With spring nearly here, your intrepid liquor reporter has been waiting with bated breath for the sampling and tasting season to get underway.
The winter months tend to be bereft of booze festivals, but that all changes when the snow melts. The first wine festival of the year runs near Valentine’s Day, quickly followed by Calgary’s oldest Beerfest a few weeks later.
Held the first weekend in March at Bottlescrew Bill’s Olde English Pub, it is an opportunity to sample different beers from Canada and around the world. As if that wasn’t reason enough, all proceeds go the Mustard Seed Street Ministry.
Finding a willing designated driver, I loaded my drinking companions into the minivan of vice and debauchery, heading west to the big city. This was the 18th annual Beefest, which I guess means the festival itself is now old enough to drink beer.
A sure sign of the economy rebounding would have to be the increased number of breweries in attendance. The festival was down to only 20 breweries a few years back, but now boasts over 25, making the entire place standing room only.
Some of those numbers are a bit skewed by the increasing consolidation in the beer industry, as the megabreweries have been snapping up the smaller brewers like a drunkard munching on nachos.
I see some of the same beer reps pouring their wares at this event year after year, but new and fancier signage and advertising copy is a dead giveaway that they have been acquired by a larger company.
Such a tangled web is the beer business today, with economies of scale fuelling an increasing rate of consolidation and acquisitions of the smaller players in the market. While this may be fine for the unwashed masses washing down their pork rinds with a chaser of Budweiser, the beer snobs in the audience cringe at the loss of the small brewers who bring a unique flavour to an increasingly conformist brewing industry.
Luckily, the annual Beerfest is a wonderful place to catch up with Canadian microbreweries. Local favorite Big Rock was out in fine form, with a collection of rare brews coming out of their tiny pilot brewery used to test new recipes.
Referred to as the Brewmasters Series, these are small production runs with experimental recipes that are tried out in the beer geek taverns of the city.
The first I tried was a Dunkelweizen, also known as a dark wheat beer. The flavours are full-bodied, with a rich chocolate malt overtone in the finish. This one is only available from January to April, so pick up a six-pack if you are lucky enough to see it at your local booze merchant.
My favourite was the new Night Owl Porter, which is black as the heart of my third wife. At 6% ABV, it is a bit heavier than most beers, but with the intense flavour, you will want to savour it slowly. The malt flavour is quite powerful, and there is a distinctive taste of black licorice on the finish. Not so much that it reminds you of Sambuca, but just a taste to complement the malt texture of the beer.
The Night Owl Porter is the only brew that saw me going back for second and third helpings, so it was definitely the prize of the day.
Sadly, as an experimental brew, this one is only available on tap in a select few pubs known only to the beer cognoscenti. If it proves popular enough in the next few small kegging runs, it may even eventually get bottled for purchase at your local liquor retailer.
Your humble narrator is certainly doing his part to guzzle down this beer wherever it can be found, so let’s hope Big Rock gets the message and puts this one in bottles for the mass market.
If you’re sorry you missed this particular event, fear not, as there will be a completely unrelated beer fest taking place on the weekend of May 4 at the Big 4 building on the Stampede Grounds. Not only will the beer flow freely, but there will be fine food, live music, and all manner of debaucherous entertainment. Point your computer to www.get-a-life.ca for all the gory details.