As part of my ongoing quest to visit all the new craft breweries popping up in Alberta, I made an overnight trip to Lethbridge this past weekend.
Heading south on the QE2 highway on Saturday morning, I made it to Lethbridge by lunchtime, meeting up with an old friend who acted as both tour guide and innkeeper for my brief visit.
Experienced boozers may recognize Lethbridge as the home of Old Style Pilsner, which has been brewed from the original recipe since 1926. Many a drinking game has been played trying to count all the rabbits on the label, first conceived at Sick’s Brewery, and maintained when the brewery was acquired by Molson in 1958.
History buffs may even recall that modern-day Lethbridge was once the site of the infamous Fort Whoop-Up, a lawless whisky trading post in those frontier days of 1869.
The North-West Mounted Police, predecessors of the RCMP, brought law and order to the region in 1874, decreasing the illicit whisky trade to more moderate levels, but were unable to stamp it out entirely, until the fort was eventually destroyed by fire and floods.
Despite all the authentic booze history that Lethbridge has to offer, I was not there to relive the days of yore, but to sip directly from the brass teats of the recently opened craft breweries.
Lethbridge is currently home to two craft breweries, with several more in the planning stages.
Theoretically Brewing opened its doors in December of 2015, marking the end of a 25 year dry spell since the Molson plant closed its doors in 1990, sending the production of Old Style Pilsner to a Molson facility in Ontario.
Theoretically Brewing is the brainchild of a biochemistry professor at the U of L, who went pro after homebrewing for 20 years. With a 500 litre brew house, Theoretically Brewing is classified as a nanobrewery, and usually brews twice a week, transferring from the brew kettle to one of a bank of five fermenters for conditioning and eventual bottling.
I sampled the Study Buddy Hefeweizen and the BHB (Black Hole Beer) Stout straight from the taps in the tasting room, but they can be also found in bottles at select Co-op and Sobey’s liquor stores throughout the province.
The Hefeweizen had the classic banana and clove flavours from the distinctive yeast strain, with a light spiciness and malty sweetness on the finish. An easy drinking summer beer with very little hop bitterness, it is approachable by macrobrew drinkers and beer snobs alike.
The BHB (Black Hole Beer) Stout, so named because it is so dark that not even light can escape, has loads of roasted grains and burnt chocolate aromas, followed by flavours of smoke and coffee from the hefty malt bill.
After visiting the Theoretically Brewing tap room, I ventured across town to the Coulee Brew Company, which opened its doors in January 2016.
Unlike its nano-sized neighbour, Coulee Brew Company is a large-scale professional brewery, staffed with experienced brewers, and churned out half a million litres of of frosty goodness in their first year.
The shiny and new brewery has even attracted the attention of fledgling breweries in the province, several of whom have turned to Coulee for contract brewing services while their own breweries are still under construction.
While Coulee produces a surprisingly large amount of beer for such a new brewery, they built the facility with plenty of room for future expansion, so the dual revenue streams of contract brewing and their own branded production can continue to grow for quite some time.
My favourite was the Red Coat Trail Extra Special Amber, with plenty of caramelized malt flavours, followed by toasted grains and moderate hop bitterness on the finish.
My drinking companion preferred the HooDoo Hops IPA, with plenty of citrus aromas on the nose, but with less hop bitterness than a typical IPA, nicely balanced with lighter malts for an easy-drinking beer on a hot day.
With six flagship brews and a rotating selection of seasonals, Coulee has a brew for you. Thanks to wide distribution, you can find several Coulee brews at the Sobey’s Liquor in Chestermere, and pretty much anywhere else that beer is sold in Alberta. Look for them at your local bottle shop!