year, but this one just might be my new favourite.
Unlike the always-crowded Rocky Mountain Food & Wine Festival that makes you purchase sampling coupons at the door and use them for each sip of booze that you take, the Co-Op Grape Escape charges you $50 to get in the door, and you can eat and drink anything you like.
This saves the patrons the hassle of tearing off tickets for each tub tart, and avoids the buyers remorse of giving up several dollars worth of tickets for a drink sample that you turned out to not enjoy.
At the end of the day, the $50 door charge at the Grape Escape ends up costing boozers like your humble narrator less than the pay-as-you-go type of festivals, and it doesn’t make you feel obligated to guzzle a sample that you don’t like, just because you handed over a few tickets for it.
Much like the other wine tasting events, the Grape Escape is a target-rich environment for the gentleman on the prowl, as the gender imbalance is usually two girls for every boy. I think it’s because all the single ladies are trying to find a classy lad who drinks wine instead of beer.
Naturally, your intrepid liquor reporter usually shows up at these events with a wingman or two, and work on chatting up the ladies in attendance nearly as much as we work on sampling the hooch.
While there were wines and hard liquors galore, there was also a very sizable beer contingent, so your humble narrator spent most of the evening sampling new beers.
I am excited to report that Phillips Brewing from Vancouver Island has finally gone through a much-needed brewery expansion, and they now have sufficient capacity to service the BC mainland and Alberta markets. For the past several years, their entire production capacity was immediately snapped up by the boozers on Vancouver Island, so they never exported to the mainland until just a few weeks ago.
This inspired your intrepid liquor reporter to perform the dance of joy right there in the tasting hall, as I always make a brewery tour and large purchase from Phillips Brewing whenever I visit Victoria. Since their fine brews are now available in the local Co-Op liquor stores, I will be enjoying them much more frequently.
My favourite new beer from this festival was from another BC-based brewery, namely the Stanley Park Brewery in Vancouver.
Named for the eponymous Stanley Park in Vancouver, this brewery is a new venture of the Mark Anthony Group, the leading distributor of beer and wine in Canada.
Interestingly, there brewery itself was designed to be environmentally sustainable, with an onsite wind turbine providing a portion of the power for the brewing process.
The brewery has been in operation for about three years now, and produces only two beers – a Belgian Style Pilsner and a Belgian Style Amber.
Faithful readers may recall that Belgian beers are at the top of list for beer snobs like your humble narrator, so the brewmasters chose well when designing their recipes.
The Pilsner was a highly quaffable refreshing beer with a smooth aftertaste, great for a summer day. The Amber all was more full-bodied, with a complex mouth feel and malty taste nicely balanced with just a bit of hop bitterness.
These brews have only recently started distribution in Alberta, so broaden your horizons by picking up a six-pack at the Co-Op.